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How to Start a Cross-Cultural Ministry at Your Church
"Evangelicals have begun to come alive to the great potential of establishing ethnic churches."
- James Duren and Rod Wilson (1)
This page is the first in a series of articles based on the book The Stranger Who Is Among You by James Duren and Rod Wilson. Duren and Wilson share simple steps to help us becoming more effective in cross-cultural ministry:
- recognize the unique ministry opportunities created by the diversity of peoples living in America
- honestly face and conquer our fears about change
- embrace diversity
- reject racial and cultural prejudice
- identify with our Lord's compassion for the multitudes
These can help us obey our Lord's command to share the Good News with the world, beginning with the diverse people groups now living in America.
Find Out the Facts and Plan a Strategy
"Paul the apostle was a careful observer. When he finally got up to preach in Athens he could say, 'I observe that you are very religious in all respects.' (Acts 17:22) The local church needs to be observant, too.
Look around you. What kind of people do you see? Are there Hispanics or other ethnic groups? (Check the statistics at Who Lives in Your State?) Find out local demographics and expected trends from your Chamber of Commerce and public school district.
Develop a level of understanding of local people and their needs. What is their religion and philosophy of life? What do they know of Christianity and the Gospel? What are the most important things in life to them, and what do they see as their own greatest needs?" (1)
Questions like these can be answered partly by research and reading (see People Group Info) and partly by surveys and interviews.
More helpful strategies for cross-cultural outreach can be found in these books: Planning Strategies for Evangelism, by Edward Dayton, and Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, by David Hesselgrave.
Pray for a Key Contact
Personal relationships are the key to friendship and influence in cultures around the world. The article, "Biblical Man of Peace'", describes an effective outreach approach which begins with prayer that God will lead you to a key individual who can help you to develop relationships with the people you want to serve.
Build Bridges by Meeting Needs
"Even while a task force is preparing a strategy based on Biblical principles and well-researched data, the individual members of your church can be building bridges of love and concern to their ethnic neighbors. Love will always find a way to build a bridge, even though cultural mistakes are made.
Then as a church, and guided by the strategy group, you can mount all sorts of people-to-people activities.
An effective outreach program may have a variety of components to meet the varied needs of their people with ministries for youth, senior citizens, and even meeting needs for employment opportunities, summer lunch efforts, criminal justice, day care, and housing.
The right balance is important. These social concerns are not the central mission of the Church, and the danger is that we may easily give the impression that the essential nature of the gospel is social rather than spiritual. We don't want people to feel patronized, but rather empowered to help themselves. Yet for many recent arrivals, the genuine needs may be great and the church needs to respond appropriately. A ministry to the whole man may open doors otherwise closed.
The local church can, after identifying the needs, decide on a plan for assisting new immigrants, holding classes for teaching English, providing day care for working mothers, having a youth sports night in the church or trying to help people get the legal, domestic or transportation counsel they need." (1)
Be Innovative and Flexible
There are many different models or forms a successful cross-cultural ministry may take. There is no one "right" structure.
Some groups will move toward Anglo-American forms, but none will go all the way. This bothers some churches. But it shouldn't. Perfect amalgamation is neither possible nor desirable.
We believe that God has created diversity. Some may say, 'If they're going to live here, why don't they learn English?' But this question reveals a prideful heart. They are really asking, 'When are they going to become like us?'
Two congregations can meet in the same building, worship in different languages and cultural adaptations and still be united in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Organizational unity is not the same as spiritual unity. It seems to be a common human trait to expect everyone to be exactly as we are. Yet the goal is seeking and saving that which is lost. Organization is a means, not a goal.
Sometimes complete integration of distinct ethnic groups happens in time. But it cannot be programmed. The molding of church worship forms, schedule and style will be a product of felt needs under the guidance of the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Our goal must be to provide an atmosphere which will allow local people to accept Christ and live out their Christian lives in the patterns of the local society, in the style most natural to them.
Sunday School classes and sermons can nurture attitudes of tolerance and openness. Explore the strong Biblical themes that the Church is responsible to reach all nations for Christ, and that all nations will be represented around the throne. Explore Jesus's question, 'Who is my neighbor?'
So you see, you can do it. Love requires that you try. And love never fails." (1)
RESOURCES TO HELP YOU GET STARTED:
Many cross-cultural encounters in the church are blessed with kind hearts and a lot of grace. However, it takes more than good intentions to have an effective cross-cultural ministry. There are many good books which can help you develop skills to greatly increase the effectiveness of your ministry, and we particularly recommend these three for your consideration:
An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships" by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin Keene Mayers, has fascinating information about six common areas where values and perception differ between cultures, along with strategies for improving communication. The book includes a simple survey which will help you identify your own cultural values. (You'll be surprised at what you learn!)
"The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multiculutural Community",
by Eric H. F. Law, is a wonderful book which will sharpen your understanding of cross-cultural dynamics and teach you simple but effective techniques for leading multicultural groups. (This is a great book to use in a discussion group to prepare your leadership team.)
"A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church",
by Gerardo Marti, offers an in-depth case study of a large and innovative multicultural church in Los Angeles. Written from a sociological perspective, the book includes stories and interviews along with an excellent bibliography for further study. An interesting profile of a church that has been successful in bringing diverse peoples together.
(1) The quotes above were excerpted with permission from "The Stranger Who is Among You"
James Duren and Rod Wilson, William Carey Library, 1983.
How to Start
Opportunities for Cross-Cultural Ministry
Overcoming Our Fears
Working Through Cultural Differences
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