Monday, May 25, 2015

Cross-Cultural Ministry

"The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian
Church.  Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission
is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination."
The Salvation Army International Mission Statement

As a part of this international movement I not only see the internationalism of The Salvation Army expressed in various nations from a distance but up close through diverse cultural expressions in my own ministry context in Australia.  This creates a rich and complex cross-cultural mission field for me and my church.  

While I personally have a culturally diverse heritage, with Maltese blood and Italian and German grandparents, I am Australian born and was spiritually raised in an English speaking, mono-cultural church in a working-class suburb in Melbourne.  Yet, growing up, my best friend was Croatian and some of my class mates were from a Lebanese, Egyptian, Turkish and Greek background.

Our training as Salvation Army Officers was alongside an Indonesian cadet who trained with us in Melbourne. Our first appointment was in the Northern Territory where we engaged with the Indigenous community and hosted a number of YWAM discipleship training teams from south-east Asia and Europe.  Through successive appointments we have led short-term mission trips to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Denpasar, Jakarta and Palu in Indonesia.  In our current appointment we have an active ministry to asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Egypt; conduct English classes for a diverse range of nationalities; participate in inter-faith dialogue with Pakistanis from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; provide facilities for local Christian Indian prayer groups; and have a large multi-cultural volunteer base.

It is any wonder that God has birthed within us a passion for cross-cultural ministry!  However, despite our passion, how do we effectively lead and minister in this space?

Most of our cross-cultural ministry has been accidental, providing us with steep learning curves that have demanded far more intentional responses.  Our growing awareness of other cultures has led both me and my wife into formal learning pathways to educate and equip us to navigate this culturally diverse ministry landscape.

Recently, I was asked to make a presentation to our Growing Healthy Corps group about some cross-cultural ministry insights we have learned along the way.  We are far from experts and feel at times we have little clue about what we are doing in a very complex and fluid environment.  Nevertheless, our journey so far has instilled within us four fundamental beliefs and three missional convictions about cross-cultural ministry.

Cross-Cultural Ministry - 4 Fundamental Beliefs
  1. The Creator reveals Himself to ALL humankind (Romans 1:20)
  2. God's desire is for ALL to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)
  3. Holy Spirit is preparing hearts for salvation (John 16:7-15)
  4. Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12)
These four fundamental beliefs enable me to interact with different cultures and other faiths from a different position than from my evangelical upbringing.  First, we don't need to take God anywhere, He is already present, providing all people with a partial revelation of the Creator God through His creation.  Second, no culture or religion is outside of the scope of God's salvation.  Third, Holy Spirit is at work long before us, therefore, our role is to 'join in on a conversation that has already begun.'  Finally, a full revelation of God can only be seen through Jesus Christ.

Cross-Cultural Ministry - 3 Missional Convictions

The Apostle Paul's interaction with the men of Athens (Acts 17:16-34) has given form to my fundamental beliefs by providing a biblical framework that has produced my missional convictions about cross-cultural ministry:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:16-17)

Conviction #1 - Look for where God is already present

"Cross-cultural witnesses need to look for such indications of God's prior working in whatever societies they go to and work in continuity with them."
Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23) 

Conviction #2 - Listen for gaps in their revelation of God

"As we work with the people, we need to find out what kinds of questions they are asking for which they are unable to find answers within their culture."
Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:26-28)

Conviction #3 - Learn how to share a revelation of Jesus

"It is very significant to me that Jesus was a storyteller.  
We westerners are sermonizers, and there is a big difference between the effectiveness of a storytold message and a sermonized message."
Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness

These three missional convictions are not only a three step process for sharing the gospel in a cross-cultural context but in any context.  They create a posture of looking, listening and learning that fosters what Clark Pinnock calls a dialogical relationship, which is foundational to effective cross-cultural ministry.

"We should watch for whatever Spirit may be teaching and doing among them.  This posture creates the possibility of a dialogical relationship.  We can enter into the faith of others and acknowledge truths and values found there.  These are our fellow human beings, seeking truth as we are.  God is reaching out, and people are responding.  So let us watch for points of contact and bridges of communication." - Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love

Paul personified a dialogical relationship with the men of Athens that enabled him to recognise where God was at work, identify a gap in their knowledge and evoke from them a relational response, "We want to hear you again on this subject" (Acts 17:32).  The result?  "Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed."

This has completely changed my approach to evangelism in all contexts, especially cross-culturally!  As a cross-cultural minister I should maintain the attitude of a fellow learner who is also on a faith journey.  As a cross-cultural minister I need to tune into the universal work of the Spirit and share it's unique expression in Jesus Christ.  As a cross-cultural minister my role is to join in on a conversation that has already begun.  

"We have to say both yes and no to other religions.  On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them.  On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error and at the very least see other faiths as insufficient apart from fulfilment in Christ.  The key is to hold fast to two truths:  the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ." - Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love

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