Intro to Cross-Cultural Servanthood

There’s this old story about a monkey and a fish. This monkey is sitting up in his tree trying to ride out a terrible storm. The wind is raging, the rain is falling, and the floodwaters are rising. The monkey looks down into the river that runs beneath his tree and sees a fish struggling against the current. The monkey is a very caring monkey, and he wants to help the fish. So, he swings down from his branch scoops the fish up out of the water and places the fish beside him in the tree.

People who are passionate about working in other cultures often rush in to help others and meet needs without knowing how to help effectively. Living in North America, we face a culture that tells us we are the most powerful, the most technically advanced, the most educated, and the richest… Even though some of these may be partially true, this mentality has caused our churches and missions sending organization to feel like we are the greatest hope for the God’s gospel on earth, that we are the one taking the light to dark places.

This entrenched superiority complex most often goes unnoticed by us. Submerged deep within, it is evasive and hard to identify. But the truth emerges when we are met with repeated failures in our attempts to build relationships and share the gospel cross-culturally.

Since we truly want to be effective in our cultural setting, and we truly want to help people, we need a proper example to follow. As a Christian, we look to Jesus. What made him effective in his ministry? Personality? Conversational ability? In his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer teaches that to truly make a cross-cultural impact we must follow Jesus in foregoing the robes of status and pride to take up the towel of service and humility. Elmer takes the time to show that serving others begins with things like openness and learning because we can only serve others when we enter into their culture and meet them where they are.

But servanthood is much more than just a tool for cross-cultural evangelism. When we understand the biblical model of service, it helps us relate and minister to our spouse, our family, our friends, our teammates, our boss, our co-workers…everyone we meet.

Jesus came to earth occupying two roles: (1) Lord and Christ, and (2) humble, obedient servant. He alone is Lord and Christ. But he taught and exemplified humble servanthood, the role we are to occupy— the way of the towel. The problem arises when his followers choose to follow him in his kingly role and not in his servant role. They gravitate toward the robe while resisting the towel. The Lord Jesus Christ alone wears the robe. His disciples are to follow him only in his humble, obedient servant role— maybe even his suffering servant role.

Posts on Cross-Cultural Servanthood:

  1. Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2006.
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