(For audio version click here)
When we compare the challenge of sharing the Gospel with our neighbors today, with what our parents and grandparents faced, it is similar to the difference between pancakes and waffles. You could say, we have moved from IHOP and to the Waffle House. Here is what I mean by this analogy.
Until sometime in the early 1970s, the United States was by and large a homogeneous, bi-racial nation with a common language. Even the American Indians had assimilated to some degree into the American culture. However, since the seventies, the social and cultural landscape of our nation has radically changed!
From 1970 until 2005, over 35 million immigrants poured into this country. During the previous period of mass immigration (1775 to 1924), approximately the same numbers of immigrants came to our country. There was one huge difference however; the first wave of immigrants came to America over a span of 149 years, while the latter wave occurred in just 35 years. An average of one million immigrants came into this country each year!
Another significant difference between the immigrants from these two periods is their degree of assimilation. Unlike the immigrants from the previous two centuries, immigrants since 1970 have not assimilated into the American culture. Globalizations, and advances in communication and world travel, have made it possible for these immigrants to maintain their cultural and ethnic ties with their lands of origin. The result is the creation of a new sociological pluralism on a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen.
A third difference, and perhaps the most challenging, is that of contrasting worldviews. Immigrants from 1775 to 1924 came largely from northern European countries and shared a common Christian worldview. Since 1970, many, if not most immigrants are from various religious backgrounds such as Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Animist.
If this is the reality in which we live, how should the church respond? Specifically, how does this impact the way we share the Gospel and make disciples?
Here is where the analogy of the IHOP and Waffle House can be applied to the task facing the church today. Before 1970, we could share the Gospel like you would pour syrup over pancakes. Just start pouring and it will flow freely almost everywhere. Today however, sharing the Gospel is more like pouring syrup over a waffle. You have to work at it to get the syrup into every divot in the waffle. In other words, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual make up of our nation demands a new strategy to reach the people groups who have not yet heard the Gospel, and do not have a viable and reproducing indigenous church among them.
Therefore, how do we pour syrup over this waffle? How do we reach the various people groups living in our own community with the Good News of Jesus, and more importantly how do we plant indigenous, reproducing churches among them?
Before we tell them to learn English, and demand they assimilate into our American culture, let us take a careful look at God’s Word. What did Jesus say? How did Jesus teach His disciples to make disciples of those outside of their Jewish culture? What did the early church do? How did a sect of Judaism break across religious, ethnic and linguistic barriers to literally turn the world upside down?
Before we condemn their worldview, let us identify the biblical worldview, and allow God’s Word to reveal the faults in our own. Then, we will be able to build bridges of communication with our new neighbors, to love them as Jesus loves them, and to discover ways to communicate with clarity and kindness the message of God’s love and grace.
As never before in the history of the American Church, our own back yard has become our greatest mission field. We must address the challenges and barriers of sharing our faith cross-culturally. If we fail to do this, the church will fail to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation.
We have a great challenge before us. It is a missionary challenge! God is calling to us as He did Isaiah, (Isa. 6:8) “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Are you willing to say, “Here am I. Send me.” and become a missionary to the people groups God has brought to your own back yard?