I love our Vineyard value of looking for what Our Father is doing and joining him in that work. (Matthew 5:17 & 19) We believe He is actively at work in all people. Now to put this belief into practice is a good step in culturally relevant ministry.
We are all unique in our personalities and desires. Calling and desire go together. God uses our desire to call us, nudge us, or invite us in the direction that fits our unique personality. So another good step in being culturally relevant is to listen to that desire and calling and move forward towards those people we are drawn to. For my husband and I, that meant crossing oceans and living and working in and around China for close to 30 years. Now we live near Seattle and still operate from that principle.
Early in our ministry we were trained to learn the language of the people we would be working with. Learning language takes lots of time and energy. It is so worth the time and energy because not only are we learning to communicate with words but we are learning the culture of the people we want to offer our Good News. We also are honoring them by learning their language.
Language may or may not be a barrier to ministry, but if we are working among people different from us we still need to learn who they are through their culture. This all can be very humbling (which is good!). We often fumble and feel like small children. Christians in ministry can assume we have all the answers to give. In reality we have a lot of learning to do and the people we are sent to have gifts for us as well as us for them!
Some good questions to ask God and ourselves as we go along are:
The answer to these questions probably will not come immediately. For me, some of the answers came in hindsight as I looked back over the path I had been on. I saw connections of God’s kingdom being woven in and through my life with those I was interacting with.
I think about the gifts I received, in the form of what I learned from living among a people different from me. I learned so much! Not by being told how to do something, but by the example of my friends' lives. They just did the things that were normal to them and what were normal to them became important things for me to learn. Here are some examples:
I learned the important place that elders have in society. They are honored, taken care of, and listened to. So when our parents became elderly and ill we made sure we came back and spent time with them as often as we could.
I learned how to speak blessings over people. That’s what they do, all the time. I was blessed when I came in and when I went out. I was blessed when I was met on the street. I find myself speaking blessings over my children and their children as they leave. When I meet a friend sometimes I can’t help myself, and speak a blessing over them and their situation.
I was taught how to treat guests with great honor because the guest was bringing great honor to me by visiting. If you come to my house there is no way I will leave you standing at the door, but will invite you in and give you something to drink and nibble on while we chat.
A word about expectations. It is always good to be clear about these. Who is helping you do this, supporting your ministry? What are their expectations? What are your expectations? What do you think God’s expectations are? (Ask Him!)
In my experience these were not always the same or they were often unspoken and created a heavy burden for me. So at some point get those expectations out and clear. The simpler the better - leave room for the Spirit to surprise you! I still marvel when I look back, how the Holy Spirit did amazing things with my availability and presence among the people I was sent to. I was just there living life among them, and maybe said a few words here and there, but the powerful work of transforming lives was all God!
Be the person you are! Not the person you think you should be. Love the people you are with in the way you uniquely can. Learn and receive from these precious people and watch what amazing things God can do with your life.