The image of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ as it applies to church life offers a number of different images. Here is a family transplanted from one culture into the middle of another, entirely foreign one. Their lifestyle alone is a novelty to those in their local community, let alone the ways of thinking and relating that they bring. They offer an entirely different way of living and being, yet without impact in their setting.
Their story highlights the challenge we face in relating to the culture around us. Once the dominant culture in this area, we are now very much a minority, adhering (in the eyes of many) to ways of living and sharing which appear archaic and quaint, and lack connection to the realities of modern life. There is clearly an element of truth to this perception, one which we might be able to explain, if not justify, by our willingness and commitment to incarnate the life and teaching of Jesus.
Thus the challenge is demonstrated: we are called to be counter-cultural; to live lives which reflect the values of God’s kingdom rather than the dominant cultural values around us. Yet at the same time we are called to build bridges of friendship with those in our local community – building on points of contact, and common understandings that the gospel message might appear in the context of this relationship. It is a balancing act of enormous significance.
If we are to live in this tension, we need to be constantly examining ourselves and our motives, listening to the voice of God, that keep this tension alive. There is no single answer in response to the challenge, merely an attitude that is prepared to act, reflect and respond. The prevailing culture of our local community (and its many variations) does already embody images of the hand of God at work. As those called to mission in this community, we need to know that culture and respond to it in creative ways.
But let’s not be afraid to fail, or to look somewhat awkward in our grappling. In some senses it is OK for us to be ‘Hillbillies’, if that is what we are. But as we reach out, we need to be conscious of what is important to, and connects with others, that they might know and experience the good news which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
June 30, 2002