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Review: Ministering Cross-Culturally

Book recommendation: Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

This brief, easy-to-read book is subtitled ‘A model for effective personal relationships’ and draws heavily on the mission experience of Lingenfelter (the primary author) and others.

The aim of this book, which is both liberally illustrated with personal anecdotes and academically well-grounded, is “to help readers gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the people with whom they live, and in the process to help them experience a deeper relationship with God and a more fruitful life of love and ministry.” The ideas are thoroughly applicable to mission contexts or even to workplaces or local Australian communities where people from different cultures spend time interacting.

In a typical section, Lingenfelter spring-boards out of a story where a veteran missionary caused deep embarrassment by ringing the church bell at a Yap Evangelical Church. She’d done so in order to terminate a meeting that had gone overtime, and so was holding up (she believed) the next congregation. The subsequent discussion covers a variety of cultural understandings and suggests wise ways of thinking biblically about the way we view time.

This same approach is applied through the rest of the book. A problem is examined and summarised from differing cultural perspectives, and Lingenfelter indicates parts of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that may have bearing on how the question is viewed.

Does one serious sin exclude a person from ministry, or should the whole of a person’s life and family background be given weight when giving an assessment? What about when a typhoon warning is current for the island where the missionary lives? Should people prepare and flee, or should they only respond if and when crisis hits? What about tasks like building or repairing a house? Should they be tied to achieving a specific goal in a specific time? Or is it more important to value the relationship and so waste valuable hours that could have been spent getting the job done, and done well. Or is it acceptable to have significant mistakes in a job, if only to communicate to the one making mistakes that their contribution is valuable and they matter as people?

One interesting aspect of this third edition is that Lingenfelter has changed his view of culture and now believes that it is no more morally neutral than the individuals within it.

This book is used in a number of different Bible and Missions courses around Australia, and is recommended by mission thinkers such as CMS International Director Peter Rodgers, and former CMS missionary Simon Gillham, head of mission at Moore College.