The 4 Cs of Cross-Cultural Outreach and Discipleship: The 'Indigenous Perspective'
By Rev. Calvin Hill
Introduction: Tips for Training Horses and Bringing in People
My mother taught me to train horses as my grandpa had taught her. The oldest of her siblings, her job was breaking and training wild mustangs. Her family lived on the Navajo reservation, where I grew up. Like countless other Indigenous people across America, I struggled with the English language, cultural identity, and eventually Christianity.
While learning to train horses, I framed a principled strategy for training called the four Cs: clarity, consistency, communication, and compassion. As I summed up the Four Cs philosophy, I recognized it fit any methodological course of training, belief, and —in this context— outreach to Indigenous People and subsequent discipleship.
In working with a horse, the trainer figures out which method moves the horse forward, backward, and side-to-side. A good trainer understands what engages the horse’s intellect, inherited environment, and innate spirit. The trainer also knows that if a wrong method is used, the horse will fight or flee. The right method will have the horse thinking. And a thinking horse will want to stay and consider how it could please the leader/trainer.
A cross-cultural approach to outreach and discipleship in our Christian faith is ironically similar to horse training. The church and its leaders ought to analyze for clarity by listening and observing to identify language, family structure, and cultural practices. Clarifying these three values helps leaders understand prospective members and avoid sabotaging their outreach efforts. These three factors are invaluable for planning. They give a clear view of bridgeable language, family dynamics, and cultural practices. Clarity concerning the context of Indigenous People should inform the church’s approach to discipleship and evangelism.
However, many non-Native ministries continue to use “colonization style” outreach, which does not attract Indigenous People. Such an approach denies people an opportunity for Wesleyan discipleship, much of which is compatible with Indigenous cultures. Many Indigenous generations heard the sad and cruel stories of early missionaries who condemned Indigenous practices and stories. Recalling this truth, church leaders today must understand that previous missionaries’ approaches oppressed people instead of liberating them in Jesus’ name.
Today’s Indigenous People do not want to maintain assimilation rituals. Many know the reality of spirituality and want expressions of spiritual formation that ensure the survival of creation. One successful approach is to incorporate Indigenous creation stories, most of which are more geologically sound than the one in Genesis.
Today’s Indigenous People do not want to maintain assimilation rituals. Many know the reality of spirituality and want expressions of spiritual formation that ensure the survival of creation.
Indigenous creation stories give insights into how the Indigenous community is integrated into its community and in non-Indigenous circles. These insights will guide church leaders to rethink and challenge their views of creation and help them create a model for outreach that could lead to discipleship.
Church leaders need to find a common language, cultural practices, and innate work of God’s Spirit. The result will initiate a contextual approach and possibilities for other church communities.
It is important to demonstrate faithfulness and genuineness in any outreach and discipleship process. To be effective, we need consistency.
Consistency is not just about conformity in application; rather, it is about achievements in levels of capabilities. A leader’s capability and knowledge will reflect his/her potential for leading disciples. Returning to our horse training example, if the horse trainer is unable to interpret and communicate body cues, properly use equipment, or establish leadership, then the horse being trained will not show its full potential. The horse’s potential reflects the potential of its trainer. The same philosophy is exhibited with cross-cultural outreach and discipleship.
So, education is important. If a team is willing to consistently learn about an Indigenous group, that team will be more effective.
Authenticity is vital in evangelistic efforts. We are all shaped by our culture and history, so if the Christian culture has shaped your inheritance, then live into it. We live in a time of religious, spiritual, and cultural experimentation, where well-formed faith knows little to nothing about Christian theology, and people are investigating different spiritual practices. Being your authentic self will help establish respectful relationships.
It’s also important to be authentic in establishing a relationship. An authentic relationship is inviting individuals or individuals’ families to connect. Being a true friend is taking someone’s hand and saying, “Come, let us go home together and eat.” When an authentic relationship is confirmed, outreach and discipleship can follow.
Consistency is vital in education, relationships, identity, outreach, and discipleship attempts.
In Western-dominant culture, people speak too much and do not listen well. Communication is not just about speaking and getting your point across. It is about listening, observing, contemplating, and then speaking. "Be still, know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
As a horse trainer, I have noticed that horses communicate with their bodies ninety-seven percent of the time. The other three percent of the time, they communicate through variations of neighing and snorting. After detecting a horse’s communication skills, the horse trainer must learn to communicate in silence through body movements— the movement of head, hands, arms, legs, and eye contact— to make a horse respond. Seldom would a trainer use his/her voice to communicate. A good trainer uses his/her body.
The philosophy for reaching and training people is the same. The best communication skills are formulated within the community. The first step is determining the level of interrelationship with the English-speaking(white) community. Interrelationships with the English-speaking (white) community influence language, cultural knowledge, and religious practices.
Knowing the level of interrelationship with the dominant white culture will help with communicating the classic themes of God, Christ, atonement, and eternal life, or it will help with finding related themes, such as creation, liberation stories, or future living in the New World.
This insight can help church leaders formulate an outreach and discipleship process. The creation story design, mentioned above, is an effective approach if church leaders are willing to learn the Indigenous view of creation. Or a team could compare the symbolization of the medical wheel to the cross. Each direction of the medicine wheel symbolizes moral practices that offer holiness to family, culture, and religion. The cross conveys similar meanings.
Discovering the suitable communication passageway is fundamental to formulating an effective outreach and discipleship process.
First, be compassionate with yourselves. You will make mistakes. Outreach and discipleship are not simple —especially among the Indigenous People. Their historic engagements with English-speaking (White) people have not been pleasant. And their response may not be what you anticipate. In some cases, the response might be a little harsh, so your feelings might get hurt. Be compassionate to yourself. People will recognize your need for self-care and will respond compassionately.
Let’s return to our horse-training metaphor for a moment. There is one thing both the horse and trainer want — and that is to survive. They love themselves and they want to live, even if they make mistakes. So, we all need to be compassionate with ourselves. Why? Because we will make mistakes, even as we prepare an outreach and discipleship process.
Indigenous people also long for life. They want to live long and healthy lives and to live on after this earthly life. They love themselves and will engage with people who have compassion.
Settlers did not offer much compassion to the Indigenous People. As a result, many Indigenous People have not been healed from times of residential schools and broken treaties.
So, if church leaders can show compassion for themselves and Indigenous People, they will be displaying the compassion that God has for all people.
Indigenous People are caring, and their level of compassion is impressive. They share land, food sustainability, and ceremonial practices. Once they see compassion in others, they will trust and believe the compassion shared.
Jesus showed compassion for the demon-possessed man, Legion, in Mark 5, but also for the man’s community, as Jesus told him to “tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you” (5:19 NIV).
Indigenous people are compassionate, so those in ministry need to show the compassion of God.
I hope that the Four Cs will aid church leaders in constructing a contextual map for directing people to God, Christ, and The Holy Spirit that will create disciples to serve all people. The Four Cs serve as an outline for shaping directions in life.
Rev. Calvin Hill is the pastor of First UMC of Newcastle, Wyoming. He received his Master of Divinity from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and he is getting his Doctor of Ministry from Claremont School of Theology. He is the chair of the Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) for the Mountain Sky Conference.
Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.