From zero to three in a lifetime
by Geir Engoy –
Cross Cultural Ministries
When I moved to the USA I was put in a category I hadn’t considered before: “resident alien.” I thought that kind was only seen from the backyard against a dark night sky or in sci-fi flicks on the dumb-box. Others may assist us in assigning us to categories that don’t gel with our own perception of who we are.
Still, some categories are helpful to us; I invite you to accept the basic premise that as Christ-followers we are missionaries. When addressing the Lausanne conference in 1974, Dr. Ralph D. Winter suggested a helpful way to view our involvement in evangelization. Next to our M (for missionary) he suggests we add numbers to indicate the cultural distance between us and our target audience. This distance is what we need to traverse in order to reach them in a meaningful and lasting way with the claims of Jesus Christ. An M-0 helps provide spiritual nurture in his/her home church to those who already have accepted the Lord and share the same background. An M-1 is involved in church planting among “his/her own kind” in their hometown. An M-2 reaches out to people of a similar culture to his/her own. This often involves new language and culture learning. However, the language belongs to the same language group and the accompanying cultural assumptions would be somewhat predictable to the M-2. This is when we start engaging in cross-cultural outreach. An M-3 typically evangelizes among a group of people that is truly “foreign” to him and, often, to the Gospel. The language barrier is considerably higher than between English and French. You may be up against Sanskrit or end up where no written language exists. Cultural assumptions and implications also will be at the other extreme in relation to the comfort zone of our M-3.
Now, there is more to this than purely linguistics, of course. There is a long way from a nominal Protestant to an ardent Hindu. Although the Scandinavian countries’ flags are patterned on the cross, observers may question the expression of Christianity in those cultures. The US–“one nation under God”–seems to be in a quandary as to who he is, and prayer is forbidden in public schools (except for exams!).
Consider the recruitment of new converts and leaders to your church. If numbers are low, it is not because there are no people out there (there are over six billion!), nor is it because God does not call anyone. A lot of people are not listening or considering the option! Maybe part of the reason is that people are not identifying themselves in the M-0 to M-3 categories. When you find your place–and determine your target audience for your outreach–it will be easier for you to figure out what opportunities and challenges go along with who you are–in Christ!
Since God has commanded us to GO! not everyone will end up in the M-0 category; many more of us need to do some personal homework and find that we need to use our gifts and talents from another “box.”
If I realize that my “calling” is to be a soccer player, I still need to figure out if my primary job is to stop the shots, make the passes or try to score the goals. I need to define my position and help the team win the game on our way to the championship.
If we all decide we are M-Os we will get a very well-fed congregation of like-minded and over-weight people. But, it is in the going that stuff happens. It is also in the going–strengthening our muscles and getting rid of the flab–that we experience the dynamism of the Gospel.
They may call you a “resident alien” or you may feel like one, but it is the challenge of the Gospel that you start moving from “zero to three” and discover the increasing family of God.