Thursday, January 08, 2015

Is Cross-Cultural Studies Only For Missionaries?

I am forever trying to explain the work of cross-cultural training.  Recently a good friend of mine had an epiphany of sorts.  I was explaining how important cross-cultural discipleship is for church workers in their own city, community and country.

“You mean cross-cultural training is not just for missionaries” he asked?

Certainly cross-cultural training is vital for those settling into foreign countries, but the study of cultures is every bit as relevant for those who live in a small town in Georgia as it is for those going to the country of Georgia (which by the way is a former Soviet Union state nestled between Russia, Turkey and Black Sea). 

On my website one of the first quotes you will see is by Donald McGavran, former missionary to India, professor at Fuller Seminary, church growth expert in the 1980’s and missiologist until he died at the ripe old age of 93.  His famous quote is,

“People will not easily cross-cultural boundaries to hear the Gospel.”

The implications of that statement are enormous.  First, we need to understand that in EVERY cultural context, whether it is Odessa, Ukraine or Odessa, Texas, we live in communities of cultural boundaries, which include:

            Ethnic Boundaries
            Socio-economic Boundaries
            Linguistic Boundaries
            Gender Boundaries
            Generational Boundaries
            Religious Boundaries

In every town, village and city in the world people will not easily cross cultural boundaries to assimilate into the community or go to church.  It does not matter if you have the best music program in the city or the best youth program in the county or you are the best preacher in the state, most people in your community will not cross the cultural boundaries to hear the music, have pizza with the your youth group or hear your dynamic sermons. 

The second implication of McGavran’s statement is that for the followers of Christ, our job is to Go and Take the Gospel, which implies that WE are to cross the cultural boundaries, go into their cultural setting, to present the Gospel.  We cannot, we dare not, expect people of different ethnicities, education or economic background to feel comfortable in our churches.  The mandate of the Great Commission is for us to go to them…not build a program and expect people to come to us.

Yes, it’s true, cross-cultural training is for people going to far-away countries.  The reality is, however, 90% of the nationals I teach in India, Ukraine, Ecuador, Kenya, Senegal or China, will never leave their countries.  They will remain in their homeland.  If, however, they are going to reach all the people groups in their countries someone is going to have to cross cultural boundaries to take the Gospel.

I wish every pastor in the U.S. would learn the importance of cross-cultural studies.  It’s not just a quaint specialized discipline for anthropologist working in the jungles…it’s a relevant issue for those who live in the land of Wal-Mart and Starbucks.