What is contextualized ministry and why do it? Why does an ethnic ministry like Epic Movement exist?
A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of sharing at our Epic Movement staff conference on the topic, “Why We Contextualize,” which really in my opinion is the same as, “Why We Do Ministry.” The subject matter felt overwhelming, as did the guest list, as many prominent leaders in Cru were in attendance — including the president of Cru, Steve Douglass! However, I do believe God was at work that morning, and I was honored to represent ethnic ministry to the organization. You can watch a video presentation of the talk here on the Epic resource website, where it was first posted, or directly below. Hope you enjoy it!
Outline of Talk:
Introductions and Prayer
Sharing by Epic staff: what is motivating & challenging about contextualized ministry?
Testimony by Epic staff Jessica Lui
Identity: Why We Contextualize
Separate But Connected (Under Pressure to “Integrate”)
Sharing by Epic staff Margaret Yu
The Fruit of Contextualization (“What About the Mission?”)
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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while working in the ministry of Epic Movement, is the value that comes from working with people who are very different from me. Within cross-cultural teams, it can be easy for those of the more powerful culture (i.e. Caucasian, male, etc.) to unknowingly dominate and dictate an environment, instead of creating space and freedom for differences to be represented. It can also be easy for minorities to defer to this, or simply try to “fit in.” What’s truly hard is for both sides to engage one another in a mutual relationship, that persists through the inevitable tensions and conflicts that will arise. In Epic Movement, we are working to create some resources for helping both majority and minority culture leaders to understand what it required of them, in these cross-cultural relationships. As a teaser, here is a short 3-minute video of myself and my teammate and friend Brian Virtue, that describes the lessons we’ve learned through working together:
Note: this is an edited video, and the original is actually closer to 5-6 minutes long. Some additional insights we shared include:
It’s often hard for ethnic minority leaders to embrace their uniqueness and authority to lead. However, majority culture leaders (or those with greater power in relationships) can play a unique role in actively inviting ethnic minorities to do so. The fact that Brian made it safe for Adrian to be himself, be different — even to the point of disagreement and conflict — made a big difference in the partnership.
When ethnic minorities find their own unique voice as leaders, and learn to enjoy what they bring to the table, it creates freedom for majority culture leaders to be themselves. For Caucasians working in ethnic ministry, you don’t have to “become another ethnicity.” This is not the goal, just as assimilation is not the goal for ethnic minorities. Rather, God desires both sides to embrace their uniqueness, so that He might be represented more fully.
To that end, there are limits to the extent that we can “listen to God” without truly “listening to each other” in the way described above. If we are not able to develop mutual relationships of learning and trust with those who are different from us, how full can our picture of God really be?
Here are some questions for further reflection or discussion:
Think of a cross-cultural (in ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic class, etc.) relationship that has caused tension or conflict. What does it require of you to truly “listen” and know the other person? What does it require of them?
Whether you are from the majority or minority cultures, what are the biggest barriers that could prevent you from working closely with somebody who is very different from you?
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