March 24, 2014

Fitting in While Pleasing God

Patsy fits into a Quebec mural.
In response to a question about what actions you can adopt for the sake of the gospel,  I give examples of my recent trip to another country. Even though the details vary from what others encounter in their ministries, this story may encourage prayer and reflection about how to fit in while pleasing God.

My husband and I took a vacation to Quebec, a French-speaking Canadian province. It is the kind of place I mentioned in All Things to All Women "where people dress, act, look, think and eat differently than we do." Although I met briefly with missionaries there, I was not on a missions trip.

And yet, wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I try to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil, 1:27). This involves respecting the people around me and trying to remain neutral about practices that are not clearly sinful. I want to be in the world and not of the world. In case I was the only believer a non-Christian Canadian encountered that week, I wanted to stand out only for things that have eternal significance.

What was easy?
Certain cultural norms in Canada were not difficult adjustments, which echoed my ministry experience. In this case, I had mostly black clothes that were simple enough to help me blend in with the fashion-conscious French Canadians. In addition, my fascination with unique regional foods allowed me to enjoy authentic Québécois cuisine like wild game, sugar pie and Tim Horton maple donuts. 

What was more challenging?
In both my ministry and Canadian experiences, I find that fitting into new locations requires a willingness to sacrifice. My rusty French was a problem in Canada. To help me improve, my husband thoughtfully got language CDs to listen to while we drove to Quebec. I was reluctant to practice in the car and even more reticent to use French in stores and hotels. Therefore, I was pretty much a French failure. On the other hand, my husband received a compliment on his fluency from a local resident.

Another difficult situation is dealing wisely with existing prejudices against heritage like North/South or city/country. I see that in churches. In Quebec, history museums and tour guides showed me that some French people resent the English. My ancestors were English. But, I suppressed the urge to ask, "Why?," because I didn't see the benefit in it.

Other faulty mindsets exist, as well. I saw some anti-Christian ideas depicted and expressed in deconstructionist and metaphysical art and attitudes in Canada. This is an example of an area where Christians should not try to fit in.

I was in Canada, but I wasn't of Canada. That meant that I could enter into the culture to a certain extent, but I couldn't call it my own. I saw a glimpse of that when we attended a Quebec vs. United States hockey game. I didn't feel disloyal by standing quietly for the Canadian national anthem, but the words were foreign to me. We were surrounded by people who seemed to live for hockey; we had a higher purpose. In a crowd of 20,000, my husband and I were in a minority who didn't cheer for Canada. Our eyes were on a better country. 


  1. This, and the post from which the question this post is responding to both really got me thinking! We're ministering in an area where in some ways I feel like an outsider/foreigner/different. Sometimes it's hard for me to have a good attitude about it all. (Especially when there are prejudices expressed against things or people of which I would identify myself with). I was convicted after reading the earlier post about being all things to focus has been so self-centered. God wants us to minister where He's placed us, regardless of the things that make me feel out of my comfort zone.

    As I've continued thinking about this issue, and reading this post, I think part of what it boils down to is feeling different. We just don't like feeling different. And no matter what we do to try to "fit in" with or "understand" the people around us, there may be ways in which we will always feel a little different. Instead of fighting against that, I need to try to see my life through God's eyes. It's not easy though!!

    I'm reminded of a recent conversation with my teenage daughter in which she expressed frustration with feeling different because of being a Christian among her fellow classmates. And that's what got me really thinking just now...if we're living our lives for the glory of God, we will always feel different in some ways. So we may as well strive to embrace it rather than fight it. I sympathized with my daughter, knowing full well the struggle of feeling okay with being different sometimes, and at other times feeling the weight of being different.

    So I guess, for me, I need to try to remember that whether it's because of specifics of our ministry or because of living for Christ, being different isn't something I should run from..though I feel like it at times.

    1. Being different is hard. Even non-Christians feel it. The people in Connecticut have a certain sameness to them for which the state earned the nickname, "land of steady habits."

      Christians experience it even more. Ask the people in your church.

      And, there is another layer of feeling out of synch that comes with being in ministry. A teenaged pastor's daughter I know got so tired of trying to explain what her father did that she once said, "I wish dad had a real job."

      We need to look into the Scriptures to see what God wants, pray constantly to see how the Truth applies to our specific situation in life and encourage one another to fight the good fight. In addition, we can meditate on what God has done to make us a "good different."

      In weaker moments, I remember "the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing," (Numbers 11:5) but I forget the sinful oppression of slavery that I endured in my former life. Then I realize, I am glad things are different now because I don't want to ever go back there.

  2. This is an interesting post. I agree with what is being said, but I find the application to be tricky. We've been called from a very small church to a very large church; from small town in the mountains in the south to suburban/metropolitan & midwest flatlands. It's a completely different environment and culture (different part of the country). Most younger women work full-time, & their children are in school. I homeschool our six children. We've only been here a few months, but I'm struggling with fitting in and how that should look. The majority of children in our church never go to worship until sixth grade. The parents drop them off at Sunday school while they go to the worship service. We don't do that with our children, so of course, that makes us different. Other structural practices at this church don't make sense to me; two completely different worship services (traditional & contemporary). We came from a church where my husband was the solo pastor & now he is an associate. We are used to singing hymns, and now if we want to worship as a family, we have to attend the rock 'n roll contemporary service. It's so different. I'm really not even sure we are at this church, but here we are, and we need to minister in the best way for however long we're here. I want to have the right attitude about all this, but I'm not sure what our purpose is here. I appreciate what the above poster said about feeling different. I feel different often since we have a large family and we homeschool. My daughter recently said some things along those lines as well. She's had a lot of people comment on the size of our family and she being the oldest and how hard that must be. We try to focus on the blessings rather than the frustrations, and I guess that could apply to the ministry setting as well. I am definitely out of my comfort zone, and I'm struggling with it even though I know God is sovereign and has a plan and purpose.

    1. Sara, It is good that you are trying to focus on the blessings. (see the end of my previous reply) Keep up the good work.

      In ministry, I have felt some of the same things you are experiencing, only in reverse. For example, I sent my children to public school and I worked. Most of the families in our church at the time homeschooled. I have two children; one family has ten. I grew up in a small town, went to two cities and moved back to a small town.

      I am not suggesting that you give up any biblical convictions to fit in. But, there is a difference of opinion among fine Christians over certain things that are not spelled out in the Bible. (e.g., Homeschooling/Christian school/secular private school/public school) It might help if you had several conversations with your husband about what are your core biblical convictions that you can't compromise on and what is right for your family.

      Once you agree on the basic direction with your husband and have ownership of it, you could think of non-sinful ways to graciously reach out to those who think differently than you do. This takes a lot of ongoing thought and prayer because there are always new challenges. Example: I may want my family to stick to a healthy diet with very little sugar and low amounts of fat. The church could be called "Junk Food Baptist." Do I tell my children that they are not allowed to eat any unhealthy things at a church pot luck? No. I can maintain my standards at home and be at peace that my children are not condemned to a life of obesity by eating 2 servings of Doritos every month. If I wanted to go the extra mile, I might even make a dish that appeals to most people in my church but not to me. In my opinion, that is much better than bringing home an entire casserole that wasn't eaten because it looked or tasted strange to the church people and made me seem "different."

  3. Patsy,
    Thank you for the encouraging words and good reminders. We certainly don't want to become prideful about our principles. I don't have a large family because I think it makes me more godly, and I don't ever want to make people feel badly because they don't homeschool because neither of those issues mandates in the Bible. I appreciate the wisdom of older women, especially pastors' wives. We've been in ministry for nearly 12 years, but I know I have so much yet to learn. This move has definitely been a trial and testing of my faith. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  4. I meant issues "are" mandates. I apologize for the errors.

  5. I am sure we as Canadian Christians would feel the same way about our visits to the United States, I am sure you didn't mean to be offensive but you were.

  6. I think all of us have been somewhere that just wasn't home. Even while we appreciate and respect different traditions and cultures, we would be lying to say we felt perfectly comfortable. Ultimately, of course, every Christ-follower is longing for heaven, the only place where we will all fit in. Thank you for this post.


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