But the fact remains that an international church has at times, the unsettling position and yet extreme joy of stripping back all the traditions of man and seeking to be faithful in proclaiming the pure Gospel, revealing the only thread that binds such beautiful diversity in the first place - the very Word of God.
When one steps off that airplane and begins his new life in another country, whether it be for education, work or retirement, the changes that are about to occur in his life are unknown to him at the time. Life around him at times will be so totally different from anything he would have ever imagined. As well as, at times those experiences might not actually be so different from home after all, causing in him a potential unsettling in the mind as he makes unconfident decisions on a daily basis. Each new day can be filled with both successes and failures. However, without a doubt, those days will be filled mostly with large doses of needed humility in order to survive. But survive they will. Adaption to a different culture is needed anytime someone ventures to live abroad.
But take a peek into what happens to the christian who desires to continue to worship in an international church while living in another country. The experience is extremely profound and yet can be quite unsettling for most. For as we desire to begin living abroad, we cannot deny that we bring “who” we are with us to that new culture, even from our own church background.
The United States is often seen as a “melting pot.” Peoples from around the world came to the US in years past and struggled to make this new country their home, all the while assimilating to those around them. Amidst all the change, they still retained “who” they were to some degree. Greek Town, Little Italy, Chinatown - these pockets of immigrant societies sprang up around the country in the US helping to retain a small portion of the immigrant’s culture and way of life.
In the church as well, we have church cultures and traditions that we grow up with, even if we are unaware of them. We have denominational traditions, ways of “doing” church, church dress codes whether they be stated or unstated, as well as, christian vocabulary that we don’t even think twice about until we leave our church culture and begin to try to assimilate into another church in another country all together. It’s at this point that the expat christian can begin to feel uncomfortable because their cultural “cues” are no longer in their new place of worship. International church ministries at times can be quite unsettling for the expat.
However, it’s at this point an international church has the potential to bring such spiritual life to any christian! As people come to an international church from all around the world, they bring with them their church expectations and traditions. They bring with them their church culture, just like any expatriate going into any country around the world would do. Global diversity in the church can breed a plethora of noise, leading to possible chaos. Yet, one of the greatest joys of international ministries is the stripping back of all the extra cultural verbiage and ways of “doing” church in order to reveal the bare essentials of the Bible. An international church does not have the luxury of some of our various cultural traditions, because they would not be understood by all of the congregants. Each Sunday morning one will find cultural diversity literally between every seat. The ONLY thing that binds this mélange of peoples together is the blood of Jesus Christ and His gift of redemption in which an international church has to cling and stand firm in.
It is very easy and normal for an expat to long for the homogenous church culture of times past in their own country. But the fact remains that an international church has at times, the unsettling position and yet extreme joy of stripping back all the traditions of man and seeking to be faithful in proclaiming the pure Gospel, revealing the only thread that binds such beautiful diversity in the first place - the very Word of God. That is our starting point. That is our finishing point. What an unsettling, yet thrilling way to worship - bringing diverse people groups from around the world together to worship the Word of God and standing firm with our hope fixed on only His grace. #heaven.