Bond with the people and their culture
Bonding socially resembles the way in which a newborn connects at once with its mother. Baby chicks that hatch near a toy train instead of a mother hen will follow the train around as though it were their mother hen. God gives humans ability to bond at a profound, often subconscious, level.
Learning the history, statistics and distinctive features of a society does not bond you to it. You bond best by living among the people, immersed in their culture, apart from fellow expatriates, except your immediate family.
Bonding can occur quickly, in a week or two, if the Holy Spirit has given you a deep love for the people and grace to enjoy the adventure of change. God gave Paul flexibility to become ‘all things to all men’ (1 Cor. 9:22). Ruth bonded with the Israelites and their culture, because of her loving relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi, and later with Boaz. Bonding grows out of loving relationships; there is no other way. Spend time with the people, especially in their homes. Often the best time to bond is when beginning to acquire their language.
Church planters in a foreign field who stay mostly among fellow expatriates may appear to be getting along well, at first in, the new environment, but they are the first to ‘burn out.’ They fail to bond with the people and later crash, because they feel uneasy when forced to work within the host culture. They either leave the field or go into an institutional ministry that shields them from direct contact with the local people.
While workers are adjusting to a different way of life and struggling to acquire a language, they often experience an emotional low and tension for several months, until they master the language and let local people meet their social and emotional needs rather than fellow expatriates, except spouse and children.
Be aware of subliminal communication
Bonding with people and their culture is easier and more joyful when one knows the communication systems common to all cultures. Of course, these systems vary in the cultural forms they take. Local folk may remain unaware of most of these systems, even though influenced strongly by them. Communication is more effective when several of the systems work at the same time.
Twelve Communication Systems
- Verbal – spoken words
- Written – written words
- Numeric – numbers, implying quantity
- Pictorial – 2d images, photos, paintings
- Artifactual – 3d objects, clothes, phones
- Audio – sound or lack of sound
- Kinesic – body movement, facial expression
- Optical – color or lack of color
- Tactile – touch, temperature is tactile
- Spatial – use of space, how space is organized
- Temporal – time, how time is viewed and used.
- Olfactory – smell and taste
Non-verbal signals perceived unconsciously are more convincing, strongly influencing how one qualifies a statement. If you visit a home that has a bad smell, you will probably disbelieve anything your host says. Westerners want more space when talking, and back up when a person of another culture stands close to show friendship. Stepping backwards strongly signals rejection; both persons might sense rejection while not realizing its cause.
Communicate God’s truth in ways that fit the culture
Every culture includes both good and bad elements; learn quickly to enjoy its good aspects and avoid griping about what you disapprove. Like Paul, become all things to all people in order to win some to Christ.
Witness in a way that new believers can easily imitate and pass on to their family and friends. Westerners often impose a standardized formula when communicating the gospel, using verses from the book of Romans. ‘All have sinned… The wages of sin is death… But God shows His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…,’ etc. This rational, abstract approach does not fit most cultures; Paul wrote those verses to baptized believers, not to seekers, and this was not the apostles’ way of witnessing to the lost.
Understanding Christ’s death in our place as a sacrifice for sins is often just that ? understanding. By itself, comprehension is neither faith nor repentance. The apostles simply told the Good News that Jesus died, rose from the dead and promised forgiveness and eternal life to all who repented and believed. In His final command before ascending to glory, Jesus emphasized these three truths as the Good News that His witnesses were to proclaim to the nations (Luke 24:46-48).
For some reason, believers raised in a Western culture often neglect mentioning Jesus’ resurrection when witnessing. The apostles strongly emphasized Jesus’ resurrection when they witnessed for Christ, and they assured believers that they would take part in His resurrection in the same way that they take part in his death. The apostles viewed Jesus’ resurrection as an essential part of His saving work; believers receive pardon through His death, and life through His resurrection.
Our Lord Jesus Christ claimed that He would raise the dead either to life or to damnation (John 5:21-29). He asserted that He himself is the resurrection and source of eternal life when he was giving assurance to dead Lazarus’ grieving sister Martha (John 11:20-27). Paul revealed that our dying with Christ to sin and rising with Him to a new, holy life is one integral work of grace affirmed by baptism (Romans 6). Paul also made clear that our only hope for immortality lies in being raised in union with Christ, clothed with His immortality (1 Cor. 15). The Holy Spirit blesses this apostolic way of witnessing in any culture. This apostolic gospel is based on historical truth rather than a rational, doctrinal approach, which often fails in non-Western cultures. The best way to spread the Good News is to let believers tell what Jesus did to save sinners and what He has done in their own lives, relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to do the convincing (Acts 1:8).
Four facts about witnessing in CPMs
In church planting movements, one observes these four facts about witnessing.
1) Nearly everyone comes to Christ because of prayer for healing in Jesus’ name, or following some other type of ‘power encounter.’
Someone in a family or a close friend is cured, freed from demons or has had a dream that led them to seek Christ. Where a population’s worldview is so different from Christianity that no one can bring them to faith through reason, God confirms the gospel with signs and wonders, as He did in the Book of Acts, and for the same reason.
2) Nearly everyone comes to Christ through the influence of a new believer.
New believers still have many unsaved friends and talk with them about spiritual matters without feeling awkward.
3) Nearly everyone comes to Christ along with family members and friends.
Their faith is not a private matter. God sees the family as a unit, and brings its members to faith as a unit, as Acts 16:31 promises. Westerners’ individualistic culture leads them to emphasize ‘personal’ faith and Jesus as ‘personal savior.’ The word ‘personal’ is not in Scripture; it once meant only that people are saved by their own faith and not by that of their parents or of a priest, but in time the term came also to mean ‘private,’ which spells death to a movement.
4) Powerful conviction of sin is more frequent in small groups.
Sinners find it easier to come to saving faith, in a group small enough for spontaneous interaction, where believers practice the many New Testament ‘one another’ commands such as exhorting one another, teaching one another, correcting one another, confessing faults to one another, etc. Paul emphasized this dynamic in 1 Corinthians 14:3 and 24-26:
One who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation, and consolation…
If all prophesy and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.