Fruitful Practices Among Near-culture Workers: A Qualitative Study
By Pam Arlund & Gene Daniels
Fruitful Practices Research has recently completed a second round of mixed-methods research on church planting in the Muslim world. One part of this research module focused on interviews with near-culture workers from Africa and Asia. In each case, the church planters involved were crossing cultural barriers to go to Muslim people groups geographically close to the worker’s original home. This data set does not include workers from western countries. The workers in this survey came from a wide variety of worldview backgrounds (Muslim, Christian, and Hindu) and were actively trying to plant contextually appropriate churches in a cross-cultural context at the time of the interviews.
This study produced four major findings:
1. Relating to God (RGD) is the key driver of fruitfulness. Almost every interview we studied in this data set mentioned experiencing difficulty and suffering. Close behind this in frequency, workers mentioned engaging in regular, frequent prayer. This is particularly important when we consider that this fruitful practice seems to be of much higher value for these near-culture workers than for the expatriate western workers in previous studies. Perhaps this is because these workers have experienced a higher degree of persecution than previous Fruitful Practices studies and this base experience of persecution has helped shape how they choose to minister. The linking of these two practices, RGD2 and RGD3, in the data also seems to reinforce the grouping of them together in the Fruitful Practices project.
2. Relating to Society (RSO) is also a key contributor to fruitfulness. In a strong majority of the interviews, workers seemed to show immense awareness of the fact that they had not crossed many miles geographically but had crossed great gulfs culturally. Each of these workers emphasized the need to either address tangible needs in the community or to communicate respect by behaving in culturally appropriate ways.
3. Fruitful near-culture workers use a variety of ministry methods. These workers were very clear that they did not use only one method to share Jesus with others. For 2/3 of the workers interviewed, their multi-pronged approach to sharing was important enough to make clear to the interviewer. Although at least some workers seemed aware of various approaches and even exhibited personal favorites, in the end, they felt that individuals had to be treated as individuals and there was no single right way to share the gospel.
4. An emphasis on heart values. The data show that these workers are fruitful because they display heart values associated with the three previous findings. Specifically, these values might be characterized as: perseverance, intimacy (with God), honor, respect, seeing people as individuals, and being guided in specific situations by the Holy Spirit.
This study of near-culture workers offers important insights into fruitful practices because it focuses on a large but often neglected category of church planter. This work should help us understand better how to partner together better as we form multi-cultural teams by enhancing understanding of the difficulties and responses of near-culture workers.
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