People around us are deep mysteries. To love my neighbors means I need to understand them, to know them deeply even if they try hard not to be known. Every person has a culture and every relationship I have with someone is crossing over into their culture.
The only way I will ever really understand someone is if the Spirit gives me insight into them but, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do the work of listening to them and observing what they love. Everyone who is a child of God is also a missionary to the people they spend time with. That means we need to think like people who cross cultures, even if we don’t recognize that we are crossing cultures.
In their book, Everyday Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis give counsel on how to observe people and discern culture. They give questions to ponder in discerning how to love people deeply by understanding them and their culture:
- Where are the places and activities that we can meet people (the missional spaces)?
- Where do people experience community?
- Are there exiting social networks with which we can engage, or do we need to find ways of creating community within the neighborhood?
- Where should we be to have missional opportunities?
- What are the patterns and timescales of our neighborhood (the missional rhythms)?
- When are the times that we can connect with people (the missional moments)?
- How do people organize their time?
- What cultural experiences and celebrations do people value/? How might these be bridges to the gospel?
- When should we be available for missional opportunities?
- What are people’s fears, hopes, and hurts?
- What gospel stories are told in the neighborhood? What gives people identity (creation)? How do they account for wrong in the world (fall)? What is their solution (redemption)? What are their hopes (consummation)?
- What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?
- What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?
- In what ways rate people self righteous?
- What is the good news for people in this neighborhood?
- What will church look like for people in this neighborhood?