Becoming all things to the scene
Following and sharing Jesus in the art and music scene often presents dilemmas - how should we live in this world today? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the scene I’m part of? What can and can’t we do? What is sinful and what is just cultural? It seems that as the church we often fall in one of two extremes: either in our search for holiness we become isolated and alienated, not relating to the culture around us; or we sell out to the culture and forget our values and identity as a follower of Jesus. So how do we get this right?
In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul talks about “becoming all things to all men,” and I’ve often heard this passage used to talk about the need for the church to adapt to the culture. But I think a lot of the time we accept a superficial interpretation of this. When he says I became a Gentile to reach the Gentiles, it seems we imagine Paul dressing up as a Gentile, pretending to be someone he wasn’t to trick people into listening to him. So we imitate something we’ve observed in the art and culture around us and expect it to be an effective tool to reach people. Like, if I play hardcore music, all the hardcore kids will convert. If I dress up in black, the goths might listen to me. I like Slipknot, so I’ll just make a Christian version of it.
Another mistake we make here is to think that Paul is saying “I’ll do anything to reach people” in the sense that anything goes. So I can leave certain values or standards behind in the name of identifying with people. So I think I have to swear in my lyrics and that I have to drink beer, so people don’t think I’m weird. I think that’s missing the point Paul is making.
In fact, it’s the opposite. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about how eating meat offered to idols was confusing for new believers coming from the Greek cultural scene. So Paul says that if it’s a barrier for Greeks to know Jesus, he will never eat meat again. He then goes on to say that he’s willing to remain single and never get paid for what he does in ministry if that will help him reach more people. He concludes - I will become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Paul was willing to let go of all his rights to connect with the scene and share Jesus with people. What he describes here is a life sacrificially shared with people, truly identifying with them and showing them what it means to follow Jesus. This is a deep and long term commitment. With a servant attitude, he gave up everything and dedicated his life to the people God called him to. He wanted to show a Gentile what it meant to be a Gentile who follows Jesus.
What we need today is not cheap imitations, and the church putting on a “costume” to connect with the culture, or people leaving their Christian values and identity behind in the name of identifying with the scene. The scene needs strong and genuine followers of Jesus, boldly modelling what it means to follow Jesus in that context. What does a hardcore band in São Paulo that follows Jesus look like? What does a London high street banker who follows Jesus look like? What does a graphic designer in New York who follows Jesus look like? The scene needs Christians who are authentic, connected, influential and passionate for the Gospel, willing to dedicate their lives and let go of their rights to help this generation meet Jesus.