Fruitful ministry is shaped by many different streams of information, including ethnography, linguistics, and history. Workers who conduct research or actively reflect on the research of others are more fruitful than those who base their ministries on preconceived ideas of the patterns of ministry in their sending countries.
Consistently, fruitful workers in our study demonstrated a high degree of knowledge about the contexts of their ministry—historical, cultural, or linguistic, to name a few. In many cases, it was obvious that this research had contributed significantly to their ministry. Though fruitful workers rarely mentioned their research explicitly, their depth of contextual understanding did not just appear out of thin air. The idea of research was often just below the surface in the interviews, such as this one, in which a worker explained some of the theological implications of the way he was using the Quran as a bridge:
These Muslim background believers are not the first to come up with these answers. We can look in other types of Quranic tradition and back up their answer that other people within the Muslim fold have given before (GTFP, Interview 75, 2007).
Although the interviewee said nothing explicit about research, his statement implied a deep knowledge of the various traditions in Quranic interpretation. Later in the interview, he mentioned in passing that he has a graduate degree in Islamic studies. Therefore, in this case we can see that an innovative approach to using the Quran as a bridge was the indirect result of a worker investing time in pertinent research and study.
Another fine example of the impact that research has on fruitfulness comes from a worker explaining how her team developed their own style of biblical story telling:
Before I tell the stories we have prepared, we ourselves have explored the community… if I want to talk about the story of Creation—that we are made in the image of God—I should first understand what they think about the image of God. What is in their world-view about Creation. So I myself have to do the thorough community exploration in light to the story that I’m going to tell (GTFP, Interview 34, 2007).
Again, there is no explicit use of the term research. Nevertheless, this worker deliberately studied her context as a means to understand the nature of orality in her host society. The fact that she does not use the term research to describe her efforts does not mean that it was not.
Few of those we interviewed were comfortable describing what they did as research, though it was clear that many of them had done intentional, and at times extensive, investigation into some aspect of their context. This raises the question, “Why are workers hesitant to use the term research?” Unfortunately, our data does not answer that question; however, we might speculate here. Could it be that most cross-cultural Christian workers consider research to be the exclusive realm of graduate studies or formal, full-time fieldwork by people with degrees in the social sciences? Perhaps most are unaware that untrained Christian missionaries conducted a vast amount of early ethnographic work, so much so that Whiteman tells us:
Although most missionaries are unaware of it… It is arguable that the discipline of anthropology would not have emerged without its heavy reliance upon ethnographic data provided by missionaries (Whiteman 2003, 36).
If more cross-cultural workers were aware of this historic contribution, we might see an increase in those who do first-rate, although often unofficial, research—and this would undoubtedly be fruitful.
All the Fruitful Practices related to Society:
Society 1: Fruitful workers communicate respect by behaving in culturally appropriate ways.
A worker’s attitude toward the host culture sends powerful messages. Fruitful workers behave in culturally appropriate ways in major cultural domains such as clothing and food, and especially in regards to hospitality. The key is sensitivity to the local setting, not necessarily whole-hearted adoption of local practice.
Society 2: Fruitful workers address tangible needs in their community as an expression of the gospel.
Good deeds often help workers gain a good reputation in the host community. Fruitful workers make clear that their good deeds are an expression of the gospel; otherwise, local people may assume that the worker is simply a good person or is trying to earn religious merit.
Society 3: Fruitful workers relate to people in ways that respect gender roles in the local culture.
Gender roles, and the taboos associated with them, are potent issues in the Muslim world. While maintaining a biblical perspective on these issues, fruitful workers strive to understand gender roles in their local context and demonstrate respect for these social norms.
Society 4: Fruitful workers mobilize extensive, intentional, and focused prayer.
Fruitful workers invite others to join them through committed intercession for themselves and the people they are engaging. They recognize that this can be as important as inviting people to join the team that lives in the host culture.
Society 5: Fruitful workers pursue language proficiency
Workers who are able to freely and clearly communicate in their host language(s) are much more likely to be fruitful. Fruitful workers carefully consider questions concerning language choice, such as whether to use heart or trade language, sacred or secular language. By learning language, they also gain a deeper understanding of culture, making language proficiency fruitful across a number of different dimensions.
Society 6: Fruitful workers take advantage of pre-field and on-field research to shape their ministry.
Fruitful ministry is shaped by many different streams of information, including ethnography, linguistics, and history. Workers who conduct research or actively reflect on the research of others are more fruitful than those who base their ministries on preconceived ideas or the patterns of ministry in their sending countries.
Society 7: Fruitful workers build positive relationships with local leaders
By sensitively and carefully relating to local authorities, including non-Christian religious figures, workers gain respect and good standing in their host community. Those who are intentional about choosing their relationships with local leaders are more likely to be fruitful.