“God had an only son and He was a missionary. A poor, poor example of Him I am.
But in this work I now live. And in this work, I wish to die.”
(David Livingstone, 1813-1873; Missionary to Africa)

God has given Overseas Instruction in Counseling (OIC) the privilege of training biblical counseling trainers around the world. Our strategic objective – assisting in the initial creation and continuing development of national biblical counseling training and certifying organizations – is being realized in the Philippines, Australia, the CIS, Russia, various European nations, and in the Middle East. Both of our delivery systems, leadership training (modular programs) and academic training (degree programs) eventuate toward this same goal.

A comprehensive listing of biblical illustrations of cross-cultural ministry is too long to rehearse here. Some obvious examples would include the following:

  • Abram was told to go to a foreign land that God would show him.
  • Joseph’s favor with his father resulted in him going from pit-dweller to prisoner to prince in a culture that was radically different from his own.
  • Moses was assigned the task of moving millions of God’s people from a known culture to an unknown culture.
  • Joshua later marched those millions of Hebrews into foreign territory to confront people who were different than them in some scary ways.
  • Daniel and his colleagues experienced cross-cultural education – and testing.
  • A few generations later Zerubbabel and others returned “home” to a place significantly changed by several generations of “others.”
  • Paul traveled all over his world to share the gospel, plant churches, and strengthen the believers.
  • And Jesus was, of course, the ultimate, cross-cultural missionary leaving the glories of heaven to live among fallen, wicked people.

In each of these cases people were called by God to represent Him among “strangers,” people whose languages and customs seemed peculiar.

How Local is “Local”?

Lebanon is a small nation. But while southern Lebanon and northern Lebanon are not far apart, the former is controlled by terrorists while the latter was the site of one of my family’s three-day vacations—safe and beautiful!

I was raised in a farming community in western Michigan. I attended an all-white high school. Because of a heritage of Dutch influence, people in my town were at least religious and moral, if not born-again.

So imagine the culture shock I experienced (although, in truth, I didn’t know that was what I was experiencing) when, in 1981, I was called to pastor a church in northwestern Indiana. I was thrust into an urban, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic environment in which the economy was driven by the steel mills and unions. And our relocation covered barely more than 100 miles!

A different culture could be just blocks from where you are. It’s the place where people think, choose, and perhaps, speak differently. Decisions are made with different values that derive from different beliefs based on different worldviews.

So What?

If, as I’ve argued, culture is very local, what does that mean in our people-helping ministries?

  • It means that, even in America, even in your town, there are a variety of cultural perspectives.
  • It means we must be aware that these differences will impact our attempts to provide gracious soul care.
  • It means that we must carefully define our terms and ask those we’re helping to carefully define their terms.
  • It means that we must ask a hundred questions concerning background and perspectives, and then ask a hundred more. You simply can’t have too much “cultural information.”
  • It means that one size doesn’t fit all and therefore personal ministry can’t be done in an assembly line.

Biblical counselors should never underestimate the “localness” and impact of culture. Like Jesus and his apostles, they must be willing to reach out to those who are culturally different, but spiritually the same, in need of the gospel’s transforming grace. They must be acutely aware of how to offer counsel from Scripture in terms that convey the intent of God’s Word.

Join the Conversation

Have you seen the “localness” of culture? How can biblical counselors understand local cultures better?