Embracing Globalization in the Church
In my workplace, I interact with people from all over the world nearly every day. I have the opportunity to engage with people who look differently than me, live in places far away from my own home, and speak languages I do not understand. Technology has taken places and cultures that used to seem very distant from us and made them reachable with just a few clicks on my phone. Through this daily connection, I am continually reminded of the increasing globalization of our society.
Yet, in some circles, globalization has become a dirty word. It stands for mass layoffs and American labor being outsourced to developing nations. Or, similarly, it represents immigrants coming in from all over the world to “take our jobs.” For some, the increased globalization even has connotations of communism or socialism--threats to our capitalistic society. The backlash against globalization has led to a rise in nationalism, with more frequent acts of racism and xenophobia being perpetuated around the world. Ultimately, a fear of globalization stems from deep-seated fears: a fear that one’s standards of living may be changing, and also a fear of the “other”--those who look, think, act, talk, dress, or believe differently than ourselves.
Conversely, for Millennials like myself, globalization has become a fact of life. By studying abroad and backpacking around the world, we are possibly the most well-traveled generation that has yet to live. The technology we have grown up with has brought the world close. Whether it is in our offices or on our social media pages, we cannot ignore the increasing diversity within our society. For us, globalization is not something to be feared or shied away from. Instead, it is something we celebrate and accept as normative.
So how can globalization help the Church engage Millennials?
Rather than preaching a narrative of fear of the other—things we do consciously and unconsciously with our behaviors as well as our words--churches can embrace the diversity and multiculturalism that comes with a more globalized society. In doing so, it reflects the type of world that Millennials have lived in for nearly their whole lives.
Pastors, look around your churches. Do they reflect the diversity that Millennials see in other areas of their lives? At the very least, do they reflect the culture of your immediate neighborhood and community? If they don’t, it is almost certain that the Millennials in your congregation have noticed.
Similarly, look at the types of global mission programs you engage in. Do they represent a paternal, one-way relationship where the church is creating a system of dependency within the target country? Or is your relationship a two-way partnership? In countries where you serve, do you treat the local leaders as equals, or do you see yourselves as imparting wisdom and resources onto the nationals? In workplaces where Millennials routinely interact with those from other countries and cultures, we can no longer pretend that Westerners have all the answers or are the sole benefactors of knowledge or finances. Millennials inherently understand that they are no better than those living in other parts of the world; in fact, more often than not, we have much to learn from people around the globe.
How is your church engaging in relief work around the world? With recent natural disasters like the earthquakes in Mexico or hurricanes in the Caribbean, the problems we see our brothers and sisters facing around the world are no longer vague and distant stories. They are top headlines on our favorite news apps. They are in live-streamed videos on Twitter or Facebook. Taking up a disaster relief offering in your worship service is a great start, but don’t stop there. Share the stories of survivors and workers on the ground. Look into ways to send qualified skilled laborers (electricians, doctors, contractors) from your congregation to assist with rebuilding efforts. If Millennials are not finding ways to support and help those of other countries through your church, they will find ways to engage through other non-profit organizations. And as a leader, you can gain tremendous respoect from Millennials when they observe you working shoulder to shoulder with others directly involved in helping the hurting.
Reflecting the Kingdom
In Scripture, we are told that the coming Kingdom of God will be a truly diverse and globalized society. The vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 promises an eternal kingdom where people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be united as one. The invisible boundaries and borders that used to separate people groups will dissolve in the beautiful light of our Savior. Rather than waging war with one another, nations will gather around a common table at the heavenly feast, no longer divided by language or race. If Christians fear globalization now, they will be in for a shock when they reach their eternal home.
Our call as the Church of Christ is to live into the picture of the coming Kingdom even now. Embracing a more globalized world today is one way churches will bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and they will find common ground with the globalized Millennials in their communities when they do so. Do not let fear—observed by words and actions--guide your congregations.
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, CEB).