We live today in societies where all of us have to learn to communicate and relate cross-culturally. Some of us enjoy the challenge and stimulus of being together with people of another culture, while others of us hide back behind our own cultural barriers. This applies not only to each of us as individuals, but also to churches. Obviously Christian workers and missionaries overseas face this issue in their preaching and teaching of the good news of Jesus. How culturally flexible are we?
Our globalised world has clearly forced most of us to live, study and work with people from a variety of different nations. Even in our village of Stanstead Abbotts in conservative Hertfordshire we have in our village two Indian restaurants, a Chinese take-away and a Thai restaurant. Living in our village we also have people from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Caribbean, Cuba, Malaysia and various European countries. If we and our church are to remain relevant we have to learn to adapt our message, church forms and communication patterns to this multi-ethnic background.
But the cross-cultural challenge relates also to our different generations. Whenever we get together with our grandchildren we (and they!) have to relate to the fact that we come from very different cultural backgrounds. Our daily lives as well as our ways of speaking reflect our different cultures. The Christian church also faces the pressing need of adapting our whole ministry to suit the various age groups in our area. Many resist any change in this way and insist on the church maintaining its traditional patterns. Others seek to be ultra-youthful and culturally up-to-date, but can lose touch with older or more traditional people. Churches which fail to attract youth face a sad future, but we also have to remember that a growing percentage of our population is pensioned and their hair is greying. The salvation and new life of Jesus is for all people equally.
A few weeks ago I much enjoyed being back in Manchester for ministry and this reminded me too that Mancunian culture differs quite considerably from Hertfordshire. People from Kent will have to adapt considerably in witness in Cornwall. And of course the cross-cultural challenge is particularly marked between people from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. What a challenge for us as Christians in our churches and in our evangelistic witness!
The cross-cultural challenge must affect our understanding of the Bible and our theology too. We need to learn to read the Bible with other people’s eyes. I personally have had to grapple with this from my Jewish perspective. We Jews may understand the Bible differently from our Gentile brothers and sisters. Likewise our theology will have different emphases as we struggle biblically to express our faith in relation to our different issues and questions. Our differing cultures will also have varying patterns of communication in personal witness, group discussion, preaching and teaching.
Christians in any form of ministry and indeed even in ordinary daily witness will benefit from effective cross-cultural biblical training. I believe therefore that All Nations Christian College with its cross-cultural biblical courses could benefit many – not only people going overseas in some form of mission, but also Christians living and working here in Britain. Some of their courses can also be done with e-learning. I will write something on All Nations for our website on another occasion, but meanwhile do look it up on its website too!