Exploring Cross-Cultural Mission
Jack Skett reflects and challenges on cross-cultural mission
I can remember really clearly the first time I experienced mission in a cross-cultural context. It may surprise you that it was right here in the UK. As a teenager I was part of a team that went onto what we were told was “one of the roughest estates” in Islington, in inner city London. We were there for a week with the simple goal to do practical things which will both help the community there and display the love of God to them.
When we arrived on the estate, a group of local kids were up on the balconies around the courtyard, throwing crab-apples at us and shouting abuse. They were not at all excited to see a group of Christians turning up on their estate! The adults didn’t seem to feel much different from the kids, but at least they hadn’t resorted to projectiles.
Over the course of that week, we cleaned people’s homes, created a community garden, built a barbecue pit, and did anything else we could find to do which would be helpful to the people on that estate. We were often asked why we were doing it, which gave us the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with people. Most of the people assumed we were being paid to do these things, so when we revealed that we had actually paid our own money to be there they were shocked!
By the end of the week we had earned some respect from the community, and even the local gang leader had come to view us positively. I don’t remember anyone making a profession of faith during that week, but I do know that we left behind a far more positive impression of the Church than there ever was before. A few of us went back a year later for a reunion (using the barbecue pit we’d built) and we were greeted like family.
As the people of God, we are all called to partner with Him on His mission. It’s a call that can lead us to the other side of the world, or simply to the other side of the road; wherever there are people who are in need of grace, that’s where we need to go. As we go where God leads us on mission, we need to learn how to connect with people whose culture is different from our own. It’s not about changing who we are, or about changing the Gospel message - it’s about doing what we can to make sure the way we behave and communicate removes barriers between people and the Gospel rather than creating them.
The Apostle Paul was a master of cross-cultural mission. When he was among Jews, he spoke to them using the Jewish Scriptures and history (Acts 13:13-42), but when he was among Gentiles he used language and references that they would understand. In Athens, Paul spoke to the philosophers using their own poetry to make his point (Acts 17:16-34). In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul gives us an insight into his mindset for cross-cultural mission:
'Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.’ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NLT)
Paul’s one goal was to bring as many people as possible to faith in Jesus. He adapted his method and his language to t with the culture of the place where he was. He learnt how to connect with different people groups so that he could be the most effective witness to the risen Lord Jesus he could possibly be. To engage in cross-cultural mission is to do as Paul did; not sticking with a single method or style of communication, but learning and adapting to t the culture you’re serving.
What About You?
Are you ready to respond to God’s call to cross-cultural mission? It could be that God is nudging you to get to know your neighbour who is of a different faith or background from you, or maybe you’re sensing a call to go further afield - even overseas. However you’re choosing to get involved with God’s mission in the world, it’s important to be equipped.
There’s an adage that’s so widely quoted that it’s not easy to discern who first said it, but it goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” This is true, but it’s important for us all firstly to recognise that we are all called and secondly to be proactive about seeking to be equipped for the call to mission.
If God hasn’t spoken to you specifically about a place or people group you’re supposed to reach, don’t wait around for that to happen. God has already sent His Church into the world to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21), so if you haven’t sensed His call in a specific way, start where you are.
If you aren’t sure how to get started, let me suggest some next steps you could take:
Read: A Bigger Vision of the Gospel - download the PDF of this short book by Iain Hesketh, which will expand your vision of the message we carry and give you a new framework for sharing it in your context.
Study: Missions and the Story of God - this six week Bible study for small groups is available on our website, with video teachings and study notes free to download and use in your church or small group.
Go: Short Term Placements - one of the best ways to learn how to make disciples is to go and spend time with people who are doing it. We have short-term placements available to visit our missionaries around the world, get involved with what they are doing and learn from them. It could be just a week or two, or a longer period if that’s appropriate for you. Contact Mandy Campbell (mandy.campbell@Elim.org.uk) to find out more and discover where this adventure with God could take you!