Our world is diverse. Ethnically, socially, economically, and politically we are diverse!
I know – not exactly an earth-shattering observation.
“So why make it?”
Because relationally it poses a challenge.
Not necessarily a bad challenge…
particularly for the Church.
The simple fact is the less we have in common the more intentional we have to be in building bridges into peoples’ lives. Conversely, the more we have in common with folks (i.e. faith, interests, hobbies – you get the idea), the easier it is to connect with them, to converse, to communicate, and to form deep bonds of friendship. For this reason a collective sense of identity facilitates relational connectedness.
Yet that collective sense of national identity has been eroding in America. Not since the 1940’s when the whole nation pulled together to defeat the Nazi’s in World War II have American’s been unified toward a common cause.
So the question for Christians who value meaningful relationships is, “How do you relate to someone with whom you have very little in common?” Let me take it one step further, “How do you build bridges into people’s lives in order to share the treasure of God’s Truth with them?”
The author of Hebrews provides for us a clue. And it comes in the opening lines of his letter.
A little context will be helpful, though, for it sets the stage and orients us to the challenge he faced as he sat down to pen this magnificent note of encouragement.
The place was Rome.
The time period was the mid to late A.D. 60’s during the height of the infamous Roman Emperor Nero, who mercilessly persecuted Christians to advance his own selfish interests.
And his audience was a group of 1st Century Jewish Christians who where considering reverting back to comforts of Judaism with its more familiar rituals and practices. Christianity for them was unfamiliar. It was different, diverse, unlike anything they had grown up with. For a Jew to become a follower of “The Way” was a BIG deal. It meant familial excommunication and separation from the larger Jewish community. Add to that the very real possibility that a commitment to Christ could lead to horrific martyrdom. Perhaps they found themselves alone and isolated.
Maybe they thought to themselves:
What’s the point? We’ve become Christians, but how has that benefited us? We’ve lost our social status. We’re marked men. We can’t even be with family for the holidays. Why not just go back to the comforts of our old faith system?
And so he writes, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways….” A few thoughts later, he introduces the idea that Jesus in superior even to angels.
“Okay? So what’s the point?”
The point is the author knew his audience accepted God’s past revelation given through the prophets and angels. In other words, he begins his case from a common point of understanding.
He builds a bridge. He does not chastise them for their complacency – for their lack of perseverance. Nor does not lay a guilt trip on their for their wavering faith.
Instead he affirms the familiar. He builds upon their existing beliefs and uses what they already acknowledge to bridge to God’s superior revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the EXACT representation of God’s being!
We need to follow this author’s example. Start your conversations with the familiar – the things people already believe to be true. Talk about the weather. Learn their name. Ask where they are from, where they live, who their family is, where they work, where they have traveled. Ask them about their hobbies, their problems, concerns, and frustrations. Get to know your audience.
Seek first to understand them and to build authentic, meaningful, unconditional relationships. And do not try to ramrod an evangelical agenda without first building a trustworthy bridge upon which you can win the right to be heard.
We may not achieve world unity, but taking the time to understand your audience will go a long way to bridging the diversity gap!