3-Week Series: Double Blessing


Summary: How To Use An Understanding of Culture In Church Planting and Growth

How To Use An Understanding of Culture

In Church Planting

Learning Objectives

1. The students will explain how a missionary can communicate the gospel cross-culturally effectively.

2. The students will explain how to use an understanding of a person’s world view to communicate the gospel successfully.

3. The students will write a short paper discussing how to identify with a person from another culture.

Introduction - When a missionary seeks to plant a new church he is faced with the problem of communicating between cultures. One reason why some missionaries have not been successful in the past could have been their inability to understand the people’s culture in their attempt to communicate the gospel. Out of 20 thesis written at Jos ECWA Seminary, no less than 15 theses have been written on the importance of understanding the receiving people’s culture. When Paul, the apostle went to a new area, he took time to understand the most relevant, appropriate, and contextual means of communicating the gospel in that culture. Compare and contrast the ways Paul adapted his message to the Jews in Acts 13:16-41 in a synagogue message with his appreciation for Greek culture in his address on Mars hill to the Athenians. The study will reveal many insights into the need for us to understand the best ways to communicate the gospel cross-culturally!

Let us ask the Lord for wisdom in understanding some of the main factors of culture that we aid us in communicating the gospel effectively!

I. What is Cultural?

A. Culture is the manners and customs of a people.

B. Culture implies a way of thinking, knowing, believing, valuing, and behaving characterized by the society.

C. Culture takes into account the religious, political, social, educational, spiritual, family, motivational, behavioral, economic, psychological, philosophical, racial, and national features of a people.

D. Culture can be a design for living. it is a plan that a society adapts itself to live in its environment effectively.

E. Missionaries can only communicate to a people as they understand people’s culture. Perhaps, the greatest difficulties faced by missionaries is the ability to communicate the gospel and the scriptures to people in culturally understandable ways.

II. Nida’s Three Culture Model Of Missionary Communication

A. Eugene Nida has said that a missionary must first understand his own culture, the culture of the Bible, and the responding people’s culture if he is going to communicate the gospel cross-culturally.

B. The missionary must know that he carries his own cultural perceptions of the Bible. These perceptions may not be suitable to another cultures’ perceptions. For a man from Kagoro to go to Kachia area in Kaduna state is easier than for an American missionary to go due to the cultural similarities of the Kagoro man.

C. The missionary must first study the Bible in its original context or culture as objectively as possible.

D. The missionary should avoid projecting meaning from his culture subjectively into his interpretations of the Bible’s culture or context. The Bible has one interpretation many applications.

III. How Can a Missionary Communicate the Gospel Effectively and Cross-Culturally?

A. The missionary should learn how to make the scripture appeal to cultural - felt needs of the responding people’s culture the way Jesus and Paul did with their audiences. (Acts 17 & 13; John 4)

Example - Jesus said, ``Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and open the door I will come into him and fellowship with him and he with me.’’ (Rev. 3:20) To the Zanaki people in Uganda knocking is consider evil. Only thieves knock on people’s doors. An honest man will come to a house and call the name of the person inside. A good man will identify himself by his voice and knowledge of the people’s names in the house. However, a thief would not want to let people know who he is so he will remain silent and knock. If no one is at home, he will quickly sneak into the house, steal what he wants, and leave.

In this case the missionary must teach the people that what Jesus is saying is, ``Behold, I stand at the door and call! Jesus is not a thief but a Savior who has come to deliver the people from their sins and give them eternal life! By teaching the people with cultural understanding, the message of the gospel has been communicated effectively cross-culturally! (Hesselgrave, 395)

Example - When we teach people to take communion, we often read the passage from Matt. 26;27 which says, ``Drink, all of it.’’ We may think, that this means to drink all of the juice in the cup. However, in the Biblical culture, Jesus really meant, ``All of you should drink.’’ (Williams) Jesus was encouraging everyone to accept his invitation to communion, identify, share his will for their lives, and belong to His family. In western cultures to drink from the same cup implies unsanitary conditions. However, Jesus used one cup, as many African cultures do. In this instance, the African culture would be closer to the original Bible culture than western culture. Many churches have gone the road of accepting western culture in using cups in their communion services rather than one cup as Jesus did! Let us separate out the symbol from the essential meanings behind the symbols.

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