Cross-cultural Missions Diagram

Just been working on a drawing for showing work in a different culture.  In this case, the missionary is from Culture A, and is seeking to minister to Culture B. It works for me at least. Maybe I will be able to improve it later.

Question 1:  What should happen culturally for someone in Culture B to become a follower of Christ?  Options:

  • Become Culture A? Lose their original culture. Frankly, it is doubtful that Culture A is especially close to God. But even if it was closer… someone from Culture B will always be a second-rate citizen of Culture A… not because of status, necessarily, but adaptation.
  • Stay Culture B? Ultimately missions is about conversion… not “fire insurance.” Conversion changes things so Culture B would not to change, not simply e affirmed.
  • Grow in Counterculture (CB)? I believe this is the goal. The Old Testament patriarachs stayed essentially Semitic. Even with the Mosaic Law, followers of Yahweh were recognizably Semitic and distinctly not other cultures. Greek and Roman Christians were also distinctly Greek and Roman rather than other cultures… although distinct in certain ways. That is what counter-culture means. Counter-cultures are distinctly part of the dominant culture, while still challenging that culture.

Missional WorkQuestion #2. If counter-culture (CB) is the goal for followers of Christ in dominant culture B, then who is the best witness to culture B? That one is easy. The best witness is a follower of Christ in CB. As a member of the dominant culture, he (or she) can connect with the people while understanding how to challenge that culture with God’s truth.

Question #3. How does such a witness (CB) develop in the culture B?

  1. God is always at work in all cultures. In Culture B, God has been at work, is at work, and will continue being at work. We can call this His Missional Plan (MP)
  2. God’s message needs to be available in a form that is understandable and relevant to Culture B. We can call this the Translated Message (TM).
  3. God’s messenger is needed. If there is no such messenger in that culture, than one must come from a different culture (Culture A) As a messanger, he (again, or she) will:  (1) assist in making the message understandable and relevant (TM), (2) help people in Culture B to see what God has been doing, is doing, and will be doing in the culture (MP), and (3) work to develop an indigenous witness (from CB). To be effective in these areas… all requiring a fairly subtle understanding of Culture B, the missionary needs to be involved in “incarnational ministry.” That is, the missionary must follow the model of Christ learning and growing within the culture of ministry (Culture B).

“150 Percent Person” Quote

“If we desire to be obedient to Jesus’ command to carry the good news of his resurrection to the world, we must be willing to become 150 percent persons. We must accept the value priorities of others. We must learn the different definitions and rules of the context in which they live. We must adopt their patterns and procedures for working, playing, and worshiping. We must become incarnate in their culture and make them our family and friends.” -Sherwood Lingenfelter  and Marvin K. Mayers in  “Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships” (final paragraph of book)

For those unfamiliar with the terms in cross-cultural missions:

1.  “becoming incarnate”. Lingenfelter and Mayers are using the incarnation (enfleshment, birth) of God with us on earth as a model for how we should serve on mission. They note two related ideas here. First, Jesus came as a helpless infant into a foreign culture (the world). He did not come as a ruler, or in a privileged state. Missionaries should not come in as rulers, leaders, conquerors. Second, Jesus came as a learner. He learned local language and culture, living with the people and working within the existing systems. Missionaries should see themselves first as learners… long before becoming teachers.

2.  “150 percent person”. We describe Jesus as “fully man” and “fully God”. We could quantify this as 100% man, 100% God. We could then describe Jesus as a 200% person. When missionaries work in a new culture incarnationally, we learn and grow in that culture. It is not realistic that we ever fully enculturate. We will always fail to fit in on a certain level. The practical ideal is that we achieve 75% fit in culture B. We also have our home culture. We retain our home culture, but we begin to lose qualities that make us fully fit in back home. We trend towards perhaps a 75% fit in culture A. So for Lingenfelter and Mayer, the ideal for a missionary is not to be a 200% person, which is beyond our capability, but to be a 150% person– 75% enculturated to both home culture and new culture.