Teaching the Bible to a mix of cultures

Teaching the Bible to a mix of cultures

Not everyone is like you. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise! Sure, they might look like you. They might have the same number of arms and legs. Yet other people see the world in a wildly different way to what you do. That is due to all kinds of factors, including culture, age, gender, family background and more. While this makes the world and the church terribly exciting in many ways, it does present a challenge to anyone teaching the Bible to such a mixed group.

Most churches are pretty mixed in lots of ways. The church I serve, All Nations Presbyterian Church, has people from many cultures in the one congregation. We have all the continents represented except Antarctica. I cannot assume that everyone thinks like me. In fact, I can safely assume that most people do not!

So how might we go about teaching the Bible to such a mixed group? Fundamentally, the Bible is the same. Any Bible teacher needs to work hard to understand what the Biblical writer is saying, why they are saying it, and how they are saying it. We need to know what it meant for them then before we can think about what it means for us now. After this is done, we should apply what this text has to say to our personal situation. All Bible teachers need to apply the Bible to themselves; else we can be hypocrites. We must not tell others to do what we have not done or been prepared to do.

It is at this point that we need to consider who we are teaching the Bible to. If it is a group of young people, be energetic, use references to the latest movies, apply it to school and university. But most congregations are more mixed than this. The Bible is profitable for everyone; we need to make sure there is something in there for all who are there.

I like to think how people in different categories might benefit from this text, such as:

  • Think East and West: when I wrote my book on angels, demons and evil spirits (you can find out more here), my main personal concern was to give people confidence that these things are real as the Bible teaches. But those who have grown up in the East have no doubt they are real, and are often afraid of evil spirits, even when Christian. I made sure I wrote applying for both perspectives.
  • Think male and female: how women understand the “submit to your husband” passage in Ephesians 5 is quite different to the issues men have with it. Any application of this needs to speak to husbands and wives.
  • Think old and young: knowing everyone is equal in the sight of God is a great blessing. Young people need encouragement that they are not inferior in any way to other believers, even if they have no money or power. Church leaders need to be told that they are not better than others in church. Same concept, different application.
  • Think single and married and divorced: this is a big one on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Don’t just thank God for mothers, though that is a good thing. Understand that some had absent or abusive mothers. Some women wish they were mothers but are not. Some have lost children. Don’t do the simple thing. A little thought will include those who find those days hard anyway.
  • Think different employment situations: a sermon on work can’t just assume everyone is in an office. Mothers with small children work. Retirees should still be productive. Those who are unemployed are not inferior in God’s sight to those who work.

A little bit of effort trying to understand the perspective of others will make Bible teaching so much more helpful to everyone. It is here that every Bible teacher needs to know those they are speaking to. A pastor needs to be involved with his people, else how will you understand how someone from Indonesia thinks or the issues that matter to single mothers? A youth leader needs to meet the youth and listen; youth culture moves quickly, and it is easy to assume the issues you faced at that age are the same ones your youth face today.

One final thing: when using illustrations to explain the Bible to mixed groups, don’t use things that only some of the people will understand. I love cricket, but most of my congregation don’t understand it or care for it, so those Bradman illustrations need to be discarded. People watch different TV and movies to one another, so assuming people know the plot of the Lord of the Rings or Forest Gump is of no use. I tend to use things that are universal, like family or work or loneliness or frustration, things that transcend culture. It is so easy to alienate people by only speaking about things they cannot connect to.

A church of mixed cultures is a great blessing from God. The Bible is useful for all who come, so let’s make sure we don’t make it only useful for us.