Book Review: Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Summary

Duane Elmer in Cross Cultural Servanthood walks the reader through a three-part journey in understanding the role servanthood plays in cross cultural ministry. Cross Cultural Servanthood builds on each of the three sections in helping the reader understand basic perspectives of servanthood, the process of servanthood, and the challenges of servanthood.

In part one basic perspectives, Duane Elmer spends the first three chapters unpacking what he means by servanthood and the necessity of humility. Chapter one focuses on the burden and challenge of servanthood, especially in a cross-cultural context. The main driving point is that servanthood truly happens within the context of relationships. Chapter two provides a cross cultural example by examining Jesus’ servant heart towards his disciples. Specifically the chapter looks at three texts in Matthew, Luke, and John to demonstrate how Jesus lived a life defined by servanthood. Finally, chapter three hones in on the role humility must play in the pursuit of servanthood.

Section two is covers the process to servanthood and takes up the majority of the book. Chapters four through ten walk the reader through the following process of servanthood; openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding and serving. The primary strength of this section which will be discussed in detail below, is how it assumes nothing in walking the reader through the process of understanding servanthood. Most books on humility and servanthood assume to some degree a posture of understanding what one should do to successfully assume a posture of servanthood. Duane Elmer does not assume that posture and this book is better for it.

Finally, section three concludes the book by using the final four chapters to discuss challenges in servanthood. These final chapters walk through, servant and leadership, servant and power, servant and mystery, and a servant model as seen in the life of Joseph. Although this book is very practical there are a few key weaknesses to the text. However, we will first examine the plethora of strengths.

Analysis

            As discussed above the greatest strength of this books is that Duane Elmer assumes the reader has no clear understanding or knowledge regarding the “how to” of servanthood. Because he assumes this posture he offers three strengths to this text, they are; clearly defined terms, connects points to relational competencies, and methodically takes the reader through a step by step process.

Beginning in section two every new concept the author introduces he does so by first defining his terms. For example when beginning his chapter on openness he says, “openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.”(p. 39) By clearly defining key terms throughout each chapter in section two Duane Elmer ensures that there is no ambiguity or confusion in what he is saying. Furthermore, as a result of defining terms at the beginning of each chapter it allows the reader to keep at the forefront of their mind exactly how the content of the chapter falls back into the main term. A great example of this can be seen again in the chapter on openness.

By the end of the chapter the author concludes by discussing the role of openness in displaying hospitality. By clearly stating that openness means to make people feel welcome and safe in your presence it is easy to understand the connection between openness and hospitality.

Where the authors ability is on greatest display when it comes to connecting his points to real life competencies is in chapter ten, “serving.” The culmination of the chapter is to make the point that servanthood in general and serving in particular looks different in every relationship. The author says it this way, “Servanthood takes different forms, depending on the situation. That is why it can’t be legislated, formulated or scripted in any detail. It is, after all, an attitude that, when embedded within us, finds an appropriate way to express itself in every situation.”(p. 148) The author cements this point in the readers mind by providing an illustration concerning a Chinese father and daughter. The daughter who is in conflict with her father has moved to America and has assimilated to American culture and values. Because of her assimilation to American culture she is completely blind to her father’s attempts at reconciliation. She wants a very direct apology from her father, while he through his cultural norms is seeking to pursue reconciliation through giving gifts to his daughter.

Finally, the third strength of the book is far broader than the two points discussed above. How the book as a whole builds upon each section really does allow for the greatest retention and opportunity for the reader to think through its principles and applications. By starting with defining terms, then moving through a step by step process in pursuing servanthood, then concluding with challenges, the author writes the book in a way that coincides with a natural flow of thought. This point is seen through examining the purpose of the book. At the onset the author states, “This book focuses on relational and adjustment competency so that the servant spirit we wish to portray will, in fact, be seen and valued by the local people.”(p. 14) In most cases a person reading the purpose statement will process that statement with a serious of questions along the lines of, “What does that mean? How do I do that? What issues or concerns should I be cognizant of?” The flow of the book walks right in line with that line of questioning making each section feel relevant considering the previous section. Cross Cultural Servanthood definitely has tremendous upsides and benefits for the reader taking the time to work through this text, however it isn’t without its weaknesses.

            The two weaknesses of this book can be found in its concluding section addressing the challenges of servanthood. First, is the issue of the book being focused almost solely on servanthood in a cross-cultural context, but then in chapter twelve the tone changes and begins pushing a mono-cultural application. Second, is chapter fourteens example of Joseph simply fell flat as a concluding chapter. The chapter seems out of place and forced.

Chapter twelve deals with the challenge of service and power. The author makes the main point of the chapter clear when he says, “Power is to be used in the service of others and only secondarily, if at all, for the benefit of oneself.”(p. 170) Wow! A simple but profound word. However, right after delivering one of the gems of the book the author turns his attention to the role of integrity. It is here that this reader takes issue. Duane Elmer shares how Jesus views power very differently than the gentile rulers do. It is here that the author tells us, “Since being a person of integrity is most difficult among those who know us best, the authentic life of the servant must begin at home-especially for church leaders.”(p. 174) Now, obviously that statement is true and the Christian should be consistent in character and integrity both in behind closed doors and the pubic square. However, the previous eleven and a half chapters has focused solely on growing in cross-cultural servanthood, now suddenly, the author takes what feels like a sharp turn in the discussion.

Finally, chapter fourteen feels forced and out of place in the book. The key concern is that the chapter starts by quoting Matthew 20:27-28 saying how whoever wants to be first must be your slave just as Jesus came to serve and not be served. From here we jump into the life of Joseph. The issue is that the text in Matthew is calling Christians to willfully choose to become slaves in worship and service to Jesus. Joseph was not a willing slave, rather he was forced into slavery. Duane Elmer goes so far as to say as much, “Forced to live cross-culturally, he responded nobly.”(p. 192) Through God’s grace he made the best of a very bad situation. As Christians, we can hardly say dying to ourselves in the pursuit of becoming more Christlike is making the best of a bad situation. Despite these two weaknesses Cross Cultural Servanthood is a quality book for anyone interested in growing in cross cultural know how, or servanthood.

Summary

            In conclusion, this book should be read by any Christian interested in what cross-cultural ministry looks like, both in a foreign and domestic context. The principles are timeless, and rooted in practice and God’s Word. The opportunity for fruit to bear as a result of putting into practice the principles found in this book are innumerable.

 

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