Book Review: Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry

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Difficulties of Online Communication

While talking on Periscope to a man in Saudi Arabia, his children were peeking over his shoulders and around the face of his screen. I wasn’t sure what he was saying as this was one instance where English wasn’t something he understood.  I kept calling his children, “Adorable.” In America, this is a compliment. Within minutes, he blocked me.  This is an example of why it’s important to understand foreign cultures, even when your ministry is serving online.

In order to understand how to develop relationships here and abroad, I need to understand the culture. Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry by Frank Tucker is an excellent and exhaustive resource. In this article, I will go over how and why this book applies to online ministry. While I am lucky enough to not go through culture shock, I am guilty of having a Western mindset, speaking only one language (English), and balance implementing my ministry focus and communicating spiritual truths in new and creative ways while raising support as a missionary. More importantly, living out my own creed of balancing online with face-to-face to never lose the human element in communication.

 Communication Minefields

Chapter one stated, “…reject the use of persuasive techniques to influence people that depersonalize them or deprive them of the freedom to know and choose; – seek to actively listen sensitively in order to understand people with different views and beliefs; – affirm the right of all people to their beliefs and the right to make their own decisions.” A writer seeks the perfect editor; someone who won’t edit out her unique voice, but help her write better. In teaching social media to a non-technical person, it is imperative to keep that person’s personality and voice, and to teach them how to listen to another person’s online chatter.  But Intercultural Communication takes it one step further. It talks about how what you write or how you say things are interpreted from the other culture’s point of view.

You must know how to use appropriate symbols, icons, and signs to convey your message so people understand the truths you are trying to share with them. In the online world, we use graphics and video to send our messages. To use writer’s language, we show rather than tell the story, and this can be rather interpretive. Double check your Western thinking before hitting publish or sharing online.

When I sent out a recent newsletter, I hadn’t understood how people can interpret some of the common things Western thinkers take for granted. Having to think cross-culturally as an online worker is not easy while living in a Western culture. Every day I am thinking and talking Western, but when my social media arm reaches across the ocean to another country, I must learn to think like them to understand their histories, cultures, and symbols. When interviewing a Chinese international student in 2015, it was amazing how God had prepared this international student to receive the Gospel. She had a loose grasp on her religion which meant more receptivity to the Gospel. She knew some English, but was fluent in Chinese. Some of my words were confusing. In communicating with people overseas on Periscope, some knew English, but if I used long words, it caused confusion with their limited English. Other minefields in communication include the obvious: Using your influence to, “deprive them of the freedom to know and choose.”

Some claimed the church was dying. Later, others denied this saying, God is changing the church. He is remaking it. Because social media is about public perception, we must be careful when we use social media for more personal venting. Venting the right way allows people to connect with you, but the wrong way can say something else. It’s back to how others reinterpret your words from the filter of their worldview and culture. Over the years, one voice joined another online creating a loud voice saying, “I hate church.” Some of them reported saying this so other people can feel like they have something in common. Others just didn’t like church. It became one voice shouting, “I don’t like church.” Like anything negative, it’s almost like a drug. The more we talk negatively, the more negativity others share with you. How do we give them the freedom to know and choose?

Let’s make things we have in common, like what we enjoy doing on our free time, the basis for our strategy. Establish good things in common with people of other cultures. Go as a learner and ask open-ended questions. Let them share their culture, and you can share yours when appropriate. Politics is another minefield, and in America, it’s the biggest barrier we have in cybermissions.

Go on any news site and people are shouting down people with whom they disagree (Christians and unbelievers alike). Candace Cameron Bure said in one of her books how people assumed they had permission to be an authority in her life while she performed on, Dancing For The Stars. Because of this, bringing social media up as a tool for missions is a difficult task. People who are not on Social Media carry away an impression that it divides friends and families instead of being a creative place for community to develop; for churches to reach into someone’s livingroom in a less intrusive way than going door to door with a brochure; and to get to know their communities through groups online. Neighbors are suddenly no longer strangers with social media. Part of the barrier in cybermissions comes from how news stories frame their stories; even our favorite sources have a bias or an agenda. These days you must interpret what you read through a Biblical lens, but we are a people of extremes.

And one thing struck me in the most negative way, “To our shame, evangelicals have befriended people for the sole purpose of evangelism, and Western Christians have developed cross-cultural relationships, not for the value of the relationships, but to ‘strike a deal.’” I’m still friends with the person who came to know Christ.

 

Online Communication is Becoming a Personal Witness

Intercultural Communication said something that struck me as incorrect. It said, until the advent of smart phones, the phone has not been a useful tool for ministry or evangelism. Mobile Ministry Forum and Bible TransMission might disagree. For instance, a Nokia feature phone with its long battery life and small screen was the tool they used to bring material to other cultures. A slot on the side of the phone allows for an SDcard where audio Bibles and other files are stored rather than on the memory of the phone itself. Smart Phones have a shorter battery life, but better apps. In Mexico, smart phone usage is rising.

Mobile Ministry Forum recently had a webinar where they shared a tip for short term mission trips or even local evangelism in a neighborhood that speaks another language. You can download videos in the language of the people you are trying to reach and share that video as a way of witnessing to them. With the rise of live video (Facebook Live, Skype, Periscope, Vsee), that personal witness needed for discipleship and evangelism is available from anywhere in the world provided you have WiFi or data.

My goal to reach across cultural and language boundaries is to learn new languages. I would like to start with Spanish, and when I think I have handled writing and speaking it, I will move on to another language. Social Media allows me to communicate freely anywhere in the world. Language is a barrier, even with Google translate. Like missionaries who move overseas, I will immerse myself in the cultures when I am fully funded.

How am I Preparing Now?

While raising financial partnerships, I am thinking ahead in planning how to implement spiritual truths in the context that I am serving. A list of short term and long term goals have been made, edited, and re-made. Social Media is so huge. My problem: How do I learn so many different cultures and religions and speak the Gospel into them using the bridges of communication already built into their culture by God? Education will help and immersing myself in different cultures regularly can build online relationships while I raise funding.

Raising funding, keeping my websites active and my social media going, and keeping abreast of new developments in technology is a fun and creative task that is time consuming. Days come when I sit at my desk at my day job and dream of when I can begin immersing myself in culture and develop new friendships online. My biggest dream is being able to connect that person online with a fellowship of faith somewhere in the world through my ministry contacts and the organization of WorldVenture. My other dream is getting the pulpit to be aware of the breadth of missions; that it doesn’t only exist in the traditional ways, but in the creative, too; and finally, knowing I can give all of me to this calling and not just 80% because of my day job.

Even in this waiting, God is preparing my heart. If you are serious about social media and using your one or more accounts to reach out to unbelievers online, Intercultural Communication is a book you need to read. It’s exhaustive, text book-like, and needed as you navigate the online world from your own cultural point of view.

Lifting the Heavy Weights

Some Days Look Like This...

I am happy to report that I have finally passed the 50% mark in my Kindle of the required reading from WorldVenture called, Intercultural Communication For Christian Ministry.

Between working a full-time job and working full-time ministry, reading is challenging. Added to this, it’s not your Hallmark easy reading book, but heavy, like lifting weights at the gym; only it’s working the muscles in the brain.

Something that I would like to share with you is this quote:

“Since people of any one cultural group do not think in one style alone, but rather in a variety of styles, it can be useful to construct a profile of styles for a people and use this as a guide for communicating with them.”  (51%, Kindle version).

Communication styles are necessary if you want your message understood. As a blogger and a writer, I get it. I find this book completely fascinating. Still, I cannot wait til I am done with it and I can check one more thing off my task list as an appointee.

Many thanks though to Pastor Dave Droste for helping me get through Wayne A. Grudem’s book, Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know: Christian Beliefs. Only a few chapters left to run through of this task! I am learning a lot, but not just from the book, but from him.

Notes From The Field

Sipping a Latte at Firehouse Coffee in Prescott, Arizona, I came across this in my required reading of “Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry” by Frank Tucker:

1: Combine an understanding of the Gospel with an understanding of contemporary worldviews.

2: Challenge contemporary worldviews where necessary and present the big story of the Bible.

What I got from this chapter was to listen first. I need to learn their worldview before I prayerfully assert mine. It’s difficult to “listen” in the traditional sense on social media. Listening can look like lurking on social media.

People on social media participate sometimes through quiet scrolling. They are the “listeners” of the online world. They read your statuses, pray for you, and stay informed, but rarely participate online. This, too, can be a way of learning another’s worldview in order to know how to serve that person and use contemporary ways to deliver the truth of the Gospel to them.

It’s especially important if the person online is from another country. If you don’t know the culture yet, you can fall into miscommunication fairly easy.

More later on this. I am 30% done with this book. It’s one of the required reading books as an appointee with WorldVenture. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.

Social Media World: How to be Teachable

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The post was up to several likes on my social media. I smiled in the semi-darkness of the living room. My statistics on TRC Magazine were really doing well, too, with people coming from all over the world. Compared to other much bigger and well-known people, it’s barely a blip on the radar, but satisfying. Without my belief in God, memories of being humbled, and knowing that, if I don’t keep my intentions in check, I could end up like other leaders in the online world who built their own kingdom rather than God’s; a kingdom scattered now like broken porcelain around their feet. So what does it look like to be teachable?

Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry by Frank Tucker said:

“House plans are drawn from various perspectives, they are not complete; all perspectives are needed to contribute to the whole. When we apply this concept to an intercultural situation, the people of each culture have a unique perspective on life. We may learn from one-another, but each is only a partial perception of reality and each needs to be subject to modification in openness to the Spirits’ revelation of reality as God sees it. (Location 1090-1091; emphasis mine).”

  • Listen first. It is only our arrogance that keeps us from hearing what the others are saying. Even if we disagree with them, we don’t have a whole picture. Practice listening on social media.
  • Ask questions. I find that, when I don’t have the answer or a complete picture, I ask questions. A teacher once said there are no stupid questions. Asking questions is especially handy when trying to open up a discussion. A person doesn’t want to be told what to think. It is the right question that makes them think further on the subject.
  • Admit what you don’t know. Christians don’t have all the answers. We can learn better together; Leaning on each other, helping each other, and working together is wise.

In A Teachable Spirit by Justin Taylor, he describes Philip and the Eunuch in Acts 8:

“Acts 8 describes a story that might help us think through this. An Ethiopian eunuch — a God-fearing Gentile who served as treasurer to the Ethiopian queen — had made a five-month journey by chariot to Jerusalem in order to worship God. During his return trip he was puzzling out loud over the Isaiah scroll that he held in his hands. And the Holy Spirit appointed Philip to help him understand the meaning of the Bible.” 

The eunuch understood his own insufficiency. A Teachable Spirit urges us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. The article reminds us to be doers of the Word, to wrestle with the Word within ourselves, asking God for meaning, and going to others when we need help understanding it. I’m new to the mission field.

The help of others experienced in the field, rich with Biblical education, and well-versed in more complex issues help me. I am grateful for them. Their encouragement reminds me that what I am building is not my own kingdom. A good strategy is bringing in people from many different backgrounds and experiences to participate in God’s Kingdom so we can be better in the field than the evil out there.

Who are your social media accountability partners? Who are your mentors?