Cross-Cultural Church Planting: Issues of Evangelism, Discipleship, and Growth

INTRODUCTION

Statistics indicate that new churches are “more effective at winning people to Christ.”[1]  Church planting has become a very popular way of reaching certain areas, communities, and people groups.  The Church Growth Movement has had a significant contribution to this trend.  Although there have been some positive results, there have also been several drawbacks.  As such, we need to carefully consider what growth should look like in our churches.

We will accomplish this task in several ways.  First, we will explore the purpose of the Church, a synopsis of globalization, define culture, and differentiate between multicultural and cross-cultural ministries.  Next, we will dissect strengths and weaknesses of the Church Growth Movement and suggest an alternative view of growth in church planting.  Finally, we will recommend several practices that will help us to fulfill the Great Commission and plant healthy, cross-cultural churches.

THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”[2]

The Great Commission plays an integral role in shaping the identity of the Church.  Jesus’ words to his disciples set the agenda for their ministry and what shape it will take for future disciples, as well.  In fact, it is what many reference as the beginning point for understanding our mission as the Church in the world.  We are a sent people.

The nature of the Church has always been missional.  We are to be disciple-makers.  Those welcome to enter the Kingdom of God will be from all nations, not just a particular group.  In fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, God will make Abraham’s children (those born through faith) to be a blessing to all nations.[3]  Through Christ Jesus, a descendent of Abraham[4] and Head of the Church, the Church is also empowered to bless all peoples.  The Kingdom transcends culture, ethnicity, and nationality.  It is diversity in unity, gathered together as the very Body of Christ.[5]

The Great Commission, as such, has two ways that the Church will inevitably grow as it lives out this missional orientation: quantitative and qualitative growth.[6]  In other words, the Church will naturally grow numerically (quantitative) as people are reached with the Good News and respond in repentance.  “Making disciples” indicates that we are called to proclaim the Gospel among those who have not yet heard (the nations) about Jesus.

Secondly, discipleship is not simply about numbers.  Discipleship is also about growing in a deepening relationship with Jesus (qualitative).  This will be evidenced by the person’s obedience to God’s call to also be disciple-makers, teaching others everything that Christ has taught us!  Thus, “growth” will be cyclical, both quantitative and qualitative.  These two must be held in creative tension.  To focus on one without the other is to become stagnant and ineffective in living out the Great Commission!

In taking the Great Commission seriously, a truly missional church plant will look at qualitative and quantitative growth together.  And, furthermore, it will be a congregation that increasingly reflects the call to be a blessing to all nations.  In other words, it will be a cross-cultural congregation (in as much is possible given its context).  This will undoubtedly call for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and creativity to live this out effectively.

GLOBALIZATION AND THE GLOCAL CHURCH

            The world, in some sense, is becoming smaller.  Nearly everyone on a daily basis is confronted by the realities of globalization.  Oliver Philips notes, “Every village, community, school, town, institution, and place of employment brings us face-to-face with the reality that these countries have become a salad bowl of minority groups, languages, and cultures.”[7]  A “glocal” church refers to a church that is more and more reflecting this trend of rising diversity.  Impacting and engaging a global world is no longer only done only through mission trips but is also done in the local community.

The borders that previously divided us (time, space, geography) are becoming less and less a barrier due to advances in technology.  Travel is cheaper and faster, making world travel more accessible.  Internet, computers, and phones make communication across great expanses of space possible and instant.  Civil unrest forces many to move from their homes into foreign lands.  The result is increased connectivity and communication with a variety of cultures that are greatly diverse.

The emphasis on relativism, tolerance, and personal experience in the post-modern culture has helped sustain and increase this trend.  Many are no longer satisfied reading the accounts of missionaries, business people, and dignitaries concerning other cultures.  Rather, an increased number of individuals, especially within the American context, are willing and able to experience new cultures for themselves.  Thus, interaction across a vast array of cultures is increasingly the norm.

Globalization creates significant challenges for us all, including the Church.  We increasingly have to learn cross-cultural communication.  We learn new languages, customs, and beliefs.  This can be stressful and stretching.  In some sense, such change can even be perceived as threatening our identity.  However, globalization also provides a rich harvest field.  The world is no longer simply “out there.”  It’s in our own backyard!  And, we need workers to send out because the “fields are white with harvest.”  The Church has a tremendous opportunity before us!

DEFINING CULTURE

            It is important to realize that culture goes beyond ethnicity, though it does not exclude it.  Charles Gailey and Howard Culbertson define it as such: “Culture means the customs, ways of thinking, and material products of individual societal groups.”[8]  Thus, various cultures can exist even in places of homogenous ethnicity.  Culture can distinguish age groups, socio-economic groups, regional groups, educational groups, to name a few.  One need only think about the “worship wars” that have occurred in churches to see the clash of cultures.

Although we typically define culture by ethnicity or race, it is important that we have a broader perspective of culture.  Everything that we do in the Church is in some way needing to be contextualized within the framework of several cultures, even if all of the congregants are American.  As such, every local church is in some way a multicultural church.  In order to communicate the Gospel fully and appropriately, it is imperative that leaders learn to speak the “language” of the various cultures represented in the congregation.

MULTI-CULTURAL VERSUS CROSS-CULTURAL

Diversity of cultures in a congregation does not equate into cross-cultural ministry.  There are many congregations that can be labeled as “multi-cultural.”  There may be a wide variety of cultures represented in the people of the church, including ethnicity.  However, those cultures may be creating insulation from intersecting with the surrounding cultures.  Like water mixing with oil, people may be attending the same church yet not integrating and partnering with one another.  In these instances, the church has yet to become cross-cultural.

Darrell Whiteman tells the story concerning two groups that claimed to be Christian, divided by ethnic differences.

On April 6, 1994, at 8:30 in the evening, two missiles shot down an airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, killing all aboard. Hutu extremists used the event to unleash their preplanned horrendous genocide, which began to unfold in the nation of Rwanda in central Africa where 80-90% of the population were [sic] Christians. Two ethnic groups, the Bahutu and Watusi, speaking a common Kinyarwanda language, and with a harmonious history of hundreds of years living together in a symbiotic relationship, suddenly turned on each other in a blood bath.[9]

Ethnic, national, and tribal allegiances trumped these two tribes’ commitment to Christ.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident within the Church.

Kansas City is a great example where homogenous churches frequently exist.  Although the racial tensions that plagued the city during the Civil Rights movement are not as pronounced, the segregation that was once mandated is still attested to each Sunday morning.  A large portion of churches are predominantly black or white.  A much smaller portion has been successful in being integrated together.  Likewise, many churches in the suburbs or inner city tend to be homogenous socio-economically and ethnically, as well.

The image of the Body of Christ found in 1 Corinthians gives us a hint how diversity working in unity is a reflection of the Triune God.  Although there are many different parts, they are working in unity together.  When one part of the Body is unhealthy, sick, or hurt, the whole Body suffers as a result.  The parts of the Body are entirely interconnected.  The diversity of the many parts is necessary for the proper functioning of a healthy Body.  The Church must consider this when working with a multitude of cultures in the same context.  It is not good enough to simply be in the same place, but we must be partnering together as the Body of Christ sent out into the world.

CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT MODEL

            The Church Growth Movement (CGM) has recognized the evangelistic need in our communities and world.  Given that we are increasingly in a post-Christian context, our world desperately needs the light of Jesus.  Church planting initiatives and other models of growth have been offered as a way to reach as many individuals as possible with the Gospel.  Undoubtedly, this is a serious need that the Christian community must address.

McIntosh comments on Donald McGavrin’s, founder of the Church Growth model, understanding of Church Growth:

Evangelism… was an input term meaning that the lost should be won to Christ and then baptized and brought into the church.  The result was an output term: Church Growth!  As coined by McGavran, Church Growth is simply the expected result of being obedient to the Great Commission.  Church Growth was, and is, effective evangelism.[10]

Thus, “getting people saved” is the impetus and goal of evangelism in the CGM.  That is not to say McGavrin was not concerned with discipleship, but it was not his primary focus.

CGM views church growth as the natural result of living out the Great Commission.  This is achieved through the proclamation of the Gospel.  Although good works or social works are important, these fall far short of the goal of missions.  For McGavrin, effective evangelism emphasizes three points:

God wants his lost children found and enfolded… Responsible research into the causes and barriers to church growth must be conducted… Taking the initiative to set goals and develop bold strategies to win people to Christ and to plant new churches must be the practical results of meaningful conviction and research.[11]

By all means, according to McGavrin, reaching the unreached is the very heart and purpose of God.  As a result, it must be the heart and purpose of the Church.  And, it must be done intentionally and by whatever means are most effective in a particular context.

By contextualizing evangelism and doing so boldly, the result can be numerically rewarding.  Speaking in a language and form that is accessible provides natural bridges for the host culture to enter into the Gospel story.  These cultural bridges enable the Gospel story to be socially embodied within the culture.  This emphasis within CGM has dramatically changed the way we approach evangelism.  Through intentional planning and research, we continue to refine the way we communicate to a culture.  This has thoroughly become part of our modus operandi.  One need only think about Gallup or George Barna’s work.  We often look to them to see “trends” in the larger culture and how we might address them.

This is not an entirely bad thing.  We are able to adapt quicker with the culture and address the needs therein.  The Church can learn to listen to what the culture is saying and how it is being said.  It provides a starting place for ministering to the world in which we find ourselves.  And, it helps us to think intentionally about how we might engage our context by providing dialogue.

However, within the American context, this has developed into the “seeker sensitive” model, which often comes under intense scrutiny.  Opposition to the “seeker sensitive” approach is generally based upon an aversion to approaching worshippers as consumers.  In other words, the church becomes a McDonald’s vendor of spirituality in which people are consumed with self.  The result is an affirmation of the dominant culture and a self-seeking emphasis that tends to blind us to the plight of others.  The result is evangelism that does not promote or produce very deep disciples.

This is a significant issue in fulfilling the Great Commission, which includes all nations.  In an increasingly globalized world, ethnocentricity and nationalism can drastically hinder the Gospel for other cultures.  Not to mention, churches blinded by their allegiances to their own cultures become deaf to the radical call of the Gospel that transcends culture.  Homogenous churches that are entrenched remain homogenous.  Although there may be a degree of multicultural ministry happening, progress toward partnering cross-culturally will be hindered.

Homogeneity may not be entirely avoidable in our world.  After all, culture revolves around shared stories, beliefs, and values.  It is something we can readily identify with others.  There is something comforting about speaking our native tongue.  However, becoming settled in one’s own culture can significantly limit our ability to be changed and transformed.  We really do need the entire Body of Christ!  And, more importantly, we need the Holy Spirit to enliven the Gospel message in God’s Church!

Although we need not entirely abandon the good points of the CGM, we may need to significantly modify it in order to provide a more holistic and biblical understanding of “church growth.”  We do not want to dismiss the importance of salvation, but we must also not neglect the qualitative aspects of discipleship.  Furthermore, discipleship requires us to be engaged cross-culturally if the Church is to engage and transform our increasingly diverse communities.

There is an inherent danger in focusing upon numerical growth, which is much of the focus of CGM research.  In a consumer-driven, business-oriented culture, the Church quickly becomes another institution where people are commodities to be found and resources to be used up.  Churches that operate on a business model will “compete” in order to survive or thrive.

In looking at alternative ways for the Church to live out its call, Jim Petersen observes the dangers of focusing on numerical growth.

Numerical evaluation of ministry eventually becomes manipulative.  It may start out well, but when slump time comes, the temptation is to apply pressure to get people to perform according to our definition of success.  When that happens, everything gets turned around.  Those being ministered to end up serving the leaders in the accomplishment of their goals, because people are the bottom line in this ‘business.’[12]

In such a system, people are not truly valued apart from their usefulness for accomplishing a church’s goals.  “Unproductive” workers tend to be neglected, demoted, or “fired.”  The cultural power structures that are often abusive and oppressive in our culture are merely re-affirmed by the Church.  In these instances, great harm is done to the Church, the congregants, and the Gospel.

This hardly seems to reflect a God that gives rest to His Creation and invites us into relationship.  The first thing humanity sees God doing is resting, not working.  God does not seem primarily concerned with productivity.  Placing our focus on growth alone can create an idol that does not reflect the Living God we are called to serve.  After all, we should be able to distinguish the Church from the Country Club.  Christ, not growth, distinguishes us from other organizations!

HOLISTIC GROWTH MODEL

            A holistic view of growth should be considered here.  The Church Growth Movement has tended to focus on being “seeker sensitive” so as to win as many converts to Christ as possible.  This is an admirable goal in many ways, but it can be detrimental to a holistic view of discipleship.  Discipleship is not simply about quantitative growth but is also concerned with qualitative growth in the Body of Christ.

In fact, within the Great Commission there is a focus on discipleship, which is done through both proclamation and teaching.  In other words, salvation is not the emphasis of the Great Commission.  Rather, relationship is the emphasis.  It is to be a life-long journey of growing closer to Christ.  It begins by hearing the Gospel (preaching) and continues in a deepening of relationship as we learn obedience to Jesus’ commands (teaching).

The question really becomes how we hold both qualitative and quantitative growth in dynamic tension.  Emphasizing quantitative growth alone tends to end in spiritually immature believers.  The result may be like seed sown on rocky soil.  Emphasizing qualitative growth alone tends to conclude in believers that are so “heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  Healthy growth in the Church must include both of these working together.  Church plants as part of that missional work must heed this as well.

Holistic growth also understands that growth is not the purpose of the Church.  Growth is not the telos.  The Church’s evangelism and discipleship must be centered upon Christ.  If “growth” is our motivation, as mentioned earlier, it can quickly devolve into competition and business marketing strategies.  Lasting growth that is reflective of God’s Kingdom will necessarily be empowered by the Holy Spirit and there will be marked transformation and change in the lives of believers and the surrounding community.

Interestingly enough, sometimes numerical growth can decrease in a healthy church.  It may not suggest in any way that the church is being unfaithful or failing in its calling.  After all, think about what happened with many of Jesus’ followers when he was arrested.  Many of them scattered never to return.  Others had heard Jesus’ teaching and thought it too difficult to continue to follow and turned away.  A growth in Christlikeness does not always equate into numerical rise in attendance, members, or conversions.  As such, we must be careful how much stock is placed in such measurements of “success.”

Growth can also be superficial.  This is especially important to realize for new churches.  A rise in attendance may simply be people transplanting from one church to another.  In such cases, the church may not be reaching the community.  Others may be excited about getting in on the ground floor of a new work and jump on board searching for adventure.  Again, it may suggest we are impacting the community more than we truly are.

The reality is that there is a large degree of turnover in a new church within the first five to ten years.  As such, the artificial growth that was first experienced may plateau or even decline, yet the church may be healthy or merely beginning to show the signs of decay that were unnoticed because the church was “doing good.”  If the impetus is on numerical growth, people can become disheartened experiencing downward trends.

The Holistic Growth model will also take serious the Great Commission’s emphasis on “all nations.”  If we are not consumed with marketing and a business-oriented church, then we will be less worried about demographics.  This frees us to emphasize a journey in grace.  Growth includes both salvation and sanctification, becoming Christlike.  Interestingly enough, as people become more Christlike, they will find their passions drawn back out into the world to serve it as the hands and feet of Christ.  In other words, discipleship should lead back into evangelism.  It is a cycle that is self-perpetuating.  Growing in Christ is both personal and social.

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

An African proverbs states:  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”[13]  Holistic growth should consider longevity.  Establishing new churches is a marathon rather than a sprint.  This will be best accomplished through connection with a network of people and resources.  As we partner together cross-culturally “the sum [is greater than] their parts.”[14]  We multiply our impact when we work together as equal Kingdom partners for mutual transformation.

Any excursion into cross-cultural ministry will be a demanding task that requires intentionality.  Cross-cultural ministries require that we be changed, whereas, multi-cultural churches may only require superficial change.  To truly make room for the other, we may find ourselves living as “150% persons.”[15]  This demands persons accommodating and adapting to cultural norms of other cultures so that communication might happen between people.  This may mean a diminishing home in our native culture, but it opens up wonderful possibilities for being transformed as followers of Christ.

Engaging people within their native culture will take time, patience, and a willingness to learn and adapt.  As such, we cannot enter into another culture with the Gospel without learning that culture.  It takes effort to learn the language and understand the values.  Ministering cross-cultural (not merely multiculturally) takes intentional effort and time.  As such, we must take the posture of a learner when entering into a new culture, even if it is not a vastly different culture from our own.  We begin by listening.  And, our ministry must be incarnational.[16]

As we learn the culture, it becomes possible to build bridges to that culture so that the Gospel may be heard in a way that is accessible.  This goes beyond searching for numerical growth because it is a relational approach that sees the other as a person not simply a warm body to count.  By valuing others cultures, you are valuing the very people to whom you minister.  This leads to our next aspect.

It is always easier ministering within the culture you are most familiar.  The most effective leadership will be someone that knows the culture and can integrate appropriate cultural forms without compromising the Gospel message.  Developing leadership is an absolute necessity for new church works.  First, discipling future leaders help you become further acquainted with the culture and they are able to help you navigate the complexities of that culture.  Furthermore, they are able to communicate and operate within that culture much more proficiently.  The result is that the Gospel is able to be communicated to more people faster.  And, further discipleship with others from that culture!

One person cannot hope to reach an entire culture; it must be a community effort.  Partnerships and team-based leadership creates a synergistic ministry that is not based upon competition.  Rather, it values the gifts that each person brings to the table and how each one has something to contribute!  We learn and are strengthened by each other as we minister to a community as the Body of Christ!

Arising out of the development of leadership and learning about the culture and community, church planters must also begin to assess the needs of the community.  Again, this should be done in partnership with the community and the leaders.  Several needs may come to the attention of the leadership.  In this case, it is important to prioritize the level of need and which would be most appropriate to address.[17]  Are there needs that are connected?  What does the leadership and community understand to be the most pressing issues they face?  By beginning to address the vital needs of a community and involving that community in the solution, you create a sense of true partnership in which everyone is engage and contributing.

Community is a necessity for building a real partnership.  However, community in a cross-cultural setting can be excruciatingly difficult to develop and maintain.  Jim Petersen writes about culture, stating, “Every culture is ethnocentric.  Almost all of us think our ways are the best and that others are inferior.”[18]  Where this attitude is alive, there can be no true community that is cross-cultural and partnering together.  As such, we must also be cautious not to come in with all of the answers and solutions, but must allow the community to make significant contributions.  It may be uncomfortable for us.  But, our purpose in discipling others is not to make them resemble our culture.  We desire for them to resemble Christ.

I once heard it said, “A church should be born pregnant.”  There is a lot of truth in that statement.  Again, our motivation is not numerical growth alone.  But, a healthy church is a church that reproduces.  When planting a church, plant it with the intention of giving birth to future churches.  The form will change with the context (i.e., cell groups, traditional churches, mother-daughter churches, etc.).  Regardless the vehicle, the message will be transported to more people that have yet to encounter Christ.

This brings me to my final point.  Whether we are discussing the purpose of the Church, the need for evangelism and discipleship, understanding growth in the Church, or ministering cross-culturally in partnership, it is imperative that we center everything on the person of Christ.  It is God’s mission.  Jesus calls us to join in the mission.  Christ makes the Church grow and we are the harvesters sent out into the Master’s fields.  God is a God of all nations, and we are called to offer the hand of friendship where the world divides based on culture.  We proclaim, we teach, we disciple – all because we have received such a rich gift through Christ Jesus.  Knowing Christ and reflecting his character and nature back into the world is our primary objective.

CONCLUSION

Church planting can be a tremendous way for the Church to address the issue of globalization and reaching numerous people of various cultures for Christ and God’s Kingdom.  It is one platform for seeing the Kingdom grow in exponential ways.  After all, the research indicates that church planting is a very effective way for bringing people into the Church.

However, as we mentioned earlier, church planting based on a certain definitions of growth can tempt us from our primary purpose, which is to glorify Christ.  Working from a quantitative model of growth tends to be much more homogenous in the people that it reaches.  This nurtures cultural biases rather than challenges the dominant cultural assumptions that are opposed to the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  The result is a large amount of people that have the title “Christian” but look little different than our culture.

The Holistic Growth Model is a more appropriate way to approach growth of the Church.  It is concerned with discipleship, which is both qualitative and quantitative growth.  In other words, God’s Kingdom is not only about “getting saved” but about living in relationship with God.  And, we find that as people are discipled, they will in turn evangelize their community.  Quantitative growth and qualitative growth are inextricably interconnected.

Evangelism and discipleship are two sides of the same coin.  A healthy, growing church will have both dynamics at work in their congregation.  We are indeed called to reach an unreached world with the Gospel, but we must also teach them everything that Jesus has commanded.  Our task is not simply about salvation, but it is concerned with “sanctification” as well.  As we engage in both evangelism and discipleship, we will see the cyclical nature of these two pieces.  One should naturally lead back into the other.  Healthy growth will result when we live these two dynamics out.

Bibliography

Gailey, Charles R., and Howard Culbertson. Discovering Missions. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2007.

Hesselgrave, David J., and Earl J. Blomberg. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: A Guide for Home and Foreign Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin Keene Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Print.

Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print.

Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992.

Sanchez, Daniel Raul, and Ebbie C. Smith. Starting Reproducing Congregations: A Guidebook for Contextual New Church Development. Atlanta, GA: Church Starting Network, 2001.

Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001.

Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Whiteman, Darrell L. “The Role of Ethnicity and Culture in Shaping Western Mission Agency Identity.” Missiology: An International Review XXXIV, no. 1 (2006): 59-70.


[1]  Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001. 39.

[2] Matthew 28:18-20.

[3] Genesis 12:2-3.

[4] Matthew 1:1-2. My translation.

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

[6]  Hesselgrave, David J., and Earl J. Blomberg. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: A Guide for Home and Foreign Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980. 118-19.

[7] Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001. 81.

[8] Gailey, Charles R., and Howard Culbertson. Discovering Missions. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2007. 90.

[9] Whiteman, Darrell L. “The Role of Ethnicity and Culture in Shaping Western Mission Agency Identity.” Missiology: An International Review XXXIV, no. 1 (2006): 59-70. 59.

[10] Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 15.

[11] Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 15-16.

[12] Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992. 116.

[13] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 106.

[14] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 108.

[15] Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin Keene Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Print. 119.

[16] Ibid, 27.

[17] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 133-34.

[18] Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992. 142.

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Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission beyond Our Borders by Gary V. Nelson, Gordon W. King, and Terry G. Smith

Thesis of the Book

             Missions are compared to a mouse and an elephant at a party.  Although the elephant is having fun, the mouse ends up crushed.  Essentially, that story depicts the manner of Western missions in the Global South.  Although missions may have good intentions, quite often there are disastrous results for the Global South (like the mouse).  The thesis of this book is that missions is changing and must continue to change so that we may truly partner with the Global South rather than continue being unreflective about the outcome of our missions.  The Global South has much to offer that we can learn from and it is important to hear their voice as we work together to live out the Kingdom in our world!

Evaluation of Sources Used

            Yes, the sources helped to support the thesis.  The sources implemented were from notable theologians, such as Marva J. Dawn and Lesslie Newbigin.  These sources were not merely mentioned, but were often quoted to provide support for the main idea.  However, that was not the strongest point for the sources used.  This book put into practice what it was preaching through its pages.  Authors from the Global South were also implemented into the composition of this work.  C. René Padilla, for instance, was referenced quite often and to great extent.  This strengthened the argument of the book on the sole basis that the authors were willing to listen to other parts of the world and their perspective.  Thus, their actions spoke louder than their words: “We have much to learn from our ministry partners in the Global South.”  They also implemented other sources from contexts outside the Global North.

The sources used also included “secular” sources.  This provided “outside parties” that have taken note of these problematic issues that confront those engaged in cross-cultural missions.  A great amount of data concerning the issues of poverty, war and genocide, environmental concerns, and other problems set the backdrop for the discussion about “partnering” with the Church across the world.  This was helpful to see that being missional is a holistic endeavor that must include the indigenous peoples and leaders, if there is to be a good and lasting impact.

Development of the Main Idea

             Missions have become a much more de-centralized endeavor.  Previously, missionaries and missions agencies were at the center of outreach to other parts of the world.  In recent years there has been a decrease in the local church’s reliance upon these missionaries as the only source of information.  Due to globalization, the world has become more accessible to people geographically located in other world areas.  This accessibility has not only inculcated a desire to be involved with the “borderlands” but it has also encouraged local churches to undertake missions on their own.  The missionary has become more of a tour guide than previously.

Globalization is often seen as a “flattening” of the world where everything is becoming more uniform and accessible.  Although there is a great degree of that, there is still a great deal of diversity and inequity in the world.  The world is both “flat and spiky.”  Working cross-culturally means that we must be aware of the cultural differences and issues that may be potential “spiky” areas.

Many well intentioned missionaries or groups have entered other cultures and created disastrous results because they came in as the “experts” rather than in humility, asking how they might best serve the community.  The result ranges from distrust, to confusion, to anger from the indigenous population.  The Northern “partner” is often left disillusioned or unaware that their endeavors were harmful… thus, the vicious cycle is repeated.  Resources are sometimes wasted on useless projects that could have best served in other ways.

Partnership is not merely a good idea, but it is a theological necessity.  The Church is never fully whole if it is not the universal Church.  We have much to learn from our Southern partners.  PLA (acronym meaning Participatory Learning and Action) helps us to remember that we are engaged in mission together.  And, ultimately, the mission is not ours but God’s mission in which we are invited to participate.  As such, the community determines the need and we simultaneously learn and act toward a collective solution.  This empowers the local church while helping it to keep momentum through the partner’s contributions (i.e., time, resources, knowledge, people etc.).  There is an overlap that should link both partners inseparably together for cooperative transformation of both communities.  It is long-term discipleship together.

Ultimately, partnering together takes diligent work and listening.  It is vital to understand the context and culture, to know the heartbeat of the community, and to fully understand its potential and limitations.  To have an effective and sustained impact on an area, it is important that we weigh all of the necessary information before acting.  This means that we should take seriously the knowledge of those that live in the culture.  They are resident experts on what will likely work best.  This does not mean that we can play an important role, but it does mean that we cannot walk into a place thinking that we know best.  Otherwise, we may only waste time and energy.

One of the strongest points to me was the planning element.  It is helpful to see that we are “intercultural” partners, rather than cross-cultural partners.  This means that we engage the issue together on equal footing, working together.  As such, it is important to get the local community involved and “rolling the wheel” first.  Then, as this happens, there will be momentum added as the other church contributes to the overall vision.

However, the strength of this element in the book is also its weakness.  In cultures, like North America, that value planning and are time-oriented, this planning may be seen as the obvious progression of steps.  But, in event-oriented cultures planning like this may be a foreign concept and not easily or readily translatable to that context.  As a result, the planning suggested in the book may drastically need to be altered to fit the context.

The mission is not merely about converting people or completing projects.  These are minor goals compared to the overarching goal, which is to connect people as growing disciples to the living Christ.  As such, we are equipping one another as partners for this all-encompassing mission!  We must ask how our partnership is aiding us in discipling others.  We must move beyond charity and allow our works of compassion to embody justice.  Really, it is about “normalizing the Kingdom” in a broken world.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

Overall, I thought the book was insightful concerning the ways that missions has morphed and detailing the ways that it still needs to be sensitive to issues in the Global South.  Missions must be a partnership that goes beyond merely “saving souls.”  Rather, it is a partnership where both may be edified and built up in the faith.  It is about transformation.  This transformation is challenging because it calls for mutual accountability and discipleship.  It is long-term partnership that engenders active listening to all parties concerned.  And, it engages the issues that continue to promote oppression and the resulting resentment from the “bottom billion.”  I would recommend this book, especially given that it emphasizes the theology of missions in considering how we should embody our call as a missional people.  That is something with which we must continually wrestle.

Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner

Thesis of the Book

            The globalization of the world and its cultures is increasing movement to cross-cultural partnerships.  With these partnerships inevitably come conflicts over money and resources.  As such, it is vital that we increase our “cross-cultural intelligence” so that we may work more effectively together.  Cross-cultural partnerships must be mutually held accountable in using their resources and equally empowered to live out the mission of the Church in our world.

Evaluation of Sources Used

            The sources implemented throughout the work were helpful in solidifying Lederleitner’s position.  Many of the sources used detailed stories about cross-cultural conflict that helped to illustrate specific areas of potential conflict in our interactions with others.  As a result, this made Lederleitner’s concepts and points easily understandable.  There were a great number of sources used and many of those were fairly recent, utilizing recent research.  This also strengthened the writing.

One particular area that Lederleitner’s sources was very evident and provided content to her argument was the concept of “negative attribution.”  Duane Elmer developed a form that outlined the process of negative attribution.  These three steps helped to highlight the easy path we often take when others’ actions do not meet our expectations.  This observation was further solidified by C. S. Lewis’ observation that we often make excuses for ourselves that seem justifiable while negating others’ excuses as inexcusable and wrong.  In these ways, Lederleitner made a strong case for a need to re-assess our partnerships and accountability between those cross-cultural partners.

Development of the Main Idea

            There are several factors that determine the way that cultures handle money and resources.  One of the most fundamental cultural perspectives that shape this conversation revolves around individualism versus collectivism.  Individualism places responsibility on each person to take care of themselves.  Collectivism, in juxtaposition, holds that the community’s needs are greater than the individual’s needs.  This can be a potent arena for conflict.  It is vital that proper communication is exhibited in these situations to keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum.  This means we are careful in receiving gifts (they may be attached with promises) and making sure the details are outlined in what is being promised between the partners.

Issues of power, face, and status can also play a major role when dealing with money.  People in America are generally considered to be on the same footing.  Thus, status plays less of a role.  But, other countries place a great deal of emphasis on status.  In these cases, it can be seen as a great insult for someone of lesser position to help someone in a greater position.  “Face” is the “essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies” (45).  When someone “loses face” it reflects poorly on their character and identity.  Again, how we handle issues of power and money should take these things into consideration.  Is it appropriate or would someone be shamed by our actions?

The concepts of universalism and particularism are helpful.  Universalism is the belief that rules apply to everyone in every circumstance.  Particularism is the belief that rules are subject to the context and the relationship of those involved.  Rules are to be adapted.  How cultures deal with ambiguity and time can be significant.  Cultures uncomfortable with ambiguity will try to outline everything and may be disappointed in others that do not operate on this level.  Likewise, time is a matter that impacts our involvement with others.  Monochronistic versus polychronistic cultures is another arena for potential conflict.  Monochronistic viewpoints look at time as linear and limited.  Thus, efficiency is prided.  On the other hand, polychronistic is more interested in the people rather than what they can simply accomplish for the organization.  Both have significant advantages, but we must also consider their potential pitfalls, especially when working together.

Our culture inevitably shapes us.  Our interaction with our culture trains us to interpret actions and events in specific ways.  However, as we interact with other cultures, those same actions may mean something different in that context.  The result can be a misinterpretation of actions.  When those actions don’t meet our expectations, we often assess them as wrong.  It is important to be careful when trying to interpret others’ actions.  It is best not to rush to conclusions, but to seek out information that may shed light on the situation.

Paternalism and colonialism are still alive and well.  They often disguise themselves as seeking the best interest of our partners, but cloak the underlying superiority complex.  On the flip side, just because that has been the case in the past does not mean that is the way it is now.  Measures of accountability may be necessary aspects of partnership.  The motivation behind the call for accountability determines whether it is superiority complex under a thin veneer of paternalism or colonialism.

Part of our responsibility in establishing these partnerships is not to create dependency.  In doing so, the ministries of the indigenous people can become anemic.  If funding and support is then cut, the ministry may very well fold because the people have not been equipped.  That is what partnership is about: equipping others to do every good work.  The illustration of the missionary helping people cross the bridge to find resources is a great story.  It teaches us the importance  of equipping people so that ministry is sustainable.  This can only happen as we give value, dignity, and mutuality between partners.  We are looking for sustainability, not merely short-term impact.

Conflict will naturally happen as cultures have different expectations and those are not always explicit.  As such, we must learn to navigate the sometimes tricky waters of cross-cultural partnerships.  Likewise, when there are misallocations or fraud, we must find creative solutions.  In some instances, such as misallocation, direct conflict may not be the best approach.  It may actually cause someone to lose face and only aggravate the situation.  On the other hand, fraud may require a more firm approach, but even within this there can be a measure of grace extended to those individuals.  We believe that even the most horrific situations are redeemable and we desire to move in those directions as people respond to those opportunities.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

I thought this book was helpful.  Although it covered many of the same concepts as other books on missions and money, it did provide helpful analysis and potential solutions for avoiding these cultural conflicts.  The suggestions for working through these cultural conflicts were the most helpful aspect of the book.  The stories included helped to illustrate the cultural conflicts that arose in various partnerships.  As such, it was easy to see that these conflicts usually had good intentions behind them but caused distress because both cultures were unaware of the other’s modus operandi.  Overall, I would suggest that others read this as a good primer for cross-cultural interactions and partnerships that are mutually beneficial and accountable to one another.

Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by John Lingenfelter

            The underlying argument of the book is that each person is a unique blending of cultures.  Every person makes decisions that are largely convergent from these cultural biases.  Conflict arises from situations where cultural norms are violated.  The tension that is produced can be lessened or alleviated by being aware of one’s own culture and the presuppositions of other cultures.

Lingenfelter calls for an “incarnational” ministry, which he refers to as “150% persons.”  This demands persons accommodating and adapting to cultural norms of other cultures so that communication might happen between people.  Understanding the expectations of other cultures is essential to relating well.  This can be communicated in a number of ways: language, temporality, territoriality, exploitation, association, subsistence, bisexuality (conduct for males and females), learning, play, and defense.  Grasping these fundamental elements can help one comprehend the values of the culture.

With the exception of Jesus, nobody can fully embody another culture.  We may come very close to being totally acculturated, but we are often so shaped by our own culture that we never fully embrace the foreign culture in which we minister.  Despite this fact, Lingenfelter asserts that we are to adapt to other cultures so that we might be able to communicate the Gospel in ways that will be received.

Much of the miscommunication and tension that is experienced in cross-cultural ministry results from a lack of understanding our own culture and that of the culture we are trying to reach.  For instance, in America we are very time-conscious whereas other parts of the world are event-oriented.  The result can be frustration due to differing value systems at play.

Having personally experienced some of these tensions or seen them in others, I can readily identify with Lingenfelter’s position.  Cross-cultural ministry can be made more difficult when people’s expectations are not the same.  That is typically why the number one rule for mission trips is always: “Be flexible!”  Missionaries and missions team leaders will usually instruct their teams to take their cues from the native people and culture.  We are there to serve, not be served.  This inevitably means that we must adapt.

Lingenfelter incorporates a number of sources in his work.  Primarily, the author uses personal experience to begin the discussion concerning cross-cultural ministry and interpersonal relationships.  This is the testing ground for Lingenfelter’s particular vision for intercultural mission and relationships.  This is a valuable and pertinent way to form and assess the validity of various theories of intercultural ministry.  If the model does not hold up to observable tests, then it is a faulty or incomplete theory.  However, on the negative side, personal experience can also be marred by one’s own shortcomings and biases.  Although I do not feel Lingenfelter is unfair in his assessment of things, it might be the case that my own cultural bias is too similar to his own to not be persuaded by the underlying logic.

Lingenfelter’s other resources included works concerning theology, psychology, and cross-cultural ministry.  The sources were fairly recent material.  However, the material on cross-cultural ministry and psychology are a bit dated.  It would have been appropriate to have more sources to back up the substantial claims that are being made.  For one, psychology and our approach to cross-cultural ministry has drastically changed even within the previous decade!  Citing more contemporary works, especially for psychology, would significantly bolster Lingenfelter’s assertions.

The theology resources were fairly recent and were written by notable names in their field.  This was a positive aspect of Lingenfelter’s used sources.  However, the scarce few resources used suggest that this particular work may be limited in its Biblical scope.  That’s not to say that the author did not reference Scripture a great deal.  He does.  But, that does not necessarily entail that it is a well informed argument and is less likely prone to eisegesis otherwise avoidable.

The first possible cultural conflict revolves around the issue of time.  Some cultures are time-oriented and others are event-oriented.  Time-oriented is concerned with punctuality, efficient use of time, goal-directed activities, and dates and history.  Event-oriented is concerned with details of the event, full consideration of problems until resolved, relaxed on time constraints to complete something, completing an event is the reward, and focused on the present rather than past or future.

Judgment is the second tension point discussed.  Lingenfelter divides “judgment” between dichotomistic thinking and holistic thinking.  Dichotomistic thinkers see things in absolute categories, emphasizes being right, and are concerned with patterns and systematic organization of information and experiences.  Holistic thinkers are more “open-ended”, does not like being confined to one role or category, and information and experiences are disorganized and not necessarily connected.

Crisis orientation and Noncrisis orientation is the next tension described.  Crisis orientation expects crisis, plans accordingly, seeks quick resolution, follows a pre-planned procedure, and looks for experts for solutions.  Noncrisis orientation downplays the possibility of crisis, focuses on actual experience, holds off on making decisions, looks at all of the options, and is wary of “expert” advice.

Tension concerning goals occupies the following chapter.  Task orientation versus person orientation can cause great distress.  Task orientation, which is our typical modus operandi, focuses on task completion.  Person orientation tends to value the people or groups who are working together over the completion of tasks.

Tensions concerning self-worth stem from achievement focus against status focus.  Status is something that is “ascribed,” whereas, achievement is something that is “acquired.”  Status deals with someone’s connection through birth or rank.  Achievement deals with accomplishments attained by a person.

There are two ways to potentially deal with vulnerability: concealment or willingness to expose.  Concealment protects one’s self-image at all costs.  It is difficult for these individuals to receive criticism or risk failure.  Quality of performance is essential for such individuals.  The other side of the spectrum is just the opposite.  They are willing to risk failure, work to complete an event, and are open to alternative points of view and criticism.

The book demonstrates the proposed thesis.  The combination of Lingenfelter’s experiences in the field and the basic argument, supported by his sources, are coherent and seem to be true in my own personal experience with cross-cultural ministry.  Furthermore, it is generally true between people that are working together and experience conflict or tension due to opposing values, even within the same or similar cultures.

I like the book because it provides a simplified way to assess cultural bias and to better understand what makes people “tick.”  In moments of tension or discomfort working with others, it helps highlight the core issue.  The author states that cultures are either moral or immoral.  I would argue a slightly different understanding.  Culture is a “good” thing.  It seeks to create order within the world, which is a Divine imperative for Creation.  Culture becomes “sinful” when there is an improper arrangement of good things.  Conflict of cultures does not necessarily entail either party is “sinful.”