Many trainees who join our training for the first time, especially North American missionary candidates who already have cross-cultural experience, start with a reluctant or unenthusiastic attitude. Culture learning is usually required as part of pre-field missionary training. One of the reasons that many trainees have this attitude is a misunderstanding of what culture learning is really about. Culture learning is more than simply understanding rules of "do this" and "don't do that" for another culture. At the core, culture learning is about understanding, relating, serving, and loving those who have a different pattern of life.
What is culture learning? Culture learning is an interdependent act of learning about others, from others, with others, and through ongoing interaction and involvement in a relationship. Here are three reasons why culture learning is necessary not just for missionaries, but for all Christians.
1. Culture learning is about knowing who you are.
Before you learn another culture, you should understand your own culture. Culture learning is a quest to understand who you are as a cultural being. Why do you think, say, and act the way you do? There are many definitions of culture, but in the simplest form culture is the patterns of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, products, and interactions that are accepted as normal within a particular group of people. What you think, say, and do either intuitively or deliberately are all influenced by the culture you grew up in and the culture you are living in now.
2. Culture learning is about knowing others by relating to them.
Our God is a relational God. In the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constantly relate to one another while also relating to humanity. Genesis 1:27-28 says that we are created in the image of God, which means we are created to be like him. As the Trinity is relational, we are built for relationships, to communicate with each other and work together for common good. This is why culture learning is all about relationships. We need to understand our own culture and the culture of others. Why is our family, community, church, and nation the way they are? The core of the Christian life is sacrificial service. Just as Christ did not come to be served but to serve others (Matt. 20:28), all believers ought to follow in his footsteps. The incarnation of Christ demonstrates how God came to us first, loved us first, and served us first in our place. God calls us to relate to others in the same way, so that they can be brought near to him.
3. Christians are cultivators of God's culture.
Culture learning is also about knowing God's culture so that we can invite others to join him. We want others to cultivate lives that are patterned after his beauty, truth, and love. We can do this by reflecting deeply on Scripture and learning to grow spiritually as one body of Christ. This learning endeavor should manifest in every Christian community. Culture learning motivates us to become witnesses of Christ in every aspect of our lives including our home, church, workplace, business, school, and everywhere we go.
As you can see, culture learning is for all Christians. Even the most experienced missionaries who have studied cultures for years can benefit from relational ministry training. If you or anyone you know is interested in joining our culture training, visit our website for more information.