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Ministering by Understanding Local Culture

By Dwight LaPine

A critical matter in ministering to your community is understanding the local culture and customs. We read in 1 Chronicles 12:32, “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”

When one pastor from the South began a new ministry in the northern part of Minnesota, he required all of the men to wear suits when they ushered or sang in the choir. Most of the men did not even own suits. The pastor was a great preacher, but he struggled because he did not understand the culture of the people in his church. He lasted only three years. The church called a man who had been saved in that church as its new pastor. Since that man became the pastor, the church has doubled in size.

When Christ came to this world, He came dressed in the clothes of that time. He came understanding the language and the culture of that part of the world. That did not mean He was worldly, but He did understand the times and the people to whom He ministered.

Some pastors struggle because they try to usurp their own culture and the people they work with. A while back, I traveled to a church in Antigua. It was a fundamental Baptist church, but it was an American church. While they sought to reach Antiguans, they succeeded in reaching mostly Americans. The church ended up with a large building but few people. Across the island, another man was reaching the people of that country. He had a very small meeting room with over one hundred people crowded in the room, standing at the door, and peering in the windows. The difference was this missionary understand the culture.

Many pastors in America are still living in the culture of the 40s and 50s and not understanding the changes that have taken place in this country and their city. We have a responsibility not only to learn and study the Scriptures, but to learn and study the people whom God has asked us to reach.

Dwight LaPine is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Rochester, Minn.

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