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Ministry Minestrone: How globalisation spices up our students’ future ministry contexts

“Life is a minestrone” sang 10cc in 1975, reflecting on the fact that life, in Eric Stewart’s own words, ‘… is a mixture of everything we pile in there.’

To be honest, Christian ministry was already a minestrone, even before globalisation. The gospel worker is often to be found running around to keep up with ‘everything we pile in there.’ But now globalisation threatens to make ministry a whole lot more complicated. Or does it?!

Before we answer that question we should probably try to get a handle on ‘globalisation.’ That’s not easy! Zygmunt Bauman complains that definitions are elusive and fade in and out of focus, ‘the more experiences they pretend to make transparent, the more they themselves become opaque.’ We are not sure whether globalisation is ‘what we are bound to do if we wish to be happy’ or ‘the cause of our unhappiness.’ 1

Inevitably, there are multiple aspects to it, so let’s just consider one aspect: the increased movement of the global population and the cultural mixing that results. In 2010, for example, an estimated 3% of the world’s population were on the move, many to the communities in which our graduates are likely to serve, home and abroad. 2

Whilst it’s undeniable that our ministry contexts are becoming increasingly diverse, does it follow that this additional complication might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Might it even be an answer to the problem of business and burn out among Christian ministers?

Here’s what I want to suggest: that the culture mixing we are experiencing might just teach us to minister in healthy ways and open up new possibilities.

Take the cultural dynamic of task vs relationship for example. 3 As people join our communities from cultures where relationships are more important than tasks, the minister will be need to spend more quality time drinking tea and eating with people than getting people signed up for rotas. We might learn or re-learn the value of unplanned time with people and freedom from the tyranny of the to-do list. Some things won’t get done … and we might all be a lot happier.

Relatedly, take the individual vs group cultural dynamic. Might it be enriching to evangelise whole families together, rather than try to reach the mum midweek, the dad at a men’s breakfast and the kids on a Friday night?

OK, I know I’m just picking out the best bits of our ministry minestrone and haven’t mentioned the down sides at all. Aren’t there some scorpion peppers lurking in there somewhere? Yes, there will certainly be some steam coming out of our ears from time to time too.

Like when pastor Nathan arranged to meet four young men from church on Saturday mornings for eldership training. The German and the Korean were always early, the Peruvian and Malawian were 20 minutes late every week. Stereotypes or generalisations? Nathan didn’t care – he was just trying to calm the German down.

Or when women’s worker Sarah spent six weeks teaching some female Japanese students to gospel for the first time. They seemed so interested and all said ‘yes’ they’d like to know Jesus as their saviour when Sarah asked them at the end of the course. But they all drifted off politely and made their excuses soon after that. Stereotype or generalisation? Sarah didn’t care – she was just trying to get over her heart-breaking disappointment.

So not everything in our increasingly diverse ministry contexts, is going to be to our taste. But isn’t that the whole point? My dad has had meat and two veg every day of his life. Ask him what he wants tomorrow – meat and two veg! I suppose there may be some virtue in that, but how can I ever communicate to dad the delights of a Chicken Jalfrezi? I can’t. He’d never choose it, but somehow I know he’d be enriched and challenged at the same time if he did. Before, during and after consumption!

Oak Hill students are training to minister the unchanging gospel in a rapidly changing world, where cultures are increasingly colliding and mixing. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to embrace the spicy ministry menu. They’re going to need absolute conviction that the gospel applies to all people equally, flexibility, a good sense of humour and … probably, much shorter ‘to do’ lists.

1 Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), 1.
2 J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door, Immigration, Migration and Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2012), 39.
3 Brooks Peterson, Cultural Intelligence, A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures (Boston: Intercultural Press, 2004), 33ff.


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