“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:15)
I have written often concerning context. The environment in which we were raised has a significant influence on the way we see the world. It shapes our perceptions and informs our convictions. We are both beneficiaries and victims of our context. While it contributes to making us the people we are, it also subtly creates walls around our perceptions that limit our ability to appreciate the views and values of others.
Very often people never think to challenge the veracity or validity of the influences that shaped their perceptions or their worldview. We see it in children raised by extremists who in turn become extremists themselves, never questioning the morality of harming others who oppose their agenda, their very concept of right and wrong being shaped, or skewed, by their cultural, religious, and philosophical environment.
While this may seem an extreme example, there are many ways in which people exclude or marginalize others who see the world differently from themselves. To some it seems more trouble than it’s worth to try to get into the heads of others to understand or appreciate their values and perceptions. We tend to live in smaller worlds with others who share and affirm our values and don’t create too much of a challenge to our way of life and thinking. In years gone by, when travel was limited and one may never move far from the place of their birth or interact with those from other places, this may have mattered little, but in a time when the world has been shrunk by travel and technology, a failure to appreciate and understand others can be crippling. This is true whether one is talking about the world of business, communication, or ministry.
For those of us called upon to communicate the gospel, no such resistance to understanding is acceptable. We are not called upon to communicate merely to those with whom we are comfortable, but with the wider world Christ called us to reach. While it is true that many of us may simply be called to reach those close to home, in this ever-shrinking world even those in our own neighborhoods may come from a very different place and perspective. Communication is not, after all, merely speaking words or writing articles, but above all, it is connecting with those whom we are endeavoring to reach.
God loves the whole world. Love, compassion, and understanding are their own forms of communication. These virtues are the gentle hands that deliver our words in ways that can be received, even breaching the tightly knit defenses that men have erected in their hearts. Imagine, for example, Peter preaching Christ on the day of Pentecost to the Jews who had rejected their Messiah, a mere 50 days after the crucifixion. His words, imbued with both power and compassion, brought in a harvest of three thousand souls. Think of Paul, preaching an unheard of, little known philosophy on Mars Hill to the intellectual elite of Athens, not only holding his own among them, but also finding his mark in the hearts of some who were turned to Christ through His message.
The same is accomplished by missionaries today, both foreign and domestic, who are charged with the task of reaching a world unlike their own. This is the job the Church has been tasked by God to do. We will either succeed, loving the lost more than we love our own comfort and security, or we will fail, refusing to step compassionately into the world of others. To prepare, we need to listen attentively, read widely, and learn the language of a wider world. Some of us had a hard enough time learning to speak to others outside our denomination, let alone to those outside our worldview. We don’t have to leave our shores to find others who come from a different “place” than ourselves. The homeless walk our streets, the drug addicts suffer in our own neighborhoods, and the broken are on every corner, in every family, and even in every church.
For those of us who take our calling as disciples seriously, there is great opportunity and very little excuse. The resources we have at our disposal are abundant, and one does not have to have a seminary education to avail oneself of a great wealth of online teaching, be it in biblical doctrine, apologetics, or hermeneutics. Nor does one need a calling to preach to be an effective witness for Christ. Many of us were reached, not by a local pastor, but by a friend who probably stepped out of his or her comfort zone to share the love of Christ with us.
Too many have settled for a small vision for their life, not taking to heart Christ’s call to lay down their life and take up the cross. Those who do choose to do so, will find a connection with the grace and power of God that others content merely to spectate will never experience. If we will do our part and open our hearts to a wider world, God will supply His grace to make us truly effective ministers for Him.