Cross-cultural communication is a key factor in mission. What a missionary does when they travel to another country is take what they know from their culture, and “inject” it into a different culture.
David Hesselgrave states in “The Role of Culture in Communication”, which is found in the book “Perspectives: On the World Christian Movement” that; “The word “culture” is a very inclusive term. It takes into account linguistic, political, economic, social, psychological, religious, national, racial, and other differences.”
“Culture” in itself separates people, as there are many different ethnic groups, different languages, and different societies. Therefore, in mission, the missionary has to be ready for a world that is vastly different from their own. This is where we see the three cultures that are involved in cross-cultural communication.
There are three cultures involved in cross-cultural communication. The first is the Missionary’s culture. Each missionary comes from their own unique culture. They may have grown up on the streets of Manhattan, or they may come from a small village in China. Whatever culture they come from will affect their ministry. The missionary takes in the Christian message that they have been taught in their culture, and brings it to another culture.
The second culture is the Bible culture. When a missionary goes on mission, they do not present their own words; they are presenting the Word of God. Therefore, there needs to be preparation. The missionary needs to study the Scriptures, and prepare them in the language that will be understood by the culture that he is going to. Hesselgrave states; “The first challenge is to properly decode the biblical message in accordance with recognized rules of Bible interpretation.”
There are guidelines that the missionary must follow. He must understand the Biblical text, and the language he is translating it to, so that nothing is taken out of context. The missionary culture is different from the Bible culture because the Bible culture is God’s Word. The missionary needs to be careful not to interject his own culture into the Bible culture. Bible culture is God’s Word and needs to be presented in the context that God expects it to be.
The third culture is the respondent culture. This is the culture that the missionary is “injecting” himself in. MindTools is a company that helps people move forward in management through proper career training. In the article “Cross-Culture Communication”, it states;
“If a leader or manager of a team that is working across cultures or incorporates individuals who speak different languages, practice different religions, or are members of a society that requires a new understanding, he or she needs to work to convey this.”
The missionary is taking his culture (what he knows), and his knowledge of the Bible (Bible culture), which has been properly translated for the culture he is going into, and placing himself right in the middle of the respondent’s culture (the one who is being witnessed to). Therefore, he needs to understand the culture that he is getting into.
Hesselgrave presents some steps that can be taken by a cross-cultural missionary in order to accurately communicate the Gospel to the respondent culture. Hesselgrave states;
“Now they want to preach it (the Gospel) to those who have not heard it – for that is a great part of what it means to be a missionary. But before they can do so effectively, they must study again, not just the language, but also the audience.”
Hesselgrave states that the missionary needs to study the culture that he is heading into. He must learn the language. While the first thing the missionary needs to know is the Gospel, the second is surely a need to know the respondent culture. Therefore, some of the steps that can be taken by the missionary are to (1) study the Gospel, (2) study the respondent culture, and (3) study the respondent language.
In summary, cross-cultural communication is a key factor in mission. Authors Linda Lantieri and Janet Patti state in “Waging Peace in Our Schools” that;
“We all have an internal list of those we still don't understand, let alone appreciate. We all have biases, even prejudices, toward specific groups.”
When a mission enters into a new culture (respondent culture), they need to leave all prejudices and misunderstandings behind. They need to “inject” Bible culture, and not their own. Mark 12:14 (NET) states;
“When they came they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”
Jesus did not hold any prejudices, therefore neither should we as we go out on the field of mission.