Read Effective Partnering: The Church and Cross-Cultural Worker On-Task Together, Part One (Case Study; The Cross-Cultural Worker’s Checklist).
The Church’s Checklist
1. Enlarge the church’s vision to include all nations. Initial steps might include a sermon series, a missional book or study, local outreach to internationals, or hosting a cross-cultural worker. The question is not if God wants you involved; the question is when and where.
2. Communicate. Talk to sending organizations. Reach out to church members’ cousins, acquaintances, etc. who are serving overseas. Attend a large church’s world missions conference or similar event and be intentional about spending one-on-one time with cross-cultural workers there.
3. Entertain the possibilities. Dream big; God can do it! What story connects with the heart of the church leaders and will motivate the church to respond in obedience? Is it Mexico or Mongolia? Israel or Indonesia? Deaf people? Muslim college students? European agnostics? Perhaps geography will be the key factor, but instead you may be drawn to a certain religion, culture, social condition, or special need. Do not question it or try to over-explain it. If God presses that group or place into your heart, there is a reason.
4. Communicate. Go on a vision trip or two and ask lots of questions. What role does the worker envision for partnership teams? What expectations does he or she have regarding the team’s level of engagement? Be honest about finances and feasibility, but know God may do far more than you currently expect through your church! If a connection is made, continue, but remember that not every church is suited for every field. We cannot force a partnership where God is not forging the bonds.
5. Evaluate the giftedness of your church. Is it basketball? Education? Medical care? Hairstylists? Coffee/tea-drinking? Adventure sports? Business acumen? Counseling? The list is endless. Consider strong groupings within your church: college-age, senior adults, families, singles. How does the age/gender/education of potential short-term teams affect the strategy?
In most Muslim countries, for example, college students will not be effective in reaching the religious leadership of the community; however, if the strategy involves spending time in secondary schools, college students are the perfect fit! Take what you know of God’s vision and the worker’s strategy and lay it across the demographics of your church. Let the Holy Spirit break down the box into which you have placed missions work. He will show you something amazing from the way he has assembled your church and connected you with this specific worker and people group.
6. Communicate the church’s giftedness to the cross-cultural workers. Finish this sentence: “We have a lot of Christ-loving people who....” How does the worker sense God using that giftedness in his strategy?
7. Equip your volunteers. They will need spiritual and logistical preparation for the specific project, but don’t forget cultural preparation. The less distracted they are by cultural differences, the more effective they will be for the kingdom. The cross-cultural worker should help you with this, but also reach out to other sources such as travelers, retired cross-cultural workers, or internationals from that area.
8. Communicate. Communicate your team’s excitement about the upcoming trip and your preparations with the cross-cultural worker. Communicate to the team the church’s enthusiastic support of their efforts and commitment. Share specific prayer needs and consider a prayer vigil for the duration of the trip. Publicly commission the team for their overseas assignment.
9. Engage the people group. Volunteers cannot be standoffish, shy, or fearful. How sad to see local people standing around, waiting on an English lesson to begin while all the volunteers laugh and joke in the next room! The cross-cultural worker will arrange for short-term personnel to meet people, have conversations, enjoy local food, etc., but the volunteers must fully enter into every situation. They must collect names and stories, listening for opportunities to pray or share truth with individuals.
10. Communicate. Ask questions. Stay alert. Is there something you do not understand? Ask the cross-cultural worker or—better yet—ask a local person; it might lead to a spiritual conversation! Talk to each other and to the cross-cultural workers. Open up about your hesitations in coming, about how God is working in your life and the life of your church, and about what you are learning by travelling abroad. Many cross-cultural workers receive very little nourishment from other believers. Pour into their lives as much as possible. Spend time in worship together. Many volunteers find that group worship takes on a different significance in a cross-cultural setting.
11. Encourage the worker afterward. After you return to your passport country, send a note or email describing the impact of the trip on your church (not just those who travelled). Make sure the cross-cultural worker knows you appreciate his or her efforts in hosting you.
Also, encourage the team and other church members to engage the same people group in your hometown. With internationals at universities, refugees, and other migrants, it’s highly probable that your international experience applies locally. This will ‘fan the flame’ of commitment to the people group and further the completion of the vision!
12. Continue communication. With the church body, persistently advocate for the people group and the workers. If the cross-cultural worker was not a member of your church before the trip, he or she is now! Share prayer requests and updates from your church. Send care packages and personal notes. Do not wait for the cross-cultural worker to contact you; reach out to him or her if you think communication is slipping. And start dialoguing about your next trip.
A healthy partnership benefits the cross-cultural worker and the church, but most importantly, it glorifies God by expanding his kingdom around the world. Short-term volunteers are not tools the cross-cultural worker borrows from a neighbor, returning slightly worse-for-wear. They are the neighbor, joining the cross-cultural worker in the task.
Like a barn-raising, everyone ‘owns’ the barn forever. On the other hand, cross-cultural workers are not tour guides or personal assistants who live solely to serve the short-term volunteers. Their personal lives and continuing ministry on site must be considered—even prioritized—by the church.
From both the case study and checklists, it’s clear the essential element on both sides of this partnership is trust. Clear lines of communication create and maintain the God-honoring trust that is essential to marriage, to missions, and to any other healthy partnership.