With a passion to be as effective as possible, in the mid-1980’s I plunged headlong into a course of preparation for cross-cultural ministry in a foreign country. Because the vision God had given me was to plant a church in a “foreign” country among people that were radically different than myself and the culture I had been raised in and that had shaped and molded me, my pre-field preparation included a TON of reading on cross-cultural ministry, church planting, and as much face to face time with others that had already done what I was about to embark upon.
Before boarding the flight that would eventually take my family and I more than 8 thousand miles to Cebu City, the second largest city in the Philippines, I had come to some firm convictions about how to go about the task of planting a church from the ground floor up. In summary form, here are a few of those convictions:
1. Based on the various church planting efforts and the results of those efforts that are recorded in the New Testament, there are only a few absolutely essential components necessary that must become a reality for a group of believers to consider themselves a valid expression of a local “body of Christ.”
2. That when Paul addressed the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35 in what he believed just might be his final opportunity to share with them personally, he summarized key aspects of his own church planting method. His method is still valid.
3. That I must always be ready and willing to discover and then thoughtfully compare how much of my own walk with Jesus and my understanding of how to “do” church are the result of my own American culture. Specifically, that I need to regularly beg the Holy Spirit to illuminate my mind and also be willing to let others, especially those from other cultures challenge me.
Without my willingness to be challenged and ever mindful of the enormous pride that still resides in me, I know that I will be unable to discern whether the “practices” that make up who I am as an American Christian are based on biblical, “Kingdom principles” or whether they are the expression of American cultural principles that may actually be in contradiction to “Kingdom principles”. By going through this process myself, I will not only be open to the further work of the Spirit in my life, I’ll also recognize that those of other cultures must be free to develop culturally relevant “practices” that might be radically different from my own.
Suffice it to say here: “Kingdom principles” are universal and are supra-cultural. But the “practices” those principles produce must be culture specific for the “Kingdom of God” to be relevant to the diversity of cultures that our Missionary God Himself has created.
**Here’s just one example: In John 13, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples and then tells them He has given them an example and they should do the same for one another. So, is foot-washing a practice we should follow? Or, is there a “Kingdom principle” that when expressed in a culturally specific way is best communicated through foot-washing for that specific cultural group? If those within that specific group had eyes to see and ears to hear would they see the “Kingdom principle” behind that practice? The fact that the practice of foot-washing is not seen again in Acts or referred to in any way in the epistles clearly shows that those whose feet were washed understood He was challenging them to follow His example….not the practice, but the “Kingdom principle” that produced that practice. That “Kingdom principle” of selfless acts of servant-hood regardless of the status assigned to that act of service by the existing culture MUST be expressed in a way that is relevant and understandable to the culture you are ministering within.
What I didn’t foresee was that the above convictions and many more, would actually become essential for effective ministry and efforts at church planting here in my own country–especially efforts to share the gospel with twentysomethings and younger and then integrate them into a local church. And it goes without saying that my ministry among the refugee community must incorporate the same convictions and techniques. Regarding American twentysomethings and younger, I had to realize that their rejection or at least their lack of interest or enthusiasm in much of the way us older folks “do” church and “walk” with Jesus–our “practices”, might be because they see them as based on American cultural principles rather than on biblical “Kingdom principles”.
In a nutshell, I’m absolutely convinced that a cross-cultural, “missions” mindset and the various thought processes and grids used for planting a church in a foreign country are now also crucial to the success of a church planter that desires twentysomethings and younger to be an integral part of the local church they are seeking to pioneer.