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Crossing cultural lines

March 20, 2017

God loves diversity (Gen 1-2; Ps 19:1-6).

He came up with it. He created the world to reflect it.

It was not the Founding Fathers, the ACLU, or the “politically correct” college professors on your campus.

The universe is a diverse and majestic place designed to honor and glorify the most creative, the most unique, the most beautiful being there is: God.

Look at the variety of flowers, birds, stars, or human beings made in His image. None are alike. All are designed and created unique to reflect God’s glory.

People from other ethnicities and cultures from all over the world have landed on your shores either recently or many generations ago. They do not look like you, talk like you, or eat like you. And they are all over your campus.

Unfortunately, wherever you look on the planet you will find racism, tribalism, and ethnic division, whether it’s in your town or halfway around the world.

Sin brings division and it’s no more evident than in how we view and treat people of another culture. Sadly, it doesn’t go away when you enter the church.

How many times have you been to a cross-cultural church service to simply worship and learn from other Jesus followers?

Why do we think our brand of music, or teaching style, or church service is the best way to do things? Probably because it’s what we prefer.

Why do we consciously or unconsciously fail to see that God loves worshipers from every tongue, every tribe, and every nation?

Someday soon we will all be around the throne worshiping our Lord together with our brothers and sisters from other languages and cultures (Rev 5:9-14, 7:9-12).

I don’t think the Mongols, Azerbaijani, or Uighurs will be singing Tomlin or Crowder. At least I hope not.

Of all the people in the world, Christians should be the most ethnically flexible. Yet many times we are just as ethnically lazy (or God forbid prejudiced) as the unbelieving world (Acts 10; Gal 2:11-14).

Much of this is seen in how we attempt to reach students of other cultures.

Usually we don’t. And when we do attempt to do so we often offend them through our arrogance or our false assumptions. We don’t stop to learn.

Why do we think we can have a one-size-fits-all approach to the diverse body of students on our campus? That is not only ethnically lazy but also not very strategic (1 Cor 9:19-23, 16:3; Gal 2:7-9) if we really want to reach all the students on our campus.

Ethnic students repenting of sin should not have to repent of culture as well, just so they can be a part of your campus ministry.

In what ways have we allowed the predominant culture to become a stumbling block to those in other cultures, preventing them from even considering Jesus?


So what does ministry look like when we honor other cultures?

What does it look like to reach a diverse population, leaving students in their primary cultures, so the gospel can penetrate all groups?

Should we contextualize the gospel in our outreach, our methods of worship, or our discipleship to believers of other cultures?

Why would we not?

I am going to give you six loosely outlined principles that generally apply to working with students of different cultures.

The ethnic students on your campus have a wonderful role to play in the kingdom and that group is growing more and more each year.

Now is the time to learn and try some new things. Now is the time to reach ethnic students on campus. You can do it and these principles can help.

General principles for contextualization

  1. Humility about your culture goes a long way. Never be paternalistic or act like you have it all figured out. Don’t assume people from another culture are “just like you” or need to be.
  2. Treat other cultures with respect and honor (even if you disagree with how they do things). Until you know the history, complexity, and the “why” of their traditions try to refrain from “fixing” them.
  3. Nothing turns people off more than having their culture(s) slammed. Don’t stereotype a people group. For example, “they all [fill in the blank]”. However, it’s a compliment to want to know about them and their culture. They will overlook a lot if you are sincerely interested.
  4. Learn about other cultures on your campus. Read about them, spend time with them, seek to know why they do what they do. Ask yourself, “What is good, true, and beautiful about their culture? What is false, evil, and ugly? How can I relate their culture, experiences, and values to Jesus and the gospel?”
  5. Realize that one approach for all the students on your campus will not work to reach students of different cultures who do not identify with the predominant one. You cannot reach or minister to Hindus, Buddhists, Latinos, or those from African origins in exactly the same way.
  6. It will take some “decentralization” of your ministry to reach the diverse people groups on your campus. What if you had missional groups, each with 5 to 25 students of a similar “people group,” meeting all over campus? How would that change what you do?

We know not everyone around the world will be able to apply these because this issue is focused on ethnic cultures found in America.

This is an inevitable side effect of having to pick specific cultures to focus on, no matter where in the world we concentrate. However, the good news is that the principles are truly universal.

Without campus ministry leaders crossing cultural lines, our ministries, students, and the gospel will not cross over either.

It’s up to you to decide if you are going to reach your entire campus, or just those in your mainstream culture.