As I continue to highlight different things we miss about our home church in the United States (see the previous posts here, here, and here), I want to to begin by stating unequivocally that our brothers and sisters in Christ from other cultures have a plethora of things to teach Americans about faithfully following Christ. Furthermore, I would submit that any church which walls itself off from the perspectives and voices of Global Christianity will be deficient and defective at best or disobedient and unbiblical at worst.
Having said that, however, the fact that Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22) seems to indicate that one key to effective ministry to people is to become more “like” them. Specifically, Paul says “to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak” indicating that the ability to identify with people in their weaknesses can aid in ministry to them.
Paul’s discussion here brings to mind something I first heard in a course on Biblical Counseling and have subsequently seen reiterated in reference to church membership and accountability, namely, that there are nearly sixty explicit commands in Scripture which contain the words “one another.” Examples include “Love one another” (Jn 13:34), “Serve one another” (Gal 5:13), “Bear with one another” (Col 3:13), “admonish one another” (Col 3:16) . . . you get the idea. My goal here is not to list or explain each of these commands, but to point out the significance of the term “one another.”
When the Bible uses the “one another” commands, it is pressing upon us the reality that ministry is not merely the responsibility of those who have been set apart for the offices of the church, but should be primarily performed by all “the saints” (Eph 4:12) to “one another.” But what happens if most of “the saints” around you are from different cultural backgrounds? Isn’t at least some of the ability to minister to “one another” somewhat lessened when the other Christians around us are much more “like” (with similar weaknesses, etc.) one another than they are like us?
Lest I be misinterpreted, I am not saying that people who are from same or near cultures are the only ones who can minister to us, nor am I saying that Christians are unable to minister to people who are not from same or near cultures. But what I am saying is that, according to Paul, such ministry requires intentional effort to learn the cultural backgrounds, traditions, weaknesses, and struggles of that people group in order to minister to that group accordingly. And what we have observed as missionaries to another culture is that this burden and expectation is often placed almost exclusively upon missionaries and is rarely (if ever) reciprocated by our national brothers and sisters. Again, this is not intended as a slight or criticism, but merely a statement about the status of the maturity of the church in this context.
I have no doubt that our national brothers and sisters have the desire to minister to us in these ways, but without proper training and resources it remains difficult for them to truly see and help meet us in our needs and weaknesses. On the contrary, we are often perceived as the “mighty missionaries” who are practically invulnerable to weakness. While we are working to try and correct this mindset, the meantime result of this scenario is that while we labor to pour ourselves into this culture and strengthen the churches here, one thing we have largely missed the past three years has been the reciprocal “one another” ministry of the church.