3 Steps Towards Gospel-Centered Cultural Engagement in LA

By Josh Beaton, Partnership Coordinator

In my previous posts I spent some time touching on how Next Step is engaging culturally and advocating for social justice in Los Angeles. However, our basis for all hope offered, every plate of food served, and every project worked on, is the cross. So, how do we avoid “mission drift” as we seek to engage the culture and love the city of Los Angeles well? What I mean is that with all the issues facing this city, there is an underlying temptation to focus all of our attention on justice in the city, and “drift” from our first purpose which is the mission of God to multiply His church on earth. There may be a temptation to substitute the shameful and bloody cross for the activity of a noble cause. We need both. We cannot offer any dignity to those who are desperate for it without telling them they are only dignified in Christ. I am suggesting 3 ways we can make our cultural engagement fully centered in the Gospel both in Los Angeles and in any context.

First, we need to ensure our cultural activity in Los Angeles is connected to the overarching mission of God and the task He has given His church. We care about cultures because we care about people—all kinds of people. When set within the context of the Great Commission, cultural engagement is motivated by missionary effectiveness. When divorced from the Great Commission, cultural engagement is motivated by worldly acceptance. So, let’s be clear: cultural engagement must be driven by the desire to see all people as co-image bearers of God Himself. We must never walk into this great city and the neighborhood of Skid Row with the mindset that we are more refined or cleaner than anyone else. By doing this, we become middle-classed in spirit instead of poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Jesus Christ came for the unclean. Jesus Christ came for the poor in spirit.

Cultural engagement in your city may mean spending time at the local McDonald’s, not the trendy, upscale coffee shop. Perhaps the best way for your church to serve your neighborhood is to minister to a single mom who lives across the street from your church, instead of courting the flashy business owner who lives in a mansion across town. When one kind of “cultural engagement” excites us more than another, it says more about our hearts than the culture or the neighbors we are called to love.

Second, if we are to be faithful in how we engage the people around us, we need to be Christians with scripture-soaked imaginations. This means we need full and regular immersion into God’s Word as the great story of our world. We must operate under the truth that God is unfolding history before our eyes and in this drama of redemption we get to play a part. The city of Los Angeles, like every city, is full of idolatry. Cinema, Hollywood, the chase of success infests the city.  The soundtrack of Los Angeles plays in people’s minds, and we as missionaries entering this city must instead be more and more fond of scripture and how “culturally relevant” it really is.

Culture engagement doesn’t start with the desire to be better interpreters of the city’s stories; it starts with the desire to better know God’s story and how the stories of the city play into His story.

There are no shortcuts. We cannot grasp the longings or see through the lies of the world if we do not first see all of history as part of the unfolding Story that scripture tells. Unless we inhabit the vast world of the Bible, with God’s Word on our lips and His stories planted in our hearts, it will be challenging to be faithful. Faithfully engaging the culture doesn’t start with cinema, but with Scripture.

A third way of making sure our cultural engagement doesn’t lead us away from the Great Commission is to continually remind ourselves of what the Bible teaches about eternity. There are eternal, not just temporal consequences to sin. The biblical teaching about eternal judgment serves as gravity that pulls you back to the mission of God, who seeks and saves the lost through the atoning sacrifice of His Son. The reality of hell reminds us of the ultimate “social justice” of God, in a way that raises the stakes and gives us an eternal purpose when we engage the culture, serve the poor, love the stranger, and stand against the world’s rebellion against God. The Great Commission is an urgent commission.

I love the city of Los Angeles. I recently spent time visiting and driving around downtown with a businessman I always try to see when I am in town. We got lunch in little Tokyo, which is blocks from Skid Row and thousands of people experiencing homelessness. As we were finishing our lunch I suggested we go and drive through Skid Row to see if any of my friends were out and about. My businessman friend was fascinated by my interest in the neighborhood of Skid Row. He said… “You know most people here don’t really talk about Skid Row and the issue it really is.”

Please join us in talking about it, continuing the conversation, and engaging this city and culture in a Christ-centered fashion.

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