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Guidelines for Ethical Standards In Cross-Cultural Ministry
by Paul Grant

The purpose of this brief presentation is to present a basic overview of a Biblically-based code of ethics in cross-cultural relations and ministry.


1. Ethics

  • Ethics has to do with morals and how people are expected to live and behave in their society.
  • Christian ethics are rooted in the truths and primary requirements of a Biblical faith.
  • Divine revelation must inform ethical living.
  • Biblical revelation both transcends and transforms the ethics of any and all cultures.
  • Beliefs influence and shape behaviour.

2. Culture

  • A society's integrated system of learned patterns of beliefs, ideas, behaviours and products.
  • A culture, in part, may be understood by looking at its ethics. That is, their morals and behaviours.

3. Ethnicity & Race

  • A race is a major grouping of peoples who have similar cultural, linguistic, and physical characteristics, e.g. Caucasian; Melanesian; African; etc.
  • An ethnic group consists of a sub-set within a race which has its distinct language and culture.

4. Worldview

  • Worldview is the way a society or culture perceives and interprets reality. It is how they see the world.
  • World view is what people see.


This is the bridge, which we have to work at and build if we are to carry the Gospel by witnessing and teaching into other socio- cultural groups. This calls for purposeful learning, adjustment, and sensitivity. How can this be done?


  1. Pray, trust God, and open your mind and heart to receive God's wisdom and knowledge.
  2. Observe, study, and appreciate the manners, mores (customs) and behaviours of the people.
  3. Recognize that they, while different, are equally loved by God. God has no favourites. (Acts 10-11)
  4. Refuse to be offended by their ethics.
  5. Do not seek to impose your ethical ideas or standards.
  6. Uphold and recommend God's Word as having power to transform culture and bring in new ethical standards.
  7. Honour ethical practices that are noble, right, pure, and lovely. (Phil.4:8)
  8. Where cultural ethics contradict the Word of God pray and seek wisdom and power to present the alternative in love.
  9. Be aware of your own cultural biases (e.g. monoculturalism; superiority).
  10. Examine your own mind and heart to check on prejudices, fears, or assumptions.
  11. Cultivate respect, seeing others as created by God so that they also may find and follow Him.
  12. Remind yourself that you cannot order changes in ethical or moral matters in any person's life, but you can pray, witness, and trust the Holy Spirit to reveal these perceptions to them.

Finally ask yourself: Do your own ethics stand up to the standards you think others should follow?


  1. Abraham. Reference : Gen.12:10-20; 20:1-17
    Believers can be deceitful. Unbelievers often know what is right.
  2. Peter. Reference : Acts 10-11
    An apostle of 15 years had to be cured of racialism and prejudice. He became a changed man.
  3. Paul. Reference : Acts 17:22-31
    A brilliant example of cross-cultural sensitivity, discernment and communication and no watering down of the message.
  4. Jesus. Reference : John 4:1-26
    The Master is shown as the Master Communicator respectfully and lovingly, firmly and uncompromisingly leading this Gentile woman into a lively faith. Note: He did not condemn her.


  1. In the Gospel of the Kingdom of God Jesus has given us a culture-transcending and a culture-transforming dynamic which confronts ethical categories of all societies and ethnic groups.
  2. The Gospel calls into question all mores and moral codes.
  3. Morals and ethical correctness are defined by a culture's worldview with its values and allegiances.
  4. Christians who seek to influence another culture with the Gospel must be both strongly grounded in Biblical ethics and also sensitively knowledgeable of that cultures mores and behaviours.
  5. What is seen as acceptable behaviour or manners in one's own cultural setting may be unacceptable in another.
  6. A custom or behaviour may be perceived as unacceptable yet Biblically valid in that setting. And vice versa.


Bible : Gen.1:26-31; 2:15-20; 3:8-19; John 1:1-2,14,18

Ministering Cross-Culturally: by S. Lingenfelter & M.Mayers (1987) Baker

Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally by D. Hesselgrave (1978) Zondervan

Copyright © John Mark Ministries. This article may be reproduced in any medium, without applying for permission (provided it is unedited, and retains the original author/copyright.)

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