OUR MISSION PART 3: Empowering Churches ACROSS CULTURES to Impact Unreached People for the Kingdom of God

Have you ever had a cultural misunderstanding?   I remember once preaching in India from Isaiah 11.  The passage describes seven spirits of God.  Afterwards an Indian pastor politely suggested I change my message as the congregation thought I was saying there were seven Gods.  Crossing cultures can be difficult!  But it can also be a wonderfully exciting and enriching experience.   Above all, crossing cultures is a core part of God’s mandate for the church.

God has an enormous heart for the people of different nations.  He wants to bring people from every nation to worship him; and this powerful biblical theme is linked with the key commands and messages of the Bible.  For example, Jesus teaches that the whole law and prophets hangs on the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbour (Mt 22:39).   He then illustrates these commands with a missionary parable about loving people of different cultures—even when there is historical enmity (Lk 10:27-30).  In the Old Testament, God promises that the seed of Abraham will bring blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1-3).  That promises of blessing is fulfilled as we go and make disciples of all nations in obedience to Jesus last command (Mt 29:19).

As a response to God’s heart for the nations, our primary purpose as a ministry emphasises the important dimension of crossing cultures.  However, crossing cultures requires sensitivity and wisdom.  Missionary churches need to be indigenous churches that connect and relate to their surrounding community in a relevant way.  This does not mean compromising the truth of the Gospel, but it does mean making our message relevant, understandable and applicable.

Donald McGavran worked for many years an executive in a missionary society in India but he was frustrated by the apparent lack of fruit.  He resigned his position and began a journey as a successful missionary church planter seeking to discover and apply principles of church growth.  Out of these personal experiences and his research, he wrote Bridges of God—a  book that has had a profound influence on missions and church growth thinking for a half century.  His primary observation was that decision-making processes differ between cultures and that many cultures decide as a group not individuals.  He developed these observations into the principle that “people like to become Christians without crossing, racial, linguistic or social barriers.”

Research continues to show that effective missionary church planting must be “incarnational” and “contextualized”.  It must be lived out within a particular society and it must be communicated within a particular language and context.  The message we teach and preach needs to be socially practiced and culturally understandable.   As we empower churches across cultures, people need to hear the gospel in their own language and see it demonstrated in a meaningful way.

*Donald McGavran (1955) Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of 1981 Missions.  New York: Friendship Press.

– Andrew