bowl. It is what we are surrounded by yet do not always realize. Humans are prone to bring their culture into Christianity because it is so heavily ingrained into who we are.
Grace Nellis, CBU alumna in biomedical science, shared her observations of American cultural Christianity and Christianity worldwide and how these expressions compare to the word of God. Nellis is a former mobilization intern for the CBU Spiritual Life (SL) office and served as an International Service Project (ISP) student leader in North Africa and Central Asia.
“In my experience, Christians in America are prone to consumerism regarding their faith,” Nellis said. “This would include ‘consuming’ church rather than being an active member and participant in a church body… it is common to expect to be served by a church instead of serving with a church.”
Nellis said examples of this include being sung to by the worship team, sitting in a sermon, being fed communion and then being ushered back to the parking lot. While these are all important church elements, Nellis explained that one must be engaged rather than merely entertained.
“Scripture does not affirm an entertainment-based gathering that emphasizes production and performance,” Nellis said.
In her time overseas, Nellis has observed different expressions of Christianity outside the American church.
“In Central Asia, culture is shaped by their desire to spend time in community,” Nellis said. “Particularly amongst Christians fellow shipping together and those who are witnessing to non-believing friends.”
Nellis described life in Central Asia as community-oriented while life in America is more work-oriented.
“Church is limited to a scheduled worship service on the weekends, whereas, in places I have visited overseas, [they may] hold church multiple days a week,” Nellis said. “They may start late and end late and prioritize spending time together laughing, dancing, praying [and] singing. This reflects what they value— community.”
She also shared ways in which worship could become more expansive, including tithing, reflection, prayer, teaching, fellowship and communion.
“I believe that American Churches care for their communities well through outreach events. We know how to throw a good party and invite our neighbors in as a way to bless them and get them connected with the gift of the Church,” Nellis said.
Mikayla McAtee, CBU alumna in intercultural studies, shared her thoughts and observations. As a missionary kid, spending most of her childhood overseas and having missions experience as a young adult, McAtee has a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the global church.
McAtee explained that Christianity has strong cultural ties with America, drawing connections between Roman Catholicism and American Christianity.
“When Rome adopted Christianity as their legal religion, that’s when Roman Catholicism began to develop,” McAtee said. “Whenever Christianity becomes cultural, it begins to lose its impact because now people just think ‘Oh I’m a Christian,’ when in reality they never actually gave their life to Christ.”
She explained that many Americans have been weekly church attendees since birth, but they continue to lead their lives rather than letting God lead their lifestyle and decisions.
“They don’t recognize the cost of following Jesus and they don’t think about the fact that Jesus says whoever is not willing to lay down their life daily, pick up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” McAtee said.
McAtee has seen American consumerism in the church, explaining that some Christians shop for the church they like best. She stated that rather than acting as though the church is there to serve the Christian, the Christian must recognize they are there to serve the church. Additionally, no matter where you are in the world, worship and teaching can be found in every congregation.
“[Church] is being for Jesus what he was for us,” McAtee said.
McAtee discussed the idea of “spiritual multiplication”— Christ’s command that we would engage the world through evangelism, seeking to add true and genuine believers to the body. She feels American Christians could grow in their evangelism efforts rather than believing that it is a job for their pastor.
“I would say there are so many things that Americans have made Christian that aren’t necessarily universally Christian. These aren’t necessarily bad things,” McAtee said. “There’s things like ‘Christian girl autumn’ or the way we think we should dress as Christians or the worship set or how when the pastor always comes up and says, ‘hey, can I have the band in the back play the music … Sunday school … VBS.”
McAtee explained that it often makes Americans feel uncomfortable when they see churches in different countries or contexts doing church differently than they are used to.
“In Southeast Asia … every church service, we had a prayer time where it was a 10, 15-minute prayer,” McAtee said. “We also had a lot of, if you were new, you stood up and introduced yourself to the whole church.”
“Churches in other contexts have to learn how to be really bold in their faith because…here, it’s kind of easy to be like half in, half out,” McAtee said.
McAtee complimented the American Church in both their teaching and their work toward establishing community.
Dr. Rebecca Meyer, professor of nursing, shared her knowledge and experience about cross-cultural ministry. Meyer has experience serving overseas with CBU since 2010.
“When you look at Europe, they’ve walked so much away from a lot of their faith traditions that their churches and cathedrals aren’t even used as churches and cathedrals anymore,” Meyer said. “It appears that the U.S. is following that pattern.”
She pointed out that many of the southern countries of the globe still have the enthusiasm and energy for their faith that America is slowly losing.
“Whenever I go to [Asia], they ask people, ‘Anybody want to share?'” Meyer said. “The expectation is that in many places … if you’re a guest, you are expected to share in some way.”
Meyer cited a study by the Barna Group that shows many American churchgoers have abandoned Christian orthodoxy.
“They go to church [but] they aren’t walking the walk the rest of the week,” Meyer said. “I think what frustrates me sometimes is that people put politics and Christianity together, which isn’t what God designed.”
When discussing our strengths as an American church, Meyer cited small groups as a great tool for creating community and fellowship.
When looking outside her cultural context, Meyer observed a heavy emphasis on active member participation within church services overseas, especially when it comes to praying for others.
“That whole emphasis on prayer was refreshing and a good reminder that we are to be praying for people all the time,” Meyer said. “[The] hospitality piece that’s embedded in their culture, not just the believers but just their culture in general, that’s amazing.”