BOOK REVIEW: Cross-cultural servanthood

How to serve?

How do you serve in a new culture without creating confusion and offence? The author explores key concepts to help you identify miscommunication, spot values behind behaviour and ultimately bridge cultural barriers. This book is a healthy check and balance for anyone embarking on an ambitious adventure to change the world. The Bible doesn’t rebuke ambition but does condemn selfish ambition.

God has a significant role for you in global mission. But it can be significant only if you are able to follow the servanthood of Jesus. Cross-cultural servanthood, Elmer, p198

Start with humility

The author stresses the importance of overcoming the sin of pride, and confesses to living cross-culturally at times with a mind-set of superiority. Good intentions are sometimes shrouded in unhelpful motives and acts of service can disguise blind arrogance. To make a positive and eternal difference in another culture, Elmer argues, you must consistently learn to follow the humble example of Christ

It’s more than a task; it’s a lifestyle

One of the main reasons the author wrote the book was to plug a perceived gap in the training of those living and serving overseas. Too often the emphasis rests solely on becoming effective in a task. This knowledge alone is insufficient. But by equipping people to develop relational competency and skills in adjusting to new environments, Elmer believes, the servant spirit will in fact be seen and valued by the local people.

‘Jesus came into our human context, adjusted to the Jewish culture and lived among us so that when the time was right he would accomplish the redemption of all who would believe.’ Cross-cultural servanthood, Elmer, p13

‘Openness is rooted deeply in our view of the God who welcomes sinners and accepts them as bearers of his image; thus each person possesses a sacred dignity.’ Cross-cultural servanthood, Elmer, p151

Seeing from another pair of eyes

New thinking requires new eyesight. Elmer underlines the importance of perspective through his chapter, Understanding: seeing through the other’s eyes. He outlines the subtle blindness caused by egocentricism (belief that self is at the centre) and ethnocentrism (belief that our culture is superior to all others).

In a nutshell

It’s an ideal refresher for anyone seeking to impact another culture for the better, whether it’s in a short or long-term capacity.


Full title: Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christlike humility

Author: Duane Elmer

Publishers: IVP Books, USA 2006, (ISBN 978-0-8308-3378-8)

Chapters include: Servanthood: It’s burden and challenge, Humility: Posture of a servant, Learning: Biblical foundations for change, Understanding: Seeing through the other’s eyes, The Servant and leadership, The Servant Model: Joseph.

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