Equipping the Church (part 2)
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
for (cross-cultural) ministry through (cross-cultural) apprenticeships.
In the previous blog we looked at the first three reasons why cross-cultural gospel
ministry apprenticeships are so helpful in forming the leaders and workers we need. These are the next ten:
4. The trauma and risk and uncertainty of crossing cultures can be a great time for the apprentice to come to the end of themselves (self-confidence) and learn reliance on the Lord (God-confidence). In some environments the threat level and insecurity will be objectively far higher than the apprentice's home. I think of two Kenyan brothers who spent a year in countries with very high levels of persecution and threat towards Christians – they testify to how they had to learn new levels of trust of God in life and in death. Even if the destination is quite safe and secure by any objective measure, the apprentice almost certainly doesn’t feel as safe and secure as in a familiar environment – they don’t know which streets are safe to walk, what the noises in the dark mean, who can be trusted, where to get help. And if the move is cross-border, there is the particular vulnerability of legal status as a foreign national – you can always be deported. New battles with fear need to be fought.
5. There is an exposure of sin. This happens in many crucibles that the Lord puts us in – workplace, marriage, parenting – but it is certainly true of cross- cultural service that the emotional and psychological toll of operating in an unfamiliar culture and all the unique stresses and insecurities tend to be particularly effective means of revealing the depths of your own heart. A critical spirit or impatience or selfishness that might not have reared its head ‘at home’ comes out strongly in moments of transition and culture clash. We are exposed more clearly as the sinners we are.
6. In particular there is an exposure of deep seated ethnic/cultural/social prejudice. The racism or snobbishness that lurks at the bottom of the heart, unacknowledged, can come to the surface in a cross-cultural ministry setting. I am forced to deal with questions like, "Why do I assume that I am cleverer?" "Do I think I deserve a higher salary than a pastor of another ethnic group?" "Am I willing to hand over responsibility - real control - to someone of a different ethnic group to me?" "Do I truly believe that an African/ Indian/Chi- nese brother could be a better theologian, better pastor, better missionary, better Christian than me?" As deep relationships and genuine friendships between different-background-brothers are built in the trenches of ministry there can be a repenting and moving beyond prejudice to cross-cultural partnerships in the gospel.
7. In a cross-cultural setting the apprentice is forced to re-examine their own thinking and living and what is genuine Christianity. While living in your own culture your own culture is hard to see largely invisible to you. In some ways, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, reading old books from different times and worldviews can help but there is nothing quite like crossing cultures and living in a different place that works to different rules and assumptions to help you see the things you thought were ‘obvious’. You are forced to do some hard thinking about whether you don’t like something because it is wrong or just because it is different. You are given the privilege of having a bit of distance on your own culture as well as a view into a different one and you can start (although you will still be blind in many ways) to appreciate and critique things in both. In this way your convictions about the really core, trans- cultural, vital things in your faith hopefully get clearer and firmer.
8. Simply being in a different culture can also make an apprentice more open to learning new things - not particularly cultural things, just straight doctrine and Bible. I have lost count of the number of times someone went to undergo ministry training in a different country and they were struck in a very powerful way by a truth they had been taught many times in their home country but they only really heard it when it was taught them abroad. I suspect that there is something about a fresh environment and transition which opens the mind and heart to receive things.
9. There is also much value gained from being in a different ministry setting to your home church in the sense that there will be things that are genuinely better - enriching, helpful, learning points. Every church needs the wider glo- bal church. Every gospel worker benefits from a range of influences and teachers - different people pouring into their life. Even someone who has grown up through excellent churches, when apprenticed in a not-so- amazing-but-faithful church in a very different cultural context will almost certainly find things that the host church and mentor pastor does and says which are very helpful and true and show up a deficiency in their home church. It may be a form of hospitality or a concern for the poor or a perceptive reading of the Scriptures or boldness in evangelism or carefulness in planning or reverence for the Word.
10. Crossing cultures exposes apprentices to varieties of need. When we go to somewhere very different from our home we are at least given a point of comparison. We find that spiritual and physical resources are not evenly spread. A Macedonian call may be heard. Our very definition of need (for ourselves and for others) starts to be challenged.
11. As well as encouraging cultural flexibility and sensitivity with respect to the broad cultural setting within which the apprenticeship is happening (so the apprentice grows in the ability to live and work and minister in an unfamiliar culture), cross-cultural apprenticeships also have the great benefit of growing the ability to work in a cross-cultural leadership team. This is hugely important. Cross-cultural church leadership is modelled in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 13:1), it seems pragmatically effective in promoting ethnically diverse, culturally-sensitive churches and it is just a wonderful demonstration of gospel unity - not only does Christ allow us to sit next to each other as brothers but even to work very closely together and value each other as co-labourers and get through the inevitable frictions and tensions coming out the other side richer and wiser. A cross-cultural apprenticeship is an introduction into this world of cross-cultural Christian leadership teams and very useful preparation for those unique joys and challenges.
12. Cross-cultural apprenticeships tend to avoid the problem of 'cloning'. When someone you are apprenticed to is quite unlike you (culturally/socially/ethnicity) you tend to pick up the substance more than the style. As C.S. Lewis says of old books, you are likely to be quite able to distinguish the good (to take) and the bad/blindspots (to leave).
13. Cross-cultural apprenticeships tend to foster an expansive kingdom-mindedness at the same time as faithfulness to a particular local church. Both of these - a heart for the universal church and local loyalty - are vital but rare to find together. A cross-cultural ministry apprenticeship can be a great place to learn both, away from your home community but submitting to local leadership.
Admittedly, as I said before, it doesn't always work. Cross-cultural apprenticeships can lead to pride or liberalism or hardening or backsliding or depression or 'going native' in a bad way. There are ways to guard against some of those things. And the positive benefits of cross-cultural apprenticeships can be huge and worth the investment and risk. A mission leader in West Africa (who has been a mentored to me) once observed that the guys in his context who are standing firm and doing a great job in gospel ministry have all had some sort of cross-cultural training experience outside their home country.
Apprenticeship is a powerful means of training and personal formation wherever it is done. With the added cross-cultural element it is turbo-charged and even more helpful in forming the robust, godly, flexible, skilled gospel workers our church and nation needs.