Ministry Resource: Crossing Cultural Difference


By Ruth Lofgren Rosell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology: Pastoral Care and Counseling

It used to be that when someone talked about doing cross-cultural ministry, we knew it referred to mission work in another country.  This is definitely no longer true.  More than ever before, we are in an interconnected, multicultural, religiously pluralistic world.  With rapid travel for business or tourism and with ongoing influxes of immigrants and refugees from many countries, wherever we live, we are increasingly interacting on a regular basis with people who are culturally or religiously different from ourselves.  This is happening in our churches, neighborhoods, and workplaces.  In addition, the internet and the forms of communication it carries instantaneously around the world put us into contact with people of vastly different cultures and worldviews.

As pastoral leaders and congregations, we are to be loving and caring for our neighbor, no matter who they are, and quite possibly they may be culturally different from us.  Without cultural sensitivity and self-awareness, we can unintentionally be quite hurtful or rude in our interactions with others, rather than helpful.  We may misunderstand the problem or need and jump in with solutions that really are culturally inappropriate and even harmful.

Furthermore, we are to be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation and peace.  Negotiating agreements between those who are culturally different can be quite challenging because differing worldviews, values, and assumptions are at play.  Furthermore, how we interpret news events involving those who are culturally different often needs significant cultural sensitivity and knowledge.

At Central Baptist Theological Seminary we are realizing that every pastor and religious leader will not doubt be involved in cross-cultural ministry of some sort – within our churches and communities or on mission trips to other lands.  This spring our Doctor of Ministry students had the opportunity to develop their cultural sensitivity and awareness by traveling to Myanmar and taking a couple classes with Burmese students there.  I went along and taught one of those classes on Pastoral Care across Cultural, Ethnic, and Religious Difference.  In addition to being immersed in another culture, the classes involved much interaction between American and Burmese students.  It was a rich experience that will greatly enhance their ministries.

Traveling to another land and immersing oneself in another culture is invaluable.  So is forming a friendship and getting to really know someone who is culturally different from ourselves.  However, doing some reading can also be helpful in becoming more sensitive and skilled cross-culturally.  The three books we used for this seminary course can also be helpful reading for you.

Drinking from the Same Well: Cross-Cultural Concerns in Pastoral Care and Counseling by Lydia F. Johnson, Pickwick Publications 2011.  This is a good book to start with.  It introduces key concepts in the discipline of cross-cultural studies and makes them accessible and practical.  With numerous questions to aid in self-reflection and case studies situated in other cultures, she provides a praxis-oriented theological grounding in exploring cross-cultural perspectives in pastoral care and counseling.

Cross-Cultural Counseling by Aart M. Van Beek.  In this short book, Van Beek provides helpful information and discusses the skills needed in the one-on-one pastoral care and counseling that pastors do with those of a different culture.  Essential awareness and skills, assessing worldview and belonging, and utilizing the Biblical story as a resource are discussed and many case examples are given.

Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures by David W. Augsburger.  This classic book by one at the forefront of the field of pastoral counseling across culture still has much of value.  It is a lengthier and more comprehensive book and especially is helpful in considering cross-cultural issues from a thoughtful theological perspective.


My Experience:

Joshua Smith

“The vocation of the “pastor-theologian” is one that appeals deeply to my personal sense of calling. I have never felt particularly gifted as a “shepherd pastor,” or a “CEO pastor,” but have always had an abiding spiritual curiosity that has led me to seek God both intellectually and in community. Working on a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Central gave me the valuable freedom to explore theology and biblical studies more deeply than I could have imagined. I not only learned how to conduct research in my field of New Testament studies, but I learned how to better form my own questions in search of answers. Central helped me to realize my own vision of making biblical scholarship accessible to the local parish, a vision that I hope to carry well into my future.”