Cross-cultural ministry is hard, perhaps especially so in pioneer contexts. Virtually EVERYTHING has significant potential to become a precedent. Decisions we make today can affect multiple generations, for good or bad.
The Bible gives us clear commands and principles on some matters while other decisions seem to require godly wisdom. But ministering in a cross-cultural situation brings additional challenges. Even after we know the language fairly well, sometimes the gap between comprehending the words and comprehending the message—verbal and non-verbal—can be great. Furthermore, cultural expectations and assumptions can hide well below the surface, making it difficult to predict how potential courses of action will play out in a given setting.
Beyond these challenges is the reality of multiple models and “success” stories touting their own proposals for avoiding mistakes of the past. And there is the fact that our own hearts and motives are never completely pure and unaffected by the subtle, subconscious desire to “succeed” in our ministries today.
So how do we make decisions on concrete questions? Do I contribute foreign funds to pay this church’s pastor? The church believes meeting in a dedicated space will significantly help its ministry. Do I raise money from abroad to help pay for a building? Do I hire a local brother to assist in the church planting effort? Before a new believer is baptized should his or her unbelieving relatives be informed or not? And what do local brothers and sisters say about all these? And what are their motives?
About a year ago I was asked to lead a “hot topics” discussion among new field workers. Instead of simply giving my own response to questions, I wanted to offer something that could be helpful in the longer term. I wrote up some thoughts and questions, and a colleague then created the diagram below (thanks DB!). I’m not suggesting this is sufficient for every decision or situation, but it may be a helpful guide for the process of decision making.
A key assumption behind this process is that local believers will play a significant role in the decision making, perhaps even a leading role, depending on the maturity of the work and the maturity of the believers involved.