Christians … taking God’s Good News into multicultural neighbourhoods
YOU and ministry to our multicultural world
- You are here in Australia by the plan and will of God – placed here, sent here, fore-ordained by God to be here “for such a time as this” – you aren’t here as believers primarily for the material or temporal benefits, e.g. good business prospects, good educational possibilities, etc. Jesus commissions all of us: “As the Father sent Me, so send I you.” (John 20:21)
- God has been at work changing the human landscape of Australia, bringing people here from all over the world – from isolated regions and faraway places where few have gone with the Good News of Jesus – for what reason?
- The Bible gives us the answer – God’s agenda is very different to man’s – He is preparing a people for Himself, a bride for His Son, Jesus, from among all tribes and nations of the world – see Rev.7:9-10; cf. Gen.12:1ff; Matt.28:18-20
- This is a great moment to be alive, despite the many challenges – God has assembled here in our country peoples from hundreds of different ethnic backgrounds – we God’s people must seize the opportunity for God
Understanding key words
What are “multicultural ministries”?
- Multicultural ministries are God’s people from many different nations and cultures, crossing cultural barriers in order to proclaim and teach the Good News of Jesus to people regardless of their cultural or religious background.
Who are the “nations”?
- Who do you want to reach in your vision for multicultural ministries? The NATIONS of the world now gathered here in our city and nation.
- What does this mean? The word “nation” today refers to “the nation of Korea” or “the nation of Australia” etc. – whereas the Greek word translated “nation” in the NTs (“ethne” – see Matt.12:18, 21; 24:14; 28:19; Acts 17:26) refers to “people groups” or “ethnic groups”, sometimes also to “clans” and large extended families.
- There are groupings of people (some many millions, some only thousands or hundreds) who have a separate identity from other groups by their shared beliefs, culture, language, also homeland etc.:
- Examples: Kurds, Uzbeks, Balinese etc.
- Example: in the nation of China, there are many separate “nations” or ethnic groups / people groups all of whom are known as citizens of China but who have separate cultural identities
- Cp. how many “nations” live now in Sydney? Hundreds!
What is a “culture”?
- “Culture” is also a word needing to be defined. Australia is multicultural – what does this mean?
- Culture applies to different cultural levels – in concentric circles:
- The externals, e.g. food, clothing, houses, art forms, cultural dances etc.
- Taboos and rules that govern how people relate with one another, e.g. in the family; also their roles and responsibilities in the community, e.g. who are the leaders and authority figures who are treated with special respect, how people from differing backgrounds relate to each other:
- Take shoes off at the door, call adults by 1st name or only Mr. & Mrs.; how children address their parents, and parents their children
- Indian caste system; how people address one another in their culture, e.g. in German: “Sie” or “du”…
- Hidden (spiritual/religious) beliefs that lie hidden behind the externals and the taboos:
- Examples: beliefs about peoples according to the Indian caste system, beliefs behind different dances, dramas, even art forms; beliefs that undergird the preparation of foods, e.g. kosher for Jewish, halal for Muslims, initiation rites, the wearing of jewellery, e.g. a cross for Christians and different clothing, e.g. the Muslim women’s jilbab; also the wearing of amulets as magical charms
- Core values, beliefs and worldview:
- Underlying beliefs:
- Examples: the source of their beliefs (e.g. holy books), God, “prophets” and religious figures (including Jesus), sin, salvation, the appeasement of evil spirits/forces, the use of magic and spiritual powers to defeat and destroy enemies, prayer, religious rituals and ceremonies et al
- Things people assign special value or worth to:
- Temporal possessions (secular culture)
- People and family relationships – cp. money
- The elderly in some cultures are treated with greater respect
- The “family name” is given special honour in some cultures, cp. family honour in the Arabic culture
- Work and accomplishments, cp. diligent Koreans vs. casual Aussies
- Hospitality, e.g. among the Bedouins – generosity to guests vs. time-oriented westerners
- Possessions, i.e. acquiring/buying more and more things
- Many non-western cultures today come under the strong influence of western cultural standards and mores via western movies and music – whereas their own cultural traditions have are far richer and beneficial for the society’s overall well-being
- Story: an Indian pastor rode a bicycle to his church; an American mission team felt so sorry for him, so they said they would raise money for him to buy a car. However, owning a car was furthest from his real need for ministry among his people.
- Telling the truth vs. maintaining harmonious relationships, e.g. “If I tell the truth, you will feel hurt; so it’s better to tell a white lie if this will mean that you will still like me.”
- Beliefs concerning the after-life
- What a people believe about what follows death impacts how they live and order their lives in the here and now, e.g. Buddhist parents will be very upset if their children become Christians as this will mean that they won’t practise offering up sacrifices and offerings for their well-being of their deceased parents in the after-life
- While some aspects of culture are “amoral” or neutral, all cultures are under the curse of sin and express our human sinfulness both on an individual level and also on the community level – the clash of cultures brings us into a clash between the “kingdoms of this world” and “the kingdom of God” – representing two different and opposing worldviews, belief and value systems etc. – the Gospel and teaching of God’s kingdom is “counter-cultural” which means that God’s servants will face inevitable clashes when bringing God’s Good News to a people (whether the culture is eastern or western, primitive or advanced)
- God calls us to let go of our “monocultural” worldview so we can embrace peoples from any and every culture, for God’s purposes
Key principles for multicultural ministries
- Be aware of your inner barriers:
- Did you know that all of us wear “glasses”? We “see” others through certain “filters” that is distorted by sinful prejudices
- All of us battle with “ethnocentricity” = our belief in the superiority of our culture and all that it represents, which leads us to view the beliefs, practices, traditions and ways of people from other cultures as “odd” and “strange” – whereas we need to see our culture and theirs as “different”
- Ethnocentric patterns of thought and behaviour prevents us from getting close to people – cp. “Let this MIND (i.e. mindset, attitude) be in you that was also in Christ Jesus ….” (Phil.2:5)
- We stereo-type people (“all Chinese are …..”; “all Arabs are ….”)
- We patronize people (“Oh, you’re so poor….”)
- We put ourselves on a higher level (“WE are the really blessed ones … our culture is more advanced than the culture of my neighbours”)
- Ask the Spirit to show you the roots of unbiblical attitudes in your mind and heart:
- These attitudes often have their beginning in one’s formative years when parents sow seeds in our minds that condition us to think and respond negatively to people from other cultures, e.g. “I hate Japanese!”, or “Don’t trust any black.”
- Wrong attitudes also arise as the result of a painful encounter with an individual or a group of individuals from a particular culture – such encounters can seriously colour attitudes towards all people from that particular culture
- Recognise that any thought that cuts us off from others, that elevates and glorifies one culture above another, is tainted by sin
- Let God’s Spirit change your thinking (= repentance) towards that people group
- Then ask God to help you look upon this people group as He Himself sees them, i.e. as people deeply loved, whom He longs to save and have as His own
- Understand the beliefs and customs of the people:
- Build a bridge of friendship / establish a point of contact with the culture / people
- Don’t rush hastily into sharing the Gospel before establishing a good connection with the person and gaining an understanding of his/her beliefs and culture – listening first will give you clues and insights into their particular needs which you can then refer to when you later share the Good News
- Examples: Is a sense of hopelessness a dominant characteristic of their culture? then you can focus upon Jesus as the One who removes our despair and gives us HOPE
- Example: Does the person have atheistic beliefs? then you need to begin by declaring “God is!” before focusing on God’s sending Jesus into the world to save us from the consequences of our sins
- Learn from real-life people rather than reading books about a people and their culture and beliefs – learn to ask sincere and helpful questions to draw people out to share what they believe and to explain some background details concerning their cultural practices
- Don’t argue against their beliefs or make negative, derogative comments concerning their culture; also don’t make insincere comments simply to make them feel good, or wrong, unbiblical statements, e.g. “what you believe and what I believe isn’t all that far apart”
- Show unconditional acceptance and respect:
- Learn to love people just as they are – guard against expressing disapproval or being critical of things that other people do or have
- Some habits, customs and practices of people from other cultures will be revolting or at least upsetting
- Example: The way a husband in some cultures treats his wife, or a father acts as a dictator to his children including older children
- We instinctively feel inclined to change people’s ways and habits – we need to let the Holy Spirit change them – Gospel ministry isn’t about turning people from other cultures into “better” or more respectable people but about introducing them to the One who changes people from the inside out
- This ministry is time-consuming so requires patience and perseverance – don’t expect people will respond to your message if you fail to accept them as they are
- Be ready to change instead of expecting them to change – act humbly towards them in the footsteps of Jesus, God’s humble, e.g. learning to eat foods that do not taste good to us, or allowing people when they come into our homes to do things that they are used to doing rather than forbidding them, e.g. maybe looking around the house or apartment without being invited to do so
- Show genuine interest in people:
- Multicultural ministry is about real people caring for real people in the nitty-gritty situations of life
- Though we know that our friend(s) desperately need to hear and receive our message, they need first to see proof that we genuinely care for them
- Communicate God’s interest in each individual rather than giving the impression that your goal is to get “converts” or members for your church
- Learn to ask good, sensitive and appropriate questions which show a genuine interest in them as individuals and in their culture – discover which questions are appropriate and which are inappropriate and considered intrusive
- Ask questions that encourage people to tell their stories – this will tell you important as well as interesting things about their background, but will also show them just how much you are interested in them as people
- Ask them also about their favourite foods, the special traditions for their feast days etc.
- Be ready to tell your story when they ask you for a story about your own background – prepare yourself to include a brief Gospel into your story
- Demonstrate love in practical ways:
- Jesus saw the majority of people around Him through the eyes of love – as broken, wounded, troubled people, caught in a web of sin (their own sins as well as the sins of others including their leaders
- He came to be their Saviour and their Shepherd – to rescue them from the powers of sin and Satan and to lead them safely through the snares and traps in this world
- Example: Zaccheus – Luke 19:10
- Keep your eyes and ears open for expressions of genuine need – be willing (together as a body) to offer genuine – discover their “felt” needs that will be a stepping stone to touching their “real” needs
- What are the “felt needs” of people from other cultures as they arrive to settle in Australia? Examples: Help with language, with gov’t things, shopping, establishing friendships, often need help with their children…..
- What are their “real needs”? Example: The Indian pastor whose REAL need was NOT for a car but for some help that would help him in appropriate ways reach more of his people with the Gospel
- Practise hospitality – be willing to set aside both time and money for this ministry ….
- Meet people on their turf – go to them – later you can invite them to your home
- Compare: materialistic Aussies (Koreans??) who are driven by the goal to make lots of money rather than spending “time” with people – in hospitality, we show the Christian value that people are what’s most important!!
- Learn some key greetings and expressions in the people’s language
- Learning their language communicates a sincere and special interest in them as people – a people, their culture and their language all go hand in hand –
- Do they speak softly or loudly? What does this tell us about a people and their culture?
- What patterns of speaking do they practise? e.g. do they frequently use “I” (as in English), or do they use another form or pattern when referring to themselves? What does this tell you about some hidden cultural values?
Closing words of counsel
Be ready to engage for intense spiritual warfare in multicultural ministries – it’s not just about working out the right strategy or being very nice people
- Culture generally has a very strong hold on a person’s heart and soul – most people feel very loyal to their cultural and national identity – mixing culture, national identity with religion, e.g. “all Thai are Buddhists”; “Malays are Muslims” – it’s not just a matter of persuading people with words to believe the Gospel – it’s equally about engaging in spiritual warfare to see “captives” released from their spiritual and cultural bondages (see 2 Cor.10:3-5)
- Cultural bondages – see “the elemental principles of this world” (Greek: “stocheia”) – Gal.4:3, 9; NLT “the spiritual powers of this world” – unseen spiritual forces at work influencing people’s thinking and behaving and keeping them in bondage to their old beliefs, traditions, customs etc. that their people have believed and practised for a long time
- Outwardly a people’s cultural forms and practices may have the appearance of respectability and even beauty – however, it is necessary to comprehend that behind many cultural practices are the lies of the evil one that cause them to focus upon their sense of belonging and loyalty within their family and community
- So multicultural ministries inevitably involves intense and aggressive spiritual warfar in order to see an enslaved people released from their cultural and religious bondages – praying, pleading for God to remove the scales from people’s spiritual eyes – to set the captives free (see Acts 26:18)
- In this spiritual battle, God’s servants also need to on their guard against the enemy’s tactic to defeat them with discouragement – we must gird up our minds and realise that suspicion, rejection and various levels of hate that cause us to feel discouraged are all aspect of reaching other nations for Jesus
Be open to and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit – let Him lead and guide you how to think about your part in this multicultural ministry, whom He would have you focus on, and how best to relate with that particular cultural group – it is preferable to choose one culture rather than try to get involved with many groups
- “Lord, give me Your heart for this person / people group. Lead me to the people You have prepared to hear the Gospel”
- Then begin to pray for this people group – it could be the people group of some person or family in your neighbourhood or at your place of work – pray for God’s wisdom how to be a clear witness to them, for a deep love for this people, and for God’s Spirit to prepare them to hear and believe the Good News
Pastor Graham Roberts
Equip & Encourage Int’l