A recent conversation on a ministry group I'm a part of sparked some thoughts far too detailed to post in a short comment on Facebook. The group is aimed at those of us who find ourselves classified as subculture ministries which merely means that we reach out to people who are considered to be outside to cultural norms, whatever those are.
The post, by a good friend and big part of the start of Freedom Church, posted the following:
"God is not looking at your forearms to determine whether you can share His Gospel with others. He’s not looking to see if you have too much makeup on or are wearing pants instead of a skirt. It’s ridiculous to think that God is so shallow that He would stop you from coming to Him because of something external. No, God is concerned with your heart and your mind. When you allow Him, not people's ideas, to transform the way you think, it will always be a positive thing."
This started a short series of posts about transformation. One commenter asked that if people do not leave their culture, how will the world know that they are changed? He did state that outward appearance wasn't necessary for salvation but did wonder about evidence speaking to the change. It was answered in brief and quite well by the moderator for the group, but there is still more to be said.
I had to set back and really consider where to go with my thinking and how best to express it. The question boils down to this: When you accept Christ, do you have to leave your particular subculture as evidence to the transformation Jesus brings?
It's a loaded question that needs to be broken down a little further. There are some cultures built around that which is sinful, usually around some type of sexual immorality. If this is the culture you're in, then yes, leave and be free from the sin. This is a much broader group than many people realize and includes a lot more than the first one that pops into most Christian's heads. These groups are ones that Christians do not become part of to reach but stand and show them the door to His freedom through love and relationship without participating in the sin.
Most subcultures do not fall into these categories. Most are just outside of what is considered to be normal society but aren't in and of themselves sinful. There's nothing wrong with being Goth, a biker, metalhead, punk, nerd, or any other group that you can think of that fits the outsider label. If they are not sinful, then why do we expect them to adopt cultural normative dress and lifestyles?
This is the same mistake that Christian missionaries from Western countries have made when preaching the Gospel in nations with different cultures. As much as preaching Christ, many also tried to Westernize the people in the name of Christ and civilizing the people. This resulted in a lot of failure in reaching people who truly need Jesus. Fortunately, most modern foreign missionaries have learned the lessons of the past and embrace local customs and attire as part of reaching the culture.
I do not mean to say that we need to alter the word to fit a culture nor that Christ needs to change a culture. But, that doesn't mean changing clothes, removing a tattoo (unless the tattoo is pornographic or directly blasphemous), or musical style preferences. It does mean abandoning sin and changing from a follower of the flesh to a disciple of Jesus. That is a change of the heart and mind and will be evident in the life of the person through behaviors, both leaving some behind and developing new ones.
Who better to see the change that the people you identify with, the group you are most comfortable? They will see the change first before anyone else could. They know the person best as they were before Jesus and are most likely to notice when that transformation begins. This is one of the most effective tools in Jesus' toolbox when it comes to reaching sinners in need of grace, the word of our testimony.
Instead of expecting people to adopt to church normative culture so they can fit in with us, why not let people be who they are yet transformed by the renewing of their minds? It's not the job of the church to make everyone look and think exactly the same but to preach the Gospel of Christ where it is needed. Last time I checked, that was to everyone for we are all in need of Jesus and His freedom through salvation.