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Is there a difference in student ministry from culture to culture? If so, how do you prepare for effective cross-cultural ministry? I am asked questions like these by students and church leaders headed for short-term missions’ opportunities as well as those preparing to spend a lifetime reaching youth globally.

In the last couple of years friends like Dr. Alvin Reid at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Brent Crowe of Student Leadership University have referred doctoral students to me with questions like these.  Actually it was one of those students who asked me this very question and I thought it would make for some good blog content.

I was able to address five of these questions in a phone interview. I am going to share my first two answers in this post. I was challenged to think beyond program to answer these questions, as they demand answers rooted in principle and philosophy. I will be sharing a brief summary of our conversation here.

Question 1: What varying perspectives on adolescence/teenagers exist from culture to culture around the world?

Observations:

  • The word “teen” was not even used until 1938. We have used it here in America to create a sub-culture that does not exist globally. Yes, other emerging countries have adapted this paradigm but you do not find this in third world countries.
  • Children and teens in North America have incredible influence over parents, finances and society in general which is not necessarily true cross-culturally.
  • The teen years are viewed as a holding pattern between childhood and adulthood unlike other countries where they are viewed as adults. (See The Greenhouse Project, chapter 1)
  • The teen years are a breeding ground for an entitled generation (see The Trophy Kids) unlike many other cultures.

Question 2: To what areas of cross-cultural student ministry should students from the USA be particularly sensitive when serving in other cultures?

Observations:

  • You are there first to introduce them to Jesus, not to change their culture.
  • Learn the cultural nuances, pressures and problems so you can address the real need and not what you perceive based on your own culture.
  • Depending upon the country, you will be the “haves” ministering to the “have not’s,” and this will be accentuated in third world countries. So prepare your heart.
  • As Americans you may be viewed as super-stars.  Don’t believe your press reports: you are not that good…you are a sinner saved by grace.
  • If you determine to base your student ministry on principle then there will be few cultural roadblocks. Problems arise when we try to take our program-driven ministries into new cultures.

Post-script:

I would like to recommend a good book on global student ministry given to me by Martin Garcia, our country director of Word of Life Australia, while I was ministering there last spring: The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations, Mark McCrindle.

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