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Book Review: Ministering Cross-Culturally - Lingenfelter & Mayers

In the Preface, the authors make it clear that “the subject of this book is the tension and conflict that missionaries, pastors, and laypersons experience when they attempt to work with people who come from different cultural and social backgrounds” (p. 9). As a pastor and mobilizer, it is my heart to equip people to be missional, and that means that they will need to work with and love people with different backgrounds, cultural assumptions, and belief systems. This book is a helpful tool in realizing the equipping that is needed to accomplish this task. The main tool or model for understanding these differences “was developed by Marvin Mayers” and “grew out of his experience as a missionary” (p. 9). The book begins by diving into the context and metaphor for ministry, namely, the incarnation of Jesus Christ (p. 13). It then walks through the Mayers model of basic values, and continues on by looking specifically at several tensions that we face in the conflict that arises when people of different cultures interact – tensions of time, judgment, handling crises, goals, self-worth and vulnerability. The book ends with an entreaty to realizing and assimilating this understanding of difference, and using the model as a tool for healthy interpersonal, and inter-cultural, ministry.

My review of this book led me to ask the following questions:

How can the Mayers model be applied to my current context?

We are a missional church who want to be full of missional people who are redemptively engaging the cultures that surround them. Whether that culture be the culture of a business like Dell, or the culture of a Hindu neighbor from India, our people are surrounded by unique opportunities to live out the gospel in their spheres of influence. Mayers model of basic values (p. 29), and the assessment that goes along with it in this book (p. 30-34), provide a great framework with which to build an understanding and awareness of the ways in which we value different things like time, events, relationships, tasks and status. A keen cultural self-awareness as well as an awareness of another’s culture is paramount in understanding the bridges for the gospel, especially in our pluralistic society. I will definitely be using this assessment often as I train others to be missional.

What in this book is reproducible for leadership development?

“If we are to follow the example of Christ, we must aim at incarnation!” (p. 25). These words express one of the most reproducible elements of leadership development – that of releasing ourselves from attachments in order to fully model Christ for an emerging leader. Since ministry revolves around relationships, this book helps in understanding “principles on which we can build more effective relationships and ministry within and beyond the boundaries of our homogenous churches and communities” (p. 15). This is crucial as the book lays out several of these principles in the latter part of the book, including the tensions created when cultures collide in regards to assumptions about time, events, tasks, and worldviews. Also, one of the most significant facts “about the incarnation is that Jesus was a learner” (p. 16). Leaders are learners, and in order to lead well, emerging leaders must have a lifelong learner attitude. Jesus typified this in the incarnation, and I would do well to model it to my emerging leaders.

What is the biggest tension that people in my context will face and how does this book address and equip them for ministry within this tension?

One of the main areas that we as Americans can grow in is the tension that is created with other cultures in regards to goals. Many times it is easy for us to value task orientation more than people orientation. People, like many of us in the U.S., find satisfaction in achievement, while, on the other hand, other cultures may find satisfaction in the interaction that a gathering of people affords (p. 79). As we equip our people for mission, we should equip them to realize the importance of interaction in daily life, especially when they will be crossing into other cultures who may have a much higher regard for personal interaction. “It is for task-oriented people to recognize that their striving after objective goals is a character flaw if the compulsion to work becomes obsessive” (p. 84). Yes, missional activity pushes us out of the nest to reach people for Christ, but “if we are not meeting people and loving them through interaction, we have lost sight of the Great Commission” (p. 84).

SUMMARY OR SYNTHESIS

Short and concise, this book is a helpful tool in not only diagnosing where potential cultural landmines may lie, but it also helps dismantle those landmines and turn them into assets for ministry. I appreciated the emphasis on the model for incarnation in Jesus, and the ministry of incarnation that we now fulfill. I am certainly a task-oriented person, so this book was a healthy reminder that “the life of Jesus furnishes powerful evidence of the importance of persons in the kingdom of God” (p. 85).

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