Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tribes In Our Midst

Since the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, the focus on global missions has been to divide people into social, religious or ethnic blocs, people groups, etc... This has been truly effective in giving us some kind of quantifiable goal regarding who is left to reach. Because of the over generalizations made by necessity to classify regions or countries under a specific heading, I believe there are those who have been overlooked right in our backyard.

It is truly impossible to describe something or someone as a product of 'American Culture'. When we speak of culture, or people groups, there is the larger category, American, but there are numerous subsets of culture within this country. On a large scale, are we talking East Coast culture or West Coast culture? Midwest Bible Belt culture or Washington/Oregon Environmentalist culture? Red politics or Blue politics? On a smaller scale in the great state of California, are we talking about northern California 'might as well be Oregon' culture or Chula Vista 'might as well be Mexico' culture? Is it upper, middle or lower class culture? Let's draw this out to the minuscule definers: Within youth culture, is it Hip-Hop or Emo? Is it west coast gangsta hip-hop or is it East Coast B-boy break beats? Is it East Coast pre-1985 Sugarhill Gang rhymes or is it post-1990 EPMD?

These divisions could go on forever, and do. These things that divide one culture from another are what defines a Tribe. In a traditional Tribal setting, 6-8 hunting males make up a tribal band size of 20-25 people, including women and children. This size is perfect for hunting, but for purposes such as marriage, a larger society is desirable. The average population of societal villages, composed of various tribes seems to be around 500 people in most places. These are important because we define ourselves by our social identity. It is what helps us understand who we are, where we come from and what our future is supposed to look like. A man without a Tribe is lost in every sense of the word, because humans are tribal by nature. The importance of this cannot be understated: we must have a sense of belonging to our Tribe (20-25 people), yet still be able to find our significance in the larger Village where we live.

In Los Angeles, we might not want to use the word tribe, but in essence, we are still part of one. It may be the Tribe of family, friends defined by common interests, workplaces(IE, Starbucks culture), and so on. This is valuable 411 for an American church planter such as myself. On the mission field, we never sought to extract people from their homes in order to come to church. That not only destroys culture, but makes them outcasts and re-enforces the stereotype of a white man's Jesus. Instead, we bring the church to the people, so that it might take root in native soil. In this way, culture is affirmed and valued, and any changes that must be made are done solely by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and local believers. This is how movements begin.There is a groundswell in the Los Angeles area for this kind of movement of the Spirit to wash over the Valley of Dry Bones. More and more Christians are realizing that in many cases inviting someone to church means extracting them from their culture, causing the unnecessary ostracization of friends, which then blocks the natural flow of the gospel among that group. This kind of radical contextualization has been happening on the mission field for years, and it must happen in America for Christianity to be seen as the source of truth, power and love rather than confusion, guilt-trips and heavy religious burdens. If we are inadvertently creating societies of the very thing that Christ fought against, then it is best to not form Tribes around our own likes or dislikes (pre-trib, charismatic, fundamentalist), but to affirm existing Tribes (Korean taxi cab drivers in downtown, Oliveras street Mexican culture, youth goth culture, rave culture, middle-class business men working in downtown, living in the suburbs, etc..) and plant churches among them.

Is it possible to truly function as a church if you meet in the 'living room' of a Starbucks? How about holding church in a warehouse reserved for raves and parties the morning after? Without changing the scenery? These are questions that deserve to be thought about and answered. At the very least it will cause us to strip cultural monikers from the church of Jesus Christ and focus on true biblical structure and purposes without having to form a committee about the color of our new church carpet.