Overcoming Cultural Division


“When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it—but it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.”
(Proverbs 28:2)

You might have heard the phrase, “love God, love people, nothing else matters.” I’d like to think this was true. It’s so simple. Could this be the way we navigate our way through divided times? Keeping it simple, and “keep the main thing the main thing?”

I think this phrase might be a little misleading and prefer to think that, “when you love God and love people, everything else matters.” It leads more to the line of thinking that whatever we do, we should do it for the Lord. The Message translates it this way, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Col. 3:17)

Culture is quickly dividing itself into separate camps where people are unwilling to associate with one another.

Whether it be politics, a pandemic, or any other plethora of polarizing topics, our society is increasingly finding ways to associate with those that are like-minded and lob rocks at opposing camps. This is the eventual foment of multiple years of trauma and a deep longing to belong.

One way to belong is to find others with whom we share values and thoughts. While this cultural division may have incredible momentum, I also believe that the kingdom of God invites us to see differently and yearns to guide our thinking. It’s a way of thinking that honors the details of our lives, and the issues that matter to us.

Politics matters, because it impacts real people.

The pandemic matters, because it also impacts real people. Choose any polarizing topic right now—it matters! How we choose to involve ourselves in these conversations also matters. Some may choose to keep their focus only on loving God and loving people, but to really love we must engage in what matters to them.

Our intellectual credibility is at stake. If we want people to seriously inquire about faith and discover a relationship with Jesus, we must be willing to talk about the issues that matter. What we have to remember though, is how we do this is just as important.

According to a recent study, many young people don’t think that faith communities care about the issues that matter to them. They see faith communities as self-focused or given to serving other agendas.

Cherrie Harder, president of the Trinity Forum recently wrote in a post titled Reviving Intellectual Hospitality, “Understand that extending intellectual hospitality does not require affirmation of the ideas or values of your conversation partners, nor does it obligate you to check your own values or worldview. Listening, asking questions, and seeking to understand the ideas of another affirms the value of that person without endorsing the idea.”

We must demonstrate the issues that matter to people also matter to God, and ultimately to us. It is one of the ways that we show love. Love listens. If we want to seek to overcome cultural division, we must strive to do so with love.

“Hate seeks to live in monologue. Love seeks to live in dialogue. And it is only through love that we are able to redeem and transform the enemy neighbor.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we want to overcome our cultural divisions, we must learn to avoid monologues and really embrace the power of listening. Our culture is longing to be heard right now. I would imagine that you long to be heard as well. We must be willing to set aside our desire to be heard and understood long enough to listen to and understand others.

I came across a fascinating question last week that I think can help us grow in our understanding of others. Pastor Mandy Smith posted this thought-provoking question on her Facebook page: “How many different types of pain are you carrying right now?” It was sobering to see how many people commented that they currently carry between seven and ten different types of pain. I was brought up short to consider how many types of pain I also carry, for myself and others.

It’s been said that, “We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” We are all seeing the world through the different lenses of pain that we carry. If we want to begin overcoming the cultural divisions in our world, we have to take time to reflect on this, and take time to discover the distinct types of pain that others bear as well. If we can remember that people are seeing the world through their own pain, it can help move us one step closer in our love and concern for others. The polarization that we see growing out of our cultural divisions is really our inability to see ourselves in others.

I do believe that Jesus cares deeply about the issues that matter to us. He also cares about the way we care for each other. He calls us to be compassionate as he is compassionate. He calls us to love the stranger.

In Luke 22:44 Jesus is described as praying with such fervency that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Part of his prayer is recorded in John 17:23, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

Does Jesus care if we overcome our differences? I believe Jesus’ heart and the blood that flowed from it reflect a longing for us to strive to love one another and experience the type of unity the world also longs for.

These days, we’re tempted to meet cultural divisions with greater animosity and aggression. We must resist this temptation to let contempt have any space in our hearts for one another; instead seeking to understand one another, meeting them with the fierce love that flows from Christ’s heart.

This does not mean that we remain silent and passive on issues. To do so would simply allow for monologue. It means that we listen first and take a posture to understand before seeking to be understood. We remain curious.

We endure the aggressive arguments of others and respond with love.

Rather than resorting to using de-humanizing language, we seek to honor those we talk with and those we talk about. We always remain hopeful. We listen with a discerning spirit and take care to never speak with logical fallacies or inconsistencies, and yet own it if we do. We avoid generalizations, remain humble, and learn our own biases. We take seriously Jesus’ command to, “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

If we are to resist the rising tides of cultural division in our time, we would do well to pray against any spirit of retaliation or use of violence. Let us remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who often preached, “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.” I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, future generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos. A Voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every intemperate Peter, ‘Put up thy sword.’ History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ’s command.

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Talleres en este Track

¿Cómo desarrollar la creatividad pastoral en tu equipo parroquial?

Speakers: Liliana Nariño, Directora Nacional, Alpha Colombia, and María Fernanda Acosta, Líder Regional, Alpha Ados

Presentaremos algunas nuevas técnicas que nos ayudan a crear una cultura de acogida y encuentro en la Parroquia.

¿Cómo alcanzar a la Generación Z Latina?

Speakers: Diego Profita, Regional Marketing And Digital Director Latin America at Alpha International, and Julian Avellaneda, Regional Alpha Youth Leader, Alpha Ados

Descubriremos algunas de las principales características de esta Generación más Abierta y trabajaremos en herramientas y estrategias para ser más efectivos en presentarles a Jesús.

¿Cómo construir una cultura invitacional en tu Iglesia?

Speakers: Diego Profita, Regional Marketing And Digital Director Latin America at Alpha International

Descubramos juntos como crear y fomentar en nuestras comunidades una cultura de invitación abordando

– Maneras en que la Iglesia puede fomentar la importancia de la invitación

– Maneras de cómo podemos guiar a nuestros equipos para que lo vivan

– Maneras de cómo poder identificar a las personas con mayor probabilidad de asistir

BEYOND THE WALLS

Inspiring and practical, learn how to bring the gospel everywhere you go and how to activate your church communities to see gospel opportunities beyond the walls of the church building. Hear stories of innovation and creativity, ecumenical and city-wide movements, and learn about what God is doing in unique contexts like prisons. With many workshops in this track, some are best suited for pastors and senior leaders, while others apply to anyone.

Workshops in this Track

Alpha in Criminal Justice System

Speakers: Audrey Hayes, Director of Volunteer Network, Alpha USA, and Benny Lopez, Prisons Coordinator, Alpha USA

There is an overlooked mission field in our own backyard, one full of people desperate for help, healing, and wholeness. It’s a place much of our society tends to dismiss, filled with people who believe they have been cast aside, and forgotten.

Alpha has been run in 630 prisons in 41 U.S. states. This course is brought to prisons and jails by dedicated churches and organizations who have run Alpha at their local church or parish and want to extend their reach even further. These volunteers tangibly show the love of Jesus to men and women that society had tossed away and labeled as unworthy, broken, dangerous, or beyond help. Through Alpha, prisoners are reminded that God does not label them—he loves them.

Join us in this workshop to hear stories and learn how to get started. You will be matched with a coach who will offer you support based on where you are in your prison ministry journey.

Unified City Alpha Initiative

Speakers: Seth Bazacas, Strategic City Director, New York, Alpha USA, and Shauna Pilgreen, Strategic City Director, Northern California, Alpha USA

What does it take to pull off a unified citywide Alpha launch? Join Strategic City Directors and Pastors Seth Bazacas (Wellspring Church NYC) and Shauna Pilgreen (Epic Church San Francisco) as they share their experiences of bringing a diverse group of churches into a shared vision, prayer night, weekly gatherings, and an overnight Alpha retreat. Hear stories of what worked and didn’t work and how both cities are gearing up for an even stronger launch in 2024!

Translating Jesus--A Crash Course for Sharing Your Faith Daily

Speakers: Shauna Pilgreen, Strategic City Director, Northern California, Alpha USA, and Ben Pilgreen, Lead Pastor, Epic Church San Francisco

As pastors and church leaders, we expect our attenders to share their faith. But do they? Come and imagine how your faith conversations can fuel an evangelism movement in your church.

Author and storyteller Shauna Pilgreen offers us a new way of evangelism using her latest book, Translating Jesus. She gets practical fast, teaching us two languages that lead to double-listening. Chances are high you’ll become bilingual in this workshop!

Shauna is joined by her husband Ben Pilgreen, pastor of Epic Church in San Francisco. Come, learn how a church can be winsome with culture without neglecting the gospel.

Fueling Creativity and Innovation in Evangelism

Speakers: Audrey Hayes, Director of Volunteer Network, Alpha USA, and Madison Campbell, Alpha Launch Director, Alpha USA

For innovative leaders who want their creativity to be fueled by the Spirit and to flood into their churches and communities. This will be a time of storytelling and dreaming about what God can do through creativity in our churches and Alpha courses. Come dream with us!

TRAINING LABS

These practical training workshops will help you learn how to run Alpha and how to make it the best it can be. Join us to experience the Alpha best practices of listening, radical hospitality, and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Select the workshops best suited for your stage of the Alpha journey to get the most from this track.

Workshops in this Track

Run Alpha--From a Course to a Culture (Mandarin interpretation available)

Speaker: Christian Downs, National Training Director, Alpha USA

Running Alpha is so much more than just a course, it is an opportunity to create space within your community and your church where people can belong before they believe. Run Alpha will help you see how this course is unique by focusing on the values of invitation, hospitality, listening, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Grow Alpha--Expand, Enhance, Empower (Mandarin interpretation available)

Speaker: Christian Downs, National Training Director, Alpha USA

This workshop will help you expand the culture, enhance your Alpha course with best practice insights, and empower your team. A common takeaway from this workshop is how Alpha can be more than a course and start to impact the rest of the church.

Creating a Culture Where Everyone is Invited to Alpha (Mandarin interpretation available)

Speaker: Christian Downs, National Training Director, Alpha USA

How do we get more guests on our Alpha? This is the question that comes up most often. In this workshop, we will explore what it looks like to bring the good news of Jesus to everyone… including those cast aside, neglected, or overlooked by society. We will name the fears that limit us, ways the church can help, and practical tips that everyone can put into practice to lead an invitational lifestyle.

Join our Global Director of Prayer, our National Director of Training, and special guests at this combined workshop to help more people receive an invite to explore the life-changing impact of the gospel.

CATHOLIC

Designed with our Catholic guests in mind, we will unpack the missional call of the Eucharistic Revitalization, sacred listening, and how to care for your soul in the ministry journey. This track could also benefit any Protestant ministry leaders in liturgical contexts.

Workshops in this Track

Nourishment for the Soul in the Journey of Ministry

Speakers: Sarah Kaczmarek, Director of Pastoral Ministry, Encounter Ministries, and Monica Martinez, National Director for Catholic Context, Alpha USA

How can we ensure we’re growing personally so that we are operating out of Christ’s strength and not our own?

Reviving Eucharistic Culture

Speaker: Monica Martinez, National Director for Catholic Context, Alpha USA

A time for meaningful reflection, conversation, and prayer around our missional call, awakened by the Eucharist. Together, we will unpack the meaning of the Eucharist as our source and summit of living our intentional discipleship.

Translating the Sacred

Speaker: Rick Grinstead, Director of Alpha Youth, Catholic Context

How do we fill the large gap once people have heard the gospel but have not yet acclimatized to parish life? How do we prepare the parish community to make space and build bridges, and how do we prepare guests who will be transitioning from Alpha to mass to sacramental formation? 

ENCOUNTER

This track is full of amazing main-stage speakers who will showcase the power of prayer in every generation, equip you to live a naturally supernatural life and train you to heal as Jesus did. Senior pastors, church leaders, non-profit leaders, this track is you!

Workshops in this Track

Learnings from Asbury on the Power of Prayer

Speaker: Angela Chadwick, Global Director of Prayer, Alpha USA

Alpha’s Global Director of Prayer will interview some of the spiritual leaders involved in the Asbury revival where a chapel worship service caught the attention of our country. You’ll hear stories of how the students were deeply moved by God through the simplest forms of worship and how the leaders made sure the only celebrity on stage was Jesus. You’ll also be amazed by the powerful breakthroughs in young people’s lives through the gentlest of prayers.

Additionally, we will explore how the resurgence of faith in one small American town is relevant to every person in the Church and how it shapes how we share the good news in a good way with this generation.

How to Facilitate Eternal Connections with Jesus

Speaker: Danielle Strickland, Spiritual Leader, Justice Advocate, Communicator, Peacemaker

Encounter is God’s favorite way to spiritual revelation. Why do we emphasize information-formation as our primary means of discipleship? What if we put more time, energy, and effort into facilitating more encounters? Be prepared to discuss together how cultivating curiosity becomes a means to do just that. We will talk techniques, experiences, and new ideas.

Everyday Miracles

Speakers: Dr. Chloe Swart, Associate National Director for Alpha UK, and Dr. Russo Swart, New Wine Cymru Prophetic and Healing Team

This workshop will look at how to heal the sick as a part of our everyday missional lives. Following Chloe’s PhD studying healing miracles in Wales, Chloe found that Christians in Wales were praying for their friends, family, and colleagues, in the gym, in the supermarket, at work; wherever they found themselves, as well as in church services, and Alpha courses. Healing is a missional tool that points toward Jesus. Unpack the theology of healing, while also hearing very practical teaching and demonstration of how to heal the sick in an everyday way.

YOUTH

If you are a student, work with middle or high school students, or just love young people and want their voices to shape the future of the Church, this track is for you! We’ll talk about empowering a generation to lead and will equip you to draw out the leadership of a generation to reach their peers through the new Alpha Youth Series and beyond.

Workshops in this Track

Navigating the New Alpha Youth Series

Speakers: Jordan Biere, National Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA, and Josh Penwell, National Associate Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA

Explore the the new Alpha Youth Series, discover the adjustments we’ve made to better reach Gen Z/Gen Alpha, and how to use this new series best to help young people discover and develop a relationship with Jesus.

Helping Young People Walk Naturally Supernatural

Speakers: Jordan Biere, National Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA, and Josh Penwell, National Associate Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA

Learn how to help young people operate in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit in a way that seems natural (not super weird) yet clearly supernatural. Help them discern the voice of the Lord, pray for healing, and grow in the prophetic voice.

From Guests to Leaders, Activating the Leadership Potential of Young People

Speakers: Jordan Biere, National Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA, and Josh Penwell, National Associate Director of Alpha Youth, Alpha USA

A practical guide on creating space for activating young people toward leadership to become bold, Spirit-filled witnesses. Learn how to empower young people to lead their own Alpha for their friends and how you can champion Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

FAITH AND JUSTICE

How should the Church respond in the face of injustice? What about in an election year? Could we show up to a polarized political world with the goodness of God like never before? If you are interested in learning how to navigate these complex issues, this track could help!

Workshops in this Track

Navigating the Waters of Faith and Politics

Speakers: John Wentz, Executive Director, Alpha USA, and Josh Williams, Associate National Director of Evangelism and Justice, Vineyard USA

This election year is ramping up to be as polarized as ever. Equip yourself and your teams to navigate the choppy waters of faith and politics during an election cycle. We have a massive opportunity to bring the goodness of God into these conversations or to leave people feeling alienated. Learn five top tips to help your conversations be filled with grace and truth and leave people feeling heard and honored.

Lessons in Evangelism from MLK’s nonviolent Movement

Speaker: Josh Williams, Associate National Director of Evangelism and Justice, Vineyard USA

How should the Church respond in the face of injustice? Hear how lessons from Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent movement provide tools to speak out against injustice while presenting a compelling case for the gospel. Josh Williams, associate national director for evangelism and justice for Vineyard USA will host this workshop where you will hear stories and learn tangible practices for engaging injustice while extending the invitation for people to encounter Jesus.

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