My Personal Theology of Intercultural Ministry

c11After reading some of the comments on this site I do agree that the interactions that take place are perfect material for a psychologist to analyze. Sometimes we are talking through or above or below each other, and there is a lot of miscommunication. Our illocutionaries and perlocutionaries don’t always add up. It made me think of the great need we have for intercultural studies and so I wanted to share a short paper I wrote about it recently. The class was called Theology and Practice of Intercultural Ministry.

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” – John Calvin

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?”- Psalm 8:3,4

Intercultural Ministry is inevitable; yet we make the choice of embracing it or ignoring it. No two humans are alike, even those from the same “culture.” We are all unique in our own ways, therefore it is critical to learn how to do intercultural ministry, whether in seminary or not.

The definition of my personal theology of intercultural ministry is the process of striving to know God and mankind and the application of this knowledge. As the author in Psalm 8 states, God is the one who created the heavens, moon and stars, but who is man that God pays attention to him? God is the one who shakes the earth and parts the Red Sea. He is the Holiest of Holies. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He has always been. All mankind is contingent to Him and yet he loves man.  He is the One who sent His Son into the world to be murdered and sacrificed for us, for me.

As we learn more about God, we see how fallen man is. Romans 3:10,11, “”There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” We see how completely depraved man is and yet how valued man is in the eyes of God through the blood of Jesus, even to the degree that God loves His only begotten Son. John 17:23, “that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” This is a mystery. My heart resonates with the psalmist as he asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” This is the question at the heart of intercultural ministry, what is man ontologically? Who is God? And why does God who loves man so? How does this knowledge affect our lives?

What I learned in the course

Through this course, I picked up tools on how to interact interculturally and think critically. Here are a few of them:

  1. De-essentializtion – A person is more than their socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, religions, etc. For example, people who write about slums are, more often than not, people who do not live in slums, so the literature about slums is not a complete representation of slum dwellers. Often they are essentialized as poor and pitiful. We must hear more than one side of the story.
  2. Intentionality -While we were presenting our final projects this is a topic that came up over and over again. When doing intercultural ministry mistakes are bound to happen. For example, it is almost impossible to translate a worship service into the native language of everyone present, but having translators available and approachable simply as an option would be kind and considerate. Also, having signs translated into every language necessary is not possible, but at least English, Spanish and Chinese would be helpful (depending on your demographics).
  3. Local Sages – Often there are certain members of the congregation who are never called on to preach a sermon. But they have gone through the test of time and have so much wisdom to share. These are the people I should seek for wisdom and insight.
  4. Metaphors – There are seemingly harmless words like white, black, human capital, volcanic anger, etc. and when we use them they may imply things that we never intended. It is necessary to use our words carefully, respectfully and with love towards those we are addressing or referring to.
  5. Lenses – We all come to the table wearing many lenses whether they be existential, social, psychological, political, economical, etc. Often times our beliefs are results of the country we live in and the time period we are in. As Christians, God’s opinion should have first place in our hearts, minds and lives. Thus we should be aware of the lenses we wear and make an effort to remove them.
  6. Flip the Narrative, Embrace Diversity – This means to open up the conversation. When discussing issues of race, make sure there are different races represented. For example, when talking about “white privilege” do not simply ask people who all look the same
  7. Pray for milkshakes – While Prof A shared about his life, I learned things about prayer I did not know before. I learned that every decision is a theological one, even the decision to buy a weekly $2.30 Mcdonalds milkshake. (My prof shared about how he would pray about whether to spend money weekly on milkshakes or not). Honestly, for me, prayer sometimes seems tiresome, exhausting, and time-consuming. But through this course and other courses I am learning how liberating prayer is because it implies that every single part of my life matters. Also, I am not a good steward of my life. I have only been around for 26 years; God has much more wisdom than me. I want God to have the monopoly over my life.  Even now, I am so confused with what I am doing at seminary or why I am here. But I want to take it one day at a time, one semester at a time, just as Prof A prayed when he drove by Mcdonald’s. Sometimes the Lord said yes and sometimes the Lord said no. May the Lord teach me to listen to Him in all my decisions whether big or small.

Ways this course was helpful

“Humans don’t want to hear about the depth of human depravity.”

This course was so uncomfortable because we were forced to come face to face with difficult questions. For example, why are children allowed to suffer? Or ISIS allowed to exist? Why do we spend so much money on coffee? And why do we not notice when thousands of people are dying around us? Why do we spend time and money in seminary when so many people need Him outside the walls of Moody? Is there a better gospel?  I needed to ask these questions. I need to be shaken out of my bubble where my biggest dilemma is deciding whether to get Indian or Chinese food for dinner or what to watch on netflix. I live a charmed life. I cannot deny it. It is like a living version of the Hunger Games and I live in the capital. I’m glad that in this class I could be reminded of that. Every week, Prof A would survey the room and comment on how wealthy we are. This was helpful because it brought me back to reality.

It seems like this was a morbid class, but it wasn’t completely. I saw hope through this class. The honesty was refreshing because healing cannot be done until we diagnose the state we are in. There is a huge idol in US churches and it’s green; it’s money. But we are not powerless before it. We don’t have to hate and criticize American culture or wait to be shipped off to a foreign country for our real ministry to start. The US is ripe for harvest; we are plump and overfed. And God is mercifully opening our eyes to this.

Another point Prof A often shared is that “ministry is everywhere.” It is even in my neighborhood elderly home. There are so many refugees and unreached people in Chicago right now. They are inside their homes waiting for someone to minister to them. I can start right now. This was very encouraging to me.

And finally, through our discussions I began to love Jesus more. I began to see that He was not one to cut people short or give simple reduced answers. He is someone who could see so much more in a person than the human eye can. He is someone who wept over people. He was someone completely unpredictable. My human mind cannot wrap around the fact that God destroys and punishes but he does it lovingly with tears in his eyes. This is an impossible combination according to the opinion of my overly tolerant and affirmative culture. How can Jesus bear both grace and truth uncompromisingly?

Jesus loved people; and His love was evident to those he loved. He wants our submission, but he does not demand it. After our discussions I often thought where would Jesus be if he came back to Chicago in 2015? What neighborhood would he be living in? How would he spend his time? What would He be doing? And this gives me insight into how I should be living my life and spending my time.

I also learned about the jealousy of God the Father, especially because we memorized Zephaniah 1:8, 3:8. God is not only the God who answers our prayers and sends rainbows. He is a God who has emotions such as wrath, anger and jealousy. It really reminded me of Aslan in Narnia. He was not safe, but He was good. And yet in Zephaniah 3:17, it talks about a God who takes great delight in my, quiets me with his love and exults over me with loud singing. Our God is a complex God whose depth and breadth cannot be explained even if we had all eternity. Through this course I learned more insights into the heart of man and the heart of God.



  1. Thanks, MJ. I love this post, because it seems to be all inclusive with seemingly almost every major aspect of life and faith and ministry touched on, such that I’m not quite sure what exactly to comment on! So I’ll randomly and extemporaneously respond.

    Yes, taking past each other in the recent comments regarding sexual abuse was quite troubling, disturbing and problematic on many levels.

    Yes, we should use metaphors and examples prayerfully. Recently I realized that when I speak or share about certain subjects and topics in my sermons it upset some people, and majorly distracted them from the point that I had wanted to make. So I should avoid them!

    Yes, without a doubt, we in the U.S. are privileged beyond our wildest possible imagination (sadly often without even realizing it!), compared to the rest of the world and even the rest of history.

    Yes, nothing ever beats realizing how much God delights in us (Zeph 3:17), despite ourselves.

    I’m still trying to grapple the meaning of the words “illocutionary” and “perlocutionary.” I’m probably not going to get the hang of those words any time soon!

  2. Thanks for sharing MJ, good to hear about your seminary studies! I really really want to do this at some point.

    Your points about de-essenstilization and intentionality agree with me very well. We really would be far better off if our circle of essentials were much smaller. My circle of faith essentials are the three big beliefs of Christianity: 1) God is some form of Father, Son and Holy Spirit 2) Jesus is the Messiah promised by Scriptures and raised from the dead after the cross and 3) The Bible is inspired canon for my faith journey.

    In regard to local sages, I am still learning how to seek out “local sages” and to learn from them. I need to do this more often. I learned a lot by seeking out sages among former ubf members.

    Metaphors get rather messy for me to deal with. These days I just speak my mind. I am often unfiltered and that can be a problem.

    I have some reactions to #5 and #7. Sure we all have lenses and it would be great if we could take off our lens. But often I find people ask me to take my lens off and put their lens on. This can lead to a lack of authenticity.

    This statement really stings: “As Christians, God’s opinion should have first place in our hearts, minds and lives.” What is God’s opinion? Who knows? Often I find that “God’s opinion” is just a cleverly masked personal opinion, wrapped in Bible verses. I no longer care about God’s opinion. I do care about God’s prompting in my heart. I am learnig to listen to God’s voice. This takes time and intentional practice to discern the voice of God from the many other voices we hear.

    To pray for a milkshake, for me where I’m at is simply foolishness. I don’t “pray” for anyting anymore. Prayer to me is more like breathing. It is listening. It is observing. It is taking bold actions. It is asking. It is seeking. Prayer for me is now mostly a sub-concious, continual experience.

  3. MJ Peace

    Thanks for your feedback. Once again BK, your picture choice goes perfectly with my article, you are gifted at choosing blog photos.

    Actually reading back what I wrote about metaphors. I realized it doesn’t fully convey what I was trying to say.

    I’ll give 2 examples. One was about our group project. Ours was on women empowerment, but we used the term “capital” when we described our interviewees. It is dangerous using an economic term to describe people because it can be misinterpreted that a person’s worth is based on their social/economic/political capital.

    The second is about the words “white privilege.” There was a whole uproar about those two words at Moody. Basically there are two crowds. One crowd that is offended by that term and the other group that finds nothing wrong with it. You can guess the demographics of either group; it’s obvious.

    So when I say “metaphors” I’m actually talking about word choice. I personally use the words “white privilege” but I also use other words like racial apathy or systematic racial injustice. Words have to be defined because they can change their meanings constantly and discussion cannot happen if both parties are not using the same words.

    And that is related to my next point when I mentioned “God’s opinion” I had what you said in mind. By “God’s opinion” I mean God’s prompting as opposed to what culture/media tells us to do/thin/say/consume. But I also agree that we will never be lens-less. So it’s important to be aware of out pre-understandings and presuppositions.

    About praying for milkshakes, you need to have heard the story from my prof. It was an example from his personal life about his putting his expenditures in the hands of God. He was not asking God to bring him a milkshake, but for permission to buy one, once again asking for His prompting.

    I was calculating the hours spent in that class and it came up to 48, 16 weeks of 3 hour lectures. So this 1500+ word response doesn’t do justice to all I learned. BK, if you ever come to seminary I want to be in that classroom and see how you interact with your prof and classmates. It’s important to let others “poke holes in your theology.” You would keep everyone on their toes and I think that’s important.

    • Thanks for sharing more details MJ! I had no doubt we are actually nearly on the same page. I like your further explanations and your class sounds highly interesting to me.

      “BK, if you ever come to seminary I want to be in that classroom and see how you interact with your prof and classmates.”

      Well, if I don’t convulse on the floor with my head spinning around due to some trauma trigger, it would be very enjoyable, highly edifying, deeply insightful and effervescently Spirit-full!

    • Speaking of “white privilege” that is a very real situation. I had the opportunity in Matthew Vine’s cohort to play the “Race Game” with about 30 people. It was not fun :( I was so disgusted at my own white privilege and the system that gave it to me.

      I should point out that it is actually “white male privilege”. One of the kingdom reformations, I believe, is to dismantle the male-dominated hierarchies of the world, especially those racially privileged males. There is no more male and female. That binary view cannot sustain our view of humanity any longer.