Openness and Acceptance

Post 1 of 5 on Principles of Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Those involved in cross-cultural ministry are accustomed to thinking long-term. Everything takes a little longer, moves a little slower. If your desire is to serve others in a cross-cultural setting, you cannot just dive in without understanding the people. But understanding the people that you are ministering to is a life-long process, so where does someone begin? The next three articles outline the six principles that need to be practiced when entering into a new culture.

Openness

Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe. First, being open toward others is an ability, by my definition. This is important because if it is an ability, even if we are not particularly good at it, we can practice and get better. Second, openness is directed toward people — others like us and, more importantly, others who are unlike us. Third, openness must be expressed in culturally appropriate ways so that others feel both welcomed and secure in our presence. This requires us to practice…

  1. Cultural openness – We must be open to new and different aspects of the culture that we are entering into. Just like going swimming, we may tiptoe in at first, but eventually you just need to dive in and embrace it.
  2. Emotional openness – Some people may be open to new culture and experiences, but they remain emotionally closed off to people and the deep relationships needed for sharing the gospel.
  3. Hospitality – The apostles Paul, Peter and John all mention hospitality (Rom 12: 13; 16: 23; Tit 1: 8; 1 Pet 4: 9; 3 Jn 8). Twice it is listed as a requirement for church leaders. When we act hospitably we show honor to someone, but this can look different in other cultures.

We humans are very good at quickly assessing a situation, taking in information and coming to a subconscious decision. Most of the time this is a useful way to process lots of data and variables in our daily life. But when it comes to people, this skill is a shortcoming. The average person forms opinions about whether there is a potential for a relationship with someone they have just met in 2.4 – 4.6 seconds. This does not exemplify openness and hospitality. In fact, the bible calls this “judging others.”

Skills for Practicing Openness

  1. Suspend Judgment – Stifle your quick mental judgments and remain open to new info
  2. Tolerate Ambiguity – Tolerating ambiguity, or living in uncertainty for periods of time, taxes our emotional strength, which in turn drains our physical capacity. Tolerance for ambiguity allows us to persevere when criticizing or running away is what we would prefer.
  3. Think Gray – Most people immediately categorize things as good or bad, true or false, black or white, friend or foe. Thinking gray means this: don’t form an opinion about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant facts.
  4. Positive Attribution – Assume the best of everyone, but don’t be naïve.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person.   Everyone lives in need of acceptance. Some of our most significant memories are tied to times when we were overjoyed by acceptance or hammered by rejection. The church in a multicultural world is called to bless the nations by valuing persons and cultures in their particularity. Since we bear God’s image, no one is insignificant; no one is worthless. Unconditional, continuous acceptance is based on the fact that God has bestowed dignity and worth on every human being.

One of the biggest problems is that we often insist that others think and judge in the same way we do. We do not accept one another in love, but rather we try to remake those around us into our own image. This inclination to remake others in our own image is cultural cloning. People end up looking more like us than like Christ. Acceptance of them in their own cultural traditions helps us move from cultural cloning to discipling into the image of Christ. Servanthood means helping people look more like Christ, not more like us.

Factors that limit acceptance…

  1. Language – Even small efforts to communicate will make a difference.
  2. Impatience – Not knowing how to deal with life’s little frustrations will hinder your ability to acknowledge the great people around you.
  3. Ethnocentrism – The tendency of every person to believe that their own cultural values and traditions are superior to those of other cultures.
  4. Category Width – Narrow vs. Wide
  5. Dogmatism – This refers to the degree of rigidity with which we hold our beliefs, our cultural traditions, and our personal preferences. 

Acceptance modeled in Romans…

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. – Rom. 15:7-9

Looking at Romans 15:7, let’s draw out some implications of acceptance:

  1. Acceptance began with God
  2. Acceptance is Christian
  3. Acceptance reveals the glory of God
  4. Acceptance promotes the mission of God (15:9-12)
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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