One of the cool, cultural quirks about living in small town Saskatchewan and Alberta is that when you pass an oncoming vehicle everybody waves. It doesn’t matter if they know you or not, and it’s usually just lifting a finger or two off of the steering wheel in a sort of red-neck salute, but everybody waves.
I can remember as a new driver being eager to visit my relatives in Neilburg, Saskatchewan so that I could finally be the one in the vehicle to do the salute. And when we moved to Golden Prairie it was very natural to fall into the habit. In fact on trips to the city it would take me half way to Calgary to get out of the habit, but it’d only take me a couple of miles out of Medicine Hat to pick it up again.
When we moved to Falkland, BC one of the first things I noticed was that nobody waved. I had assumed that small town Western Canada was small town Western Canada regardless of if you were on the prairies or in the mountains, but I was wrong. I decided I would make it my personal crusade to change the culture of that little town. It didn’t work. I got a finger salute alright, but I’m pretty sure that guy misunderstood my intentions.
Hindsight has taught me a valuable lesson in this. The subtle message I was carrying in my well intentioned but misguided mission was that they needed to change to be more like me. I’ve come to realize that this was a hindrance in my true mission of expressing Christ to that community.
It’s true that in 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul urges the people to imitate him, but what he’s talking about is the way in which he showed them Christ-likeness in day-to-day circumstances. He challenged them on issues of sin, but did not try to oblige them to conform to his culture.
We in the church have a particular culture and we need to pray for discernment to be able to boldly and without compromise convey Christ to the culture around us without at the same time imposing our own culture. In fact we need to make an effort to in every way possible identify with and embrace that culture. Our message should not be “change your culture to be more like me,” but “let Jesus change your nature to be more like him.”
Come to think of it, we could use that message inside our church culture a little more too.