Discipleship 101: Pray, read your Bible, go to church, participate in cross-cultural training . . .
Wait, what? Isn’t that the kind of thing reserved for those super-Christians that move away to be missionaries?
In The Sending Church Defined, Bradley Bell puts it this way: “In a sending church, understanding cultures and how to communicate the gospel across them should be part of every Christian’s basic discipleship.”
You may be thinking, Yeah, but if this is such an integral part of discipleship, then why doesn’t the New Testament talk about it? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Over and over again in the New Testament, Paul addresses the issue of culture. It was very difficult for Jewish Christians to separate their cultural identity from their new faith, yet Paul constantly instructed them to glorify in Christ’s work and not force their cultural practices on their Gentile brothers and sisters. Those who descended from Israel, the nation gifted with God’s divine Law, could not expect others to adopt their unique culture and practices. Far too often, however, this is what mainstream American Christians expect of others.
My wife and I first went overseas ten years ago, and we were about as uncultured as you can get. Our five-week cross-cultural training proved to be invaluable to us as we entered a foreign context for the first time. Over the next decade, we would continue to peel back the layers of our American version of Christianity in order to remove barriers to gospel advancement and sustainability in that country. In March of 2020, we were suddenly uprooted back to the U.S. Not knowing we would be here for the long-haul, we settled in a rural town in the midwest near our family. And because we still wanted to be in the least-reached place we could find, we moved to the “other side of the tracks”—an area known for poverty, drugs, and general depravity.
Our neighbors had underlying values, ways of communicating, and unspoken rules that we had to learn in order to see past initial judgments and connect in a meaningful way to their lives.
Very quickly we realized that we were using the same cross-cultural skills here on a daily basis. Our neighbors had underlying values, ways of communicating, and unspoken rules that we had to learn in order to see past initial judgments and connect in a meaningful way to their lives. After being in the U.S. for the past two years, and with the uptick of extreme discord in our society, we are more convinced than ever that Bradley was right—continuing to see past our cultural bias and introduce the gospel to those who are from a different culture (even if they look just like us!) is essential to discipleship, evangelism, church unity, and Christian maturity.
We must recognize that we do in fact have a culture that has shaped the way we practice our faith.
In our small, midwestern town, the biggest culture gap is between social classes. At the beginning of the year, the elders of our church graciously granted us the opportunity to start a Sunday school class focused on loving the poor in the community. This class is not about advertising what days the soup kitchen needs volunteers. This is an indepth look at poverty culture from every angle and God’s heart toward the poor and needy. We find ourselves asking similar questions we were challenged with at our pre-field cross-cultural training. Is a cultural difference always wrong? Is there more to the story than what we see? How much of our spiritual metrics are based more on our middle-class, American values than on biblical mandates?
Going forward, we must recognize that we do in fact have a culture that has shaped the way we practice our faith. Then, we must seek to understand the culture of those around us. Maybe in your community that means understanding the way another ethnic group thinks, the way minority Christians in your city worship, or the unspoken rules of another social class. It will look different in every place, but we need to start having these conversations in our church communities. I believe this will deepen our faith, our worship, and our effectiveness in gospel work, and, therefore, it should not be reserved for a select few—it is for all of us who are disciples of Jesus.
Luke is an international partner with Reliant Mission. He and his family served in South Asia for eight years, and Luke now continues his cross-cultural ministry in central Kansas among the under-resourced. He labors to establish the church by developing leaders and sending more workers into the harvest.