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What Cross-Cultural Mission Is & What It Isn’t!

We desperately need a Biblical definition of cross-cultural mission today.

“James Hudson Taylor (Chinese: 戴德生) was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission. Taylor spent 51 years in China” (Wikipedia).

Hudson Taylor was a cross-cultural missionary! But we also need to define what Hudson Taylor was not:

i) Hudson Taylor was not a local pastor in Barnsley, the English town where he was born. He didn’t pastor a church and spend his life reaching out to the local Barnsley people.

ii) Hudson Taylor did not reach out from Barnsley to the Scots or the Welsh, peoples of an identical first language, but with a different culture and history. These were people who lived in the same country, Great Britain, as he did.

iii) Hudson Taylor did not reach out to the Chinese living in Britain at the time if indeed, there were any! He didn’t go to London to start a Chinese church there.

iv) Hudson Taylor did not go to China to plant English-speaking churches for the English-speaking communities in China. That is church planting, not cross-cultural ministry.

Hudson Taylor went to a foreign land (China) and to a foreign people (the Chinese) who had a foreign tongue and a foreign culture and history.

That breaks down into two key elements:
1. He went, he ‘go-ed’…
2. …To people who were very different from him.

You need both 1) and 2) to be a cross-cultural missionary. Today a cross-cultural missionary may be a Brit going to India, a Chinese believer going to Egypt, a Brazilian going to Manchester, a Nigerian going to Germany. These “from anywhere to anywhere” people:

1. Go, they leave their own country.
2. They take the good news of Jesus to a people of a different culture, history, language, etc.

The following three categories are not cross-cultural missionaries:

1. Pastors who are called to build a church that only reaches out to their own town or city, a local church. I respect that call. It’s a central part of building the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Where I disagree with such pastors is their assumption that all Christians should walk that way, especially when some of the congregation are called to reach the nations. To deny and not to encourage and preach the biblical reality of mission in members of their congregation is outright disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20). Some local pastors even discourage that call in the lives of others.

2. Those who claim that the command of the Lord Jesus to go to the ends of the earth is now fulfilled by reaching those from other countries and cultures who live in their country. Mass immigration occurs in large numbers of territories today, legally or illegally. But reaching them inside our own country is only a small part of cross-cultural mission – perhaps 1%. Why? Because 99% of foreign peoples will never visit our country of birth. How will they hear unless somebody goes to them? Maybe in time some we reach in our own country might go back and church plant among their own people.

Maybe… But what happens in the meantime back in their countries to those who live and die never hearing the Gospel? And what happens to people groups overseas from whom no one leaves to visit our country? That is why it is 1% of cross-cultural mission only.

3. Those who travel abroad to plant churches for their own people living overseas. The classic example is the Chinese people. The Chinese population is rather unique. Firstly, there is a great number of them! Secondly, you’ll find Chinese spread out over all the world.

But Chinese reaching Chinese overseas is not cross-cultural mission. It is church planting. It’s working within their own culture and language. Should we do that? Absolutely! But cross-cultural mission means crossing cultures, reaching out to people who do not speak my language, whose culture is different from mine, who need to know about salvation that is in the Lord Jesus alone, just as much as my own people do.

Cross-cultural missionaries, those who go to another land and another culture, come in all shapes and sizes. They may be evangelists, they may be pastors, they may be doctors, they may be electricians, they may be administrators, they may be accountants or teachers. They may have special skills, for example, reaching disadvantaged people or sports.

They may be varied, but they have one thing in common. They go to a people who are different from them. These alone are cross-cultural missionaries.

Whilst in no way wishing to disrespect the excellent work that takes place in the three categories above, my plea is for a separate category of people to be recognised and released in the church today – those who obey the Lord Jesus: i) to go ii) to ethnically different peoples. These cross-cultural missionaries are different, and they are much needed – today!

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