Ministry in a Changing Culture

The book of Daniel describes some of the challenges of doing ministry within a changing cultural context. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies invaded the nation of Judah, destroying the city of Jerusalem, its temple, and its way of life. They carried off all of the leaders of their nation and deported these refugees to Babylon. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were brought into the king’s leadership development program because they were young, strong, good looking, intelligent, and politically savvy. They had grown up in a world where their faith was the dominant, accepted religion in their country. Now, all of that had changed. Their belief system was now in the minority, simply one among many, with no special support from the culture.

This is similar to where we find ourselves in the west as we begin 2013. Since the Emperor Constantine became a Christian in 333 AD, most western European and American cultures have functioned with a Christendom church and culture support system. But, the separation of church and state is taking hold in much deeper and stronger ways, as society becomes more secular and no longer looks to the church for its moral or spiritual direction. There is no moral or theological consensus within our culture or our denomination today, and many churches are wondering how to do ministry in this kind of “sideline” context.

In the first three chapters of the book of Daniel, we see how Daniel and his friends tried to figure out how to remain faithful to God in a very different culture. For the most part, they participated in the culture and went along with its practices as much as they could. But, there were significant points where they had to differ. When King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden statue, and commanded everyone to bow down and worship it, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could not bow their knees. It didn’t take long for others to “tattle” on them and bring them up on charges before the king. The king gave them one more opportunity to worship the statue or be thrown into the fiery furnace. They knew they would lose everything, and create a heavy burden for their families, but this was one aspect of the new culture they could not go along with. They had no way to save themselves. No amount of knowledge, skill, or political ability could save them now. The only way they could be saved in the furnace was for God to step in and work a miracle. And God did exactly that.

We can expect to encounter these kinds of situations within our own culture and denomination today. There will come a point when we can no longer go along with what everybody else is doing. We will have to stop and say – I can’t go there with you. There won’t be any way we can save ourselves. We will be completely dependent upon God to step in and either rescue us or let us perish. The good news is that when God did miraculously step in to rescue the three young men in the furnace, it caused more people to believe in the God of the Hebrews than ever before. God is constantly at work to lead more people to believe in His Son Jesus Christ. In today’s culture, it may be that seeming disaster, and God’s rescue of us, is what the Holy Spirit will use to lead people to Christ.

In the first chapter of Daniel, he and his friends are presented with a moral dilemma. In being given all of the best that the king had to offer, they were provided food and wine that their faith would not allow them to eat. Daniel requested permission for them not to have to eat this food. Their server did not want to grant their request, for it would put his life in jeopardy, if they were not in top physical condition. Daniel requested that they be allowed to try an experiment. The experiment was that they would be allowed to only eat their vegetarian and water diet for ten days. If they did not appear better than they counterparts, then they would return to the regular cultural diet. The servant agreed. Sure enough, at the end of the ten day experiment, Daniel and his friends appeared better and stronger than their contemporaries.

In today’s cynical, secular world, many people view the church as being no different than any other organization. If we have the same problems as the world, if we are no better at resolving our differences, if we don’t serve the community any better, than why pay any attention to the church? In today’s world, the church, like Daniel, must prove that our way of life is better than their way of life. Unless others see that we love each other more, are healthier, are less selfish, are more sacrificial, are more trustworthy, and are more believable, they won’t stop to listen to our message.

In the second chapter of Daniel, Daniel gains special attention from the king because he was able to know what his dream was and provide an interpretation for the dream that nobody else could. In today’s world, some people are moved by visions and dreams. They are moved by those who have the gift of interpreting visions and dreams. They will listen to those who can put spiritual realities into words that they can understand.

Daniel and his friends did not carry around picket signs protesting the sins of Babylon. They didn’t tell people they were going to hell. They weren’t obnoxious. They weren’t disrespectful. They wanted to be good citizens of the new country that were now refugees in. They wanted to cooperate. But, they also knew that they could not affirm or bless everything going on in the culture. They knew that there were some key points where they would have to be different. They knew that these could be very costly. These could cost them their jobs, their income, their homes, and their very lives. They would lose the respect and the reputation they had worked hard to build. In their former Jerusalem world, they would never have had to make these choices. But in their present Babylon world, they did have to make these choices.

As we begin a new year in 2013, I believe we find ourselves in a similar situation today. We will increasingly find ourselves being faced with choices that our culture wants us to make, that we cannot go along with. These could be potentially costly choices. They could be painful, agonizing, and discouraging choices. But, they could also be choices that cause more people to believe in Jesus Christ. What are the contemporary furnaces, foods, and visions that we are encountering today that are testing our faith, that we would not have encountered just fifty short years ago?

The good news is that God will be glorified, He will build His Church, and His Spirit has already been sent into our world to make a difference. We have always been called to participate in the mission of God. Now, we are being called to participate in it in a different culture, even though we haven’t moved. Our culture has moved. Our culture is moving. The better we understand our shifting cultural realities, the better we can anticipate the challenges coming our way, and the more we will be prepared to do what Christ wants us to do.


2 Responses to “Ministry in a Changing Culture”

  1. Keith Tanis Says:

    I appreciate the fact that Dan & his friends got their colleagues to go along with a simple experiment. It must be that, in addition to being strong and intelligent and politically savvy, they were also winsome and gracious. Much to learn!

  2. Ministry in a Changing Culture | Says:

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