Intercultural Mission and Ministry – “Unity in Diversity, Embracing All Cultures”

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Church & Ministry, Mission Studies & Intercultural Theology | 0 comments

Prelude to this Series:

Five Integrated Approaches Transforming World Christianity and Our Mission, Theology, and Ministry –

Polycentric, Integral, Pentecostal, Polyvocal, and Intercultural (P.I.P.P.I.)

Welcome to exploring Christian mission and ministry, invigorated by the powerful fusion of Polycentric, Integral, Pentecostal, Polyvocal, and Intercultural (P.I.P.P.I.) approaches. This series underscores the capacity of these approaches to transform Christian mission, theology, and ministry.

The church’s future is Polycentric, Integral, Pentecostal, Polyvocal, and Intercultural (P.I.P.P.I.). As a shorthand, I call this holisticostal. Holisticostal missions and movements are reshaping the church and the world.

Why “Holisticostal”?

Holisticostal mission is a term I’ve coined combining elements of integral (holistic) approaches, intercultural perspectives, polycentric and polyvocal themes, and the rich diversity catalyzed in Pentecost. Let’s break down the components:

Integral (Holistic) Mission: The term “holistic” refers to a comprehensive approach that considers the whole person, addressing physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. An integral, holistic approach to mission and ministry involves caring for people’s physical needs, fostering community development, providing emotional support, and nurturing spiritual growth.

Intercultural Mission: “Intercultural” signifies engaging with diverse cultures and promoting understanding and cooperation across different cultural contexts. An intercultural approach to mission is about bridging cultural gaps, promoting inclusivity, and learning from one another in mission and ministry endeavors.

Polycentric Mission and Polyvocal Mission: “Polycentric” and “polyvocal” refer to recognizing and including multiple centers of authority and voices within a given context. In the context of mission and ministry, this means valuing diverse perspectives, empowering local leadership, and promoting collaborative decision-making processes.

Pentecostal Mission: The Pentecost event flung the doors wide open for a diverse church in every sense of the word – cultures, abilities, genders, languages, gifts, and more. “Pentecostal” mission isn’t about Pentecostalism; it’s about missional pneumatology and pneumatological mission. The Spirit creates a diverse, global, inclusive church and empowers it to join with God in God’s mission.

How did I arrive at “holisticostal mission” when combining Polycentric, Integral, Pentecostal, Polyvocal, and Intercultural (P.I.P.P.I.)?

Holisticostal is a neologism born from the fusion of “holistic” and “pentecostal,” representing a transformative approach to mission and ministry.

The “holistic” aspect emphasizes the integral mission, recognizing the interconnectedness of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being and transformation. It acknowledges that mission extends beyond solely proclaiming the gospel, encompassing acts of compassion, community development, and addressing systemic injustices.

On the other hand, the “pentecostal” component captures the focus on polycentric, polyvocal, and intercultural missions, mirroring the diversity and unity witnessed during the Pentecost event. It acknowledges that effective mission requires a multitude of voices, centers of authority, and cultural perspectives working together. Furthermore, the “pentecostal” dimension reminds us that all integral, intercultural, polyvocal, and polycentric mission is only possible through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers and equips disciples and shapes them in the image of Christ, guiding their mission to align with the gospel while reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.

Holisticostal mission thus emerges as a concept that embraces complexity and dynamism, weaving together diverse elements to illuminate a mission that is true to the gospel and relevant to the ever-changing world.

By combining these elements, holisticostal mission and ministry is an approach that integrates the empowering and diversifying work of the Holy Spirit, holistic transformation, intercultural engagement, and the inclusion of diverse voices and centers of authority.

This series considers each of these five integrated approaches to mission, theology, and ministry:

Part A: Polycentric Mission and Ministry – “From Everyone to Everywhere” (click HERE).

Part B: Integral Mission and Ministry – “Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World, Whole Life” (click HERE)

Part C: Pentecostal Mission and Ministry – “Depending on God’s Empowering Presence” (click HERE)

Part D: Polyvocal Mission and Ministry – “Many Voices, Valued Perspectives” (click HERE).

Part E: Intercultural Mission and Ministry – “Unity in Diversity, Embracing All Cultures” (click HERE).

So let’s delve into intercultural mission and ministry.

Intercultural Mission and Ministry

Intercultural theology is the study and application of religious beliefs, customs, and practices in diverse cultural settings. It delves into how various cultures interpret and interact with theological concepts, often challenging traditional Western theological paradigms. In essence, it is theology engaged in cross-cultural dialogue. It’s not about one culture imparting its religious beliefs on another but fostering dialogue, understanding, and mutual growth among varying cultural groups.

Christian ministry is the practical outworking of this intercultural mission—the hands-on act of service, care, and leadership guided by intercultural theological insights. Ministry is where the spiritual meets the physical, encompassing grand gestures of love and small acts of kindness, always aiming to reflect God’s love across cultural divides.

The need for intercultural theology, mission, and ministry is more palpable as our world becomes increasingly globalized. Cultures are no longer isolated entities; they interact, influence, and coexist within shared physical and digital spaces. Traditional religious doctrines are challenged in this intricate weave of global cultures, and misconceptions arise. Yet, unique opportunities for mutual understanding and spiritual growth also emerge. The practice of intercultural theology thus becomes a conduit for these conversations, helping to cultivate a rich tapestry of multicultural spiritual wisdom. It allows us to view God not as a deity confined within cultural borders but as an expansive entity whose love and grace transcend these earthly demarcations.

Intercultural theology, mission, and ministry—God’s symphony of voices and cultures in harmony, each culture adding a unique and invaluable note, creating a melodic tune that renews hearts and lives and resounds worldwide. Intercultural theology is about choosing harmony instead of assimilation, equality instead of superiority, and diversity instead of uniformity. When we dare to understand God through the eyes of others, we’re not diluting our faith but deepening it—finding divine beauty in the varied tapestry of human experience, voices, and cultures.

Contents of this Online Article on Intercultural Mission and Ministry

1. Biblical and Theological Foundations for Intercultural Mission and Ministry

2. Intercultural Approaches are Reshaping all Fields

3. Eighteen Fields and Disciplines that Have Informed and Shaped Intercultural Theory, Theology, and Missiology

4. The Deficiency of Monocultural Approaches to Theology, Literature, Biblical interpretation, Ministry, and Missions

5. Shifting from Monocultural (and Merely Contextual and Inculturation) Approaches to Intercultural Ones

6. Shifting from Merely Missional Approaches to Intercultural Ones

7. Shifting from Merely White, Western, Mostly-Male, Euro-and-Ameri-Centric, and Academic Approaches to Intercultural Ones

8. Shifting from Inculturation and Contextualization to Interculturality

9. Contributions to Interculturality: Theo Sundermeier and ‘Differenzhermeneutik’

10. Contributions to Interculturality: Henning Wrogemann

11. Contributions to Interculturality: Gutiérrez Gutierrez and Rosemary Radford Ruether

12. Contributions to Intercultural Christian Mission and Ministry: Newbigin, Walls, Rah, Katongole, Lartey, Gruber, Wrogemann, Flett, Sanneh, Sugirtharajah, and Postcolonialism

13. Intercultural Approaches to Christian Mission: The Influence of Newbigin, Walls, Sanneh, Katongole, Wrogemann, and Flett

14. Intercultural Approaches to Christian Ministry: The Influence of Lartey, Gruber, and Rah

15. Respecting the Marginalized and Historically Silenced Voices and Cultures

16. A Summary of Intercultural Christian Leadership and Ministry

17. A Summary of Intercultural Service and Mission

18. A Summary of Intercultural Theology and Missiology

19. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Leadership, Churches, and Ministries

20. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Missions

21. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Theology and Missiology

22. Conclusion: Intercultural Approaches are Essential and Renewing

23. Further Reading

1. Biblical and Theological Foundations for Intercultural Mission and Ministry

The biblical and theological foundations for intercultural mission and ministry are deeply woven into the rich tapestry of Scripture, from Genesis’ first breath to Revelation’s prophetic culmination. These foundations anchor the essence of intercultural theology, missiology, missions, and ministry, articulating God’s profound inclusivity and boundless love for all humanity.

Genesis, the book of Beginnings, lays a fundamental premise that undergirds the value of cultural diversity. When God creates humanity ‘in God’s image’ (Gen 1:27), every human being, irrespective of cultural or ethnic identity, bears the imago Dei, the image of God. This seminal concept lays a cornerstone for a theology that regards cultural diversity not as a divide but as a beautiful reflection of God’s multifaceted creation.

Furthermore, as Genesis unfolds, we see the first family’s offspring forming diverse nations and peoples, each with its unique culture and language (Gen 10). The Tower of Babel incident (Gen 11:1-9) may have dispersed humans and instigated linguistic diversity. Still, it also laid the groundwork for a divine plan to unite all in love.

The Old Testament frequently echoes God’s concern for all nations. The call of Abraham, where God promises that all nations will be blessed through him (Gen 12:1-3), or the book of Jonah, where God’s compassion extends to the gentile city of Nineveh, testify to God’s overarching plan that transcends cultural and national boundaries.

When we move to the New Testament, Jesus embodies this intercultural mission. Jesus crosses societal, cultural, and religious boundaries, dialoguing and offering love to all. His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) shatters the cultural and gender barriers of his time. In this interaction, Jesus doesn’t merely tolerate the other culture; he engages, understands, and validates it.

Other narratives, such as the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30) and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), further exemplify Jesus’s disregard for cultural prejudices. His ministry paints a vivid picture of a God who sees beyond cultural distinctions and loves unconditionally.

In Acts, the early church embodies this inclusivity. The day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) presents a remarkable picture of interculturality. Here, diverse groups experience the Holy Spirit, each hearing the message in their language, signifying the birth of a multicultural Church. It affirms that the gospel message isn’t confined to a single culture but is universally accessible.

Moreover, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) sets a significant precedent for intercultural dialogue within the church. Here, Jewish and Gentile Christians wrestle with cultural differences and land on a decision that doesn’t burden the Gentile believers with Jewish cultural practices, showcasing an early example of cultural sensitivity in the Christian faith.

Theologically, the concept of the ‘Kingdom of God’ (or the ‘community of creation’) is critical to understanding the value of intercultural mission and ministry. This Kingdom, Jesus teaches, is like a great banquet to which all are invited (Luke 14:15-24). It’s where people from East and West, North and South, will dine together (Luke 13:29), an image of a truly intercultural community.

Paul’s epistles further articulate this inclusive vision. In Galatians (3:28), Paul asserts that in Christ, cultural, social, and gender divides are no barriers to unity. He reminds the Ephesian church that previously separated groups are brought together in Christ, creating one new humanity (Eph 2:15).

Finally, in the book of Revelation, John’s apocalyptic vision culminates in a profound scene of an intercultural gathering. People from every tribe, tongue, and nation gather around the throne of God (Revelation 7:9), emphasizing that the gospel’s scope is global and God’s love is all-encompassing.

The intercultural endeavor is, therefore, not a peripheral aspect of Christian theology and practice but a central, indispensable feature. It invites us to celebrate and engage with God’s diverse creation, uniting us all in love and grace. This engagement with diversity deepens our understanding of God, broadens our love for our neighbors, and enriches our shared spiritual wisdom. Intercultural theology, missiology, missions, and ministry are thus not just significant – they’re essential for fulfilling our divine calling in an increasingly interconnected world.

2. Intercultural Approaches are Reshaping all Fields

Intercultural approaches are indeed transforming various fields and disciplines, fostering a richer, more nuanced understanding of our world. In anthropology, scholars like Clifford Geertz and Franz Boas have emphasized cultural relativism, asserting that cultures can only be understood on their terms. This perspective has revolutionized how we approach other cultures, moving from a judgment posture to understanding and respect.

In sociology, Stuart Hall’s work on cultural identity and hybridity has helped us understand how cultural interactions shape identities. Similarly, Amartya Sen’s economic capabilities approach underscores the importance of holistically understanding diverse cultural perspectives to assess economic development.

Literature, too, has seen a surge of interculturalism with authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Salman Rushdie, whose works draw on multiple cultural influences to present a global perspective. Their narratives challenge us to rethink fixed cultural identities and encourage us to embrace the fluidity and complexity of intercultural experiences.

In psychology, theorists like Urie Bronfenbrenner and his ecological systems theory emphasize the importance of culture in shaping human development. At the same time, cross-cultural psychologists like Geert Hofstede have highlighted the importance of understanding cultural dimensions in human behavior.

Intercultural approaches have significantly influenced Christian theology. Liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez and feminist theologians like Rosemary Radford Ruether have challenged Western-centric theological perspectives and brought the voices of marginalized cultures to the forefront of theological discourse. These perspectives have opened up fresh avenues of theological reflection that resonate with diverse cultural contexts.

In missiology, Lesslie Newbigin and Andrew Walls have underscored the need for a gospel that transcends cultural barriers yet is expressed within specific cultural contexts. This understanding has informed missions, shifting the focus from mere proselytizing to building relationships and fostering mutual cultural understanding.

In ministry, theologians like Emmanuel Katongole have highlighted the significance of embracing diverse cultural expressions of Christianity, paving the way for intercultural ministry models where diverse cultural perspectives are respected and valued.

Each field demonstrates the impact of intercultural approaches, providing richer, more nuanced insights and creating space for diverse voices and perspectives. This shift is not just intellectually enriching—it’s crucial for fostering understanding, empathy, and unity in our increasingly interconnected world.

3. Eighteen Fields and Disciplines that Have Informed and Shaped Intercultural Theory, Theology, and Missiology

Intercultural theory and theology draw insights from diverse fields and disciplines, illuminating the complex dynamics of cultural interactions and enriching our understanding of intercultural encounters. Here I’ll map out key domains and scholars that have shaped intercultural theory and theology, highlighting their contributions to this evolving field.

Cultural Anthropology: Cultural anthropology, with luminaries like Clifford Geertz and Margaret Mead, explores the intricacies of culture, cultural relativism, and how culture shapes human behavior and worldview. It provides foundational concepts and methods for understanding cultural diversity and its significance in intercultural encounters.

Cross-Cultural Psychology: Scholars like Harry Triandis and Shalom Schwartz have delved into cross-cultural psychology, examining how cultural factors influence human cognition, behavior, and emotions. This discipline offers valuable insights into the interplay between culture and individual psychology, informing our understanding of intercultural dynamics.

Social Psychology: Prominent figures like Muzafer Sherif and Gordon Allport have contributed to social psychology, which explores how social interactions and group processes shape individual behavior and attitudes. It sheds light on intergroup dynamics, prejudice, and identity formation, providing frameworks for understanding intercultural relations.

Sociolinguistics: With scholars like Dell Hymes and Deborah Tannen, sociolinguistics investigates the relationship between language and society, studying how language use varies across cultures and contexts. It illuminates the role of language in intercultural communication, power dynamics, and identity negotiation.

Intercultural Communication: Intercultural communication scholars like Edward T. Hall and Richard Wiseman focus on the complexities of communication across cultures, highlighting the role of verbal and nonverbal communication, cultural norms, and context in intercultural interactions. Their work provides practical insights for effective intercultural communication.

Discourse Analysis: Scholars such as Judith Butler and Norman Fairclough delve into discourse analysis, exploring how language shapes social reality and power dynamics. Their insights shed light on the discursive construction of identities, ideologies, and social hierarchies, informing intercultural understanding and challenging dominant discourses.

Postcolonial Theory and Studies: Figures like Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak have advanced postcolonial theory, which critically examines the legacies of colonialism and the dynamics of power, culture, and representation. Postcolonial perspectives challenge dominant narratives, highlight the voices of the marginalized, and deconstruct the power imbalances within intercultural contexts.

Intersectionality: Intersectionality, developed by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, explores how multiple social identities intersect and shape individuals’ experiences and privileges. It helps us understand the complexities of power, privilege, and oppression within intercultural encounters, emphasizing the need to address intersecting forms of discrimination.

Theology: Theological scholars like Kwok Pui-lan and James H. Cone have contributed to intercultural theology, integrating theological reflection with intercultural and contextual perspectives. They explore how diverse cultural contexts can shape theology and how it can address issues of power, justice, and liberation in intercultural encounters.

Missiology: Missiologists such as Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh have expanded missiological discourse, emphasizing the intercultural nature of mission and the global spread of Christianity. They explore how intercultural encounters impact the practice of mission, urging a more inclusive and reciprocal approach.
These fields and disciplines collectively offer theoretical frameworks, research methodologies, and critical insights that inform intercultural theory and theology. By integrating these perspectives, intercultural theory and theology gain depth, nuance, and practical relevance, enabling.

Cultural Studies: Cultural studies, with its multidisciplinary approach, examines cultural phenomena and their roles in societal structures. Scholars like Stuart Hall have delved into issues of cultural identity, representation, and power dynamics, adding depth to our understanding of culture in intercultural theory and theology.

Comparative Religion: This field, enriched by figures like Mircea Eliade, provides comparative analyses of different religious traditions. It fosters an understanding diverse belief systems and practices, encouraging dialogue and respect in interfaith and intercultural contexts.

Critical Theory: Critical theorists like Jürgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno provide insights into the power structures and ideologies embedded within societies. Critical theory assists in identifying and challenging oppressive systems and is fundamental in intercultural theology’s commitment to justice and equality.

Postmodern Philosophy: Philosophers like Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida have critiqued universalist assumptions and advocated recognizing diversity and difference. Their work has encouraged openness to differing perspectives in intercultural theory and theology.

Globalization Studies: Scholars like Roland Robertson and Arjun Appadurai analyze the complex processes of globalization. This field sheds light on how global flows of ideas, people, and resources shape intercultural encounters and interactions.

Migration and Diaspora Studies: Migration studies, represented by scholars like Stephen Castles, delve into the experiences and challenges of migrants. Their contributions provide critical perspectives on displacement, diaspora, and intercultural navigation pertinent to intercultural theology.

Feminist and Womanist Theologies: Feminist and womanist theologians like Rosemary Radford Ruether and Delores S. Williams have highlighted the significance of gender analysis and the inclusion of women’s experiences in theology. Their perspectives urge the consideration of gender dynamics within intercultural interactions and interpretations.

Indigenous Studies: Scholars like Linda Tuhiwai Smith in indigenous studies examine indigenous peoples’ histories, cultures, and rights. This field provides essential insights into indigeneity and colonialism, urging respect for indigenous cultures and wisdom in intercultural theology.

These fields, among others, contribute valuable perspectives that expand and enrich our understanding of intercultural theory and theology. They underscore the multifaceted and interdisciplinary nature of the intercultural study, highlighting the complex interplay of cultural, societal, and individual factors in intercultural encounters.

4. The Deficiency of Monocultural Approaches to Theology, Literature, Biblical interpretation, Ministry, and Missions

Several studies underscore the deficiencies of monocultural approaches and the need for intercultural approaches in theology, literature, biblical interpretation, ministry, and missions. Here are some examples:

Theology: “The Myth of Religious Superiority” by Paul F. Knitter critiques monocultural theology’s tendency to perceive one’s religious tradition as superior. He argues for an intercultural theology acknowledging the richness and diversity of religious traditions, understanding God’s Revelation as multifaceted, and transcending any culture.

Literature: In “Postcolonial Literature and the Impact of Literacy,” Neil Ten Kortenaar highlights the limitations of Eurocentric literary analysis in understanding postcolonial literature. He advocates for an intercultural approach, suggesting that recognizing authors’ cultural contexts and backgrounds can yield a deeper understanding of their works.

Biblical Interpretation: R.S. Sugirtharajah’s “Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation” critiques traditional, monocultural approaches to biblical interpretation as often colonial, ignoring the sociocultural contexts of biblical texts. Sugirtharajah proposes an intercultural approach to biblical interpretation that respects and incorporates diverse cultural perspectives, emphasizing the need to decolonize biblical studies.

Ministry: Emmanuel Y. Lartey’s “In Living Color” discusses how monocultural approaches in pastoral care can lead to culturally insensitive and ineffective practices. He argues for an intercultural approach that values and respects the cultural identities of individuals and communities, leading to more effective, holistic pastoral care.

Missions: Andrew Walls’ “The Missionary Movement in Christian History” discusses how Western-centric missionary practices often failed to recognize indigenous cultural values. He emphasizes an intercultural approach that views every culture as a recipient and a contributor to the Christian mission. This leads to a more equitable and effective practice of missions.

These studies and others like them reveal the limitations of monocultural approaches in various fields and highlight the necessity of adopting intercultural perspectives for a more equitable, inclusive, and comprehensive understanding.

5. Shifting from Monocultural (and Merely Contextual and Inculturation) Approaches to Intercultural Ones

The landscape of Christian theology, missiology, missions, and ministry has traditionally been marked by monocultural, contextual, and inculturation approaches. While valuable in their own right, these perspectives often fell short in capturing the vibrancy, complexity, and diversity of human experiences and understandings of the divine. A shift towards intercultural approaches is essential and transformative, underpinning a more inclusive, dynamic, and just praxis of the Christian faith.

Monocultural approaches privilege a single cultural perspective, often unintentionally erasing or marginalizing others. Contextual and inculturation models tried to address this, seeking to adapt the Gospel message to various cultural contexts. However, these models were often unidirectional, with one culture transmitting and another receiving. Intercultural approaches, on the other hand, encourage mutual dialogue and learning. They affirm that every culture can be both a recipient and a contributor to theological understanding, fostering a more symmetrical relationship between cultures.

This shift is crucial because it acknowledges the equality and dignity of all cultures in discerning the nature and will of God. It respects the imago dei embedded in every culture, recognizing that each offers unique insights into God’s multifaceted Revelation. Intercultural theology, therefore, represents a movement toward a more holistic and inclusive theological discourse where marginalized voices are heard, valued, and integrated into the broader Christian narrative.

Regarding missiology and missions, the shift to interculturality signifies a departure from models that viewed missions as a one-way transmission of faith from the ‘Christian West’ to the ‘heathen rest.’ Instead, it celebrates the agency and capacity of every culture to interpret and live out the gospel in their unique ways. It moves from hegemonic practices towards reciprocal, relational engagements that respect and affirm cultural diversity and autonomy. This mission approach is more just and effective, fostering genuine transformation and ownership within indigenous communities.

In ministry, the intercultural shift represents a commitment to serving diverse communities in contextually sensitive and culturally affirming ways. It’s about seeing, appreciating, and ministering to people within the fullness of their cultural identities, histories, and experiences. It means practicing a ministry that’s relational, adaptable, and deeply respectful of cultural differences, leading to more effective pastoral care, discipleship, and community building.

In a world marked by increasing diversity and interconnectivity, the shift towards intercultural theology, missiology, missions, and ministry is not just necessary—it’s urgent. It provides a robust framework for engaging with the complexities of our multicultural world, promoting a faith practice that is respectful, inclusive, and truly universal.

As we navigate the challenges and possibilities of our pluralistic world, the shift to intercultural approaches in Christian theology, missiology, missions, and ministry holds the promise of a more vibrant, equitable, and expansive expression of the Christian faith.

6. Shifting from Merely Missional Approaches to Intercultural Ones

A “missional theology” and a “missional approach to ministry and missions” have proven impactful and formative in the church’s life, underlining the church’s critical role in God’s mission. I’m a theologian committed to missiology and the missional enterprise and have been deeply formed by missional church conversations. Yet, as we delve deeper into the demands of the biblical mandate and the ever-complex global landscape, it becomes apparent that an intercultural approach to missions, ministry, and theology offers enriching perspectives and tones to missional theology. So, I’m all for missional theology, especially when it’s enriched by intercultural theology.

An intercultural approach means seeing the world through a multi-colored lens, valuing every shade and hue for its distinct contribution to our understanding of the divine. It’s about embracing that the Kingdom of God doesn’t fit neatly into one cultural box but spans every tribe, tongue, and nation. This perspective echoes the biblical mandate that doesn’t just celebrate diversity but upholds it as a crucial aspect of God’s plan. From the early Jewish-Gentile churches in Acts to John’s vision in Revelation of a multitude from every nation worshiping God, the Bible is replete with examples of God’s intercultural intent.

Still, the intercultural approach doesn’t diminish the missional aspect; it enhances it. It’s a mission, but with a broader perspective, acknowledging that each culture has a unique and vital role in God’s mission. Missions aren’t about exporting a single, ‘correct’ way of knowing and serving God but about mutual exchange, learning, and transformation. It’s about listening to the Holy Spirit speak in diverse cultural tongues and understanding that God’s mission extends beyond our limited cultural borders.

The intercultural approach aligns closely with the Missio Dei, the belief that mission originates from God and encompasses all creation. Missio Dei posits that God is already at work in the world, reaching out to all cultures and peoples. In this view, mission isn’t primarily about us doing something for God but about joining God in what God’s already doing. An intercultural approach recognizes this, understanding that God’s activity isn’t confined to one culture but woven into the tapestry of all cultures.

Ultimately, an intercultural approach calls us to humility, reminding us that our culture doesn’t have a monopoly on understanding God’s truth. It invites us to sit at the feet of our global siblings, learn from their experiences of God, respect their contexts, and honor their wisdom. This approach is both a challenge and a gift, asking us to step out of our cultural comfort zones while offering us a richer, fuller picture of God.

In a profoundly interconnected yet culturally diverse world, an intercultural approach to missions, ministry, and theology is more than just necessary—it’s vital. It’s an approach that reflects the breadth of the biblical mandate, honors the global nature of the Missio Dei, and paves the way for a more representative and inclusive Church. It’s an approach that doesn’t just make space for diversity but sees diversity as a divine gift crucial to understanding and participating in God’s mission.

7. Shifting from Merely White, Western, Mostly-Male, Euro-and-Ameri-Centric, and Academic Approaches to Intercultural Ones

The past few centuries have witnessed theology, missiology, ministry, and missions dominated by white, Western, mostly male, Euro-and-Ameri-centric, primarily academic, and English-language voices. While instrumental in shaping Christian thought and practice, this narrow scope has often overshadowed the global Christian community’s colorful spectrum of experiences and perspectives. The challenge we face now is to recalibrate this imbalance and embrace an intercultural approach that is fresh, biblically honoring, and representative of the diverse body of Christ.

The biblical mandate unambiguously champions diversity and inclusivity. The Gospel narrative is rich with intercultural encounters – from the Israelites’ engagement with different nations and Jesus’ interactions with non-Jews to forming early multiethnic Christian communities. An intercultural approach honors this mandate by affirming that each culture carries the imago dei, offering unique insights into the divine mystery. It extends the theological conversation beyond the Western, male, academic voices, inviting the historically marginalized to the table. This isn’t dismissing the dominant voices but broadening the dialogue.

Intercultural theology appreciates the contributions of older paradigms, acknowledging the wisdom, insights, and robust intellectual legacy they provide. However, it goes further by embracing the insights of global Christian communities – those from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, those from Indigenous and diaspora communities, those from female, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ persons, and those from non-academic and oral cultures. This approach recognizes that the Spirit of God speaks through the diverse global community, not just through one cultural, linguistic, or academic tradition.

The transition to intercultural theology, missiology, ministry, and missions offers a fuller, more holistic, and more dynamic exploration of God’s story. It facilitates a vibrant exchange of ideas, beliefs, and practices, creating a rich tapestry of theological understanding. It doesn’t just add more voices to the conversation. Still, it changes the conversation, challenging assumptions, widening perspectives, and deepening our understanding of God, humanity, and the world.

This intercultural approach fosters a more impactful ministry and mission, resonating with diverse communities, contextual realities, and cultural sensibilities. It breaks down walls of ethnocentrism, sexism, and elitism, modeling a Christ-like love that crosses cultural boundaries. It reaffirms the priesthood of all believers, recognizing that everyone has a vital role in God’s mission.

As the church grapples with the complex cultural, social, and theological realities of the 21st century, a shift towards intercultural theology, missiology, ministry, and missions is not just significant but indispensable. It is an approach that reflects the breadth and depth of God’s mission, honors the biblical mandate for diversity and inclusion, and moves us towards a more representative, vibrant, and globally responsive Church. It is an approach that invites us to reimagine and rearticulate our faith, ensuring that our theology, missiology, ministry, and missions are as rich, dynamic, and diverse as the body of Christ itself.

8. Shifting from Inculturation and Contextualization to Interculturality

The shift from inculturation/contextualization to interculturality marks a significant development in missiology and theology, leading us toward a more equitable and inclusive understanding of the Christian mission and faith.

Inculturation, or contextualization, has been a standard paradigm for decades. This approach sought to communicate the Christian gospel within the cultural framework of the people being reached, adapting and expressing it in local cultural forms. While this was a step in the right direction, it still held vestiges of colonialism, often assuming a one-way, top-down transmission of faith from a dominant culture to a receptive one.

On the other hand, interculturality presents a profound departure from this approach. It posits that all cultures are co-contributors and co-receivers in understanding and expressing the gospel. It doesn’t merely aim to adapt the gospel to local culture; it asserts that it comes to life through encounters between different cultures, mutual exchange, and transformation.

This shift has immense value:

1. Interculturality embodies humility, recognizing that no single culture monopolizes the complete understanding of the divine. It reminds us that God’s Revelation is broader than our individual or cultural perspectives.

2. It promotes a genuine dialogue between cultures, fostering mutual respect and understanding. It encourages us to listen to and learn from different cultural expressions of faith, enriching our knowledge of the gospel.

3. It enhances the relevance of the Christian faith, allowing it to speak into diverse contexts and affirming the cultural identities of believers worldwide.

The shift from inculturation to interculturality is a milestone in missiology and theology. Embracing the polycentric nature of the gospel and fostering genuine intercultural dialogue paves the way for a more inclusive, equitable, and globally relevant expression of the Christian faith.

9. Contributions to Interculturality: Theo Sundermeier and ‘Differenzhermeneutik’

Theo Sundermeier’s contributions to theology have significantly shaped intercultural theology and missiology thinking. His writings, most notably “Was ist Religion?” (“What is Religion?”) and “Den Fremden verstehen” (“Understanding the Stranger”), continue to resonate, influencing contemporary dialogues in these fields.

Sundermeier was instrumental in articulating a polycentric approach to Christian mission and theology, posing that there isn’t a single “center” of Christianity but multiple “centers,” each expressing the faith in its unique cultural context. In his view, Christianity is always translated into the language and culture of the people who receive it. This perspective radically alters our understanding of mission from a one-directional transmission of faith to a dialogical process where both the missionary and the receiving community learn from each other.

His work emphasizes the principle of ‘convivence,’ a French term suggesting ‘living together.’ This principle, Sundermeier argued, is central to the Christian mission and community. For him, the Christian mission doesn’t aim at the assimilation or domination of one culture over another but the convivial coexistence of different cultural expressions of faith. This underscores the value of intercultural dialogue and mutual learning in mission work.

Furthermore, Sundermeier stressed the importance of understanding the ‘other.’ He observed that the stranger or the ‘other’ is not an outsider to be converted but a fellow human being to be understood and valued. This approach fosters a more respectful and inclusive understanding of mission and ministry, emphasizing the importance of intercultural engagement.

Concerning ministry, Sundermeier’s ideas provide a roadmap for an intercultural approach where different cultural expressions of faith are respected and valued. This kind of ministry emphasizes listening, learning, and understanding, fostering a sense of unity in diversity.

Sundermeier’s influence, particularly his polycentric approach, has reshaped how we perceive and practice mission, stressing that the gospel is not tied to any single culture but can be authentically expressed within diverse cultural contexts. His work inspires a more inclusive, dialogical, and respectful approach to intercultural theology, mission, and ministry.

Sundermeier carved a unique niche in the theological and missiological landscape by presenting a fresh perspective on hermeneutics, the art of interpretation. He proposed a method called the “hermeneutic of difference,” or “Differenzhermeneutik” in German. This term resonates with Sundermeier’s keen focus on the “otherness” encountered in intercultural exchanges.

For a detailed examination of Sundermeier’s Differenzhermeneutik, see David W. Congdon’s article “Emancipatory Intercultural Hermeneutics: Interpreting Theo Sundermeier’s Differenzhermeneutik” (Congdon, D. W. (2016). Emancipatory Intercultural Hermeneutics: Interpreting Theo Sundermeier’s Differenzhermeneutik, Mission Studies, 33(2), 127-146. doi: In the following paragraphs, I summarize Congdon’s analysis and conclusions.

Sundermeier’s contributions challenged the conventional framework of missiology and hermeneutics, particularly within the Western context, where they were traditionally approached from a primarily textual and egocentric perspective. Traditional hermeneutics, he argued, was overly focused on textual interpretation and privileged the interpreter’s perspective, often leading to a limited and biased understanding of ‘the other’ – a standpoint that failed to reflect the diversity of the global Christian community and the reality of our interconnected world.

In contrast, Sundermeier’s ‘hermeneutic of difference’ proposed a paradigm shift: an emphasis on understanding ‘the other’ – the stranger, the different, the unfamiliar. In this approach, the ‘stranger’ is not a mere object of study or conversion but a fellow subject whose unique worldview and experience can deepen, enrich, and challenge our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves. This pivot was significant as it catalyzed an intercultural turn in missiology and a missiological turn in hermeneutics.

According to Congdon, a four-step process is central to Sundermeier’s ‘hermeneutic of difference.’ The first step involves recognizing and accepting differences without trying to assimilate or ignore them. The second step emphasizes ‘living with the difference’ — sharing life, experiences, and spaces with different people, which leads to mutual understanding and respect. The third step is about ‘understanding the difference’ — a deep and empathic engagement that helps uncover shared human experiences and values beneath the surface of cultural differences. The final step is about ‘transcending the difference’ — not by eliminating or homogenizing differences but by integrating them into a richer, more diverse, and more inclusive worldview.

This process has profound missiological implications. It prompts us to rethink mission not as a one-way process of ‘giving’ or ‘doing for’ but as a mutual process of sharing, learning, and transforming. It challenges us to approach the mission with cultural humility, openness to change, and a commitment to justice and reconciliation.

Yet, as Congdon argues, while Sundermeier’s approach is a significant step toward a more intercultural hermeneutic and missiology, it could benefit from further development toward an emancipatory intercultural hermeneutic. An emancipatory hermeneutic seeks to understand ‘the other’ and strives to challenge and change structures of power and privilege that often create and sustain cultural differences and misunderstandings.

Emphasizing the transformation of unjust structures can make Sundermeier’s hermeneutic more consistent with the core biblical themes of liberation and justice. It can also strengthen its capacity to contribute to the ‘Missio Dei’ – the belief that mission is primarily the work of God, who seeks to reconcile, heal, and transform the world in all its diversity and difference.

Sundermeier’s ‘hermeneutic of difference’ has significantly contributed to the intercultural turn in missiology and the missiological turn in hermeneutics. It provides a valuable framework for respectfully, constructively, and transformatively engaging with cultural differences. However, further integrating an emancipatory perspective can strengthen its capacity to contribute to a just, inclusive, and transformative mission.

10. Contributions to Interculturality: Henning Wrogemann

Henning Wrogemann’s contributions to intercultural theology, ministry, and missions have left an indelible mark on how we perceive these fields today. A renowned German missiologist and intercultural theologian, Wrogemann’s works like “Intercultural Theology” present a nuanced understanding of the Christian mission in a multicultural and global context.

Wrogemann’s primary argument is that the gospel doesn’t belong to any one culture or region but is genuinely universal, capable of being incarnated in diverse cultural contexts. He brings the spotlight on the concept of intercultural theology, challenging traditional Western-centric theologies by advocating for the recognition and appreciation of the theological insights of the Global South and East. He emphasizes that Christian theology is not monolithic but polycentric, shaped by multiple cultural contexts, each reflecting unique experiences and interpretations of the divine.

Significantly, Wrogemann has moved the discourse from the old-fashioned idea of ‘inculturation,’ which often assumed a one-directional transmission of faith from a dominant culture to a passive recipient, to ‘interculturality.’ Interculturality is a dialogical process wherein the missionary and the recipient culture engage in mutual learning and transformation. This paradigm shift has significantly influenced the field of missiology, emphasizing respect for and dialogical engagement with different cultures.

Moreover, Wrogemann underscores the importance of hermeneutics in intercultural theology. He argues that one’s cultural context influences every interpretation of the gospel. Therefore, there’s no ‘neutral’ interpretation of the gospel; instead, the gospel comes alive in myriad ways within diverse cultural contexts. This perspective informs the practice of ministry, urging practitioners to be culturally sensitive and aware, recognizing the impact of cultural contexts on one’s understanding of faith.
Finally, Wrogemann’s work has also drawn attention to the socio-political aspects of the mission. He emphasizes that the gospel is not just about individual salvation but also about societal transformation. Hence, the mission also involves working for social justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Henning Wrogemann’s work provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and practicing intercultural theology, ministry, and missions. His emphasis on the polycentric nature of Christian theology, interculturality, the importance of cultural hermeneutics, and the socio-political dimension of mission challenges us to approach theology and mission with humility, openness, and respect for cultural diversity. His work carries immense value and relevance, especially in our increasingly global and multicultural world, shaping a more inclusive, respectful, and contextually aware approach to Christian mission and ministry.

11. Contributions to Interculturality: Gustavo Gutiérrez and Rosemary Radford Ruether

Gustavo Gutiérrez and Rosemary Radford Ruether, two important voices in liberation and feminist theology, have significantly influenced intercultural theology and missiology.

Gustavo Gutierrez, often recognized as the father of Liberation Theology, emphasized the preferential option for people experiencing poverty in his seminal work “A Theology of Liberation.” He reframed the gospel as God’s liberation for the marginalized and oppressed, proposing a radical understanding of God’s love that prioritizes social justice. This view provides a lens to view mission not just as spiritual proclamation but as active participation in God’s work of liberation.

Gutierrez’s theology challenges us to rethink missions, shifting the focus from paternalistic approaches to empowering local communities. He stresses the significance of contextual theology, demonstrating that our understanding and practice of faith must be rooted in our specific sociocultural contexts. This perspective is central to intercultural theology and missiology, as it underlines the need to understand and respect different communities’ cultural and social realities.

In her influential work “Sexism and God-Talk,” Rosemary Radford Ruether presented a feminist critique of traditional Christian theology. Ruether advocates for an inclusive theology that dismantles patriarchal structures and recognizes all genders’ equal worth and dignity. Her work has contributed to a richer, more inclusive understanding of God. It has broadened the scope of intercultural theology and missiology.

Ruether’s feminist theology has profound implications for mission and ministry. It compels us to question and challenge gender bias in our missional practices, encouraging us to foster a more egalitarian approach. This perspective reinforces the need for gender sensitivity in our intercultural engagements, reminding us that a genuinely inclusive mission and ministry must value all voices and experiences, regardless of gender.

Gutierrez’s emphasis on the preferential option for people experiencing poverty and Ruether’s advocacy for gender equality offer a compelling framework for intercultural theology and missiology. Their work underscores our mission to be centered on justice, equality, and respect for all cultures and identities. These perspectives enrich our understanding and practice of intercultural mission and ministry, fostering a more holistic and inclusive approach.

12. Contributions to Intercultural Christian Mission and Ministry: Newbigin, Walls, Rah, Katongole, Lartey, Gruber, Wrogemann, Flett, Sanneh, Sugirtharajah, and Postcolonialism

The contributions of Lesslie Newbigin, Andrew Walls, Soong-Chan Rah, Emmanuel Katongole, Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Judith Gruber, Henning Wrogemann, John Flett, Lamin Sanneh, R. S. Sugirtharajah, and postcolonial theologians have profoundly shaped intercultural theology, missiology, missions, community, and ministry. Each has brought unique insights that have broadened our understanding of these areas.

In works like “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,” Lesslie Newbigin emphasized the contextual nature of the gospel. He argued that the gospel is always understood within specific cultural contexts, asserting that no culture monopolizes understanding God’s truth. This perspective has influenced intercultural theology and missiology by emphasizing the importance of cultural context in communicating and understanding the gospel.

Andrew Walls, known for his work in the study of World Christianity, emphasized the ‘translatability’ of the Christian faith, arguing that the gospel can be authentically expressed in every culture. In his seminal work, “The Missionary Movement in Christian History,” Walls contends that the ability of Christianity to adapt to different cultures has been instrumental to its global expansion. This perspective influences the practice of missions, encouraging cultural sensitivity and adaptability.

Soong-Chan Rah’s work, “The Next Evangelicalism,” argues for a post-Western Christianity, highlighting the shift of Christianity’s center from the West to the Global South. He points to the need for Western Christianity to listen to and learn from diverse global expressions of Christianity, thereby informing an intercultural approach to theology and mission.

Emmanuel Katongole, in his work “The Sacrifice of Africa,” underscores the importance of stories in shaping our understanding of mission. He highlights African stories of faith and resilience, inviting us to see the transformative power of Christianity in contexts of suffering and violence. This narrative approach invites a richer, more empathetic understanding of global Christianity and its mission.

Emmanuel Y. Lartey’s “In Living Color” presents an intercultural pastoral care and counseling approach. Lartey stresses the significance of cultural awareness and sensitivity in pastoral care, influencing how ministry is conducted within multicultural communities.

Judith Gruber, a prominent voice in intercultural theology, emphasizes the importance of dialogue in her work “Intercultural Theology, Volume II.” She argues that authentic intercultural engagement requires genuine dialogue where each party listens and learns from the other, significantly informing our approach to intercultural theology and ministry.

Henning Wrogemann, in his work “Intercultural Theology,” explores the complexities and nuances of intercultural interaction in theology. His work offers a comprehensive understanding of intercultural theology and missiology, providing theoretical frameworks for engaging with cultural diversity in theology and mission.

John Flett’s “The Witness of God” calls for reevaluating the mission as primarily God’s mission (Missio Dei) rather than the church’s. This theological perspective emphasizes God’s active involvement in the world, which requires Christians to listen and learn from God’s work in diverse cultural contexts.

Lamin Sanneh, a renowned historian, emphasized the concept of translation in his work “Translating the Message.” He argued that translating the gospel into different languages was crucial to Christianity’s global spread. This focus on translation highlights the adaptability of the Christian faith to other cultures, influencing our understanding of missions.

R. S. Sugirtharajah, in “The Bible and the Third World,” provides a postcolonial critique of biblical interpretations, emphasizing the importance of reading Scripture from the perspective of the marginalized. This perspective offers a new lens for interpreting the Bible within intercultural theology.

Postcolonial theologians such as Kwok Pui-Lan and Fernando Segovia have challenged Eurocentric interpretations of Christianity and the Bible, arguing for interpretations that consider the perspective of postcolonial societies. Their work influences intercultural theology and mission by emphasizing the need for diverse, inclusive interpretations of Scripture and theology.

In sum, these theologians, through their diverse perspectives, have shaped the way we approach intercultural theology, missiology, missions, community, and ministry. They have emphasized the importance of cultural context, dialogue, narrative, sensitivity, and inclusive interpretations in understanding and practicing the Christian faith. These insights underline the need for an inclusive and empathetic approach to theology and mission, emphasizing the importance of listening to and learning from diverse voices and perspectives.

13. Intercultural Approaches to Christian Mission: The Influence of Newbigin, Walls, Sanneh, Katongole, Wrogemann, and Flett

Intercultural missiology is a relatively emerging field. Here are some theologians and missiologists making significant contributions.

Lesslie Newbigin: Known for his work “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,” Newbigin emphasized the contextual nature of the gospel, arguing for the necessity of understanding the gospel within specific cultural contexts.

Andrew Walls: In his work “The Missionary Movement in Christian History,” Walls promoted the concept of ‘translatability’ of the Christian faith, underlining the ability of Christianity to adapt to diverse cultures and contexts.

Lamin Sanneh: Known for his book “Translating the Message,” Sanneh focused on the importance of translating the gospel into different languages, highlighting the adaptability of the Christian faith to various cultures.

Emmanuel Katongole: A leading African theologian, Katongole focuses on the intersection of theology and violence, highlighting the importance of reconciliatory missions in an intercultural context.

Henning Wrogemann: In his works like “Intercultural Theology” and “Mission in Context,” Wrogemann challenged Western-centric theologies and highlighted the polycentric nature of Christian theology and mission, urging for dialogue and mutual learning.

John Flett: In “The Witness of God,” Flett emphasizes the importance of understanding the mission as primarily God’s mission (Missio Dei) rather than the church’s. This perspective reshapes the understanding and practice of ministry in diverse cultural contexts.

14. Intercultural Approaches to Christian Ministry: The Influence of Lartey, Gruber, and Rah

Intercultural ministry is another emerging field. Here are some influential voices:

Emmanuel Y. Lartey: In “In Living Color,” Lartey presented an intercultural approach to pastoral care and counseling, underscoring the necessity of cultural sensitivity in ministry.

Judith Gruber: A significant proponent of intercultural theology, Gruber, in “Intercultural Theology, Volume II,” emphasizes the importance of dialogue in intercultural engagement, informing how ministry is conducted in multicultural communities.

Soong-Chan Rah: His work, “The Next Evangelicalism,” calls for a post-Western Christianity and highlights the necessity for Western Christianity to learn from diverse global expressions of faith, informing an intercultural approach to ministry.

Through their writings, these scholars have shaped the understanding of intercultural mission and ministry, underlining the importance of cultural sensitivity, dialogue, adaptability, and respect for diversity in experiencing and practicing the Christian faith.

15. Respecting the Marginalized and Historically-silenced Voices and Cultures

Doing intercultural theology, missiology, ministry, and missions mean engaging with cultures and perspectives that often differ vastly from ours, including those marginalized and historically silenced. The heart of this work, then, lies in respect and reverence for these voices, a commitment echoed in the spirit of interculturality.

Intercultural theology starts with recognizing that no culture monopolizes understanding God’s truth. This truth transcends any single culture. In this context, those marginalized voices hold equal weight and worth. They aren’t just passive recipients but active contributors to theological dialogue and the broader Christian mission. We respect these voices by actively seeking to listen, learn from, and engage with them, recognizing that they provide unique and valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of God’s Revelation.

This approach isn’t just about integrating marginalized perspectives into existing theological frameworks. It’s about challenging and transforming those frameworks in light of these perspectives. It means critically examining our biases, myopia, and assumptions and acknowledging how these can distort our understanding of God and others.

This respect manifests in a commitment to relational, contextually sensitive practices in missions and ministry. It’s about meeting people where they’re at, appreciating their unique cultural expressions of faith, and working alongside them in their contexts. It means valuing their cultural heritage, practices, and wisdom and acknowledging the injustices they’ve experienced.

Therefore, intercultural theology, missiology, ministry, and missions are fundamentally about cultivating humility, openness, and respect. It’s about recognizing that in the grand tapestry of God’s work, every thread — especially those marginalized and overlooked — plays a crucial part in weaving a complete picture of God’s divine narrative.

16. A Summary of Intercultural Christian Leadership and Ministry

Intercultural Christian leadership and ministry is a model that values and integrates the unique perspectives, insights, and practices of multiple cultures, languages, and groups within and beyond Christianity.

Here’s a summary of the theory and practice of intercultural Christian leadership and ministry:

Intercultural leadership guides and influences Christian communities amidst diverse cultural contexts, nurturing unity amid diversity.

It embraces cultural diversity as an enriching element rather than a divisive one, recognizing that diversity mirrors the manifold creativity of God.

Active listening and open-mindedness are crucial, encouraging dialogue between different cultural perspectives, which results in mutual understanding and enrichment.

Respecting cultural differences is paramount, fostering a community where each individual feels valued and understood.

It champions inclusivity, inviting every voice to the table, especially those historically marginalized or silenced.

Intercultural ministry fosters collaboration, promoting collective decision-making and problem-solving that draw on diverse perspectives.

It challenges ethnocentrism, breaking down cultural barriers and prejudice and fostering understanding and acceptance.

Cultural humility is critical. Leaders continually learn and unlearn, open to being transformed by their encounters with others.

Intercultural ministry is dynamic, adapting to changing cultural contexts and needs while remaining rooted in the gospel.

Leaders need intercultural competence, the ability to effectively interact, communicate, and build relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds.

It requires biblical interpretation sensitive to cultural differences, avoiding the imposition of one’s cultural understanding on others.

Reconciliation and justice are core values. Leaders work to heal divisions, build bridges, and foster a culture of fairness.

It invites a polycentric vision of the church, recognizing multiple centers of leadership and influence rather than a single, dominant center.

It celebrates a polyvocal Church, welcoming a chorus of diverse voices that enrich our understanding of God and our shared mission.

Intercultural ministry reflects the Missio Dei, God’s mission, which invites all cultures and people into a loving community, embodying the Kingdom of God on earth.

17. A Summary of Intercultural Service and Mission

Here are practical ways that Christian intercultural workers, mission organizations, and missionaries can apply intercultural principles and approaches:

Intercultural work in Christian missions emphasizes the role of cross-cultural dialogue, understanding, and collaboration in fulfilling God’s work worldwide.

It encourages respect for all cultures, viewing them as unique expressions of God’s creativity, each capable of illuminating different aspects of God’s character.

Empathy and active listening are fundamental in fostering understanding and trust between culturally diverse groups and individuals.

Intercultural missions champion cultural reciprocity, seeking to learn from others rather than impose one’s cultural norms and values.

They uphold the principle of inclusivity, ensuring every voice, particularly the marginalized, is heard, valued, and incorporated into the mission’s work.

Missions work is an opportunity for mutual growth and transformation, acknowledging that all participants bring and gain something valuable from experience.

Intercultural missions require adaptability and flexibility, as missionaries must often navigate unfamiliar cultural norms and practices while sharing the gospel message.

Reconciliation is a core objective, healing divisions between diverse groups and fostering unity amidst diversity.

Justice is prioritized, confronting injustices and working towards equity and fairness in every context.

It promotes a polycentric view of missions, seeing God’s work as happening simultaneously and equally validly in diverse cultural contexts across the globe.

A polyvocal approach is embraced, honoring diverse voices in interpreting and sharing the gospel.

Cultural humility is practiced, with missionaries recognizing they’re not experts on others’ experiences but learners open to transformation.

Biblical interpretation within intercultural missions honors the cultural context of the text and avoids imposing ethnocentric interpretations.

The intercultural approach is dynamic, shifting, and adapting as missionaries learn from and engage with different cultures.

Ultimately, intercultural missions embody the Missio Dei, the idea that God is at work in all cultures and peoples, inviting them into a diverse yet unified Kingdom of God.

18. A Summary of Intercultural Theology and Missiology

Here are practical ways that Christian theologians, intellectuals, authors, and missiologists can apply intercultural principles and approaches:

Intercultural theology and missiology is an approach to understanding God and engaging in God’s work that values, respects, and learns from diverse cultural perspectives.

They advocate for dialogue and reciprocity, seeing the exchange of ideas as enriching theological understanding and missiological practice.

Cultural humility is central, viewing all cultures as potential revelators of the divine, with no one culture possessing the fullness of God’s truth.

Inclusivity is essential, incorporating the voices and experiences of all, especially those traditionally marginalized in theological and missiological discourses.

They challenge ethnocentrism, critiquing any theology or missiology that elevates one culture’s perspective as universally normative.

They advocate for justice, recognizing that cultural differences often intersect with issues of power, privilege, and oppression, which must be addressed.

These disciplines endorse a polycentric understanding of theology and mission, seeing different cultural contexts as unique and valid centers of theological reflection and missiological action.

Intercultural theology and missiology affirm a polyvocal approach, recognizing that God speaks through many voices and that we need this chorus of perspectives to understand God’s character better and will.

Contextual sensitivity is crucial, as they encourage understanding and interpreting the Bible and other religious texts in light of different cultural contexts.

The principle of reconciliation is integral, as they seek to heal cultural divides and promote unity in diversity.

They promote adaptability, acknowledging that our understanding of God and how we participate in God’s mission should change as we learn from different cultures.

They embrace a dynamic approach, continuously evolving as they engage with and learn from diverse cultural realities.

They reinforce the concept of the Missio Dei, God’s mission, acknowledging that God’s redemptive work is unfolding in all cultures and contexts across the globe.

Finally, they posit that God’s ultimate vision is of a diverse yet unified community, mirroring the multiplicity and unity of the Trinity itself, where every culture finds its fullest expression and completion in God’s kingdom.

19. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Leadership, Churches, and Ministries

Here are practical ways in which intercultural theology, missions, and ministry can be applied in Christian leadership, churches, and ministries:

Broaden the Source Material: In sermon preparations, Bible studies, or theological discussions, consider a variety of interpretations from different cultures and historical contexts.

Diversify Worship: Incorporate music, art, and liturgical elements from various cultures in worship services.

Cultural Exchange: Organize cultural exchange events where different cultural groups can share their traditions, foods, stories, etc.

Intercultural Training: Provide intercultural competence training to church leaders and members to foster mutual respect and understanding.

Inclusive Language: Use inclusive and culturally sensitive language in all church communications.

Intercultural Mission Trips: Organize mission trips that focus on service and learning about and understanding the culture of the people served.

Diverse Leadership: Strive for diversity in leadership roles to represent different cultural experiences and perspectives.

Biblical Interpretation: Approach biblical interpretation with an understanding of cultural relativity. Emphasize that every culture has unique insights into God’s character and plan.

Community Engagement: Get involved in the wider community, engaging with people from different cultural backgrounds and collaborating with different churches or faith communities.

Support for Immigrants, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Undocumented Migrants: Offer practical support and care for immigrants and refugees, recognizing them as bearers of unique cultural insights and gifts.

Listen and Learn: Encourage a posture of humility and curiosity, acknowledging that no single culture has all the answers.

Confront Prejudice: Regularly assess the church’s activities and teachings to ensure they don’t perpetuate stereotypes or prejudice.

Fair Trade: Support fair trade, recognizing it as a practical way to respect the dignity and value of workers from different cultural contexts.

Partnership with International Churches: Form relationships with churches in different parts of the world, promoting mutual learning and cooperation.

Celebrate Diversity: Regularly celebrate the diversity of the church community and affirm the value of every cultural expression.

Cultural Awareness in Youth Programs: Instill a sense of respect and curiosity about other cultures in youth programs.

Representation in Curriculum: Ensure religious education programs represent a diversity of cultures and perspectives.

Reconciliation and Justice: Actively participate in efforts toward reconciliation and justice for groups that have been marginalized or oppressed.

Hospitality: Foster a culture of hospitality, making sure everyone, regardless of their cultural background, feels welcomed and included.

Prayer: Pray for the global church, incorporating specific prayers related to cultural issues and international events.

These points are starting blocks to create an inclusive and respectful environment, recognizing the richness of the global body of Christ.

20. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Missions

Let’s delve into practical ways for mission agencies and local church mission groups to apply intercultural theology and missiology to their work, both domestically and abroad:

Culture and Language Learning: Make it a priority for mission team members to learn about the culture and language of the people they are engaging with – their traditions, values, language, history, etc.

Local Partnerships: Form partnerships with local churches or religious groups in the mission field to foster mutual learning and respect.

Contextualized Gospel Presentation: Adapt methods of evangelism and discipleship to fit the cultural context of the target group, ensuring it’s relevant and meaningful to them.

Cultural Exchange: Promote cultural exchanges where mission teams and local communities can share their traditions and experiences.

Culturally Diverse Teams: Strive for diversity within mission teams to incorporate a range of cultural perspectives and experiences.

Local Leadership Development: Invest in training and empowering local leaders, which promotes self-sustainability and respect for local expertise.

Listen and Learn: Encourage a posture of humility and curiosity, acknowledging that the mission team has as much to learn as they have to teach.

Relevance to Local Needs: Ensure that mission activities address the real needs of the local community, as identified by the community itself.

Cultural Sensitivity Training: Provide cultural sensitivity training to all mission team members before they go to the field.

Inclusive Language: Use language that respects the culture and experiences of the local community.

Fight Against Stereotypes: Regularly review and adjust mission strategies to ensure they don’t perpetuate stereotypes or cultural insensitivity.

Social Justice Advocacy: Engage in advocacy for social justice issues that affect the communities you’re serving.

Emphasize Relationship Building: Prioritize building authentic relationships over completing tasks or projects.

Celebrate Cultural Diversity: Recognize and celebrate the diversity within the global church and affirm that every culture can bring unique insights into the understanding of God.

Holistic Mission: Approach mission holistically, addressing not only spiritual needs but also social, emotional, and physical ones.

Two-Way Mission: Promote the concept of a two-way mission, where both the sending and receiving communities can learn from each other and grow together.

Respectful Communication: Practice respectful communication that acknowledges cultural differences and seeks to understand before being understood.

Collaborative Projects: Undertake collaborative projects where local community members have a significant role in planning and implementation.

Culturally Relevant Resources: Use culturally relevant resources, from Bible translations to discipleship materials, in your mission work.

Prayerful Attitude: Approach all mission work with a spirit of prayer, recognizing the ultimate dependence on God’s guidance in cross-cultural engagement.

This approach fosters mutual respect and understanding, making mission work a dialogue rather than a one-sided conversation, and embraces the diversity of God’s kingdom.

21. Practical Ways We Can Apply Intercultural Approaches to Christian Theology and Missiology

Here are practical ways that missiologists and theologians can apply intercultural theory and commitments to their work:

Inclusive Language: Utilize language and terminology that is inclusive and respectful of different cultures and contexts.

Multicultural Exegesis: Encourage reading and interpreting Scripture from diverse cultural perspectives, fostering a richer understanding of biblical narratives.

Interdisciplinary Approach: Blend insights from theology, anthropology, sociology, and other relevant disciplines to understand the complexities of cross-cultural interactions better.

Authentic Dialogue: Foster genuine dialogue with believers from different cultural backgrounds to enrich theological understanding.

Contextual Theology: Develop theologies that address and engage with different communities’ specific needs, questions, and cultural contexts.

Critique of Cultural Bias: Challenge traditional interpretations and doctrines that reflect cultural bias and fail to consider diverse perspectives.

Partnering with Majority World and First Nations Scholars: Collaborate with scholars from diverse cultures, learning from their insights and perspectives.

Diverse Representation: Ensure representation of diverse voices in theological publications, conferences, and academic institutions.

Respect for Indigenous Theologies: Value and respect indigenous theologies and religious traditions, seeing them as valid expressions of faith.

Listening Posture: Adopt a posture of listening and learning from other cultures rather than teaching or imposing one’s theological viewpoints.

Diversity in Learning Resources: Use teaching resources that reflect various cultural perspectives and experiences.

Combat Ethnocentrism: Actively challenge ethnocentrism and cultural superiority within theological discourse.

Global Church History: Teach church history from a global perspective, acknowledging the contributions of all regions to Christian tradition.

Interfaith Understanding: Promote understanding and respectful engagement with other faiths from an intercultural perspective.

Local Cultural Art Forms: Encourage using local cultural art forms in worship and theological expression.

Inclusive Ecclesiology: Develop an ecclesiology that reflects the diversity and unity of the global church.

Contextualized Pastoral Care: Provide pastoral care that considers cultural dynamics and sensitivities.

Reconciliation and Justice: Promote reconciliation and justice across cultural, racial, and ethnic divides within the church.

Cultural Immersion: Engage in cultural immersion experiences as a form of theological education.

Recognition of the Holy Spirit’s Work: Recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in diverse cultures and traditions, not limited to one’s own cultural experience.

Applying these practical approaches can enrich Christian theology and missiology, making them more inclusive, dynamic, and relevant to our diverse global reality.

22. Conclusion: Intercultural Approaches are Essential and Renewing

In a world teeming with diverse cultures, faiths, and perspectives, intercultural theology and practice isn’t a ‘nice to have’; it’s a downright necessity. No longer can we view theology or missions from a singular, often Western-centric, lens. Instead, the richness of God’s world calls us to delve into a vibrant mosaic of insights, narratives, and interpretations.
It is understanding that God’s love isn’t confined to a specific race, nationality, or culture. It’s about recognizing that everyone has a part to play in the divine narrative and that every culture holds a piece of the puzzle in comprehending the ineffable mystery of the Divine.

Please think of the incredible stories of faith that emerge from corners of the world we may have never even considered. These voices are often drowned in a sea of dominant narratives. Still, through intercultural theology, we elevate them, giving them a rightful place at the table. We don’t just learn about God from their tales. Still, we also learn about humanity’s resilience, creativity, and capacity for love.

Through intercultural practice, we forge bridges, not walls. We look at our differences not as barriers but as opportunities for growth and learning. And when it comes to missions, these practices ensure we’re not just exporting a specific brand of faith but engaging, dialoguing, and learning in an authentic, meaningful, and respectful way.

When we bring an intercultural perspective to Christian ministry and community, it renews us. We’re no longer stale, confined, and blind to the broader world, but rather, we become dynamic, expansive, and enlightened.

So, we circle back to our main point – intercultural theology and practice are indispensable. We need to be open to global perspectives for a truly global faith. Only then will we witness a reformation that takes us back to the heart of the gospel – a welcoming, inclusive, and universal faith. And only then will we truly comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love for all humanity.

23. Further Reading

Andrew F. Walls, “The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith,” Orbis Books, 1996. This book explores the concept of cross-cultural transmission of the gospel, offering valuable insights into the shifts in the center of Christianity from the global north to the south. It’s a must-read for understanding the dynamics of Christian intercultural missions.

Lesslie Newbigin, “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989. Newbigin provides a thoughtful analysis of Western pluralistic societies and their implications on Christian missions. His approach highlights the necessity of intercultural dialogue in witnessing to the gospel.

Gustavo Gutiérrez, “A Theology of Liberation,” Orbis Books, 1988. As one of the pioneers of liberation theology, Gutiérrez’s work helps shape an intercultural theology rooted in the struggle for social justice and equality, emphasizing the importance of listening to marginalized voices.

Emmanuel Y. Lartey, “In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling,” Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003. Lartey’s work emphasizes the critical need for an intercultural approach in pastoral care and counseling, fostering a theology attuned to diverse cultural experiences and contexts.

Henning Wrogemann, “Intercultural Theology (Vol.1-3),” IVP Academic, 2016-2018. Wrogemann’s comprehensive three-volume work thoroughly explores intercultural theology’s foundations, issues, and practices, making it an essential resource.

R.S. Sugirtharajah, “The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters,” Cambridge University Press, 2001. Sugirtharajah introduces postcolonial biblical interpretation as an essential part of intercultural theology, challenging traditional, often Eurocentric interpretations of Scripture.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, “Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology,” Beacon Press, 1993. Ruether’s feminist theology invites a critical conversation about gender within the field of intercultural theology, furthering the inclusion of marginalized perspectives.

Soong-Chan Rah, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity,” IVP Books, 2009. Rah presents a compelling case for freeing the Church from Western cultural bias, advocating for a more inclusive, global, and intercultural understanding of Christianity.

Lamin Sanneh, “Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture,” Orbis Books, 2009. Sanneh’s work showcases the importance of cultural translation in the spread of Christianity, providing a great source of reflection for intercultural mission practices.

John G. Flett, “The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010. Flett engages with prominent theological thinkers to underline mission’s ecclesial and intercultural dimensions, emphasizing the necessity of community in Christian practice and theology.

David W. Congdon. (2016) “Emancipatory Intercultural Hermeneutics: Interpreting Theo Sundermeier’s Differenzhermeneutik.” Mission Studies, 33 (2), 127–146. “Introduces and assesses Sundermeier’s “hermeneutic of difference” (Differenzhermeneutik) . . . Summarizes the four-step process [Sundermeier] provides for learning how to understand and coexist with another person, reflects on its missiological implications, and offers a constructive critique in the direction of a distinctively emancipatory intercultural hermeneutic.”

Also, See These Posts

Part A: Polycentric Mission and Ministry – “From Everyone to Everywhere” (click HERE).

Part B: Integral Mission and Ministry – “Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World, Whole Life” (click HERE)

Part C: Pentecostal Mission and Ministry – “Depending on God’s Empowering Presence” (click HERE)

Part D: Polyvocal Mission and Ministry – “Many Voices, Valued Perspectives” (click HERE).

Part E: Intercultural Mission and Ministry – “Unity in Diversity, Embracing All Cultures” (click HERE).



Image Credit: Angelina Bambina, iStock illustration ID:1202344480

Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill serves as Mission Catalyst for New and Renewing Communities with the Uniting Church in Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 13 books. He also directs The Global Church ProjectGraham writes at

Graham's qualifications include: Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record:


© 2024. All rights reserved by Graham Joseph Hill. Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.

Subscribe to my blog

Buy graham’s books

Contact me

For speaking engagements, permissions, and other general enquiries.

Subscribe to the blog

Join my mailing list

Never miss a blog post, I'll send you an email when a new one comes out. 

You have successfully subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This