5 Rules for Cross-Cultural Ministry on Short Term Mission Trips

May 2, 2016

crossculturalministry

If you’ve ever been on a mission trip, you know that one of the most frightening and exciting moments comes when you first step foot on foreign soil.  It’s thrilling to see another culture in action while terrifying discerning how to relate to them.  Whether you’re a first-timer or a mission trip veteran, here are five important tips for navigating cross-cultural ministry without tripping over yourself.

1. BE FLEXIBLE.

As Americans, we tend to be very individualistic.  When you go on a mission trip, you are often part of a larger team.  Your decisions have the potential to impact everyone else traveling with you.  

It’s important to foster a spirit of love and unity.  Do everything you can to cooperate and show grace in your relationships with team members and local partners.  Avoid criticism and submit to the decisions made by your trip leaders.  Respect the local leadership without complaining.  Likewise, get to know your team and take advantage of the opportunity to build lasting friendships with local believers.

2. DON’T TRY TO FIX THE LOCALS.

You will work closely with indigenous churches.  Inevitably, they will have habits and customs that you haven’t experienced before.  You may even disagree with them, whether it’s a choice in music or their attitude towards spiritual gifts.  Your purpose is to serve them, not fix their perceived problems.  If you do have concerns, talk with your trip leaders about how to navigate these differences.

3. DON’T MAKE PROMISES OR MONETARY GIFTS.

You will fall in love with the local partners you serve.  At times, you may even be tempted to make promises of gifts or support.

Do not make any promises or offer any gift – especially money – without clearing it with your trip leaders first.  They have a much better understanding of the people’s needs and what is appropriate.  

Even when given with the best intention, gifts can cause problems and create jealousy.  If people know that Americans are offering gifts, it could appear that we are paying people to convert to Christianity.  While this isn’t the case, we must stay above reproach.  You also want to avoid creating problems that our local believers must solve after you return home.

Secondly, as Americans, we don’t want to create a relationship of dependency between us and the locals.  If the ministry multiplies, they must be able to reproduce the model without outside funds.  Any dependence on external sources limits its growing potential.

If you go on an e3 expedition, every country is served by a long-term strategy that is bigger than any individual.  A gift given to the wrong person at the wrong time could hinder that strategy.

4. BE SENSITIVE.

There will likely be a stark contrast between your lifestyle and theirs.  While on the expedition, observe the following rules:

  • Avoid talking about money.  It can be a major distraction.  If people ask you questions about finances, tactfully shift the conversation to another topic.
  • Be discreet when pulling out money.  Half of the world lives on less than $2 a day.  You might be holding more cash than they’ve seen in a lifetime.  Be very considerate of this.
  • Don’t discuss politics.  We are there to spread the Gospel, not the “American way.”   If people ask you political questions, tactfully change the subject.
  • Be mindful of what you say in front of locals about their country.  Discussing things like poverty and your opinion of the food may cause offense.  They may like their food or haven’t known a different standard of living.

5. HELP OUT YOUR TRANSLATOR.

During the week, you will be partnered with local believers who speak both English and the native language.  You may find yourself working with mature local Christians and experienced translators.  But for others, it is likely that this is their first time sharing their faith.  Talk slowly and get their feedback on how best to work together.  They know both languages and understand how get your point across better than you can.

Remember, cross-cultural ministry can be a great discipleship opportunity if you come into it with a humble, servant attitude.  Take these moments to help locals take the lead in their own culture.  After all, they are the ones continuing the ministry when you leave!

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