VALUE: Cross-Cultural Servanthood
by Jack Taylor
Our staff are reading an interesting book called Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. Faith Fellowship heralds three values: Faith, multi-generational and multi-national community, plus servanthood. This book blends the last two values for us.
The way this value looks for us includes the following definition:
Servanthood – This means that, in our ministries and individual lives: we will grow toward
- Putting the best interests of others ahead of our own
- Utilizing our gifts, resources and abilities to the benefit of building up the body and the individuals in it
- Choosing humility, graciousness, gentleness and compassion as our first response to others inside and outside our immediate fellowship
This is far harder than it sounds when reading words on paper. Everything within us seems to fight against acting like Jesus in Philippians 2 where it says he emptied himself and became a bond-servant.
Elmer’s point in his book (p. 17) is that in a cross-cultural situation it is natural for North Americans to act from a point of superiority even without realizing it. He says that our superiority “appears in disguises that pretend to be virtues – virtues such as
- I need to correct their error (meaning I have superior knowledge, a corner on truth)
- My education has equipped me to know what is best for you (so let me do most of the talking while you do most of the listening and changing).
- I am here to help you (so do as I say).
- I can be your spiritual mentor (so I am your role model).
- Let me disciple you, equip you, train you (often perceived as “let me make you into a clone of myself).
The author summarizes that “superiority cloaked in the desire to serve is still superiority. It’s not our words that count but the perceptions of the local people who watch our lives and sense our attitudes.”
There is no question then but that servanthood begins from a deep sense of humility as to who I am and a deep sense of respect and honor as to who God has made you to be. Your culture, faith, experience, background, personality and understanding of God as filtered through the Scriptures all are facets of life that I pay attention to.
Our perception of servanthood is filtered through our cultural lens. What we think of as service is easily interpreted as superiority or ignorance by another. This is never so obvious as in the different ways we greet each other and show respect.
Our perception of servanthood is also filtered through our generational lens. We were all raised with what we were told was the “right” way to show respect to others – to those older, to men, to women, to relatives, to strangers, to those in authority, etc.
Being mixed in the soup of multi-culturalism and multi-generationalism can easily leave one feeling like there may no longer be any right way to do much of anything. Servanthood is a value we are still learning. What have you learned about servanthood in your context, culture and circumstances? Bless you as you put Biblical servanthood into practice.
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