Bicultural groups as bridges to communities

Lack of understanding, suspicion and divisions between people and communities are real.

In our society there are diversity and cultural differences which cause people to live alongside each other without actually making real contact. This often happens regardless of the fact that they are in the same locality and spend time in each other’s presence. In reality many people experience a distance between themselves and others who differ from them in language, background, sexual orientation, level of education etc. What happens is that people from a specific group have no spontaneous or natural contact with people from another group due to sociological, economic, geographic or historical reasons. If this is true in the case of individuals, it often also applies to larger groups or communities. Between groups there may be uneasiness, suspicion, wrong perceptions, destructive attitudes and notions of superiority, of fear and lack of love. These may caused by the fact that people do not really know each other and do not communicate properly because there is not enough informal personal contact.  Many people simply do not have the inner motivation to try to bridge the gap because they do not like the “uneasiness” it may cause for them. It is much easier and more natural and safer to draw back into “known territory” and serve their own interests.

But Christians and congregations may not just accept this situation passively. We have been reconciled to Christ and also to other people by his sacrifice and so we may not restrict our love and our service to our own group or circle only.

Bridging the gap between individuals and groups demands leadership and examples that will motivate people and guide them to move out of comfortable and well-known situations and to explore the unknown together with “strangers” in order to enhanced a blessed life for all.  Christian believers should be such role models in their various groups. But often Christians are also among those who are unwilling to reach out and build relationships with “strangers” in their vicinity. Therefore leaders of  congregations need to set a dynamic example to help their members to bridge the gap and to reach out to the “strangers”. The leaders themselves should develop healthy relationships with people from a different background. In this way the leader can be a role model to help his people in building bridges to others. It is only when leaders themselves have developed intercultural relationships that they will be able to guide others in this kind of outreach.

 “Live and work among people” is God’s model to serve and reconcile people

The fact that Jesus became a human being and serve people in their circumstances is the model which children of God should follow when they want to minister to people of other cultures or communities (John 1:14;17:18). The ideal strategy for Christians (church) is to live among the people they want to serve with love and reconciliation. The example of Jesus asks from us to leave our comfort zones and our privileges and to cross geographical, language, sociological and ethnical barriers in order to meet people where they are. The challenge is to meet the unknown people as fellow human beings, to learn from them, to enjoy and to utilise their gifts in joint opportunities for service and witness.

Henry Nouwen described the need to meet and to move among people as Jesus did as follows:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”

 A statement of the Ting Hsien Experiment who ministered among poor Philippians reads:

Go to the poor.

Live among the poor.

Learn from the poor.

Work with the poor.

Start with what the poor have

and build upon what the poor possess.

Teach by showing; learn by doing.


Not a showcase, but a pattern;

Not odds and ends, but a system.

Not piecemeal, but integrated;

Not to conform but to transform;

Not relief, but release.

It is often, for various reasons very difficult if not impossible for Christians (church) to go and live among the unknown people they want to reach and serve with the love of Christ. Bridge communities is a method which may assist such Christians to give some expression to the ideal to meet the people where they are, to learn from them and to serve the community with them.

 What is a bicultural relationship or bridge community?

 Bicultural relations or groups are formed when two individuals or two groups who differ noticeably from each other come together regularly. The result of these regular meetings is that the people who are involved in this new relationship, get to know each other better, learn to trust one another and gain better understanding of each other. Regular contact leads to effective communication and co-operation.  In this way a new relationship or community is formed having cultural characteristics of all those involved. In actual fact this is more than merely gathering aspects of different cultures together. From this kind of interaction new cultural things are born which can only be found within this new bicultural group, for example new habits and ways of doing things, communicating styles, unique perceptions of themselves and of the two communities from which the participants originally came.

The term “bicultural” is used to describe this group because the group is formed through the interaction of two individuals or groups who came from different cultural backgrounds. The two individuals or two groups belong however also to a bigger multicultural community. Sometimes it happens that the two individuals or groups who are part of the new bicultural relationship, also represent two bigger multicultural communities which do not have meaningful contact and interaction with each other.

Graphically a bicultural relationship or group could be illustrated as follows:

bicultural 2


bridge relationship 2

               A bicultural group as bridge between two communities

The bicultural group can form a bridge between different communities because its members have gained knowledge, insight, skills and sensitivity which they learned in their bicultural group. This makes them sensitive to things which can be valuable to their own community whenever there is direct interaction between the two communities. If their own community realises what role these individuals can play and makes use of them, they can be valuable in enhancing understanding and co-operation between the two communities. Similarly, if one community wishes to expose the other community to certain information or skills or any sensitive matter, the best way would be to first present it to the members of the bicultural group who are from that community. Those individuals can then communicate the information or other matters to their own community. The communication of information or the teaching of skills or the handling of sensitive matters will probably be much more successful if introduced by members of their own community. If members from one community would try to do this directly in the other community without this bridge, the chances for success would be much less. Members of the bicultural group who are from community A will have a greater chance of working effectively among group B than others from group A who are not part of such a bicultural group.

Whenever we want to make contact with “strange” people from a community we do not know, it is best to form bicultural groups which can act as a bridge. The same process of forming bicultural groups can also be employed when it is necessary to make contact with a subgroup within a community. If a bicultural group is larger or more representative, it can play an even greater role in the society by serving two communities.

 summary 2

  How to establish bicultural bridge communities

Bicultural groups and relationships are usually formed by two processes. It can be when communities create formal treaties of co-operation and appoint structures or committees of representatives to meet regularly according to the terms of their agreement. Or it can be when individuals from various communities meet informally on a regular basis.

A formal treaty of co-operation or a joint committee may lead to functional bicultural groups or communities, but usually it does not. A bicultural community or group cannot be formed unless there is regular contact. Even where a bicultural group does develop, there are often shortcomings. In such cases the new culture of communication and contact and co-operation may develop on the formal level, but there is no real in-depth understanding or communication between the people of the different communities. Thus to create such a formal bicultural group in order to form a bridge between the communities will have only a limited effect. But if deliberate action is taken in time to enhance the informal personal foundation of such a bicultural group, the group can function much more effectively. This can be done by honest open minded contact and discussion between individuals in their various contexts

When individuals from different backgrounds meet each other informally and visit each other and do things together, the chances are much better that bicultural groups will develop. So it would be preferable if formal structures will grow out of personal relationships which include understanding and mutual trust. So although it is preferable that there should be personal contact before specific joint programs are established, this should not be an absolute rule. If we only focus on existing personal relationships at the beginning, a bicultural group may never develop properly. Sometimes relationships develop more speedily when something is undertaken and done jointly. So the challenge would be to begin with smaller projects in such a way that relationships can be emphasised and not only the impersonal official project.

Most people experience discomfort and anxiousness during the process to make the first contact and establish relations with unknown people. This is understood. However, we need to “embrace” this vulnerability because it will prevent us from walking over the very people we want to befriend and serve with might and power. Vulnerability leads to an attitude and willingness to learn and receive from the people we want to befriend and serve. Vulnerability can open unexpected doors to unknown people. Christians who believe and know that the Lord is also at work among the unknown people and them call to participate in his work, will trust Him to introduce them to a “friendly host” in the community (Luke 10). This friendly host will also introduce them to other people in the community.

The forming of such a bicultural group is not a simple matter and needs enough time. For instance members from each community would need to learn about the communication style of the other community so that together they can work out a style acceptable to both.  They will have to make sure of how authority is to be exercised, how decisions are to be taken, how remuneration and other benefits are to be fixed, how much time to be made available for social interaction during and after working hours (including tea-time, meals and social occasions). It is also crucial that the process for conflict resolution be determined early. If an intercultural worker or committee are the first to enter a strange new cultural group, it could take considerable time to establish a bicultural group. But such a new opportunity for contact opens the way for creative initiative and the establishing of values and structures and examples that will affect all future word positively.  But it is also possible that there could be failure and disrupted relationships because there are no established relationships or sources of support to fall back on. Where an intercultural worker initially joins an established bicultural group, there is less room for initiative, but also less chances of failure.

In most cases it would be helpful for congregations or its members to remember the following  in reaching out to “strangers”:

Communicate an attitude of unconditional acceptance and a teachable and servant spirit

Members should try to show the “strangers” that they want to accept them unconditionally and want to learn from them and find ways of ministering to their needs. This type of communication is not achieved by adopting a conscious attitude or by saying certain words. It happens rather on the unconscious level of nonverbal communications like body language, spontaneous gestures, tone of voice and physical contact. The true feelings of a person’s heart are communicated unconsciously and nonverbally. It carries much more weight than verbal communication or intentional gestures. The key to communicating acceptance and a servant attitude does not lie in learning certain skills but in living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

People from the unknown community will find the unconditional acceptance and the servant attitude on your part more credible:

  • if you meet them where they are ─ in their physical environment, but also in their emotional and sociological environment etc. It will mean that you take the trouble to meet them in their circumstances and on their own terms;
  • if you spend time with them socially, especially in eating together;
  • if you listen to them sincerely and take trouble to hear what they say and try to understand;
  • if you take note of their circumstances, their way of life and their troubles without judging them or giving advice immediately;
  • if you take note of their knowledge in a respectful way also their own judgment of their community  and situation and things that are happening;
  • If you pay attention to the needs they express even although it may not be their most serious needs;
  • if you leave the decisions taking to them;
  • if you tell them that you rely on them and then show it also.

Ask people from the target community/group to tell you more about themselves

If you really want to know an unknown community or group, you should learn to look at the people and their circumstances through their eyes. You will only come to know them if you can listen to their  heartbeat. So you should take extra trouble at your first encounter with them to identify someone from their group who can guide you in your making close contact with them. It could be someone who reacted positively in some way to your presence with members of that community. This person could be your willing host even although he or she is not a leader or influential person in the community.

When you have identified such a person who is willing to be your host, you can ask to be introduced gradually to the target community. You need to make it clear that you will be dependent on your host in this process and make sure that your host accepts this role positively. At the same time you need to identify yourself as a Christian and a member of a congregation which is serious about closer contact and involvement with the target community. The first person you need to know better is of course your host. The most natural way to achieve this would be to visit this person at his or her home and to take time for socialising. Sometimes it may be better to first meet you host in a neutral setting like a place where you can eat and drink something together and then later to go to your host’s house. The relationship you develop with your host will be the first bicultural bridge between your congregation and the target community.

Without making it too difficult for your host, encourage him/her to open up his/her community to you. This means that your host will:

  • Expose you to the real physical world of the community (walk with the host in the geographical area).
  • Introduce you to members of the community as someone who wants to know more about them.
  • Explain to you the firmly established traditions of the community, what their needs are, and describe to you how they experience things.

If the culture of the target community differs substantially from your own, the host will have to be your interpreter, not only for the language, but also for the culture. It is clear that one person will not be able to help you with all of this, but through your host you will meet others who may be available and be willing to help you by introducing you to the community. In such a case, you will have to work on the new relationship until there is greater trust and understanding between you and the new helper.

It is clear that entering a new community is a process that needs considerable time. Meaningful contacts cannot be developed overnight. So it will be necessary from the very beginning to resist the urge to take shortcuts in making conclusions about the community or to begin with projects.  People who go for quick solutions in this case, will be forced to depend on the opinion which “experts” have formed about the community, but these experts are usually outsiders. Looking at the target community through the eyes of outsiders means that you will also be making decisions based on the opinion of outsiders. When this happens, the relationship will be damaged and mutual trust broken down. Any action emerging from such a situation will not be sustainable. So do not deny yourself the opportunity of being informed by the community members themselves about their hopes and fears. It may be true that their understanding of themselves will be biased and limited or even wrong. But for them it is the truth and you will come up against their opinion again and again. The contribution of experts can be introduced at a later stage.

Interacting socially with the community

Personal relationships need time to develop. Moreover, stereotypes and suspicions cannot be broken down overnight. The best way of strengthening these processes is by social informal social contact between groups who do not know each other. But there are various reasons why such informal contacts usually do not take place spontaneously. It is necessary to consciously set aside time for social contacts and to create the opportunity for initiating such contacts. Examples of such informal contact could be:

  • You could attend social events on the calendar of the particular community;
  • You could celebrate special occasions together with this community;
  • Mutual invitation to meals;
  • Trying to stay with someone from the community for at least two days so that you can observe and share their movements.

The greater the ethnic and social gap between communities, the more difficult it will be to effect the attempts mentioned above.

The formation of bicultural groups does not mean that knowledge and insight about a particular community or group must be obtained only from the group. Valuable knowledge and information can also be obtained by demographic information, literature and discussions with experts. However, the primary source for knowing and understanding a particular group should be the group and not these more impersonal resources.

 How can viable bicultural groups be maintained?

 Bicultural groups thrive on healthy relationships. So to protect and strengthen the good relationships should be a priority in every bicultural group if the group is to remain viably and to form an effective bridge between two communities. The same rules that enhance and strengthen personal relationships will also be effective in the case of bicultural groups.

  • Create time that can be spent informally in the physical presence of each other;
  • Be involved in the important personal occasions like birthdays, achievements, misfortune, or crises;
  • Relax and play together (Do not underestimate the importance of playing together);
  • Create opportunities where members of both communities in the bicultural group can lower their masks and unburden their hearts of stress. Everyone in the group should be allowed to reveal their emotions,  – even negative emotions against others in the group;
  • Regular times to worship together.

 Stress factors to be aware of in a bicultural group

Maintaining a bicultural group will inevitably cause stress and discomfort, especially if there are big differences between the two communities.

  • The initial contact and being together with people of a strange community may be difficult and uncomfortable. In such cases the local congregation should deal with the culture shock and the emotions arising from it.
  • To develop bicultural relations, a give-and-take attitude is needed where individuals from both communities have to adopt new ways of doing things and stop doing some other things which were culturally very important to them previously. This may include perceptions, attitudes, habits, fixed customs, style of worship etc. It means that a person has to deal with the friction between two different worlds of culture in their personal life. Such a give-and-take situation may involve intense emotions or disruption. So congregations will have to accompany their members in this venture and create opportunities of unloading stress. (To attend such debriefing sessions of members of the other community from time to time could also be helpful)
  • Members who have managed to build strong intercultural relationships may become disappointed by certain aspects of their own community or culture.
  • Members participating in the bicultural group may experience isolation or suspicion-mongering or even rejection from their own community because they have changed in the process. This will happen especially where some members become permanently involved in intercultural work and by doing so become part of the bridge between two communities.

Bicultural groups stimulate community controlled ministries

A bicultural group has the purpose of establishing sustainable ministries in a community. One of the requirements of a sustainable ministry is that the ministry should at all times be directed and be influenced by the target community. This is different from stating that the target community should assume full responsibility and control of such a ministry. Actual control and taking responsibility for a project does not guarantee that the project will succeed as far as sustainability is concerned. The chances for success are greater if the congregation that initiates the project and the target community together supervise and guide the ministry without the need that each one of them should manage directly all the processes and the people involved. A sustainable ministry will be one where the target community has the decisive influence, regardless of which individual or group has the executive management, or what structure or form the management takes. While the influence and involvement of both communities are necessary, the influence and involvement of the target community should be on the foreground. In such a situation it is the bicultural group which plays a decisive role to ensure that both communities with their expectations and reservations and influence remain involved in the management of projects.

The bicultural group which forms the bridge between the two communities, should ensure that the voice of both parties area heard and understood by the management. The bicultural group should therefore concentrate on the participation of the target community from the very beginning. They should be involved in every aspect of the ministry in such a way that their participation will affect and influence the whole ministry. In practice this will mean that the congregation initiating the project will do the following with the help or through the bicultural group:

  •  They will acquire information about and gain a better understanding of the target community with the help of  the community itself.
  • They will be guided by the target community in determining their felt needs and their actual basic needs.
  • Together with the target community they will determine the character and aim of the ministry.
  • They will take note of and make use of existing projects initiated by the target community
  • Any expertise and knowledge available in the community will be seriously considered and used where possible. The strengths and resources of the community will guide the process and not the needs and problems.
  • They will respect leaders of the community and cultivate friendship with them and follow their guidance wherever possible.
  • In the development of structures and making of agreements they will allow the target community to have the effective right and authority of taking decisions.

When the influence of the target community is effective in all aspects of the ministry, it opens the way for shared leadership (by the congregation who initiated the outreach and the target community). Neither the congregation nor the target community becomes a puppet which moves by strings pulled by someone else. Although members of the congregation may take independent decisions in specified matters, it will not threaten the community or take ownership of the ministry away from them.

To summarise the development of bicultural groups to be effective bridges for service in various communities:

  •  From informal to formal
  • From a learning process to capability and skills
  • From individual/small groups to large group
  • From informal leadership to formal leadership
  • From relationships to projects and ministries



Posted in Intercultural communication, Intercultural ministry, New faith communities | Tagged | Leave a comment

Intercultural Ministry: Some Biblical passages for group reflection and discussion

God’s heart for all people and nations directs the church to minister to people of all cultures

Read and listen to the Word:   Gen 12:1-3;  Rev. 7:9-10

I listen and hear the Word:


I listen to your understanding of the Word:


I listen to the understanding of others of the Word:


My response to the Word:


Gen.1-11 tells the story of God’s good creation and purpose with mankind, but also of the failure and sin of men to do God’s will. Gen.11 closes the section by revealing God’s judgement and intervention when the people once again in pride sought their own glory through their own efforts and refused to fill the earth (Gen.11:4). Through confusion of language God scattered them over the face of the earth. Gen.1-11 reveals that God in spite of the sin of man and his punishment of the people, gave expression to his will that the people should fill the earth (Gen.1:28).  Gen.12 tells us of God’s new beginning with the estranged people of the world through his election of Abraham: “and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen.12:3).

Although Gen.12 starts with an individual who became the father of the nation Israel which dominates the history of the Old Testament, it is clear throughout the Bible that God’s love and attention is in reality directed at all the peoples of the earth. The fact that God wants to save and bless all the peoples on earth so that they can become part of his people who worship and praise Him, can be seen for example in passages such as:

  • Israel is a kingdom of priests to serve the nations:   Ex.19:5-6           :
  • Israel must draw the nations to God :  Isaiah 2:1-4; Zech 8:20-23; Isaiah 60; Ps 87; Ps 98:2, 3, 9; Ps 99
  • God rules, blesses and judges all nations:   Ps. 145:9, 15, 16; Ps 22:29; 47:9; 99:2; Ps 7:9; 9:9, 20; 96:10, 13
  • God judges and promises blessing to the nations:   Jer.46-50; Isaiah 13-23; 25:6-8, 45:22-23; Micha 4:1-5; Amos 1-2:3; Nahum; Zeph. 2:1-15  :
  • The gospel should be preached to all nations:   Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8 :
  • People from all nations will praise and worship God at the end of times:   Rev.7:9-10

God’s heart and ministry is directed to all the peoples and nations of the earth. Believers and congregations who belong to God and wish to honour and obey Him should therefore also be involved in ministries directed at all the people in their community to the ends of the earth.  Working inter-culturally and cross-culturally in the immediate community and other parts of the world is therefore not an option for the church, but an obligation!   Believers and congregations who restrict their ministries to people of their own culture are sinning and grieving the Spirit of God.

Identification with others and denial of the self are necessary to minister to people of other cultures

Read and listen to the Word:   1 Cor. 9:19-27

I listen and hear the Word:


I listen to your understanding of the Word:


I listen to the understanding of others of the Word


My response to the Word


In John 17:8 Jesus stated in his prayer:   “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”  God sent Jesus into the world to bring about holistic salvation for the world He loved (John 3:16). The implication of this statement is not only that the disciples should pursue the same goal of the Father for the ministry of Jesus in the world, but also that they should conduct their ministry in the same manner and style of Jesus which pleased the Father.

Central in the ministry of Jesus is the fact that He left his heavenly glory to come and live among the people He intended to serve (John 1:14; Phil. 2:4-6). He did not cling to his power, glory and way of existence / “living” with his Father, but humbled Himself to become a slave who served the needs of people even to the point of death (Mark 10:45). In order to serve people in their circumstances, he denied his culture of glory to submit Himself to the culture and way of living of human beings, especially the Jewish culture.

To be sent as Jesus into the world means that disciples of Jesus must leave their comfort zones to serve other people.  It means that believers must enter the cultures of other people in order to minister effectively to them.  They must deny themselves, their culture included, in order to minister in a culture-sensitive way to other people.

While Jesus identified wholeheartedly with sinners in need, his ministry was always characterized and stamped by the principles and values of the Kingdom of God. While fully embracing sinners, He never embraced sin. He opposed and corrected values, attitudes and deeds which could not stand the wil of God.  (For example he criticised and corrected the Pharisees Matt. 23). Incarnation into another culture therefore does not mean that everything in the culture should simply be accepted or tolerated. The wil of God and the values of the Kingdom of God set boundaries to the extent of incarnation in a culture.

Culture affects everything we do, think or feel.  It is so part of us that we are usually unaware of it. When we encounter however people of a different culture, for example when we minister to them, we become aware of their culture and ours. People who live and work fulltime among people of a different culture will have a high awareness of cultural differences and attitudes and emotions related to that.

An increase in awareness of culture is often accompanied by a desire to defend or promote one’s own culture or to  pass judgement on other cultures or specific aspects of other cultures.  Usually one’s own culture is seen as superior to other cultures. In most cases this sense of superiority or inferiority will be communicated non- verbally to others involved a particular relationship, resulting in weakened or spoiled relationships. Paul, following the example of Christ, urged Christians to avoid this trap by accepting the lowest cultural position in his society, that of a slave to others. By doing so, he posed no threat to anybody, did not defend or promote his own culture, served the needs of the people and introduced Christ to them in a culture-sensitive way (1 Cor.9:19-23).

 Notes: 1 Cor. 9:19-27

Corinth was inhabited by Romans, Greeks and smaller groups from other countries. The Diaspora Jews was one of the groups from other countries.  When Paul stated that he became a Jew for the Jews and somebody without a law for those without the law, he was not first of all referring to groups in different places or countries, but to groups in Corinth.  In his daily interaction with people he assumed different roles and positions, always denying his own preferences in order to reach and serve others.

The concept of “slave” is important in 1 Cor.9:19. In general the focal points in the slave metaphor is submission,  obedience and availability to serve the interests of the owner or master. In 1 Cor.9:19 this metaphor is deliberately contrasted with a “free man” and qualified as “make myself a slave”.  “Free man” refers to those people who do not belong to any person, group and do not live in slavery. It may also refer to somebody who once was a slave, but gained freedom and does not belong to anybody.  When Paul declares that he is a free man, he refers to the fact that he does not belong to any person or group and can take independent decisions and live his own life.  In the context of 1 Cor. 9 Paul used this metaphor to stress the fact that since he is financially independent from the congregation, they do not “own” him in any way.  He is not obliged to do them any favours due to the financial assistance they rendered to him. As a free man, Paul made himself a slave to the congregation and other people in Corinth. By doing so, Paul voluntarily laid down his own position of status for the benefit of others. His sole purpose was  to serve the spiritual needs of the people in order to win as many as possible for the gospel.

The main thrust of 1 Cor. 9:19-23 is to give expression to the overwhelming desire and obligation of Paul to win as many as possible for the gospel. In order to ensure that cultural differences or the social position of people do not form stumbling blocks for the spreading of the gospel, Paul becomes  a slave who denies his own cultural preferences in order to humbly serve the spiritual needs of all kinds of people. Self-enslavement provides the way and method to avoid or overcome cultural stumbling blocks for the spreading of the gospel.

Paul illustrated his self-enslavement approach by referring to four different groups whose interests could be served by respecting and adapting to their cultural views and circumstances:

  •   Jews (During his first visit to Corinth Paul shaved his head after he made a vow according to Jewish tradition in a context where the Jews apposed an rejected him (Acts 18: 18:4-6,9-10,12-18)
  • “Those under the law” probably refer to proselytes or Christians who adhered to the Jewish Law under the advice of Christian Jews (see 1 Cor.8:7)   (Some commentators view this as an extension of the Jews)
  • “Those not having the law”.  This refers to Gentiles in general.
  • “The weak”. In the context of chapters 8-10 it may refer to those people who are spiritually immature and still hold on to aspects of the law. Some commentators are of the opinion that it refers to the socio-economic lower-class who were poor and vulnerable.

Paul showed through his example of self-enslavement to other people in order win as many as possible for Christ, that  there is no place for any cultural pride or efforts to uphold one’s culture when reaching out to unbelievers and ministering to people. Any cultural thing or practice which could be a stumbling block for people to hear, understand, accept or experience the salvation in Christ should be left aside or removed in order to pave the way for people to meet Christ.

Paul could only enslave himself voluntarily to other people because he was sure of and respected his identity in Christ. To voluntarily become a slave of other people was not the same as to empower them as total masters of his life.  Only God (Jesus) owned him and was Master of his life. Although he was a slave of God and men, only God was his master. That he kept the principle in mind of “being a slave to everybody, but having only Christ as master” is seen in the fact that he restricted the scope and extent of his servant hood in certain circumstances. (Although he identified with and sought the interests of people with the law, he always respected the law of Christ in everything he did. 1 Cor.9:21). (See also 1 Cor.5:9,11; 1 Cor 6:12-14).

The ideal in reaching people of other cultures is therefore not total assimilation (Where people retain nothing of their original culture or identity  in intercultural relationships), but meaningful integration (Where people become part and parcel of a community without completely losing their identity).

Paul’s desire and obligation to reach as many as possible for Christ, his flexible and sensitive approach to people in different cultural settings and circumstances under the rule of Christ was not restricted to Corinth, but could be seen in his attitude and actions at other places during his ministry.  See for example:

  • Timothy is required to be circumcised in order to be acceptable for the Jews (Acts 16:3), but Titus was allowed to remain uncircumcised (Gal. 2:5);
  • He preached in synagogues and used the Old Testament to reach and teach the Jews, but opposed circumcision as necessary for salvation and opposed Peter when he ate only with Christians from a Jewish background and did not eat any more with Christians from a Gentile background (Gal.2:12).
  • He readily entered into discourse and dispute with Greeks in Athens as they were used to do, but did not refrain to mention key aspects of the gospel which were strange and unacceptable to them (Acts 17:16vv);
  • In Jerusalem Paul underwent purification rites in order not to offend those Christians who still hold on to the Old Testament laws (Acts 21:17-26)

Paul’s attitude and approach resembles that of Jesus Christ who left his heavenly glory and “culture” in heaven in order to come and live among sinners (John 1:14) and serve their needs (Mark 10:45).   Paul urged Christians to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ (1 Cor 11:1)

Winning people for Christ through self-enslavement to others where the needs, habits and views of others always receive preference above one’s own needs, desires and culture is not easy. That is why Paul continues his remarks in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 with the image of a race that needs to be won. Winning any race requires a clear objective, training, discipline, determination and endurance. Only if Christians are prepared to voluntarily give up certain rights and cultural things and with determination reach out to unbelievers, will they succeed in winning people for Christ.  As for Paul, he knew his goal and therefore lived a disciplined life in order to please God as he witnessed and ministered to others.


Reconciliation and unity of the church oblige all Christians to minister to one another

Read and listen to the Word:   John 17:17-26

I listen and hear the Word


I listen to your understanding of the Word


I listen to the understanding of others of the Word


My response to the Word


Since the church consists of all people who believe in Jesus Christ and who received the reconciliation and salvation which He brought about between God and sinners (Acts 2:47; 2 Cor.5:17-18), the members of the church must also accept and minister to one another, notwithstanding their cultural or social background.   The very nature of the church is multicultural since Jesus removed all the barriers which separate people from one another when He united them all to Himself. (Eph. 2:14-22; Gal.3:26-29).  John emphasised that he proclaimed the Word to all people so that they may eventually fellowship with all of them who have fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ (1John1:2-3).  If all of them will walk in the light, they will experience fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).

Unity among Christians form all backgrounds is essential for the building up of the church and the mission of the church to the world. The gifts of the Spirit function only properly within the whole body of Christ (1 Cor.12) where all the different members build one another up in love (Eph.4:11-16). The credibility of the mission of Jesus to the world (and the mission of the church as a continuation of the mission of Jesus) depends to a large extent upon the unity and love which the world may witness among those  who belong to Jesus Christ.  (John 17:21-23).

It is of the utmost importance that Christians from different cultural backgrounds experience fellowship and minister spontaneously to one another whenever an opportunity presents itself. Since people from different cultures often experience difficulties to communicate effectively or develop strong and meaningful relationships, the desire and need for unity among all Christians should motivate Christians to overcome these obstacles through training, exposure and continued contact.

Withdrawal or avoidance of Christians from cultural or social backgrounds different of one’s own, is sin and to the disadvantage of the body of Christ and the mission of the church.

Notes John 17. Gal,3:26-29 Eph 2:14- –

 The credibility of the ministry of Jesus (and that of the church which is sent as Jesus into the world Jn. 17:18) is closely tied to the unity among believers (former Jews and new believers Jn.17:20-21) in the  world.  Unity among believers from all cultural and social backgrounds will encourage non-believers to believe in Jesus and his ministry.  The image of God which people have of God depends to a large extent upon their observation of those who claim to be his children, that is who claim to be like Him.  If there is no love and unity among them, how can there be a God of love who sent his Son to bring salvation to all people?

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn.17:21); “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn.17:23b). A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn13:34-35).

The strive for unity among all believers (church) is not simply one among other initiatives, projects or ministries of the church, but is the foundation of the life, witness and other projects of the church in the world.  It is the unity among believers (church) which enhances the full potential of the ministry of the church in the world.  Believers and congregations who want to witness effectively, who want to render holistic assistance to the poor and disadvantaged, who want to understand the truth and who want to be protected from the Evil one, need to be united with all other believers.

People have different views on the nature of the unity among believers (church) according to John 17:21-23, for example:

  • The unity is spiritual and mystical and therefore largely invisible.   The unity does not lie in church structures, organisation or decisions and such things cannot guarantee unity;
  • The unity lies in the same mission and purpose for all believers in the world;
  • The unity is expressed in harmony, reconciliation and care for one another;
  • The unity must get expression in one church organisation.

The passage emphasised that the unity among believers must reflect something of the unity between the Father and Son: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

The unity between the Father and the Son which believers should reflect, is so comprehensive and perfect that it could be described that the one is totally “in” the other: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

The unity among believers should therefore reflect this comprehensive and perfect unity between Father and Son.  All dimensions of unity should be pursued. True unity needs all dimensions of unity: spiritual, mystical, invisible, visible and concrete and structural.   True spiritual unity implies the removal of organisational and structural hindrances to the expression of mutual love, care and action, but one organisation or structure cannot guarantee true unity.

Worship and ministering with and to Christians from all cultural and social backgrounds are therefore no option for believers, but the logical outcome of those who give expression to the unity among believers.

How to we seek and promote the unity among believers? Unity is first of all a gift which flows from the unity of believers with God. That is why Jesus prays that his followers should “also be in us” (Jn.17:21).  The unity of believers can only get full expression through an intimate relationship with God. As they unite with Him they unite with one another.

Jesus declared that He gave his glory to the disciples so that they could be one. Unity is therefore also       the result of sharing in the glory of Christ.  What is the glory of Christ which He gave to his disciples?       It is the glory which he received through his death and resurrection. Jesus died in order to make the       unity among people possible. Only those whose life are based upon the reconciliation brought about      by the death of Jesus Christ, can live in unity with others.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (Jn.12:23-24). “Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (Jn12:28)

As Jesus, believers should also pray for unity among them. Who earnestly prays for unity will also  seek and promote unity among all believers irrespective of culture  as far as possible.


God’s heart for strangers directs the attention of the church to all people regardless of their culture

Read and listen to the Word:   Lev.19:33-34;  Dt.14:27-29;  Matt.25:34-40

I listen and hear the Word


I listen to your understanding of the Word


I listen to the understanding of others of the Word


My response to the Word


When the Bible refers directly or indirectly to “strangers” it usually describes either God’s attitude towards them or the attitude which believers should express towards them.  The words “stranger”, “alien” or “foreigner” are used to translate the concept of “stranger”.  These English words are used to translate different Hebrew and Greek words and at times the same word is used to translate different Hebrew words.   In order to get a better understanding of the meaning of these words, it is helpful to trace the use of the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible which are translated by using the above mentioned words.



This word is often translated as “stranger” or “alien” in the Bible. It refers to foreigners, non-Israelites, who stayed or lived in Israel in contrast to foreigners who lived outside Israel or were just passing through or stayed for a very short while in Israel.  These people left their home country due to political or other reasons and were seeking refuge or a means of living in another country. (Abraham in  Hebron Gen.23:4; Moses in Midian Ex.2:22; Israel in Egypt Ex.22:20; Lev.19:34 etc.). Although these foreigners owned no land in Israel,  (At the time of Ezekiel this was changed 47:22) they shared in many rights and privileges of Israel: Shared in the tithes (Dt.14:29), Sabbath year (Lev.25:6) and protection of certain cities (Num.35:15).  Usually they were also poor and were employed by Israelites. They were often grouped with widows and orphans as vulnerable people who need special care, protection and support from God and God’s people (Dt.10:18; Ps.146:9; Lev.19:10, 23:22).  Because the foreigners shared in the privileges of Israel, they also shared in the responsibilities of Israel: Sabbath (Ex 20:5), fasting (Lev.16:29) and partaking in offerings (Lev.17:8) and festivals (Dt.16:11). In practice an foreigner was treated more or less just as any Israelite while staying in Israel.


Although this word is often translated as “foreigners”, the meaning differs from that of gēr.   It usually refers to foreigners who are a threat or an enemy of the Israelites (Hos.7:9, 8:7; Isaiah 1:7; Jer.51:51; Ez.28:7,10, 30:12 etc).   It has therefore a strong ethnic and political connotation.  Sometimes the word refers to foreign gods (Isaiah 17:10; Jer. 2:25, 3:13; Ps 44:21).

In the wisdom literature the word often refers to other or strange people who can be a threat to people such as unfaithful or adulterous women (Prov.2:15; 5:3,20; 7:5).

In the priestly literature the word often refers to those people who did not belong to a specific cultic community (Ex 29:33; Lev.22:10-13; Num 1:51).

In general it is clear that zār refers to people which Israel avoided and who were in one way or the other a threat to their well being.  Israel were warned not to get involved with them and they were also enemies of God.


nēkār is usually translated with “foreigner” (Gen.17:12; Lev.22:25; Isaiah 56:3,6; 60:10;61:5; Neh.13:30; The word also refers to foreign gods (Gen. 35:2.4; Dt. 31:16, 32:12; Jos. 24:20,23; Jer.5:19 etc.)

nokrī usually refers to another nation (Ex2:22, 18:3; Dt. 14:21, 15:3, 17:15, 2 Sam. 15:19; Isaiah 2:6 Zeph.1:8 etc).  Sometimes it means simply someone else (Prov. 5:10, 20:16).

It is clear that there is no big difference between the meaning of zār and nēkār/nokrī. In most cases Israelites were reserved in their relations to these people because they could be a threat or an enemy to the people of Israel.

“Stranger”, “alien” or “foreigner” are also used to translate different Greek words in the New Testament.



This word is translated in English with stranger, foreign or alien. This word is used 4 times in Matt. 25:31-46 where care of the xenos is care for Jesus Christ himself. Before their call to faith, the heathen people were strangers (xenoi) and aliens (paroikoi) (Eph.2:19). The patriarchs lived as strangers (xenos) on the earth (Heb.11:13).


This word which is translated as stranger or alien, is usually used to translate the concept of gēr in the OT. It is usually accompanied by a reference to the history of Israel.  Acts 17:6 and Gen.15:13; Acts 7:29 and Ex.2:15;  Acts 13:16ff and Ex.6:16;   Heb. 6 stresses that Abraham lived as a stranger in the promised land.  Since Christians live as strangers in the world, they must refrain from fleshly lusts (1 Pet.2:11).

While the meaning of paroikos is closely related to that of gēr in the OT, the concept of xenos is more flexible. At times it links to the concept of gēr, but it has also the connotation of foreign people who were a threat or enemies of Christians.

It is clear from the study of the words which are translated by “stranger” in English that God is concerned about vulnerable people in the world, even if they do not belong to Israel. God is concerned about any people in need and He expects his followers to care and minister to such people in the community regardless of their background and culture. Israel’s acceptance and care for strangers is rooted in and motivated by the care which they received from God when they were strangers in Egypt (Lev. 19:33-34, Dt. 10:19). God’s example to protect and assist orphans, widows and strangers (Ps.68:5; 146:7-9) should be followed by his people. Vulnerable people who experienced the grace and care of God, should also express the same attitude and care to strangers and other people in need.

The significance of God’s attitude to  “strangers”  (as gēr and similar meanings of xenos and paroikos) and the attitude which He expected from his people towards the strangers, is not only seen in passages which refer directly to strangers, but also in stories which reveal God’s or people’s attitude or behaviour towards strangers although the passage may not describe  them with these particular words.  Stories about care, assistance and hospitality to vulnerable people in the Bible give concrete examples of God’s care for strangers and his will that Israel should care for strangers who usually were also poor or vulnerable and in need of someone to assist them in one way or the other.   For example:

  • Abraham received strangers for a meal (Gen.18:1-8);
  • Lot received the strangers (Gen. 19:1-3)
  • Elisaha was cared for by a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-13).
  • Ruth was cared for by Boaz (Ruth 2)
  • Feeding of the crowd (Matt.14:14-21)
  • Jesus appears to people as a stranger in need (Matt.25:31-46)
  • The disciples from Emmaus received Jesus as a stranger (Luke 24:28-31)
  • The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke  10:25-37)
  • The care of Christians for evangelists (3 John 8)

The expectation in the Bible that the people of God should welcome and care for strangers and show hospitality to all people (1 Pet.4:9; Tit.5:10; Rom. 16:23) reveals very clearly that no congregation or individual Christian could restrict their hospitality to their “own group or people”.  God embraces all people in need and his children should do the same, regardless of culture or circumstances.


Posted in Intercultural ministry, Multicultural congregations, Short term outreaches | Leave a comment

Leadership in a multicultural congregation: Rev. R. Potgieter

Rev. Rene Potgieter from delivered a paper on leadership in multicultural congregations at a conference on multicultural congregations in the Cape Provinces earlier this year. What follows is a shortened version of her paper.

A typical definition of leadership suggests leaders to be people with “the capacity to influence the thoughts, behaviours and/or feelings of others to achieve a specific goal”. The term “leaders” refers to those persons who have oversight of the policies and practices that develop and sustain the vision and goals of a local congregation. In a Congregation the term includes both ordained pastoral leaders and the elected and informal leaders who take on this responsibility.

Gardner identifies three kinds of leaders visionary, ordinary, and innovative. Visionary leaders are rare, only occasionally making their mark on a community. They are distinguished by their capacity to envision new possibilities for communities. More common, however, are the ordinary leaders who simply manage the traditional story of their group as effectively as possible. These leaders do not really challenge the status quo of their community, but empower members through communicating the identity, values, and institutional goals in such a way that forward movement continues. Innovative leaders, in contrast to ordinary leaders, take a story that has been latent in the community and give it new attention or a fresh twist. These leaders identify stories and themes in a community’s heritage that have been neglected and bring them to the foreground as a resource for the renewal and transformation of the community’s life together. Leaders of multi-cultural faith communities will draw from all three leadership patterns.

Leaders in multi-cultural congregations will:


Now a very important question for a multi-cultural church is. Whose vision of multi-culturalism do we take? The white/privileged view or the coloured/disempowered view? This question is irrelevant if inter-cultural dialogue take place. Communication between the different groups is very important. By doing this we can learn from each other and construct a new vision that includes all. The new vision must be powerful enough to sustain the congregation through the fears experienced in the midst of often radical changes. And therefore this vision should be bigger than the leaders’ ambition. No “my-vision”. But Our Vision!!! A major responsibility of cross-cultural leadership is to help members coming from different cultural backgrounds have a common vision and to build an environment of trust.


A multicultural congregation or ministry recognizes, embraces, utilizes and celebrates the racial, cultural, generational, gender, and other diversity represented in the community and the church. The leaders in the congregation actually honour and promote diversity within the context of the body of Christ. Individuals and groups who all form part of the diversity in the congregation must be accepted, understood, appreciated and allowed to bring their distinctive or unique gifts and contributions to the bigger body of Christ. Therefore leaders in a multicultural context do not embrace titles; they embrace the person for who he/she is. They see human beings not for the title as managers, factory workers, maids, guards, servants, but for their worth as a person. We are all the same before God.


Leaders empower people to use their skills and talents for the Kingdom of God. Team members and leaders need training in skills that focus on intercultural communication that is effective in building trust, resolving problems, leading effectively and making decisions within the context.


”Shout good-bye to hierarchy”. We as leaders have to learn how to share power. There are so many ways to think about leadership. But I think for the leader in a multi-cultural context it is not about an important position above other people. It is more about walking together hand in hand on the same road.

This will mean that we change from:

  • set roles to more flexible roles;
  • individual responsibility to shared responsibility;
  • autocratic leadership to co-operational leadership and
  • power to empowerment.

Therefore you as a leader must change from boss to team mate, colleague and friend


A Christian leader’s values must be in line with the values of the Kingdom of God. What people will admire of such a leader is their soft skills. Their sense of time for other people, their ability to listen, their courage and honesty and their capacity for empathy. I once red the following: I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but them will never forget how you made them feel.

Posted in Multicultural congregations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Guidelines from social science theory and research in being and becoming community: Prof. C. Groenewald and Dr. F. Kotze

During a conference on multicultural congregations in South Africa, Prof. Groenewald and Dr. Kotze highlighted the importance to manage power issues in intercultural ministries. Here is a summary of their paper.

Prof. Groenewald and Dr. Kotze emhasised the importance to enquire about the power dimensions of social relations if we want to understand and improve the relationships and operation of multicultural congregations. Important questions to ask are for example:

  • Who are the power holders and the powerless in any social configuration?
  • What are the means of power and in what ways are these means demonstrated?
  • How do powerful members exert their power in the social situation, in what ways and with what means to their disposal?
  • How do powerless members respond to the exertion of elite power and in what ways and with what means?
  • What is or can be the social outcome of power relationships and the way they play out in a social situation?

We need to pay serious attention to power issues in multicultural congregations because cultural relationships in South Africa, as in many other colonial and post-colonial societies, tend to be defined in power terms. Culture often has been mistaken for rank, class, estate or caste and for justifying and even legitimising social distance among various layers of people. People of so-called “high culture” would look down on those of “low culture” and avoid interpersonal contact and intimate relationships with the latter. Such differentiation precipitates in the structures of society and defines the included and the excluded.

Religion is viewed by many scholars as a meaning generating structure in society. Religion can play on a more unconscious level but also on a deliberate level a big role how people interpret and see themselves in power relationships. Because the generation of meaning – that is, making sense of life, providing the reason for living a life, regardless of or in the face of nonsensical events – is very personal, sensitive, fragile, and sanctimonious, it has become an effective object of power exertion and manipulation of people. It is in this area of life that powerful people have invent extremely effective means to influence less powerful and powerless people and to subordinate them to positions of passive compliance in life. This may be an explanation of why people of different cultural inclinations prefer to practice their religious obligations among like-minded fellows of the same faith and conviction. The correlation between separate worship arrangements and the power distribution in multi-cultural societies, especially where such differential patterns associate with race and sometimes language, is not coincidental or purely because of some practical consideration for easy communication. It may be understood as the outcome of power relations more than other socio-religious considerations.

Amitai Etzioni (1961) distinguishes three types of means for exerting power; namely coercive means such as physical force; normative means that commit people to adhere to beliefs and values; and calculative means that appeal to the rational application of material or economic resources as rewarding mechanisms for being compliant.

By and large, interculturalism is new ground in South Africa and manifests a different type of community and not a mainstream community type. While tolerance would be a characteristic of a multicultural community, close intimacy as among dedicated faithful Christians in their worship community is an unusual social phenomenon.

The coming about of these rather exceptional social configurations seems to be explained mainly in terms of a common and a shared belief in Christian faith terms – seeing Jesus Christ as the only and singular Redeemer and Saviour from eternal damnation and the Way to everlasting life. Among the non-theologised reasons for increasing the racial mix of local congregations, Venter’s research indicated that external factors were the majority reasons (70.3%; of which demographic changes were strongest). Internal considerations such as deliberate effort to invite other races, were quite small or actually unknown. Unless forced to adapt, congregations do not change their own composition of membership deliberately.

The challenge for the church is how can we achieve respect, trust, caring and a supporting community and Christian koinonia among and within congregations at the local level that currently experience cultural diversity. How can intergroup and interpersonal relationships be promoted towards becoming more positive for the involved parties to these relationships? For many the answer lies in more direct contact between people of different cultures and ethnic groups.

However, social contact in itself is not sufficient to produce positive relationships. A number of preconditions are to be considered unless contact among politically conflicting or culturally different people lead to even more negative behaviour. Based on an extensive Western Cape research project in the late 1980s, a period of intense turmoil and conflict in our country, the following findings must be taken seriously when contact between culture groups is promoted:

  1. Contact, that is, social interactions on a face-to-face basis, between members of in- and out-groups do have as its result a change of attitude towards the other.
  2. The direction of this attitudinal change however depends on the kind of social situation in which the contact happens.
  3. It is not necessarily a direction of change that follows on contact but a change in the intensity of the attitude.
  4. The change of attitude often stays limited to the contact situation itself and is not generalised to other situations.
  5. Real conditions in society often include negative contact situations which then create an increase in negative prejudice among the participants or their groups.
  6. Conditions that create beneficial or advantageous conditions for a decrease in negative prejudice normally are found in the following situations where:
    1. In- and out-group members of equal status are in contact;
    2. Contact is between members of the majority group and higher status members of the minority group;
    3. Contact is encouraged by recognised authority figures and where the normative climate is beneficial for intergroup contact;
    4. The contact situation promotes intimate (close) contact rather than superficial contact;
    5. The contact situation is experienced as pleasant and unforced (voluntary);
    6. In functionally important affairs, the members of the respective groups work together in an interdependent way to achieve overarching common goals that are regarded as more important than their respective group centred objectives;
    7. The contact situation understate in- and out-group differentiation and string group members together within an overarching common in-group;
  7. On the other hand, conditions that create an adverse climate for decreasing negative prejudice are found in situations where:
    1. The contact situation evoke competition between the respective groups;
    2. The contact situation is experienced as unpleasant, tensed, and forced;
    3. The status of one of the groups is diminished;
    4. The in-group holds the out-group responsible for their (the in-group’s) frustration;
    5. The respective groups find each other’s moral and ethical standards offensive or distasteful;
    6. The members of the minority group are of a lower status according to relevant criteria than the majority group;
    7. The contact situation promote or increase in- and out-group differentiation.
    8. From the above we can state the following as concluding remarks –
  • Contact may decrease prejudice if the right conditions are valid for the contact situation.
  • The nature of the organisation (congregation) may have an effect on the outcome of the contact.
  • The development of friendship relationships are an important goal to strive for.
  • Facilitators / leadership need to have proper and relevant knowledge and skills in promoting intergroup relationships.
  • Trust building in which positive attitudes and relationships can develop has a better chance to materialise in the context of a local community, that is, in contrast to nation-wide efforts.
  • The creation of positive relationships within the local community however needs to be generalised to other situations, for example, the work situation and politics.
  • The continued emphasis on the group character of “races” needs to be discontinued and positive identities (such as religious identity) need to take its place.
  • Contact situations need to be structured to promote voluntary participation and association in such a way that friendship formations be encouraged, with an emphasis on the worth of the individual and not of the group.
  • Aspire to find an overarching identity and values above sectional identities and group norms.
Posted in Intercultural ministry, Multicultural congregations, New faith communities | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Die waarde van uitreikspanne vir sendelinge

n Tydjie gelede word ek gevra om sonder n lang tyd vir nadenke  net twee kort paragrawe te skryf oor die waarde van uitreikspanne vir sendelinge.   Hier volg my twee paragrawe.  Wat sou jy skryf?

Die plaaslike bevolking het gewoonlik geen benul van die aanpassing en uitdagings wat hulle omgewing en die bediening aan sendelinge stel nie. Hulle besef nie watter eise dit finansieel, emosioneel, geestelik en fisies aan sendelinge stel nie. Wanneer uitreike dan begrip en waardering toon help dit sendelinge om te bly glo dat dit alles die moeite werd is en dat hulle nie swakkelinge of abnormaal is as hulle swaarkry of voel dat daar groot eise aan hulle gestel word nie. Die uitreik bevestig dat dit inderdaad groot eise is en dat dit nie abnormaal of “ongeestelik’ is om swaar te kry of soms moedeloos of oorweldig te voel nie.

Besoekers is nuuskierig en kyk met oningeligte oë na die werksomgewing en die bediening van die sendeling. Hulle vra “dom” en baie ingewikkelde vrae en maak allerlei opmerkings oor dinge wat hulle waarneem of nie verstaan nie. Die sendeling word gedwing om nie net antwoorde te verskaf nie, maar om ook weer met vars oë en vanuit ander hoeke na homself en die bediening te kyk. Die vrae help dikwels vir sendelinge om “blinde kolle” in hulle self of in hulle bediening te ontdek of hulle word geprikkel om na te dink oor nuwe of innoverende dinge in hulle bediening. Uitreikspanne hou dus ’n soort spieël vir sendelinge op wat hulle help om hulle self en hulle bediening op maniere te sien en te verstaan wat hulle waarskynlik nie sommer sou sien indien hulle nie gedwing was om afstand te kry of van “buite” na hulleself te kyk nie. Dit is natuurlik nie altyd ’n lekker ervaring nie en kan ontnugterend en verlammend ook wees. Tog is dit ten diepste ’n waardevolle uitkoms van uitreikspanne.

Posted in Short term outreaches | Tagged | Leave a comment

The challenge of liturgy in multicultural congregations

The liturgy which is followed during multicultural services of worship or other gatherings of multicultural fellowship, can make or break the intercultural ministry. Continues prayerful discussions, planning and monitoring of liturgy should therefore be high on the agenda of multicultural ministries. Liturgical decisions or policy should not be left to individual leaders of services of worship or other fellowship gatherings. All leaders should have a clear understanding and commitment to the outcomes set for the liturgy when Christians gather to meet in different settings. The challenge here is to be sensitive not only to ethnic cultures, but also to other culture groups (generational, class etc.) and “world cultures” (modernism/ post modernism/ globalisation/ post Christendom) which affect the participants in worship in different ways.

The ideal is that representatives of different cultures in a congregation should be involved in the development of liturgies. Their contributions are critical to identify, clarify or evaluate liturgical rituals and practices. Without knowing it, well meaning liturgical leaders may offend or confuse people from another cultural background due to a lack of knowledge, understanding or sensitivity.

Some outcomes for the liturgy in multicultural congregations:

Liturgy should focus all the participants upon God

It seems obvious that liturgy should assist members of the congregation to focus on God, but in practise this is not always the case. Unsuitable or unpractical liturgies for worshippers from different cultural backgrounds, may hinder them to focus on God. If liturgies do not enhance a “safe space” where the worshippers experience inclusiveness, acceptance and appreciation, other feelings of exclusion, inferiority and exposure may distract them from a focus on God. The opposite is also a danger when the desire to ensure warmness and closeness among people of different cultures, may, contrary to the intention, replace God at the centre of worship and source of all goodness.

Liturgy should assist people to trust and experience the triune God as the source and example of true reconciliation, peace, fellowship, support and empowerment. Liturgy should not only assist the participants to “see, hear and experience” one another, but to live as a multicultural group from God as the source of life. The aim of liturgy is to help people of different backgrounds to face one another and to face God together for worship and help.   This is true for services of worship, but also for smaller meetings when Christians form different cultures meet for Bible study, teaching, dialogue or meetings.

Liturgy should guide and help people to embrace and celebrate diversity in worship styles

Liturgy should reflect the culture of the people participating in the event. Liturgy should for example includes language, prayer and preaching styles, music, hymns, symbols and worship traditions of the different groups participating in the event.

Liturgy should involve people of different cultures

Multicultural worship and ministry will not gain its fullest potential if worship leaders and other functionaries at gatherings, do not reflect the diversity in the congregation. People representing the different cultures in the congregation should be involved in the liturgy on a regular base wherever possible.

 Meaningful liturgy for different settings should make the congregation independent of charismatic leaders to ensure meaningful worship and meetings of people of different cultures.

It is short sighted to develop multicultural worship and ministries around gifted leaders who have the commitment and skills to hold the community together and guide them to meaningful ministries. The future of multicultural worship and communities is too important to leave it up to the charisma of a few people.

Detailed liturgy developed for different contexts can keep multicultural communities together in times of change of leadership or crises and help all to focus on God for assistance and guidance. No special gifts are necessary because the liturgy will guide the leader to involve the congregation in meaningful and culture sensitive worship and the congregation will not be anxious with new leadership because they are used to the liturgy.

It is important to emphasise that liturgy focuses on the form and flow of the events. The form is recognised and upheld by the leaders and congregation, but the content of the liturgy will be different every time. In a sense the liturgy itself becomes the leader of the gathering and not the leaders of the event.

Liturgy should help vulnerable people to feel safe in the gathering

People who do not know other people and their culture very well, usually experience some anxiety or uneasiness in their presence. They are scared that their ignorance of the others and their customs may be exposed in public or that they may be asked to do things which do not come naturally to them.

Liturgy should create a safe space for such people where they can participate in the event as part of a larger group without being singled out or exposed as an individual. When the liturgy requires ordinary members of the congregation to get involved, it is usually beter to involve them all as part of one group or in smaller (affinity) groups rather than individuals.

In order to be effective, the basic liturgy for different gatherings of members of multicultural congregations should not change regularly. Every time the participants come together they know what to expect in terms of the overall structure and flow of the event. This knowledge creates a sense of safety and comfort.

Some examples of liturgies to be developed

Liturgies for different services of worship, for example:

  • Normal Sunday service
  • Holy Communion
  • Youth/children services
    • Liturgies for prayer meetings and Bible Studies
    • Liturgies for official meetings: Session; Committee
    • Liturgies for Sunday school and catechumen
    • Liturgies for structured dialogue between people of different cultures
    • Liturgy during conflict solving processes.

Some important things to keep in mind when designing multicultural liturgies, are:

Make “instructions” part of the liturgy

In a multicultural community we cannot assume that all members have a shared context and therefore understand the symbols, meaning and values behind each element and action in a liturgy. More explanation for the symbols or actions are needed for them to make sense of it.

Make brief clear explanations or behavioural instructions part of the “text” of the liturgies.

Use repetition when encountering “new content” in the course of the liturgy

Although the form of the liturgy may remain basically the same for specific gatherings, the participants may encounter “new content” in the course of the liturgy. They may be asked to sing an unfamiliar song in another language; dance from another tradition or pray in a certain way. It may be meaningful if the liturgy guides the participants to repeat the new content immediately or later in the proceedings in order to help them master or get used to it. The ideal is that the comfort level of people unfamiliar with it must increase in the course of the gathering.

Posted in Multicultural congregations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The use of language and habits to facilitate intercultural ministries in a congregation

Words are not neutral or convey only information. Words and language have creative power. Words influence people. It can harm people or build them up (Eph.4:29) and can change their attitude and behaviour. Words inform and “perform” when they are being used in language. The creative power of words is one of the ways in which we as human beings reflect the image of God. When God speaks, things happen (Gen.1;Isaiah 44:26-27; 55:11).

Israel Galindo said the following about the importance of language in a faith community: “In a faith community, language serves a formative function and is one indicator that a congregation is a genuine community of faith. That is, the community’s idiom – consisting of its vocabulary, patterns of speech, spoken rituals and rites (like blessings and prayers)-functions in ways that shape the faith of its members.” (What makes a congregation a real faith community). Words do not only shape the faith and practices of a congregation, but it also plays an important part in shaping our worldview and the reality we are living in. Words give expression to the way we see ourselves and life in general. Our identity and destiny are described and influenced by the words and language we hear and use every day.

Since language and words are such a normal and continues part of our lives, we are not always aware of the tremendous impact it has on the way we think, feel and behave. The transformation of Christians and congregations will however always includes change in the language of the individuals and the congregation. Language will give expression to and shape the new identity and behaviour of transformed Christians and congregations. This change in language may in most cases be a spontaneous and even to some extent an unconscious process. However, when leaders want to stimulate transformation in a congregation, they must in a pro-active way introduce new words and language in the congregation as part of the process of change and transformation. The introduction of new language which reflects the desired outcomes and the values upon which the transformation should build, does not, and should not be seen as a way to enable the leaders to control the process of transformation or to force change in a detailed manner. Unexpected change and results may flow from language which focus on a commitment to a new set of values or identity.

In transformation the introduction of new language should go hand in hand with the introduction of new habits and behaviour which support and strengthen the new values and identity of the congregation. These habits must also help the congregation to give practical expression to their transformed world view and identity.

Leaders who want to promote multicultural congregations and intercultural ministries in the congregation and in the community, must take language and habits of the congregation very seriously. First there is need to get a picture of how the current language, habits and practices in the church promote or prevent multicultural ministries. While efforts are being made to get rid of harmful language and habits, new words and practices should be introduced in the congregation. Over time these new words and practices in the congregation may in a direct, but also more subtle indirect way, promote change and transform the congregation. It is important to realise that in most cases, repetition and time will be required for the effect of language to bring lasting change.

The effect of language and new habits or practices in the congregation depends largely upon the willingness and enthusiasm of those in leadership to use and model it. When the pastor and other leaders make a deliberate effort to lead by example and coach others over time to use the same language and participate in habits which will promote intercultural ministries, it is likely that change will come in unplanned but effective ways.

Words or expressions which could be introduced and used repeatedly in different contexts in the congregations are for example:

  • “God gives us our brothers and sisters”
  • “The ministry of the church is in the world among all people”
  • “Our hearts and hands are open for all people”
  • “Strangers are friends whom we have not yet met”
  • “To follow Jesus is to cross boundaries among people”
  • “We are a family without boundaries, reaching out to all people”
  • “Diversity enriches and challenges our congregation”
  • “Unity makes diversity fruitful”
  • “Seek Jesus among the outsiders”
  • “Express love to everybody, at all times and everywhere”
  • “Expect and embrace new things”
  • “Listen to everybody everywhere”
  • “Overcome anxiety for strangers by meeting them”

Habits which the congregation may introduce and model through leaders are for example:

  •  Regular opportunities for members of the congregation to have social interaction with strangers in the congregation or the community: Tea or meals together ; Games or sport events ; Forums; Outings and tour
  • Testimonies and stories of people from different communities and backgrounds in congregation
  • Opportunities to be exposed to different places, communities and groups in area of congregation
  • Opportunities to explain or discuss cultural differences
  • Debriefing opportunities for people involved in intercultural ministries
  • Fixed opportunities for listening to God and others with regard to intercultural ministries  :  Leadership meetings, Listening to members of the congregation
  • Regular liturgies which promote intercultural sensitivity and ministry
  • Establishment of small bridge relationships with people of unknown communities or groups

The ideal is not to introduce as many as possible new habits or expressions in the congregation, but to introduce a few well selected habits and words for a congregation in its specific circumstances as part of the process of transformation for multicultural congregations and intercultural ministries.

Posted in Multicultural congregations | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments