Must a missionary be cross-cultural? Search the Internet for missionary and you will find thousands of references to cross-cultural ministry. I searched for “cross culture missions” and found page after page for Christian missions organizations, and some Mormon ones, too. But when I searched for same-culture missions I found pages of articles on mission, vision and values, aimed at businesses or written for an organizational context.
Let’s face it. The Christian world doesn’t talk much about same-culture missions. Does such a thing exist? Can we be missionaries and not move to another part of town or a different part of the world?
By implying that missions and missionary efforts are only cross-cultural, we must assume one of two things. Either everyone lives like a full-time missionary in their everyday at-home life. Or we assume no one lives that way at all.
Jesus seems to disagree. It was his plan that we all serve as full-time ministers. Jesus didn’t call anyone to follow him part-time (Matthew 8:21-22). Jesus ministers and he expects us to join him in his ministry, full-time. He healed a man who was possessed with many demons. When the man tried to leave the region and go with Jesus, Jesus stopped him. Jesus said he should go back to his own people and tell them what great things God has done (Mark 5:19). That sounds like same-culture ministry to me.
In a way, we’re all cross-cultural, full-time missionaries whether we leave the culture where we grew up or not. We live in the world’s culture. When we become a Jesus-follower, we enter a new, eternal life and our spirit begins to bend toward the eternal. As we grow closer to Jesus and know him better, we become more and more cross-cultural. God leads some to serve in other nations or cultures through a special calling, reserved for a special few. Some, I’m sure, hear God call them to serve foreign cultures or foreign lands and never pull the trigger. But, if we’re not called to move to another country, we still serve, we still minister. The rest of us are same-culture missionaries. We go to our people and tell them what great things the Lord has done for us.
Have you ever considered yourself a same-culture missionary? Does this idea change the way you think about how you do your job? What will you do about it?