Book Review: Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry

41GV4p5gmlL

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.

Do You Really Know Your Area?

This video was created at my job a year or so ago. I asked a sincere question on a Facebook group that was created for the community in which I live. The hardest part was staying objective through the research process. The end result was a fantastic video that I sometimes still use today when helping a church design a personalized online ministry. The other result was seeing the responses from people. If I was not making a video, I would have participated in a discussion with them. Please enjoy the video.

Confessions of a (Sort Of) Reformed Passive Aggressive

social media

Has Social Media Crashed Your Relationships?

What we put on social media reflects our hearts and makes us focus on those things which weigh heavily on our emotions. No matter how vague we think we are being on social media, the pain spills out and becomes a manuscript for others to read of what is going on inside of our heads.

As a Social Media Missionary, I wrestle constantly with myself to decide what my motive is behind publishing. It’s so tempting to have a targeted audience and it is such a fine line. How do we express the grief, anger, and pain in responsible ways so others can minister to us or so we can minister to them?

 Several faces do come to mind as I write this piece. It’s unavoidable. No one is completely un-passive aggressive. Our lives reflect what we see and experience, and this translates onto social media. Social Media is no different than face-to-face. We share stories with our friends on and offline. Gossip is a constant threat because friends can also share those stories publicly even when done in face-to-face situations. The copy and paste feature is the only difference between Social Media and face-to-face communities. How do we use social media responsibly as we battle the temptations of the tongue and wrestle with our pain?
I have some suggestions:
  • Ask yourself why you want to post something. Before you hit publish, search out your heart. Read some Bible verses that address this area. Read the context. It matters less what inspired the post as it does why you are posting it.
  • Where’s God’s lessons in the post? Will it irreparably harm a relationship? Will it cause dissension? Will it harm someone else’s relationship? If you insist on posting the post, treat it separately from yourself. Change names, dates, and even make it out to be a “friend.” Change details so it is so far removed from the actual event that God’s lesson comes out while keeping the relationship secure.
  • Passive aggressive behavior doesn’t change people.  When my passive aggressive behavior was out of control, relationships were harmed. This is actually a symptom of a need to control other people from a place of fear. Trust God to handle people and pray for them. As Sheila Walsh said in one of her books: The prayer might feel insincere at first, but eventually God will work on your heart and the prayers you say for them become authentic. These days I pray that God will change me even if the other person won’t change their behavior.
  • Set healthy boundaries on your friends and relationships. This is important. People can be great in face-to-face, but toxic online. Or maybe a lot of drama is happening in that person’s life and you need a break from it? First, “Unfollow” the friend. On Facebook, unfollowing isn’t unfriending. It keeps their feeds from showing up on your newsfeeds, but you still have access to their profiles so you can minister to them or be a friend. If the drama continues to impair your ability to be a friend, “unfriend” them only as a last resort. On Twitter and Google Plus it is less confrontational to unfollow or take them out of your circle. People take it too personally on Facebook. As this article states, many reasons exist for people unfriending others. Taking everything personally will make you a very lonely person.
  • Set up a Facebook group (set to secret) or Google Community (set to private) for people you trust so you can let them minster to you or you to them. A Calvary Church Facebook group has approximately 14,000 people on it and it is set to public. This means it is not an ideal place to share confidential prayer requests or problems. Setting up a group of your most trusted friends is a better idea. You are allowing people to share your burden without gossiping, being passive aggressive, or harming relationships.
Meanwhile, don’t be afraid of online community. It can be beneficial especially if you live in a place where you are having a difficult time connecting. Engage people. Talk to them about what they shared. Be a part of their lives as much as they are a part of your virtual life. You can’t live as if everyone will break your trust and heart. Trust God to make your heart whole again and live your life pouring into others lives even if they let you down.

New Ideas Always Inspire

new

New running shoes are beautiful. Not a single mud splatter or tear and it even smells like new shoes. The joy in that object fades as the wearer of the shoes have to actually run. Running shoes were meant to be used, like tools of ministry.

People always get excited about starting a new online ministry. Any online ministry can be effective, but it all boils down to the work of volunteers. Without consistency and engagement, an idea will fizzle like yesterday’s opened liter of Pepsi. That’s why I design a church’s online ministry with the volunteers in mind.

For low turn-out, I work at making an online ministry feasible even in a volunteer drought. That’s what I love about social media and technology. The concept is simple, like running shoes.

Just put them on and go. Get online and talk. But like running, getting in shape to run long distances takes time. Ministry cannot be results driven. It’s not the numbers that matter, but how a person can holistically be led to the Lord and discipled. When you read a missionary’s letters, the emphasis is not on how many people came to the know the Lord today (although, that is their goal), but the stories are always around the relationships.

Jesus discipled through relationship. 

We shouldn’t be any different. He even went to where the people were to preach and serve. Just google how many miles Jesus is said to have walked in his life of ministry. You’ll be amazed.

He didn’t even have my beautiful running shoes, just sandals.