In a growingly diverse landscape, pastoral ministry requires a greater awareness of cultures beyond our own. Below are questions which have guided me toward a deeper understanding of other cultures as I lead our church to embrace a missional posture toward those around us.
What’s the Bible say?
Conversations of diversity and cross-cultural awareness are sometimes criticized as sacrificing biblical fidelity in the name of political correctness or that these issues are antithetical to the message of unity in Christ. Though I would affirm that pursuing diversity merely for the sake of itself isn’t a worthy endeavor, one can’t help but study the Scriptures and observe the cross-cultural implications of reconciliation woven throughout the story of redemption. If this is new to you, seek out reputable scholarly resources to guide you in these scriptural explorations. As you teach your church about cross-cultural consciousness, you can stand on the authority of God’s Word to demonstrate to your people how this is a matter of faithful obedience.
How’s your Cultural Intelligence?
Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a tool to evaluate one’s capacity to effectively relate across cultures. One of the most life-impacting courses I’ve taken is Cultural Interpretation & Engagement with Dr. Larry Anderson at Biblical Theological Seminary. The class material and David Livermore’s work in the field of cultural intelligence helped to expose areas of my life and thinking which were not as cross-culturally developed as I assumed. When we actively assess ourselves in these ways, we can more effectively recognize certain cultural presumptions that are so natural to us that we weren’t even aware of underlying biases and assumptions we have about people from other contexts. The hopeful aspect of measures like CQ is that it’s something that can be cultivated and developed as we seek to grow in our love & ministry to those of diverse backgrounds.
What are you reading?
I often see biblically orthodox pastors posting lists of recommended books which belong on every serious Christian’s bookshelf. Though I’d also recommend many of those books, it is disheartening to scan the authors and realize that almost everything recommended as essential to faith is written from a culturally homogeneous perspective. Who you declare as worth reading makes a significant statement – especially in who may NOT be represented among your recommended titles. If you desire to cultivate cultural consciousness in your people, recommend solid resources which you’ve read & can endorse from leaders outside of your own context. (Check the monthly LifeWay Pastors feature Who’s Reading What? for ideas. Here’s September and October.)
Who are you learning from?
Attend a conference, seminar, or course led primarily by representatives of another culture. Make the commitment to humbly submit under those you may not normally learn from. Things may not be done the way you’re used to or in styles that you’re comfortable with but this tension is often a significant step in God’s honing as we grow as cross-cultural ministers.
On a more personal level, consider approaching another pastor in your region. You don’t have to be awkward about it but make your intent clearly known: You desire to grow in your cultural awareness and wish to glean from their wisdom. Many leaders who sense a genuine humble & learning posture are glad to share their experiences as their lives permit. These kinds of relationships may even lead to opportunities to partner with another church culturally different than your own. Some pastors desire their own churches to grow in diversity which is fine if Kingdom-minded. Yet I believe we often miss out on tremendous opportunities to display reconciliation and train our people when we worship, serve, eat, and walk together with other churches in our region.
My greatest growth cross-culturally hasn’t come from what I’ve read in a book – it’s the stories of real people whose lives have been shared with me.
What do you talk about?
Simply, we become what we say. What we talk about publicly before our churches reflects what is of great value to us. If your church regularly hears in your sermons or sees your social media posts about reconciliation across cultures, they will eventually take this to heart. It may not occur overnight but what you normally speak on will become a part of your ethos and culture. If they know it’s that important to you, they will believe it’s important for them.
What do you pray about?
Not to pull a Jesus juke but I genuinely believe that God uses prayer to move our hearts. As you pray for deeper love and awareness of people who may be culturally different than you and even about the real challenges involved in doing so, God will use those prayers to shape and lead you to conviction and action. The result may not necessarily mean your church becomes more culturally diverse but perhaps the greater work is what God will do in you.