Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry: Discerning

By David Harakal

Have you been on the field for ages and have practical advice you would like to share? Are you new on the field and looking for wisdom from those who have gone before you? Do you prepare people for the field or support them from your home country?

There are many resources on maintaining, growing, or restoring your relationship with God for, in preparation of, and during cross-cultural ministry. You can study team dynamics and leadership, or enroll in a course on how to integrate into a new culture—warm vs. cold,  collective vs. individualistic, honor-shame vs. guilt-innocence—including residential programs spanning weeks to months. What I have not found was how to live day-to-day in a new culture with a new team and new expectations, or stay in that culture. So I am writing a series of articles to address that, following the worker’s journey:

  • Discerning
  • Thriving defined
  • Preparing
  • Leaving
  • Arriving
  • Staying
  • Departing
  • Tools to help in all phases
  • Additional Resources to apply to multiple phases

This is the first of 8-10 installments, shared generally through short paragraphs and bullets to provide information and generate discussion. At the end of this article is a feedback link. Eventually, I want to turn this into a book, made better through the feedback of many.

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 1: Discerning

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:15

The history of missions is the history of answered prayer. It is the key to the whole mission problem. All human means are secondary.

– Samuel Zwemer

In the discernment phase, to be ready to even consider next steps, the following must be true:

  • One’s sending organization, company, fellowship, or network has evaluated the candidate for field readiness.
    • If someone is unhappy in their home country, and looking to a life in cross-cultural service to provide missing joy and fulfillment, they should stop their process.
    • If someone is looking for a missions assignment to get away from uncomfortable or unhealthy family or personal dynamics, they should read Matthew 5:23-26 and stop their process.
  • A candidate has a rich prayer life.
    • If someone has studied missions, trained and learned the right tools to share the gospel, practiced them in their home context, but has not developed a rich prayer life, develop that first.
    • No one can expand the kingdom of God through tenacity, endurance, or cleverness alone (though these help). Unless God goes before you, you will fail before you start.
    • Develop an attitude of “ready, willing, and unable.” Give God room to work. He can use you, but doesn’t need you.
  • One’s theology is solid.
    • I have worked with far too many on the field who have big vision, a huge heart for the lost, yet a shallow theology.
    • If one’s theology is not solid, stop and invest another year or two studying the role of suffering, the character of God, and the lives of missionaries and movements.

Life in a third culture is hard. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. This is the first of a series of articles to help someone at any phase of life on the field, to make a new location home, whether one’s intended stay is a few months, a few years, or indefinite.

Let me know with what you agree, disagree, or find missing:

You can learn more about me and see other books I have written at:

This article is submitted by Reliant. Reliant is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…


Upcoming Events