Last month I strolled around the wonderful town of Princeton, New Jersey. The perfect mixture of colonial, Gothic, and Victorian style architecture evokes a feeling of deep history and knowledge. And, while walking through and around the campus, one almost instantaneously begins to imagine the depth of intellect and wisdom of those who pass you by. This is a center of academic prestige. However, because higher education enables people to think critically (which is necessary), sometimes it can backfire and restrict further growth. You can become totally dependent on what you know and be closed to the possibility of not knowing everything. Thus, places like Princeton are also centers of post-modernism and secular thought.
As it is custom, during our time there we went into a nice “hipster-ish” coffee shop downtown. We ordered, we were served, and we sat to enjoy our drinks. While inside, a conversation emerged between two employees and with what seemed to be a regular customer of this particular establishment. “Have you ever gone to church?” to which the barista replied, “Yeah, I had a Christian phase in high school.” What startled me was not the fact that this barista now believes all faiths to be “fairytales” but, as he continued in dialogue he admitted that, “Hey, at least it was a positive phase.”
Even within highly post-modern and secular circles, Christianity is still seen as somewhat of a positive experience. All though being seen as a fairytale is not our goal, there seems to be room for missions even amongst academic elites. His final statement is key to understanding this. What exactly did this guy perceive as positive to his experience in Christianity? Here are some thoughts on this concept:
Pay attention. Part of reaching any community is making sure we understand what they care about the most. Intellectuals, like all humans on planet earth, are not immune to problems or needs. Lots of listening and careful analysis must be done in order to discover what they truly value the most. Once discovered, we can begin to speak to those values in a meaningful way. If we believe that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives”, and that, “It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NLT), then as stewards of that Word (1 Cor 4:1) it is our responsibility to communicate it in a contextualized manner. Our success hinges on it.
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Find commonalities. Another important step in reaching the post-modern community is finding points of intersection. In other words, we must find things that we both agree upon and build our relationship from there. Because God’s light penetrates into every corner of the Earth (Rom 1:20; 2:14-15), there are glimpses of His handiwork everywhere. This is the case, even with post-moderns. Building upon a foundation that He already laid is key. If He’s already imparting truth outside of our doing, we might as well take advantage of those bridges that connect us with those outside of our faith. This cultivates a positive relationship of dialogue and mutual respect.
Make friends. Please. How many non-SDA friends do you have? How many non-Christian? Okay, I’m not talking about Facebook friends or Twitter followers. One trap that we tend to fall into is that once we come to Christ, we are totally absorbed by the community inside the four walls of our church. While this is great, it also presents a challenge to how we interact with those on the outside. If we are unaware of the reality lived my most people in the world, how can we think to say or do anything meaningful? Friends outside of your denomination and even faith will keep you on your toes to what others actually face on a daily basis and it will keep you honest about your own presuppositions with regards to their beliefs and lifestyle. John C. Maxwell once said, “You have to live with the people to know their needs, and you have to live with God to know how to solve them.” So please, go socialize. For real.