Book Review: “Ministering Cross-Culturally” by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers (1986)

“The goal of this book [is] to show that the incarnation of Christ is a powerful analogy for missionary and other Christian ministry.” (121)

Whenever researchers write on cultural models and differences, they tend to focus on the same criteria (i.e. task vs. person, time vs. event, etc.). Obviously these broad categories survive as the perfect extremes for how researchers are able to delineate what unique characteristics a person or culture has when contrasted to the rest of the world, so we cannot blame Lingenfelter for rehashing stuff that has been written about for decades now. I do believe that Lingenfelter’s book would be a fantastic asset to any believer looking to work cross-culturally, not only for its small size (a mere 113 pages), but also for its methods of allowing the reader to personalize the information. Early on in the book, Lingenfelter offers a value assessment for the reader to complete so that, once the reader understands his own personal leanings, he can then read the book with a better understanding of where his cultural blind spots lie. 

When my wife (a Chinese native) and I (an American Caucasian mutt) completed this assessment together, we realized that, although we come from extremely different cultures, we differ significantly in only two of the six major areas: whereas she is a crisis-oriented person who focuses on time, I am a non-crisis-oriented person who tends to focus more on people. Oddly enough, these characteristics are generally opposite from what our own cultures have raised us to follow, so we have determined that five years of marriage and multiple years of living internationally have shaped us both to adjust our natural inclinations in order to become more in-the-middle-of-road than either of our home cultures have taught us to be. This reconfirms my theory that one of the best natural abilities (assets) a missionary can have when going to the field is adaptability. Without this, cultural friction will quickly burn the missionary out.

Because this book is Christian, and because Lingenfelter’s thesis suggests he wants to show Christ as the perfect model for cross-cultural ministry, he spends much time in Philippians 2 and huge portions of the book of Luke. He also adds to each of the six dichotomies a description of roughly where on a value-assessment chart Christ Jesus would place his own leanings, basing his conclusions upon the accounts we have available in Scripture It would surprise many readers to find out which attitudes Christ himself displayed, though it would also surprise many to realize that Christ’s exact methods of interpersonal communication are not recommendations for all believers to follow, for not all of us (truthfully, none of us) live in first-Century Judea and communicate exclusively with first-century humanity. Thus it behooves the missionary to research on his own the cultural leanings of the people to whom he desires to minister, for only when he meets converses with the people in a culture that they recognize can he be viewed as someone worth listening to, someone who cares enough to adapt.

©2013 E.T.

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