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How to Start a Cross-Cultural Ministry at Your Church
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 dozens of 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:
This page is the first in a series of articles that can help us honestly face and conquer our fears about change; embrace diversity, reject racial and cultural prejudice, and identify with our Lord's compassion for the multitudes, so we can prepare to get on with the job. Here is what your church can do to be a part of this harvest.
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?
Questions like these can be answered partly by research and reading (see People Group Info) and partly by surveys and interviews.
A very helpful tool for this step is the guide, "Planning Strategies for Evangelism," by Edward Dayton. Many good pointers are also to be found in the book "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 establishing 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.
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)This article excerpted with permission from "The Stranger Who Is Among You," James Duren and Rod Wilson, William Carey Library, 1983.
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