A few months ago I was reading some books on missiology. One of those books was entitled Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Mission by John Mark Terry, Ebbie Smith, and Justice Anderson. Certain things stood out to me as important for pastors and Christian leaders to understand in our rapidly changing culture. Chapter 17, on Cross-Cultural Communication, was particularly powerful. After reading the chapter, I came up with this outline, which I shared in a pastors' fellowship I am a part of. I think all Christian leaders in America need to start thinking like missionaries, and these ideas from the book can help us begin to make that change.
1. Start with your context
Don’t start with what you like/what you want/what you know/what worked in the past/what has worked somewhere else, etc. Start with the context you are actually in.
2. Select what you do according to your context and who you uniquely are (your abilities, personality, gifts, etc.)
Don’t focus on programs, focus on people
Focus on making changes in people. Help them come to faith in Christ, help them change their worldview and/or lifestyle so it follows the teaching of Christ and are more missional.
Adjust programs as needed to get results that change people.
3. Don’t expect one size to fit all situations.
Do and try many things
Adjust the internal church practices and style to reflect your mission and your context.
4. Communicate cross-culturally
Base communication on what we share with those we are trying to reach.
We cannot embrace all of the culture around us but we can share some things with unsaved people in our shared context.
Ask Ourselves: What do I share in common with others in my context?
Base communication on the things you share in common with those you are trying to reach.
Communicate in understandable terms and with ideas they find meaningful and understand.
5. Realize that people ‘screen’ messages and we must work to get past those screens
People screen to keep balance. There is too much demanding their attention. They don’t want to lose the ‘balance’ they feel they have in their life so reject message they think will create imbalance or discomfort.
Three major screens:
The attention screen – getting them to pay attention to our message
The exposure screen – keeping their attention long enough so they will think about what we are saying.
The perception screen – bringing them to the place they are willing to accept the message.
Changing our thinking to be more missionary in our ministry can be challenging, but it is something we must do. If we fail to do it, our churches will become less and less effective in reaching out culture.
Rev. Mark Smith is the pastor of North Park Baptist Church in Bridgeport, CT.