Ethnic Arts

A Key to Mission Strategy

Missionaries today stand increasingly aware of the need to acculturate as much as possible their message and work. Dr. Leonard Rascher of Moody Bible Institute has stated that “the overriding objective (of missionary training) . . . is to sensitize . . . (those) from the majority culture with regard to (the nuances of cross-cultural communications) as it relates to those in minority cultures.” Moreover, it is obvious that those in mission work must continually press toward increasing their sensitivity to the dynamics of culture. Only in this manner can we even attempt to avoid the mistakes of our past.

Also, according to Dr. Rascher, the very first principle related to cross-cultural communication is that “we must be informed.” The following brief comments move to raise a few considerations about the role of the ethnic arts in mission strategy. Hopefully, these comments, along with some notes on why we in conservative evangelical missions have developed our present oversight of the arts in general, will help us include a close look at ethnic art forms in the development of our pre-evangelism, evangelism, and church planting strategy on the field.

In addition to the written and spoken language, increasingly we see the importance of body language, the language of social interaction, the language of ritual, etc. all of these, at first foreign and unintelligible to the outsider. Throughout the world, astute missionaries, are working (to check to give close attention to these ever so important cultural keys to understanding. An understanding of a people’s thought patterns and cultural norms will form the freeways that speed on a culturally relevant gospel so desperately needed by all.

I strongly believe there exists (at least) one major area of neglect by most conservative evangelical mission works — THE ETHNIC ARTS. A close evaluation of a people’s music and other art forms provides the major road maps to grasping their thought patterns, value structures, and communication norms. Though cross-cultural missionaries have for years attempted to become more sensitized to anthropological considerations, because of our generally low view (or inadequate view) of the role of the arts within our humanity or our Christianity, very few have an awareness of the need to take care to observe a people closely in these areas.

In the semi-literate and illiterate people groups, tradition, religion, social values, etc., are often almost exclusively transmitted through various art forms. Remember that, though written language and translation work are central to any mission work, we must teach a given illiterate people the whole concept of learning via writing and reading, over and above simply teaching them to read and write. How ethnocentric! In fact, reading and writing simply happen to be our way, the western way–in many cases a very foreign way.

For example, according to Rev. David Penz, missionary pastor and pilot with Arctic Missions, Anchorage, Alaska, and formerly with Wycliffe, the native peoples of Alaska are a “show-and-tell” people. They have for centuries, communicated their heritage, their traditions, and their teaching through chant stories, dance, and other art forms. This is true in numerous other people groups as well.

My Major Point is This

Mission work will accelerate if:

  1. Missionaries  work through local indigenous leadership, and do that as much as possible behind the scenes;

  2. Missions strategy  focuses on using every medium of indigenous communications possible in transmitting the truth of the Scripture

  3. Evaluation and utilization of various ethnic art forms are used in conjunction with and simultaneous to the development of language and translation work.

“We must be informed.”

Dr. Leonard Rascher

It is a recognized fact that the truth of God and the establishment of Christ’s Church will only occur as that truth enters via cultural points of contact and can be seen by a people as their own; to be developed within culturally familiar norms. In saying this, I am not advocating using Shaman dances in Christian worship. I do believe that dance forms can be developed though, in ways that may be quite appropriate (if developed by those natives sensitive to proper theology, proper decorum and proper motives related to worship, teaching, encouragement and evangelism). In general, we must, as quickly as possible, do away with introducing culturally foreign forms of expressions (e.g., our stayed hymns, our systems of homiletics, etc.) and allow them to develop their own appropriate forms of Christian expression and style.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial