Urban Ministry Must Be Cross-cultural
You have heard it said that the Sunday morning service is the most segregated hour in America. We will never have credibility until the church treats all men with love and respect. God loves diversity as demonstrated in his creation. We see it in the thousands of different types of flowers, shrubs, and trees. We see it in the variety of animal life such as fish, birds, reptiles, and so on. Every human is a unique creation, different in appearance, personality, and life experience. We also see God’s love for variety in the number of ethnic groups, each one different in appearance and culture. God loves every people, tribe, and nation, and this great diversity has been his design from the beginning: creating mankind in his image.
In the book of Jonah we see God’s love for nationalities other than his chosen people. In this account, which Jesus attests to as historical (Matt 12:40–41), God demonstrates his grace (the gospel of forgiveness through repentance) to one of the greatest group of enemies of his people. God sent Jonah as a missionary to one of the most ruthless people in the known world, the Assyrians living in Nineveh, one of the largest cities in that country located in modern day Iraq. Jonah hated the Assyrians and wanted no part in their reconciliation with God. Reluctantly, he preached the gospel to them resulting in full repentance. Why did the outcome of revival seem to vanish without a historical trace? Perhaps it was because there had been no discipleship. If the people had been taught about God and had grown spiritually, there would have been no need for God’s judgment on Nineveh in 612 B.C. Nevertheless, God demonstrated his love and concern for the greatest enemies of his people, a group who had a reputation for mercilessly persecuting their Jewish captives.
Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Great Commission included going to the people groups (the Samaritans) you don’t feel comfortable with, as well as to every part of the earth. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations. The Greek word for nations is ethnos and denotes a race or tribe, specifically a foreign (non-Jewish) one. This is where we get the word ethnicity. Jesus was not telling us to go to every nation or country. He was saying we were to disciple every people group. God’s plan is for his people to go beyond their own kind to people of other cultures.
As previously noted, Jesus himself went to people of a different culture in John 4. Jesus only had three years to establish his massive movement, and he spent two days of it with the hated Samaritans in the city of Sychar (John 4:39–41). Because the people of Samaria were half Jewish and half Assyrian, no good Jew would have anything to do with them. They wouldn’t ever pass through their towns. Our Savior, though he was Jewish, purposely went through Samaria (John 4:4) to bring good news to people of a mixed ethnic birth. John 4:40 tells us that Jesus stayed there for two additional days and led many others to himself and instructed the new believers.
Later, after the church began, Philip, one of the original deacons, went to Samaria and led many to Christ (Acts 8:4–13). When the apostles heard about the new believers in Samaria, they sent Peter and John who laid hands on them and the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit—kind of a Samaritan Pentecost. Following Jesus’ admonition in Acts 1:8, Peter and John went to many Samaritan villages and preached the gospel. This entire story illustrates God’s compassion for reaching men and women from other cultures.
In the midst of the Samaritan revival, an angel of the Lord told Phillip to go to the desert road that leads to Gaza (Acts 8:25–40). On this road he saw an Ethiopian eunuch who was on his chariot heading home. The Ethiopian was undoubtedly a black man who came almost two thousand miles from home to Israel. Philip shared the gospel with him; he believed and was baptized. According to tradition, the Ethiopian went back, taking the gospel to his homeland and becoming the “‘father’ of the church in Ethiopia. Tradition tells us that he fathered the Coptic Church, which is the oldest expression of Christianity that survives to this day, and traces its roots directly back to the first century and this eunuch.”1 His conversion illustrates that Christ’s love for the lost transcends national boundaries and, in this case, embraces one whose physical mutilation would have excluded him from full participation in Judaism (Lev 21:20; Deut. 23:1).
God’s plans for our future will be cross-cultural. Revelation 7:9–10 proclaims, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation [the word nation is the Greek word ethnos, as we discussed earlier as in Matt 28:19] and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Our eternity will be cross-cultural because our Savior called them, died for them, and used one of his servants to lead them to himself.
1. Gage, Warren, The Ethiopian Eunuch Finds Joy, http://knoxseminary.org/Prospective/Faculty/KnoxPulpit/wgage_eunuch.html.
(This article comes from Chapter 3, Urban Impact)