As Jesus said goodbye to his disciples, right before his ascension into the heavens, he gave them his Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). As their King, he told them that they were under his authority. Being in charge, he charged them to go into all of the world. As their Rabbi, he told them to make disciples and teach them the way of their Teacher. As Immanuel, “God with us,” he reminded them that he would still be with them, going with them, out into the world.
Many ministers and congregations these days are recapturing that vision. They are seeking to align their mission with disciple-making as a core task (or even the core task!) for the church. Disciple-making is something that all of us are called to do. It is not a task only for full-time ministers and specialists. Making disciples of people in our own cultural context can certainly be challenging, though. And making disciples of people from other cultures can be even more complex.
Two books that I have found to be helpful in increasing a capacity for making disciples cross-culturally are:
- Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers (now in its 3rd edition – 2016)
- Making Disciples Across Cultures: Missional Principles for a Diverse World by Charles A. Davis (2015).
Both of these books help us consider how the cultural “settings” of both the disciple and the disciple-maker shape the relationship and the process. One metaphor from Davis’ book has been especially helpful for me. He uses the image of a sound mixer board to help us appreciate the need to move the “sliders” to a different setting so that we can make sure the sound is clear and fits the room. For example, if I come from a culture that is more individualistic, but am spending time with someone who comes from a more collectivist society, I may need to reframe the way I disciple them and move the “slider” from its everyday pre-set settings to make sure the message fits the other person well. That mixer board analogy can also be applied to the other, more anthropological tensions between different types of cultures that Lingenfelter and Mayers describe.
Making disciples of Jesus across cultures will require us to often switch from our default positions, our “home settings.” But with practice we can add additional pre-settings. Like that mixer board, we can add a 2nd or 3rd setting to our primary way of being. Increasing our cultural competency and flexibility will increase our ability to follow the Great Commission. It will likely be challenging at first, but practice makes the complicated more and more automatic. We can learn to switch to other modes of serving and working for the good of the people we are serving and for the glory of God!