Been thinking today about cross-cultural ministry. We usually think of that as ministry to people of different nationalities, but nationality isn't really the defining characteristic of an ethnic group; it's language.
I used to be involved in a cross-cultural ministry: Deaf Ministry, conducted in sign language. Some church leaders expressed skepticism that it was a cross-cultural ministry, because they saw Deafness in terms of disability, rather than as a culture of shared experiences, values, and worldview which are mediated by a shared language, and the various pidgins which were devised to interface with the Hearing world. Never mind that we were all North Americans, in fact all citizens of the United States. We came from different worlds.
It dawned on me today that I sometimes have to deal with people who don't want to think. They are impatient with explanations. They do not value reason except in terms of the most direct route to validate a plan of action.
They are allergic to nuance. Their eyes glaze over when you start to give them some theology. Some, I have noticed, don't glaze over; they just wait patiently for you to finish the theological truth you are carefully presenting to them, balanced and fair as to the different interpretations that have been offered for the Biblical data. Then they say, "Fine, great, but can you just tell me what the Bible says about this?" completely oblivious that I have just done so.
They are constitutionally unable, or willfully refusing, to hear different sides of an issue, unless they can also hear that one side is categorically right and the other is wrong. They are not stupid. They just aren't reflective. They are active, busy people, with no time for the niceties of logic, analysis, critique.
Well, ok. They are loved by God, nevertheless. They deserve the best ministry I can give them. They need to hear God's Law and Gospel just like any other sinner. My problem--and I do mean, MY problem--is I don't know how to relate to being that way. I have only recently realized, self-absorbed sinner that I am, that some people do not place the same value on reasoned analysis that I do. For years I wondered why I sometimes get so frustrated, and why others get frustrated with me.
I didn't know I was doing cross-cultural ministry. We're speaking English, we're both Midwestern Americans; but between the ears, we are worlds apart.
Now that I know, I wonder what to do? My sinful flesh sneers, "Guess you better get to work on 'Christianity For Dummies'," but I know it is contrary to the Holy Spirit to disparage them so. To grossly mangle an inspired illustration in St. Paul, just because they are not an X-acto knife, does not mean they are not part of the Toolbox of Christ!
For some it is laziness, and it needs the Law. "Love the Lord your God will all your mind," deserves to be taken seriously.
For others, it is a matter of the way they have been wired, set up by God's dealings in the environmental forces that shaped them. (For the record, I deny the 'Nature vs. Nurture' conflict. It's a false dichotomy; one's DNA is simply a special case of environmental influence.) How do I minister to them? That question means, how do I speak the Gospel in a language they can understand? How can I enlist their special gift into the broader witness cooperative that we call the Body of Christ? How does this X-acto knife provide leadership to a chisel? My world is about finesse, careful discrimination, objectivity. Theirs is about direct force, strength along a line and hardness between the wedge angles.
And hardest of all, how do I love them, cherish them, and praise God for the difference of their gifts?