Evangelism and the Gift of Missionary (Part 2)

In Acts of the Holy Spirit (2000), C. Peter Wagner offers an intriguing discussion of the conflict that arose in the Jerusalem church at the beginning of Acts chapter 6. At that time, the church was a mixture of Hebraic Jews, who were natives of Palestine, and Hellenistic Jews from various parts of the Roman Empire. The cultural differences between these groups were significant. Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic as their first language, whereas Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek. Hebraic Jews were accustomed to living in an all-Jewish society where strict keeping of Jewish law was the social norm. Hellenistic Jews, on the other hand, were accustomed to mingling with Gentiles and were naturally more accommodating of non-Jewish lifestyles.

The tensions between these groups surfaced at the beginning of Acts chapter 6, when Hellenistic Jews pointed out that Hebraic widows were being taken care of by the church, but the Hellenistic widows were not. Acts 6:1 (NIV 2010) reads:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Notice what this verse actually says. The matter raised by the Hellenistic Jews was not an idle or godless complaint. Their grievance was genuine, because their widows actually were being discriminated against. We don’t know how this happened, but it displays a lack of sensitivity and fairness on the part of the church leadership. Wagner believes that this issue, the inequitable distribution of food, was merely a symptom of a deeper and more serious problem. Hellenistic Jews comprised a very large part of the early church, and their donations of cash and property were keeping the church financially solvent. Yet their interests and views were not being represented among the church’s leaders, because all twelve of the apostles were Hebraic Jews. At the beginning, it had to be so, because these were the men handpicked by Jesus to be witnesses to the world. But as the demographic character of the church changed, the style and composition of its leadership needed to change.

Wagner makes a statement that is profoundly challenging and provocative: Even the twelve apostles were ethnocentric.

This statement should not be taken as criticism of the apostles. They were men of exemplary faith and character. Yet it is an undeniable fact that, because of their upbringing and historical situation, they lacked cross-cultural and missiological sensitivity. The apostles were born and raised as Hebraic Jews, and their identity was closely bound to keeping the details of Mosaic law. They had been taught, quite correctly, that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and that God’s revelation and salvation came through Israel (Ps 147:20). The notion that the doors of salvation had suddenly been thrown open to the whole world – that God was now ready to accept people of any tribe, tongue and nation without precondition through faith in Christ alone – was truly a radical departure from their Old Testament sensibilities. It was going to take them quite a few years to adjust to the new work of the Holy Spirit that was going on around them in the post-Pentecost era. Meanwhile, it was very natural and understandable for them to exhibit ethnocentric attitudes, believing that the Hebraic Jewish lifestyle to which they (and even Jesus) conformed represented the purest, best, and most biblically correct way of life on the planet.

But the Hellenistic Jews thought differently. As they grew in faith and maturity, they could not remain as sheep, sitting under the apostles’ authority forever. Indeed, the Holy Spirit would not allow them to remain comfortable there. They needed to share in the blessings and responsibilities of leadership as full partners in the gospel which they had inherited. God had prepared a special mission for them, to become a bridge between the Jewish and Gentile worlds.

To the apostles’ credit, they recognized that a real problem had arisen in the church, and they dealt with it in a reasonable manner. They convened a meeting of the disciples and appointed seven new leaders, giving them responsibility for handling the matter. It appears that all seven of them (traditionally called deacons, from the Greek diakonos, which means “servant”) were Hellenistic Jews, because all seven had Greek names.

The role that these seven men played in the leadership of the church is a matter of dispute. Some commentators believe that they remained subservient to the apostles, carrying out menial and practical tasks (“waiting on tables”, as mentioned in verse 2) so that the apostles could remain focused on prayer and ministry of the word. But Wagner believes that these seven were not merely assistants. Indeed, the account by Luke emphasizes their high degree of spiritual qualification. They were known to be full of wisdom, faith and the Holy Spirit. The next two and a half chapters of Acts are devoted to the influence of two of these men: Stephen, who because of his powerful preaching became the first Christian martyr, and Philip, who carried the gospel to Samaria and to the Ethiopian eunuch.

Wagner believes that these seven newly appointed leaders stood alongside the apostles, sharing apostolic authority by ministering to the Hellenistic Jews as the original apostles continued to minister to the Hebraic Jews. He characterizes this event as a division in governance, an amicable split that eased the ethnic tensions in the church, helping the Christian message to break out from the shackles of Hebraic culture so that the gospel could spread beyond Jerusalem and Judea.

After the appointing of seven Hellenistic leaders, the church entered a period of rapid growth. Luke remarks in Acts 6:7:

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

If the leadership of the early church had not been diversified, would this dramatic growth have still happened? Not likely, says Wagner. As a specialist in the study of church growth, Wagner pays close attention to Acts 6:7 and similar verses which are scattered throughout the book of Acts. One lesson that he draws from this passage, and from his study of worldwide missions, is that the cultural backgrounds and attitudes of church leaders really do matter. In a more perfect world, Christians of different cultures should be able to serve the Lord side by side without any disagreements or conflicts, fully understanding and accepting one another without any discrimination or judgment whatsoever. Multicultural ministry is an ideal to which we ought to aspire, and when it happens it is indeed a beautiful thing. But two thousand years of history have shown that this tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Cultural differences and misunderstandings between people-groups abound, even within the church. Realistically, it not always possible or desirable for groups that are culturally divergent to remain under the same ecclesiastical authority, especially if the composition of church leadership does not reflect the diversity of its members or the society that the church is seeking to evangelize. No group of believers can sit comfortably under the leadership of foreign missionaries indefinitely, and missionaries who ignore this fact will inadvertently prevent their own ministries from growing. Wagner writes:

One of the most difficult lessons for cross-cultural missionaries to learn is that when they plant a church in a culture different from their own, the leadership of the new church must come from those rooted in the second culture or else the church will not grow and develop as it should. Missionaries may understandably assume that because they have been Christians longer and know the Bible better and pray more and adhere more rigidly to norms of Christian behavior than do their new converts, they therefore can, and should, assume leadership of the new church. They do so, however, to their own detriment and they inadvertently hinder the spread of the gospel over the long haul (pp 142-143).

The Apostle Paul seems to have understood this principle. Whenever Paul planted the gospel in a new place, he made it a high priority to raise native leaders and turn decision-making over to them as soon as possible. When Paul did so, the churches that he planted experienced difficulties and growing pains, as his letters to these churches attest. But Paul’s quick handing over of leadership freed him to continue to use his unique missionary gift to carry the gospel to new places, while allowing the new churches to develop organically into faith communities that could dramatically impact the societies around them. Cross-cultural missionaries are gifted at carrying the gospel from one people-group to another. But natives will instinctively know better than the missionaries how to contextualize that gospel in their own culture.


  1. This is a very interesting article. I am a caucasian english pastor of a small Korean/American church in a suburb of Chicago. We have been attempting over the last year and a half to become a multicultural church, but alas this has proven to be a difficult task!

    I have found that the 2nd gens tend to stick together and not speak much or hang around with the caucasian, hispanic and black members who are newer to the church. While almost all of the non koreans, regardless of their ethnicity are more open with eachother. That being said, the older Korean members (who speak english) are more welcoming to the new non-korean members than the 2nd gens are! I have been surprised by this considering the 2nd gens are far more accustomed to American culture than than the 1st gens. Perhaps it has to do with a certain level of spiritual maturity

    Indeed, I have even been accused by a couple of 2nd gens of showing favoritism to the non-korean members (by the way, I Love Korean people, thats one of the reasons I took the position at my church). I really had to do some soul searching to see if that was true. I think a part of the problem was not communicating clearly enough from the beginning that a multicultural ministry was the direction that our church was heading, and that all of the pastors and elders were on board with it. When the non-koreans became equal in number with the koreans I think it may have threatened their comfort zones a little.

    This can be a frusterating situation for a pastor! I have tried to validate ALL of the members and encourage fellowship with all of the members, almost on a weekly basis, but to no avail. The Koreans still sit with the Koreans and the non-Koreans still sit together too etc. Im sure if it came down to brass tacks, they would be there for one another in a crisis, but not during the daily grind.

    I am not sure how much of this has to do particularly with cultures that are especially private and inward focused like asians and Jewish people etc. (because like I said, there have been no real issues at my church with all of the other cultures). Could someone tell me, based on the little information I just provided, is this mostly a Korean thing?

  2. Hi David. Your perspective is an interesting one. From what I have heard, Korean immigrant-based churches in the United States do not easily become multicultural. Here in my town (State College, PA) there is an independent Korean church that has been trying to do just that. A few years ago, they hired an assistant pastor to start English-language outreach to the university, and a new student organization was launched. But the campus ministry has never been able to bridge the culture gap. The vast majority of students coming are Korean 2nd gens.

    This makes me realize how unusual UBF really is. For missionaries from Korea to come to the United States specifically to evangelize and disciple Americans, and to have experienced some degree of success in doing it, is quite remarkable. It provide a fascinating case study for missiologists to write about in the years ahead. At the same time, I hope that UBF members and leaders realize that we are not immune to the cultural tensions that would predictably arise in a ministry like this one, and that we have a great deal to learn from missiologists and from the Bible itself about how to handle these tensions.

    Ethnic churches are not a bad thing. Soong-Chan Rah at North Park University (author of The Next Evangelicalism) contends that ethnic congregations are the most vital, growing segments of the American church today. C. Peter Wagner believes that ethnic diversity was part of God’s original design and plan for the world. The Body of Christ has room for many types of congregations. Diversity is good, but I hope that Christians of different stripes can demonstrate mutual respect and love toward one another, rather than mistrust and judgment. Christians may be different, but I hope that we can still be one.

  3. Hi David,
    Thanks for the insightful comments that you have posted on this website. I enjoyed reading what you had to say and agree with a lot of your observations.

    I take issue, however, with your question, “I am not sure how much of this has to do particularly with cultures that are especially private and inward focused like asians and Jewish people etc. (because like I said, there have been no real issues at my church with all of the other cultures). Could someone tell me, based on the little information I just provided, is this mostly a Korean thing?”

    Maybe it is the way your question is framed, but I think by saying, “is this mostly a Korean thing…” you’re already approaching the 2nd gen issues in your church with some preconceived notions.
    I don’t think having cliques and being unwelcoming to outsiders is a good thing. And it’s GREAT that you’re seriously trying to address it. But if you subconsciously dismiss the behavior as being a “Korean thing” or something that only occurs in “cultures that are especially private and inward focused,” then you’re not going to understand or get through to the 2nd gen members of your congregation because of the assumptions that are clouding your perspective of them.

    I teach a few large classes on my campus, and I observed that within my classes and within the larger student organizations, the mostly Caucasian student groups do not make a conscious effort to include or welcome people who look different from them. Do I assume that this is a mostly “white” thing, or characteristic of Caucasian behavior? No… I just think that people tend to feel more comfortable around those who are similar to them. I don’t think this is necessarily good, but I think it’s understandable.

    With that said, I think it IS really important to understand the cultural distinctions between groups in order to promote understanding and social cohesion. Just please try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about the 2nd gens in your church, because most people don’t want to listen to a pastor who views them as stereotypes, rather than individuals. (I imagine it’s the same way a young American student might feel if a Korean pastor said that all Americans are materialistic or selfish or something, and that’s why they’re not tithing…)

    It sounds like you really have a heart for the members of your church, and I really hope that you’re able to connect with the 2nd gens and encourage them to welcome people that look differently or were raised differently from them… may God give you wisdom in this.

  4. Thanks Joe and Susan, I can assure you that I do not look at anyone in my church as a stereotype rather than an individual. When I asked the question you are referring to, Susan, it was and is purely out of a desire to know how to best serve my flock. I actually think that to deny or turn a blind eye to certain cultural traits is to do those cultures a disservice.

    I might give an example, it is extraordinarily offensive to some people in the middle east if you show the heel of your shoe to them, if I just didnt care about this cultural nuance and went around flashing my Nike’s at everyone in that culture, it would be much harder to reach them with the Gospel. I am not Korean but I AM the pastor at a Korean based church, and so I am always trying to learn as much as I can about Korean culture in order to best serve them.

    When I asked if our current situation is a “Korean thing” it is not out of some stereotypical preconception, but rather a slight ignorance of how Korean culture generally deals with newcomers. I have been in this pastoral position for almost 2 years now, but I am by no means an expert in Korean culture…by far! Since this is a forum which is visited by many people who are Korean I thought I would ask the question to see if they or others could help give me some perspective.

    You are right though, certainly not ALL Korean people or Jewish people are inward focused (I know because I am Jewish!) But I would love to get any insight into whether or not I may be missing something that my American Caucasian eyes just cannot see.

  5. Oh by the way, I have asked the same question to some of the elder Korean members in my church and they told me that they are not sure if it is a “Korean thing” or not. It is sometimes hard I think to judge one’s own situation rightly, so on occasion it is best to ask others who are on the outside to give perspective. (and when I say “Korean thing” I do not mean it in an offensive way or stereotypical way, I am just asking if a certain reaction to a certain stimuli is a normative reaction to their particular culture or not, thats all).

    • It’s probably not a “korean thing” as much as it is an “insensitive spoiled brat” thing that probably get’s triggered during social gatherings. When I first started to attend the ministry I am involved in, many of the second gens were always hanging out together and I often felt ignored. This was especially salient when I noticed that the older koreans would make an active effort to get to know me (despite the cultural barriers) while the younger Koreans kept to themselves.

      I specifically remember jokingly thinking, “hello.. fresh convert here..ready for the picking.” And yet, the second gens kept to themselves. I agree with a prevoius comment, it just shows a lack of spiritual maturity or inability to look beyond their social network.

  6. There are definitely cultural differences between Americans and Koreans, and I think that acknowledging and understanding them can be very beneficial to our ministry.
    As you mentioned earlier, the second gens in your church are probably more acclimated to American culture than the first gens, yet you noticed that the elders were more welcoming to outsiders. In this particular case, isn’t it possible that this issue could be related to other factors besides a Korean thing…?

  7. Nice side-bar discussion of David and Susan: I agree that “Korean thing” sounds offensive, yet I’m not sure how best to ask that question. As Susan mentioned, Anglos tend to clique together as well, as “birds of a feather flock together.” But I have noticed this cliqishness, interestingly not in CBF, but in HBF, YDC onwards, which may be lessening with time, especially with the older leaders. Surely, only the deepening grace of Jesus and maturity in Christ can enable us to overcome such deeply rooted cultural diversity.

    I thought that the most interesting quote by Wagner which practically affects us in ubf is regarding missionaries planting a new church in a different culture:

    “Missionaries may understandably assume that because they have been Christians longer and know the Bible better and pray more and adhere more rigidly to norms of Christian behavior than do their new converts, they therefore can, and should, assume leadership of the new church. They do so, however, to their own detriment and they inadvertently hinder the spread of the gospel over the long haul.”

  8. Thank you for the interesting article. I had a question. How do you think Wagner might classify the children of E3 missionaries? Where do they fit? Are they still E3?

    • He Sarah. The E- classes are not types of people; they are types of evangelism. I suppose that children of missionaries can engage in E-1, E-2 or E-3 evangelism, depending on whom they try to evangelize.

      For example, suppose that missionaries from Korea went to Canada and raised children there. And suppose that the children grew up and began to evangelize Canadians. If those children had a thoroughly Canadian upbringing, then I suppose they would be doing E-1 evangelism. More likely, however, the children were probably raised with values and lifestyle quite different from their Canadian neighbors. Although they understand and empathize with the mainstream Canadian culture much better than their parents do, they are still a little different from their Canadian neighbors. So I suppose that kind of evangelism could be E-2.

      However, I am now reminded of Scott Moreau’s presentation at the Chicago UBF center in December 2009 (it’s on UBFTV). He spoke about the ability of bicultural people to instantaneously switch from one culture to another, changing how they act depending on who they are with. Missionary children often do that. When they are around their parents, they adopt their parents’ cultural attitudes and styles of communication. When they are among their peers at school, they adopt their peers’ attitudes. This sometimes makes them feel guilty, because they feel they are not being “true to themselves.” But Dr. Moreau did not think it was necessarily a bad thing; he thought it was a gift that could be very helpful if used properly. I think children of missionaries may struggle with their identity, not knowing who they are. (I struggle with my own identity too, but in a different way; my struggle is different from theirs.) Kathy Vucekovich talks about this in her article on the Diaspora.

  9. Cross cultural ministry is not easy. As far as I know more than 99% of Korean churches in America is not doing cross cultural ministry actively simply because it is difficult to come out of the comfort zone. On the other hand, from the beginning, UBF began to pray for world mission thanks to the founders’ vision and prayer.
    Msn Sarah Barry’s ministry in Korea was very successful (E3 Evangelism) because of her lifestyle of incarnation. She studied Korean language diligently as well as the Korean history and culture. She did not live in a luxurious American missionary compound, but lived among poor Koreans, eating Korean food and sleeping on the floor in a small room. Her ministry was successful because of her deep commitment to Jesus, spiritual maturity and sacrifice which transcended the language and cultural barriers.
    When Korean missionaries came to America most of us were ignorant about American culture and poor in language. But God used them very fruitfully (at least some of them) by raising disciples of Jesus because of their deep commitment to Jesus and unselfish lifestyle.
    America, though she is rich materially, has her own problems; individualism, broken homes, loneliness, overall feeling of superficiality and a lack of profound compassion. Korean culture is more like the opposite due to Confucius influence.
    Successful E1 evangelism requires spiritual maturity, embracing God’s sheep with unconditional love of Jesus. Successful E1 evangelism comes from one’s internal life (deep commitment, humble incarnation and sacrifice etc.) rather than one’s own expertise, gifts or experience.

    • Hi James, Thanks for your response. As an elder who has commented with some regularity, this is quite refreshing and encouraging. Perhaps, you could encourage the other elders to also come out of their comfort zone and comment as well. Of course, you don’t have to.

      Susan made a comment earlier about David saying “Korean thing,” which does sound offensive, especially to Koreans. Regarding Americans, when their problems are referred to as “individualism, broken homes, loneliness, overall feeling of superficiality and a lack of profound compassion,” it is also quite offensive, especially to Americans, even if your description about Americans may be true. But honestly, all sinners from any country or culture will fit the above description to some degree. Are no Chinese people individualistic, from broken homes, lonely, superficial, lacking compassion? I know that I personally am all of the above (more than I care to admit), and I am not native American born.

      Closely related to this, I think that we should also seriously pray about not saying the following about others: “he/she is proud,” “he/she is not growing,” and the worst one “he/she is a mental patient.” It is highly offensive, even if they may be true.

      I might even go so far as to say that this is unbiblical, because whenever we categorize or label anyone anything, we play the judge, we make ourselves superior, we assume our assessment is correct, we assume we are not as bad or we are better, and we marginalize the person, if not the country. So if we say, “Americans are selfish and individualistic,” we just marginazlized the whole country.

      As you said, cross cultural Christian ministy is hard. God has blessed ubf abundantly to reach out cross culturally to others, including myself. But after 50 years we are treading an unknown area of needing to learn cross-cultural sensitivity. May God have mercy on us all.

  10. I do apologise to any and all Koreans who take offense against my perhaps poorly worded question, I may have said it better by asking: “Are there certain cultural traits or common habits of the people of the nationality of which I am a pastor that may lend themselves to the behaviors that I described?” Because that is what I meant.

    That being said, I dont believe in Political Correctness much and even the Bible describes certain cultures as having problems that are particular to themselves! Titus 1:12-13a says, “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true…” 1Corinthians 1:22 says, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom…”

    I suppose in our day, some would love to remove those verses from the Bible because people from Crete or Jewish people might become offended.

    Please dont misunderstand me, I am not advocating any unnessesary offensiveness other than the natural offensiveness of the Gospel itself, but what I am saying is that if someone cant ask a question as benign as, “hey, I love my Korean flock, but I am having trouble understanding how some of the younger ones are acting with other cultures and newcomers, can someone let me know if I am missing something, being a caucasian American? Is what I described a Korean thing?” Then there may be an issue with over sensitivity? I dont know, OR maybe I am too much like a Bull in a china shop (no pun intended!).

  11. I would like to respond to what James Kim wrote.

    First, let me say that James Kim is personal friend and I respect him very much. During one month in the summer of 1985, he met with me five times a week to study John’s gospel. I admire his quiet and gentle spirit, his sacrificial giving, his openmindedness, his willingness to read and learn, and to engage in discussions on matters of faith on this website and other websites. If there were many more people like him, this world would be a better place.

    He wrote:

    “America, though she is rich materially, has her own problems; individualism, broken homes, loneliness, overall feeling of superficiality and a lack of profound compassion. Korean culture is more like the opposite due to Confucius influence.”

    I would like to address each of the points he made about America.

    * Individualism: Yes, the American culture is individualistic. But
    I wouldn’t characterize it as a problem. Respect for the dignity
    of the individual, and granting freedom and human rights to each
    individual, is perhaps the greatest gift that Western
    Christianity has brought to the world. When individualism
    morphs into selfishness, it does becomes a problem. But
    the opposite of individualism (collectivism) can also be
    problematic. Cultures that expect and demand a high degree of
    conformity can easily trample on individuals’ rights of self-
    determination and stifle creativity and innovation. The
    abolition of human slavery, granting of civil
    rights to minorities and to women, concern for the poor and
    disadvantaged, and other societal advances in America have
    come about precisely because of our Reformation-based and
    profoundly scriptural respect for individuals who are made
    in the image of God.

    * Broken homes: Yes, America and other western nations now suffer
    from very high rates of divorce, and the consequences are often
    tragic. When Dr. Samuel Lee came to America, he developed a great
    sense of compassion for young Americans from broken homes and
    really wanted to help them. But divorce is only one symptom of
    the brokenness in marriage and family that pervades every
    society in this sinful world. At present, the rate of divorce
    is about twice as high in the United States as in South Korea.
    But rates of domestic violence in South Korea are about
    2-3 times as high as in the United States. I have heard many
    gut wrenching personal stories from Korean friends
    about families which, although not broken by divorce (because
    divorce brought social stigma), were traumatized
    by marital infidelity, abuse, many other kinds of problems.
    All over the world — and even in the church — marriage is in
    a state of crisis because of sin. I believe that all cultures
    need healing in this area, albeit in different ways.

    * Loneliness: Yes, many Americans are lonely. But many are not.
    Are Americans any more or less lonely than people of other
    societies? I have no idea.

    * Overall feeling of superficiality: I’m not sure what this means.
    But I would hesitate to judge anyone from any culture as being
    superficial. People are complicated, and there is always more to
    any person than meets the eye.

    * Lack of profound compassion: I respectfully disagree on this
    point. I believe that America is a very compassionate nation.
    God has blessed America abundantly, and she does share a great
    deal of her wealth with the rest of the world. Many Americans of
    generations past and present have sacrificed their lives
    for people of other nations (including South Korea). America
    has exploited people as well, and her causes have not always
    been just. Throughout much of the world, and even in the
    United States, it is socially acceptable to criticize America;
    her superpower status makes her an easy target. But by any
    reasonable historical standard — and by comparison to other
    nations today — America has been and continues to be a
    blessing to the world, and her people are very compassionate.
    Here in my town of State College, Pennsylvania, my neighbors
    are very generous with their time, money and resources in
    supporting good causes that help others in need.

    It is with some trepidation that I write the following paragraphs, but — as an American who has been in UBF for nearly thirty years — I believe that I need to offer my own personal perspective on the cultural issues that I have experienced in this ministry.

    When Sarah Barry went as a missionary to Korea, she lived an incarnational Christian life. She learned the language well, adopted many aspects of Koreans’ lifestyle, and respected Korean cultural values. I do not believe that she assumed the role of a cultural critic, pointing out perceived shortcomings in the Korean society relative to the United States. In generations past, too many western missionaries who went to foreign lands made the mistake of misunderstanding and misjudging the local culture as being inferior to their own. She learned from those mistakes and did not repeat them. She allowed UBF to develop as a truly indigenous Korean-led student evangelistic movement.

    When UBF missionaries came to the United States to evangelize students like myself, they did not do exactly what Sarah Barry did. From my perspective, they tried to recreate in the United States a replica of the kind of student discipleship ministry in Korea that had blessed them and changed their lives. I do not fault them for that. I was blessed through their faith, sacrifice and dedication. But UBF in America was not and is not an indigenous American-led movement. From the moment I came into this ministry, it was obvious that UBF was not an American environment, and Americans like myself who remained in UBF had to accept and adapt ourselves to non-American patterns of speech, forms of address, styles of communication, standards of dress and appearance, and rules of social behavior. Yes, the UBF missionaries who came to the United States sacrificed a lot to serve American students. But American students who came into UBF also sacrificed a great deal of their personal and cultural identity.

    Since the early days of American UBF, I have witnessed a great deal of cultural criticism within this ministry directed at the American people and society and American Christians. And at times I have been a willing participant in it. When Dr. Samuel Lee gave announcements at meetings and worship services, he often spoke of the brokenness of young Americans. He was a compassionate man, but he said many things in an insensitive and overly general manner, and UBF members (including myself) repeated these things. For example, he often said that “Americans are like vending machines.” (I won’t take the time now to explain what that means.) He spoke about “HNW’s” which was an acronymn for high-nosed (i.e., high-minded or proud) North American women. We heard from Dr Lee and other missionaries that Americans tend to be lazy, pleasure-seeking, immoral, materialistic, etc. If anything good was said about America, it was usually a glorification of America’s past and a denigration of her present.

    Americans like myself did not object to these negative messages about America, but swallowed them. One of the truly great things about Americans is their capacity to be self-critical about themselves and their own culture. The American education system has taught us to be self-critical. So when young American students like myself came to UBF and heard those negative messages about America, we (those who remained) internalized them and even began to repeat them. For example, when I delivered Sunday messages, I sometimes said the Americans were like vending machines. When my wife wrote Bible testimonies, she sometimes called herself an HNW. (Knowing her as I do, I profoundly disagree with that; it is not an accurate assessment of her character at all. But she repeated that statement about herself without critical evaluation.)

    At a recent UBF event, during a floor discussion which I was moderating, someone stood up and publicly said, “Dr. Joe, I think you will agree with me that Americans are lazy.” (Interestingly, the person who said this was American!) I did not verbally object to what he said, because time was short. But I do not agree with him at all. Americans are not lazy; they are some of the most industrious and productive people on the planet. In my experience, if young Americans are not working hard, it is usually because they are dispirited, depressed, uninspired, broken, etc. and not simply because of laziness. But people of other cultures can easily look at how some Americans live and pass a superficial judgment that they
    are lazy.

    I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but it is not. Even today, I hear UBF leaders make statements about America and American Christians that are quite offensive. Statements such as “Americans are family-centered”; “Americans are matrerialistic”; “American Christians have no mission”; “American Christians are Sunday Christians.” Even if these statements have some truth to them (and, of course, they do), they do not fly well in this culture. People who say such things are playing the role of cultural critics. Yes, we need to look at the culture around us with discernment. But Jesus tells us to remove the planks from our own eyes before addressing the specks in others’ eyes. When Christians go as missionaries to a foreign land (or even when they evangelize at home) it is tempting for us to speak to one another in those negative tones, pointing out the problems that we perceive in the groups we are trying to evangelize, believing that we are bringing lost, helpless people out of “their” darkness into “our” truth and light. But the fact is that all of us are walking in darkness, and we all need to approach God’s throne of grace together.

    One of the recommended readings for a recent UBF staff conference was a book by Bernard T. Adeny called Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World (1995). Reading that book was an eye-opening experience. It made me realize how easy it is for Christians from one culture to cast judgment on those from another culture, misinterpreting that culture’s virtues as vices. One point made by this author is that when missionaries enter another culture, they are going there as guests. Before attempting to teach people from that culture, they need to learn from it. Before attempting to give, they must first learn how to receive. It takes a very long time, and a great deal of understanding and painful self-examination, before a missionary earns the right to criticize the culture he is supposedly trying to evangelize. This book made me seriously rethink my own attitudes toward the current generation of young people, the so-called postmoderns. I realized that I had no right to criticize them until I understood them and walked in their shoes. American postmoderns have rejected modernist thinking and modernistic Christianity, and for many good reasons. I need to acknowledge their points of view and understand the good in what they say and how they live before criticizing.

    • Joshua Brinkerhoff

      Hi Joe,

      From my reading, your main point in this comment is guarding against the dangers of cultural criticism and generalization. You use the example of two very different countries, the US and S.Korea. I agree with your points, and I would add that generalizing in two similar countries (e.g. US and Canada) can also cause similar detriment. Growing up as a Canadian exposes me to a very different worldview, values, and way of thinking than that of an American. For example, my understanding of multiculturalism, of what it means to be a part of the world, of what is important in life, and how family and society should run is different. These may be slightly less obvious than the much-larger differences of east/west, but after being (wonderfully) married to an American for several years, we’ve found that these differences actually have a big impact on how we go about our disciple-making ministry. I guess this is all the more reason to take your encouragement to learn, observe, value, and understand, whether the differences in culture are large or small. Merry Christmas!

  12. Thanks, Joe, for such insightful comments and heart felt sentiments expressed about America, which I sense deeply, is the land and the people that you love with all of your heart because of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m about moved to tears.

    I wish that all of our UBF leaders would meticulously read what you wrote above, and seriously examine and evaluate ourselves and our ministry to America and to each of the 80 nations where we have UBF missionaries. Failing to do so will continue the unfortunate trend of hurting and wounding “our sheep,” because of our cultural insensitivity and cultural superiority, all the while thinking that we are “biblical” and sacrificial.

  13. Thanks, Joe and Ben for your comments. I respect your opinions very highly. And I have no offense to American culture (Forgive me if it sounded generalization). I have lived in America longer than I had lived in South Korea and I love America dearly and pray for her. While I was reading Peter Scazzero’s book, “Emotionally healthy church” he himself described about America’s problem that way(chapter 9) and that sentence caught my eyes. I recommend everybody to read that book.

    • Thanks. Merry Christmas to you and your family. And yes, I cannot recommend Scazzero’s book highly enough. So many good books, and so little time!

  14. Thanks, James. I know that you are not an offensive man. Also, I know that you did not intend to be offensive in your comments, just as I never think I am offensive. But I know that I am highly offensive, because others tell me that I am, especially my wife and all my 4 kids!

    It would be OK for Scazzero, an American, to describe his own people as “shallow, superficial, selfish,” etc. But it would be culturally insensitive/superior and quite offensive for someone from another culture to say that exact same thing about Americans.

    It would be OK for a Korean to confess a national sin of Koreans, because of their extremely high rates of domestic violence, compared to the U.S. But if I start writing and speaking in the presence of Koreans how much Korean couples are violent and oppressive to their spouses and children, it would be like rubbing the sins of Koreans in their face.

    It’s OK for me to say, “I’m proud.” But if I say, “You’re proud,” or “He/she is proud,” it just comes across as self-righteous and holier than thou.

    I’m reminded of a quote by Francis Bacon: “Reading makes a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” Surely, we need God’s mercy and constant dialogue and the comments and exhortation of others to improve on what we say and how we write. I personally know that I have a long, long way to go to learn how to speak and write a lot better.

  15. I think that it is interesting that you quoted that quote by Francis Bacon. I heard a great one by Martyn Lloyd-Jones talking about being precise in what we write, here it is:

    “If I am asked which sermons I wrote, I have already said that I used to divide my ministry, as I still do, into edification of the saints in the morning and a more evangelistic sermon in the evening. Well, my practice was to write my evangelistic sermon. I did so because I felt that in speaking to the saints, to the believers, one could feel more relaxed. There, one was speaking in the realm of the family. In other words, I believe that one should be unusually careful in evangelistic sermons. That is why the idea that a fellow who is merely gifted with a certain amount of glibness of speech and self-confidence, not to say cheek, can make an evangelist is all wrong. The greatest men should always be the evangelists, and generally have been; and the idea that Tom, Dick and Harry can be put up to speak on a street corner, but you must have a great preacher in a pulpit in a church is, to me, the reversing of the right order. It is when addressing the unbelieving world that we need to be most careful; and therefore I used to write my evangelistic sermon and not the other…”

    • Joshua Brinkerhoff

      Hi David,

      It’s interesting to hear that Martin Lloyd-Jones would write his sermons, which I presume to mean the manuscript containing the words he was going to speak in his sermon. I have a book of Spurgeon’s sermons, but I didn’t know that writing sermons as a manuscript was common among preachers. Do you think it’s a more recent thing that a large number of preachers use outlines or notes rather than writing their sermons? I ask this because newcomers who attend our UBF church service on Sunday are often surprised to receive a copy of the message manuscript handed to them after the service, never having experienced the same at any other church.

  16. Hey Joshua, I dont think that outlines are a recent thing, and Lloyd-Jones certainly didnt write all of his sermons out (I am in the process of compiling many of Lloyd-Jones’ original manuscript material to publish a book of his sermon notes, and most of them are skeleton outlines). I know that George Whitefield many times preached without notes at all. I personally use about 2 pages of detailed notes and that usually makes the sermon about 1 hour in length for me. But, I do know what you’re talkin about with handing the entire manuscript out…I had never seen or heard about a church doing that before or since. Very unique to UBF I think.

    • I heard that Jonathan Edwards read his sermons entirely from a written manuscript. And people say he spoke in a quiet, monotone voice. He was apparently not an exciting speaker. But he was very effective. Preachers have different styles; they need to do what works for them. UBF’s practice of handing out written manuscripts is uncommon, but other churches distribute their preached sermons in other forms, e.g., as audio recordings. John Piper’s sermons are distributed in written form on his website.

  17. Hi Joe, according to Doug Sweeney, “As in the case of his personality, so in reference to his preaching, Edwards reputation has suffered through years of negative publicity. Many assume the common caricature of Edwards is correct: he read his sermons in monotone, rarely looking up from his notes, putting parisioners to sleep with dry academic droning…But again, the Edwards of history does not conform to the stereotype. He wrote his sermons out in full until the early 1740s…after the early 1740s, Edwards preached from sketchy notes…he had always marked his sermons with cues for winsome oral delivery. We know that hundreds were converted under his biblical exposition. We know that many cried aloud when Dewards preached during revival…There was something in his preaching that grabbed his listeners by the heart, wrapped their attention around the Word, and sent them away with food for thought.” (Sweeney, Doug. Jonathan edwards and the ministry of the word. pgs.75-77)

    That book by Sweeney is awesome, I think that leaders in the UBF ministry would benefit from reading it because as Sweeney says in the subtitle, Edwards is: “A Model of Faith and Thought.”

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for that interesting perspective on Edwards. I’m sure that he was a wonderful and effective speaker. We all could learn a lot from him. What made him truly effective, I believe, was the work of the Holy Spirit. As you pointed out, when he preached during periods of revival, many responded to his message. But at other times, the response was tepid. It is well known that when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, audiences were deeply convicted. But I read somewhere that he preached this same sermon for a year or two with little impact before the Spirit began to work through it. I do think that Edwards is one great model of faith and thought. But he was also a man of his times, and many things are different today. If we try to emulate Edwards (or any other great preacher, for that matter), are we going to make things better? Or are we going to make them worse? I guess we need discernment.

      One thing I like about Edwards is that he was willing to accept criticism. For example, when Isaac Watts pointed out areas where he could improve his messages and make them more gospel-centered, he could have become defensive, saying, “God has clearly blessed my ministry, and I have more sheep than you do, so I don’t need to listen to your advice.” But he truly listened to Watts. Edwards was also rather progressive in his views toward women.

    • George Marsden’s biography on Jonathan Edwards is superb. I was going to do a review, but alas, I don’t have the time.

  18. Here is an open question, I think related to the topic of UBF evangelism: What is the actual meaning of “A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation?” I know the references of Exodus 19:6 and 1Peter 2:9, that UBF quotes, but WHY do you quote it all of the time? Does you mean to apply the Covenant promises that God made to Israel to America? Is there an eschatological sense behind your quoting of these verses? Is it simply a mantra to encourage evangelism? Are you praying that all of America will become Christians? What do you mean by this prayer?

    I think that it is very important to know why you repeat what you repeat every day! Thanks!

    • Joshua Brinkerhoff

      Hi David. I’m very amused that you ask this question, as I’ve been reflecting on this and wondering more deeply about it myself. I’m eager to hear what other folks think!

  19. EriktheRed

    Really late comment, but just stumbled upon the site. Caveat: I am a whitey, not 2nd gen of any sort, and speak from observation & armchair theorizing, not experience.

    I think this is a combination of spiritual maturity (ie the 1st gens feel they have to “welcome” nonKoreans, however culturally ill equiped [awkward] they may be to do so, b/c they consider themselves to be missionaries and that is what missionaries must do, whereas many 2nd gens may not identify with a “missionary calling” towards the “natives,” indeed may have little/no sense of calling at all [or charitably, may feel called to their own in-group, not seeing whitey as an esteemed target like many of their parents do] , attending church out of familial/cultural obligation or habit, or purely to be fed/served themselves [“learning, but not ready for mission”], and a peculiar subculture that results from being split between two worlds yet feeling they belong to neither. Korean and American cultures are so alien that although bicultural kids can shift between them, even they struggle to integrate them or identify with one or the other, so they identify as their own micro-group, “2nd gens,” and clique within that (if possible, ie other second gens are around).

    I had the chance to work overseas. On one vision trip, most of the foreign team were Korean-American (from nonUBF ethnic Korean churches mostly in the DC area), and since we were discussing education in a multi/cross-cultural context, watched “The Joy Luck Club” (Han, not Korean, immigrants) and talked about cultural clash as felt in an immigrant/minority context (to which I couldn’t speak, except if being an expat is like a temporary, watered down immigrant). I thought I knew about Koreans through drowning in Korean UBF culture, having ethnic Korean students of various citizenships, etc, but listening to my coworkers was an eye-opener. Apparently there is a steep division between “1.5 gen” (people who immigrated as tweens or teens, maybe kids) and “2nd gen” (native-born children of immigrants)–at least where the immigrant ghetto is small enough that the second-gens have mostly native peers/friends (I wonder if Chicago UBF 2nd gens are like 1.5gen elsewhere?). The 1.5ers insisted they could not marry 2nd gens–“too American” (in their context) or 1st gens–“too Korean,” but only within their own group. They feel a part of both cultures, yet also alienated from each. Apparently Korean animosity towards biracial kids (seen as Korean War bastards/ children of prostitution) (seems UBF might be over this), orphans/adoption (shamanist or maybe Confucian emphasis on lineage [–>racial “purity,” clan connections])(– unspoken, but adoption** doesn’t seem common in UBF) also inflames things, by making the “other” inferior, threatening, &/or irreconcilable.

    Anyway, I think 2nd gen Germans/Welsh/etc (near cultures) assimilate; 2nd gen Koreans (or Massai…?)* often feel alienated/confused and form their own “culture”/identity distinct from both that of their families and the host millieu. Once they grow in maturity, are awakened by the joy of grace and citizenship in heaven (rather than Korea or America or what-have-you), and are called and equipped by the Spirit , perhaps they may have the humility and plasticity required to reach a 3rd culture, but until then they are likely to be insular, as uncomfortable minorities often are.

    *l.e. highly divergent cultures are harder to integrate, and this isn’t just an “East/West” thing. In Uptown, some gangbangers are troubled 2nd gen (I don’t mean Korean/UBF, but immigrant–eg Somali) youth who feel they don’t fit in, and end up joining a gang “family” where they can “belong.”. Supposedly in Atlanta, there are Korean gangs and ne’er-do-wells like this, too, which blew up some of my stereotypes. I’m not saying culture-clash is the source of crime; sin is, & the biggest predictor is probably a broken/dysfunctional family, but the devil can and does take advantage of rootless anomie.

    **Disclaimer: two of my cousins are ethnic Korean. In South Korea, such kids are rarely adopted (though foreigners like Americans rescue some). Abortion and abandonment are way too common. I don’t see any reason to idealize South Korean culture, though I have some respect for chosunjo & chosunmal — perhaps poverty and being minorities has kept them more humble, an adjective that is remarkably hard to apply in South Korea or UBF.