Engaging People within Cultural Shifts
Engaging people within the culture means we neither fight nor embrace the culture itself. The key is engaging people. Remember, culture is dynamic — it will change over time. It’s conceptual or theoretical.
People are people — our basic nature doesn’t change from generation to generation. Internal change only takes place when a person’s basic nature — their soul — is transformed with new life.
This is what Jesus referred to as new birth (John 3:3–8) — something God brings about by His Spirit touching our spirit — our nature. The Lord produces this spiritual transformation in us as we personally trust in Him and surrender our lives to Him.
Jesus the great engager
Jesus was a master at engaging people within their culture — whether they approached Him as friend or foe. He related to people without typical cultural filters. Even His primary followers had different backgrounds and livelihoods.
A classic example is Jesus engaging a woman of questionable character at Jacob’s well near Sychar in the region of Samaria. It was unexpected and culturally inappropriate for a Jewish man to engage a Samaritan woman in conversation.
Consider His disciples’ reaction as they return from a shopping excursion and find Jesus talking with this woman —
At that time his disciples returned. They were surprised that he was talking to a woman. But none of them asked him, “What do you want from her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” (John 4:27 GW)
As the story continues — and it’s a great story — Jesus uses this opportunity to train His disciples to follow His lead. He wanted them to see how and why He engaged people of different ethnicities and cultures (John 4:31–42).
When confronted by Jewish leaders about an adulteress caught in the act, which required stoning her according to Jewish Law—Jesus used the situation as an opportunity to display His discernment and wisdom (John 8:1–11).
Somehow Jesus convinces these leaders of their unworthiness to judge this woman —
When they persisted in asking him questions, he straightened up and said, “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bent down again and continued writing on the ground.
One by one, beginning with the older men, the experts in Moses’ Teachings and Pharisees left. Jesus was left alone with the woman. (John 4:7–9 GW)
He doesn’t excuse or overlook the woman’s sin while showing her great mercy.
Then Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Where did they go? Has anyone condemned you?” The woman answered, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go! From now on don’t sin.” (John 4:10–11 GW)
We also see how wisely and graciously Jesus engages people in His encounter with a rich young ruler. Jesus listens to him first and allows the young man to declare his moral goodness (Mark 10:17–27).
When Jesus tells the young man something difficult to accept, He shows compassion for the young man —
Jesus looked at him and loved him. He told him, “You’re still missing one thing. Sell everything you have. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!” (Mark 10:21 GW)
Examples abound of Jesus engaging a variety of people in unexpected ways throughout the Gospels. He shows us how we can engage people in gracious and respectful ways.