Cultural anthropology is the branch of anthropology concerned with the study of human societies and cultures and their development. What does this mean for the local church? Churches must know and understand their ministry context in order to be effective at intersecting the lives of the people with the gospel and love of Jesus.
All people have the same basic human needs. However, how these needs are sought will look different in the upper Northwest corner of the the United States from the Heartland or the Gulf Coast region. God’s people must think like missionaries to live like missionaries. Cultural anthropology is what missiologists refer to as cultural exegesis. We must become students of our culture. Cultural exegesis simply requires we answer questions about our community.
- What defines the church’s community? Geographical parameters?
- Who are the people living in the church’s community?
- What are the physical needs in the community?
- What are the socio-economic needs in the community?
- What are the demographic trends in the community?
- What are the local schools in the community? Coaches? Teams?
- What are the community rhythms … seasons, festivals, special events?
- What are the sources of industry & employment in the community?
- What are the leisure activities in the community?
A local church exists in a community. A local church must see itself as part of the local community in partnership with the other community groups for making an impact, not as being in competition with the larger community. The community is not our enemy. The local church exists within the larger community, but has a distinct role in the community. The local church is the outpost of the Kingdom of God in the community. Therein lies the tension of being in the world but not of the world. If the local church is not careful, the larger community will view us as being against them as a whole rather than for them as individuals and families who have a story and who need God’s truth and grace.
Serving people becomes a platform for more effectively and regularly sharing the gospel and love of Jesus. Serving requires that we identify the needs and the opportunities, present and future, in our community and then intentionally seek to serve the people in our community through these serving avenues.
What does this mean for the local church corporately and her members individually?
- Individually – Involve yourself in the acts of helping others. Pray for God to give you an awareness and sensitivity to the needs of others in your sphere of life. Then use your life to serve the person(s) by addressing the needs. A church will seek to serve the community better when the individual members have a personal worldview of serving others. Determine how you can use your gifts, passions & resources to bring mercy to others and start doing it.
- Corporately – Involve the church in the acts of helping others. Pray for God to raise up leaders and servants who will use their gifts and passions to serve those in need and lead the church to be stubbornly focused to engage the community through tangible expressions of the love of God.
What might these intentional serving points look like? Ultimately, they are dependent upon the specific needs of one’s community. Below is a list to kickstart the conversation:
- Food Pantry
- Clothes Ministry
- ESL Classes
- Employment and Career Training Classes
- Adopt school campuses through partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
- Volunteer coaches through local sports leagues
- Mentoring in local schools
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” – 1John 3:16-18