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Points 2 Ponder #1 – Jesus and acculturation

During our mission trips this year, we’re sharing thoughts to chew on with trip participants during a segment of our program called Points 2 Ponder. These are things we’ve been learning/wrestling with/thinking about over the past year or so. Normally, you would have to pay US$450 for a 10-day mission trip to get to hear these sound bites. Now, though, just for being a reader of my blog, you get them in written form completely free! What a deal, huh?

Here’s the first installment of Points 2 Ponder:

One of the most important jobs of any cross-cultural missionary is to be a learner. Consider this: Jesus was on the earth for about 33 years, but his public ministry only took place in the last three years of his life. That means he spent 30 years, or over 9/10 of his life, not in public ministry. To quote Alan Hirsch in a recent post, we should find that “profoundly disturbing”. For 30 years of his life, no one really noticed Jesus. He didn’t stick out. He didn’t do anything spectacular. He was part of his culture, working a normal job, doing normal things. Only when the time was right did he begin his public ministry.

In a talk at the 2006 National Short-Term Mission Conference, Paul Borthwick pointed out that, while Jesus waited 30 years to engage in his public ministry, when we get into cross-cultural mission settings, we often can hardly wait 30 minutes to get going. After all, we’ve raised a lot of money, people back home are expecting to hear great reports, and “we’re on a mission from God”.

When we think about the humility and servanthood exhibited by Christ during his life on earth (Phil. 2:1-11)–his cross-cultural ministry, you could say–how does that impact our ministries? What if to be Christ-like ministers we have to get past having all the answers for everyone from Day One and simply become learners? Tom and Betty Sue Brewster, in one of their excellent books, drive home the point that “language learning is communication is ministry”. In other words, even when we’re not saying anything, we’re already communicating. Working hard to learn the language of the new culture communicates something–the kind of humble love that characterized Jesus’ ministry. Being ready to teach and having all the answers from the get-go also communicates something. Unfortunately, the drift people catch from that strategy is usually the air of arrogant superiority the rest of the world sees in the Western world. Like it or not, that’s how people perceive us when we don’t first establish ourselves as learners.

Will there be a time for public ministry and for providing answers to problems? No doubt. But that time may not be during the first week or month or year. The wait didn’t seem to bother Jesus too much or hinder his ministry. We cross-cultural ministers in the name of Jesus would do well to take note.