Cultural Sensitivity

I’ve been writing an extended series of columns describing our goals and values for corporate worship. So far, I’ve said that we want our worship gatherings to be God-centered, cross-centered, and Scripture-saturated. Two weeks ago, I wrote about congregational engagement. Some churches want their predominant sound to be a gritty, cutting-edge musical style. Other churches like a resounding pipe organ. We want our predominant sound to be the people singing, and I explained several reasons we value the full engagement of the whole assembly of worshipers in all elements of the meeting.

The next value that unites and informs us in worship is cultural sensitivity. We believe our worship gatherings must take heed to two distinct “voices”: the voice of the Scriptures and the voice of the secular society where we live as strangers and pilgrims. Though we will not listen to these two voices with equal deference, we want to be attentive to both.

Likewise, we believe our worship is and should be shaped by our legacy, our traditions, and our past values as a church. While we do not hold the past as sacrosanct, we fully recognize that we did not invent what it means to “do church” in the last few years. Novelty is not necessarily a virtue. Our distinctiveness and effectiveness as a church are affected at least in part by God’s work among us in our past.

At the same time, we firmly believe our worship meetings should be hospitable to outsiders. We want our meetings to be understandable and applicable to everyone—guests and members alike, always endeavoring to distinguish between the unavoidable offense of the gospel and the avoidable offense(s) of obscure traditionalism.

Practically, this value of cultural sensitivity means:

  • We utilize a blend of musical styles and song selections, desiring to remember our own past and yet still honor the society in which our church members live and minister.
  • We make alterations to our corporate worship only when convinced change is necessary, upholding our past as honorable and respectable.
  • We introduce change slowly and carefully, recognizing that our church culture will accept some changes more readily than others.
  • We strive to explain Christian terms, worship activities, and church traditions in such a way that outsiders or immature believers will understand them.
  • We examine our worship meetings for offenses or obscurities that would overshadow the gospel or misrepresent our church’s values to outsiders.