Cross Cultural Insights

What about those of other Cultures?

Insights into “Cross-cultural Outreach”      organized by Jim Found

I. The scope of Cross-cultural outreach

All People. Every encounter with another person is cross-cultural to some degree, so these insights are useful to help you understand all people that you meet.

Bible. You already are accustomed to one kind of cross-cultural ability: relating Bible culture to your own culture. You can use the insights you already have learned ther as you extend to the next link: relating your understanding of the Bible to someone of yet another culture.

Jesus. In a way, Jesus is a cross-cultural missionary: he had to link heavenly things to earthly things. As you think about how He did it, you get ideas for your own cross-cultural needs. Here are some examples:

1. Jesus actually became a member of the new culture. Since Jesus becoming human is called “incarnation,” those who enter into the lives and problems of others are said to be in “incarnational” ministry.

2. Jesus used parables — earthly examples to get across heavenly meanings. You can ponder what kind of earthly object would help you explain a heavenly meaning to today’s cultures. Could you make parables about fishing, cars, cell-phones, the internet?

II. The Degree of cross-cultural outreach.

Location. When Jesus, in Acts 1:8, tells the apostles to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, each location is farther away. Reaching someone else may require learning a new language, or moving to a new location, or learning to live in a different culture — or more than one of these at the same time.

Stepping-stones.  Another way to visualize cultural distance is to imagine two people separated by a river. However, there are stones in the river, and your attitude toward cross-cultural outreach will be more positive if you look at these stones not as barriers, but as “stepping-stones.”  The greater the cultural distance. the more stepping stones you have to deal with, . Identifying the stepping-stones helps you identify the tasks you need to complete in order to get to the other person.  One stone might be language. If your language is already the same, then you have successfully crossed that stone. But if your languages are different, you have identified one of your first tasks. What might some of the other stones be? At least, they would be things like socio-economic level, time available, age difference, gender difference, and many others.  Cross cultural understanding means finding out what the stones are, and cross-cultural outreach requires dealing with each stone. The goal is to be able to explain the gospel clearly to a listener who will take heed to your words.

III. Witnessing and Discipling across cultures

You can organize the many Insights found in books about cross-cultural outreach into these three main headings:

Before gospel                            sharing      After becoming a believer
(getting to know them)             gospel               (nurture)

For each of those three, we will look first at understanding, then at taking action.

A. Before sharing  the Gospel: Getting to know the Culture

The onion diagram helps us start with our first impressions of a new culture, and gradually dig down to deeper understandings.

Here are some additional tools for researching a new culture

B. Before sharing the Gospel: Taking action to build a relationship

1. Your resources. You already have some cross-cultural skills, because all communication is cross-cultural to some degree. Every connection with someone has to cross some barriers. In the section above on “degree,” you were encourage to look at barriers as if they were stepping-stones. The “barriers” would include things like: Language difference; Gender difference; Age difference; world-view difference. For example, if one of the differences is age” it is not that you change your age, but that you talk about things that the person of that age will be able to relate to.

2. Bonding. This link helps you to bond with people who belong to the culture you are entering.

3. Topics for conversations. Conversing about the topics on the tools for research mentioned above is a good way to get to know someone more deeply. In particular, it will help you find out whether your friend is representative of his or her culture, or has some views that differ.

Insights from students’ interviews with missionaries:

Entering a new culture
• Adjusting to a new culture
Meeting people

C. Preparing to Share the Gospel: researching their religion

Find out the views of the local religion are on these questions:
View of God, view of mankind’s problem; how to solve the problem (their view of salvation); how to obtain that salvation (by their own efforts or by trusting in a savior).

Author Ninian Smart recommends researching these seven aspects of a religion: rituals, stories, ethics and laws, doctrines, spiritual experiences, organization, objects.  (Smart, Ninian, Dimensions of the Sacred: an Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Here are more ways to help you research religions:

See Short Survey of Chinese Thought

See World Religions: types and short summaries

D. Taking Action: Sharing the Gospel

Your purpose is not to criticize someone’s religions, but to talk about Jesus.

Your friend may notice some characteristics in your life style that would open a door to talk about faith

Growth in the following four areas will help you to share the salvation message across cultures:  Sensitive Sharing: helps you Avoid Misunderstandings, Avoid Cut-offs, use Bridges, and Use Handles

The ceremonies of other religions often show us the “felt need” that the worshipper is looking to fill.   The following charts can help you find these needs. The charts are titled as follows:
Chart 1: Sharing about the human problem (separation from God due to sin)
Chart 2: Sharing about Jesus as the answer
Chart 3: Sharing about Faith and its benefits

Other links:
Basics of personal witnessing
Suggestions for each World religion
See essay Apostles Confront Spirits

Insights from students’ interviews:
How to explain Christianity in a different culture
Building Bridges
Evangelism with Understanding

E. Nurture and Follow up: getting background knowledge

The most complicated aspects of cross-cultural work begins after someone has become a Christian. God’s command is to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.”  You must be alert to the stresses a new Christian will have with the people of his own culture.

1.  Many people come to Christ but then fall away because of a lack of follow-up.
Example – Book on Conversion.
2.  Besides the normal need for follow-up, those from another religion have special needs.
3. Understanding follow-up allows us to keep it distinct in our minds from evangelism, so we don’t
a.  let the magnitude of the follow-up problems keep us from evangelizing, and
b.  so we don’t mix follow-up concepts with evangelism concepts.


After professing faith, you are the logical person to help your friend enter into Christian growth. You would carry out a discipling process with him. The new believer needs to process which parts of his culture can be brought into the service of Christ, and which parts are incompatible with the new “ultimate allegiance.”The new believer needs to share his faith with others.


1. Family Rejection: may be punished or told to leave the home. The church then becomes essential to provide his relationship needs — this includes you.

2. Loss of Social Support System. The church may need to step up and provide replacements for his culture;s Wedding and Funerals customs.

3. Loss of Job or Status. You may need to help him find a new job, and comfort him at his loss of social status by emphasizing his new status as God’s child.

4. Rejection and Persecution. You can share the many Bible verses about God’s grace helping us in: times of persecution. Some of these verses are: found in 1 Peter:, which is written to people being killed.
Chapter 1:2 “sprinkled with His blood.”
3:9 “don’t return evil for evil
1:18 “ransomed from futile ways”
Sharing Christ’s sufferings 4:12-19; 5:6-10.

Nurture and Follow-Up


THESE CONCEPTS INCLUDE: Assurance, Position in Christ, Baptism Preparation, Creed concepts, baptism concepts,  communion concepts, Christian Life concepts.

Your time spent with the new Christian must demonstrate caring, listening, counseling, modeling the Christian life and learning to pray.

You must help him become Incorporated into church: The new believer needs to find a place for worship, communion, and body-life.

Help him find Christian resources, such as books, music tapes, web sites.


If you need to help a church make decisions about how to fit into its culture, you will need to study CONTEXTUALIZATION   —-  that is, How to “do” Christianity in the CONTEXT of your culture.  It is deeper than INDIGENIZATION, which was used previously, and means How to “translate” western Christianity into local words and customs.


1.  Worship
2.  Life-passage Rites
3.  Religious customs and concepts:
create new world-view
4.  Socio-economic pressures
5.  Theology.

Church development

A new church needs to
1. fill in those parts of the support system that the believers have been removed from.
2. decide together what parts of the existing culture may help to form worship and church life, and which parts are out of bounds.
3. agree on how to choose and denote their pastor and other leadership.
4. agree on how to relate to other churches.

Additional links:

Articles by Dr. Ed Seely on church adminitration

Life and Work Overseas          Sharing with those of the world religions

Planning Your Personal Strategy.

mission websites           mission books        Go  to How To Witness Guide