Crossing Cultures: Preparing Strangers for Ministry in Strange Places

Written by Stephen M. Davis Reviewed By Rick Kronk

In Crossing Cultures: Preparing Strangers for Ministry in Strange Places, Stephen Davis puts together a user-manual of sorts designed to assist churches, mission agencies, and prospective missionaries in thinking through how to adequately prepare someone for cross-cultural ministry. In so doing, Davis brings years of personal experience in cross-cultural evangelistic and church planting ministry together with US-based pastoral ministry. He responds to an observation he and others have made: the challenges inherent in cross-cultural ministry are too great to allow men and women to launch without adequate missionary training before being sent. In his conclusion, he says, “Churches and mission agencies would do well to heed the concern that the uneven, inadequate quality of missionary training is one of the most serious and profound limitations to the cause of missions” (p. 84).

Furthermore, Davis is intent to argue that the nature of the missionary venture goes much further than that of the casual visitor to another culture. As he notes, in the global 21st century context, people are crossing over into other cultures all the time. Most of this, however, is related to tourism or business pursuits that engage another culture—and its hosts—only temporarily and in a limited manner. People who do this “have entered the culture. They have not crossed into it. Crossing into a culture requires learning about the culture—the people, their history, their language, their food, their way of life, their religious commitments—and engaging the culture on more than a tourist level” (p. xiv). For Davis, failure to adequately equip those who intend to serve cross-culturally will only ensure that their service will be fraught with unnecessary challenges leading to, among other things, unnecessary early attrition.

In response to this inadequacy, Davis structures his approach around four sets of concerns: theological issues, missiological considerations, cross-cultural competencies, and cross-cultural challenges. In each section, he discusses what he considers to be the most essential elements to adequate missionary preparation. Following his treatment of each component, he ends with specific recommendations for three most important agents in missionary training: the local church, the mission agency, and the prospective missionary candidate.

One strength of this work is Davis’s call for the local church to actively engage in the entire missionary preparation process. Though much of the missionary endeavor focuses on establishing or strengthening the local church in a cross-cultural context, prospective missionary candidates generally are not given much training for this complex process. How then can they be expected to succeed in this exceedingly complex effort if they have never been a part of a church plant as part of their pre-field preparations? In response, Davis calls for the local church not only to lookout for potential cross-cultural workers but to create ministry platforms that allow prospective candidates to engage in ministry, explore their gifts, and be mentored by more mature believers. In this way, churches can ask questions, raise issues, and assess candidates’ suitability and capacity for cross-cultural ministry before they commit to a missionary context and departure schedule.

The length and scope of Davis’s work is both its strength and its weakness. What the book offers in its brevity and accessibility, it lacks (or cannot do justice to) the capacity to treat many of complex issues that need thorough treatment. For example, take the matter of cross-cultural service as a part of a multi-ethnic team. Successful long-term service in such a context requires the prospective candidate to master a number of interpersonal and cultural skills, develop a settled knowledge of his/her own self, and be spiritually mature. Though the increasing ethnic plurality of the North American church is a 21st reality, Davis’s work does not devote the space necessary to address these factors.

Nevertheless, Stephen Davis has done a great service for the church by putting in one accessible volume the key issues, questions, and challenges essential to preparing prospective missionary candidates for cross-cultural service. Though extensive complex field manuals, theological treatises, and missiological compendiums are available that deal at length with a myriad of issues related to this endeavor, Davis’s work provides an excellent primer into the most essential aspects of the task. It is done so with the experience of a former cross-cultural worker who now serves in the local church as an agent for preparing and sending the next generation of missionaries.

Rick Kronk

Rick Kronk
Toccoa Falls College
Toccoa Falls, Georgia, USA

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