Cross-Cultural Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
July 13th, 2016

We’re each fearfully and wonderfully made—this means we’re different. We have different hair, different family members, and different traditions. Too often we focus on others’ differences, and this focus creates divisions and insecurities. This is especially true for youth, who are still trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in the grand scheme of things. What we as leaders, volunteers, parents, and friends need to do is remind them—as we remind ourselves—that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

There are five things important to teach your students as they encounter, develop, and live cross-culturally:

1. We’re All Different

This does not make one person better than another. Instead, it gives us great opportunities for knowledge and growth. We’re able to learn about customs, cultures, and ways of life. In doing so, we can bridge gaps others so often cannot. God uses our differences to impact others.

2. We All Have Struggles

All of us—youth and adults alike—want to know we’re not alone. At our core we have a longing to be loved. By acknowledging our struggles, we acknowledge our humanity and our need for relationships. We’re able to see others’ weaknesses and help build others up instead of breaking them down.

3. We All Have Expectations

It’s human nature to have expectations or preconceived notions about how others are going to be or what they’re going to do. We may even cling to some stereotypes. We must stop that. It may be hard, but remember everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” which means we’re unique.

We must be open with our expectations and graciously accept it when we learn we’re wrong. When we deal with people from other cultures, they may not ask things in a way we want them to and vice versa. It’s important to remember that this isn’t an attack on our personalities, groups, or races. When we’re speaking with someone one-on-one, we can gently say, “Next time you ask ________,  it might be better to word it this way. If you say it another way, someone might take offense—here’s why.” In doing this, we’re able to teach rather than harass or embarrass, which means we’ll be more likely to build relationships.

4. We All Have Doubts

When we make friends cross-culturally, it can be hard to figure out what’s socially acceptable within the culture. How much space do we give someone when we’re talking to them face-to-face? If we’re greeting someone for the first time, how should we do it? Should we bow, or do we nod? Do we shake hands, and should our grip be tight or loose? If we don’t know, we should ask in a respectful way how a person prefers to be greeted. It shows great respect and tact when we make the first move in acknowledging a cultural difference and allowing others to choose how they want to be addressed. This isn’t just vital at the beginning of a friendship—as the friendship deepens, it’s important to lovingly ask more questions for clarification and understanding.

5. We’re All Loved

When the differences seem too vast, or if we’re on two separate ends of the spectrum, remember that Jesus loves each and every one of us. He died for you, and he died for me—he died for all of us. We don’t have to understand or agree with one another on everything to be respectful, compassionate, or kind. Keep working and praying over the growing friendships and the new youth being added to your group. Remember that while it’s easy to focus on the differences, we should instead focus on the fact that Jesus has brought us together for a reason, for a purpose, and for his glory.


Elizabeth Barnard is a random researcher, blogger, missions consultant for Thirst Missions, traveler, and a family oriented school nerd. Author of “Go Away Closer”, she loves photography and tries to stay tuned in to see ways God shows up in the mundane and the amazing. 

Youth Specialties

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