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Crossing Cultures: Capacity and Insight

From the series Ministering Cross-Culturally

The above formula reads: capacity to minister cross-culturally is a function of experience, reflection, and maturation over a lifetime.1 The capacity to minister cross-culturally is a learned skill based on accumulated experiences, and reflection on those experiences develops maturity. Most of those experiences represent small or incremental insights. However, every so often, those incremental insights come together in life-changing moments of clarity when everything changes and stays changed forever.2

The apostle Peter’s lifelong journey toward cross-cultural ministry maturity began when he was in his late twenties and stepped out of his boat in response to Jesus’ invitation and promise to make him become something he was not yet: a fisher of men (and women, and Gentiles, and children, and eventually even Roman power elites). During his first year following Jesus, Peter witnessed Jesus’ cross-cultural attractiveness in the huge crowds that followed and thronged him (Mark 3:7–9). Some were from traditionally Jewish areas like Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem and some were from Gentile areas like Idumea, Transjordan, Tyre, and Sidon. Jesus appealed to all these peoples.

Perhaps a year after his initial following, Jesus took Peter and others on a short-term cross-cultural mission trip across the Sea of Galilee to the northeastern lake shore, the region of the Gerasenes (Mark 4:35–5:20). What should have been an easy sail for professional fisherman turned into a life-threatening experience. Crossing geographical barriers with the gospel presented unexpected challenges as did the first person the travelers met on shore, a hopelessly demon-possessed man whose very life was living death—even worse than death—as he lived among the tombs, desperately and unsuccessfully trying to commit suicide. Jesus’ presence and power that calmed wind and seas also restored this helpless man from death to life, life with a kingdom purpose: “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis…” (Mark 5:19–20).

Jesus had rescued, restored, recruited, and deployed his first cross-cultural missionary.

Sometime later, Jesus travelled to Tyre and Sidon, a trip that seemed to have the single purpose of finding a Gentile woman who had ears to hear and understand Jesus’ parable language. Afterwards, Jesus and his followers again passed through the Decapolis region where “they” (the healed demoniac and friends?) brought a deaf and mute man to Jesus for restoration. Perhaps “they” had faith in Jesus through the testimony of the restored and repurposed demoniac.

Jesus’ cross-cultural journeys provided Peter and the team several opportunities for reflection leading to cross-cultural ministry insights and maturity. These reflections could have included: expect spiritual battle, even in your areas of expertise; faith in Jesus is critical in crossing geographic and spiritual barriers to the gospel; expect unexpected people to respond positively to the gospel; proclaiming the gospel will challenge social and economic interests; teach new believers to tell their story to friends and family; and gospel restoration is for everyone who responds to the good news.

Peter’s journey toward ministering cross-culturally included cognitive and theological development as well as travel experiences. He watched and listened as Jesus argued that spiritual defilement came from within, from the heart, and not from external contamination from ritually unclean behaviors or foods (Mark 7:1–23). Mark’s unusually rare editorial comment in 7:19 illustrates how reflection over time developed capacity for ministering cross-culturally: it was ten years after Jesus’ declaration that all foods were clean that Peter had the stunning moment of clarity that all peoples were acceptable to God. Peter’s mature cross-cultural ministry capacity developed through reflection over time.

Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ,” took place in Gentile territory, at the foot of Mount Hermon. Jesus’ prophecy that the very gates into hell would not overpower his kingdom was perhaps spoken in the Grotto of Pan, the king of the underworld, with the Roman summer retreat city of Caesarea Philippi in the background.

Peter’s cross-cultural capacity continued to develop as he preached at Pentecost to “devout men from every nation under heaven.” Later he wisely resolved a touchy cultural crisis in Acts 6. In Acts 8, he and John went to Samaria and followed up on Philip’s evangelistic work there. On another journey to Samaria and beyond some years later, he raised Tabitha from the dead. Later still, he stayed in Simon the Tanner’s house, and after traveling some days with Gentile messengers, he saw the Holy Spirit fall directly on Cornelius and his entire household, just as it had fallen directly on the Jewish disciples at Pentecost.

Peter’s capacity for cross-cultural ministry developed over forty years of discipleship. His cross-culturally ministry timeline would look something like this:3

  • 28—began following Jesus
  • 29—witnessed a large culturally diverse crowd seeking Jesus
  • 30—crossed the stormy sea to Decapolis, demon-possessed man restored and sent to his family
  • 31—proclaimed Jesus as the Christ near Caesarea Philippi
  • 32—witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection, preached at Pentecost
  • 38—Peter and John in Samaria followed up Philip’s evangelistic work
  • 42—Cornelius, cross-cultural awakening: God accepts all peoples
  • 44—left Jerusalem after imprisonment and miraculous release
  • 50—Jerusalem Council
  • 51—Rome
  • 62—Wrote 1 Peter from Rome
  • 64—Wrote 2 Peter from Rome
  • 67—Martyred in Rome

God did not seem to be in a hurry to develop Peter’s capacity to minister cross-culturally. Rather, God developed Peter’s maturity over a lifetime of action and reflection. Over time, Jesus’ initial promise came true: Peter became a fisher of men, women, Gentiles, children, and even Roman power elites.

As God was with Peter, so is he for us: he will patiently and persistently develop our capacity for ministering cross-culturally over a lifetime beginning with understanding Jesus’ “all peoples” priority.4 Along the way we, like Peter, will experience a series of incremental insights and once in a while, encounter a ministry, theological, ethnographical, philosophical, or emotional transformation, a moment when everything changes in our ministry praxis, and it stays changed for the rest of our life and ministry.

Understanding and adopting God’s over-a-lifetime development praxis is a critical component of China’s movement from a mission field to a missions force. That long-term perspective has implications for who and how we identify, prepare, and send workers into the harvest. Expectations for new missionaries as well as for their sending bodies should include a long-term developmental perspective that recognizes on-field difficulties as expected and as the normative shaping events God intentionally uses to develop cross-cultural ministry capacity.

Jesus’ invitation and promise stands, as for Peter, for us: Follow me, and I will make you become…


  1. This formula is modeled on J. Roberrt Clinton’s mathematical summary of his Leadership Emergence Theory stated as L = f(p, t, r). In English this summary reads ‘Lifelong leadership development is a function of processing, time and response’. See J. Robert Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory: A Self-Study Manual or Analyzing the Development of a Christian Leader (Pasadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1989), 77.
  2. William R. Miller, and Janet. C’de Baca, Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives (New York: Guilford Press, 2001).
  3. These ages are estimates; for a chart of Peter’s life experiences, see “Introduction to 1 Peter,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed March 14, 2024,
  4. The concept that God intentionally develops ministry capacity over a lifetime to fully develop ministerial maturity is derived from Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory, 305.
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Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

Dr. Ken Anderson serves as board chair for ChinaReach, an indigenous missiological training effort intended to help China move from a mission field to a mission force. Dr. Anderson holds DMiss and MAGL degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. From 2011–2021 he served as an itinerant extension biblical training missionary in China …View Full Bio

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