David Ng, Senior Lecturer in Urban Cross-cultural Mission challenges us on what it means to be Christlike.
Following Christ's Example
If someone asked you what it means to be like Jesus, what you would say? Would you talk about his humility and servant-heart? His preaching ministry? His compassion and love? All good answers. But a less mentioned characteristic is how he crossed boundaries and cultures for the salvation of others. Paul’s missionary approach to the religiously, ethnically, socially and culturally diverse city of Corinth was to ‘become all things to all people, so that by all means possible I might save some’ (1 Corinthians 9:22). It is tempting to think that Paul was a super-Christian who nobody else in their right mind would try to imitate. But Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to do just that. His own motivation for crossing cultures? Jesus. Paul says, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). For Paul, crossing cultures for the salvation of others is not an optional extra for those who just happen to be interested, but is for the whole church.
All Possible Means
As we read in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul’s vision was for all peoples, not just those from his own ethnic, social or religious background. Like Jesus, Paul was prepared to lay aside his rights and comforts for the salvation of others. Like Jesus, Paul used ‘all possible means’ to reach out to those around him. Like Jesus, Paul was intentional, not running aimlessly but so as to win the prize – the salvation of others. However, the boundaries Paul crossed were a pale reflection of those Jesus crossed. Christ came from heaven to earth. Incomparably rich, he became poor. All-powerful, he became a servant, giving up his rights for our salvation. He is the ultimate example of crossing boundaries and cultures for the salvation of all peoples, and Paul calls the Corinthians (and us!) to imitate him. What a wonderful Saviour we have in Jesus!
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. So diverse, in fact, that one sociologist has coined a new term for it: ‘super-diversity’. London today is religiously, ethnically, socially and culturally super-diverse – there is nowhere in the world quite like it. The overwhelming diversity can make us feel powerless. Our natural tendency is to greet and befriend people from familiar cultural backgrounds. But Paul’s word to the Corinthians still challenges us. We are to seize these precious opportunities in London, beginning with the resolve to imitate Christ by crossing cultures in our neighbourhoods.
This is true for us individually. Greeting neighbours who dress and speak differently to us is a good start. We can show kindness and hospitality to a stranger and watch God bring wonderful opportunities for sharing the gospel from such beginnings. It is also true for the church. As Paul urged the Corinthians to embrace all peoples, so he urges the church in London today. Immigrant churches across London live alongside traditional mainline British denominations.
Imitating Christ’s intentionality and sacrifice means overlooking differences in worship style or preaching in order to partner in this cross-cultural mission. And it is true for us as an organisation. Whatever advances London City Mission has made in reaching the varied peoples of London, we must continue to use diverse ways to reach our diverse city, crossing new frontiers in a changing London.
Imitating Christ in a super-diverse city is a high calling. But it is one that every follower of Christ is called to. What does it mean for you to imitate Christ in your diverse neighbourhood?
Top Tips for Sharing the Gospel Across Cultures
- Be prayerful - Pray for opportunities with those you find it a challenge to befriend.
- Be intentional - Imitate Jesus, who took the initiative at great cost to himself.
- Be a good listener - Discover what’s behind a culture. Assume the highest about people.
- Be loving - Cultural errors are easier to forgive if made in love. A life of love makes the gospel attractive to the outsider.
- Be bold - Other cultures are often happy to talk about religion. Be bold – the gospel is, after all, the power of God for salvation.
- Be prepared - Read books, learn to adapt the way you share your faith by befriending people of other faiths, and attend training events.
This article was originally published in the summer edition of our magazine, Changing London.