2 February 2023

Missionaries need to understand diversity and multiculturalism to be effective, expert says

A talk from SUTS 2022 mapping the changing face of global mission work. Photo: supplied.

By Maya Pilbrow

4 January 2023

Christians need to learn how to navigate multicultural contexts in order to be effective missionaries, according to the Church Missionary Society of Victoria’s annual conference keynote speaker Dr Richard Shumack.

Summer Under The Son, held every year in January by CMS Victoria, will take place from 19-21 January at Syndal Baptist Church in Glen Waverley.

Dr Shumack will give three talks at this year’s conference, which is titled The Road Less Travelled.

Dr Shumack, an expert in the philosophy of religion, said that the nature of mission work had evolved in recent years.

He said many resources for missionaries dealt with monocultural contexts, and that new strategies were needed in order to engage in rapidly shifting cultural environments.

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Traditional missions involving people going to specific cultures and immersing themselves within a single community were no longer the norm, Dr Shumack said.

He said the skillsets needed for traditional mission work were still relevant, but that missionaries today needed to learn to apply their skills to multiple cultures at the same time.

He said his own experiences living and working in majority-Muslim communities in Australia, often in government housing environments with migrants from many different backgrounds, had demonstrated how multicultural contexts could provide additional challenges to missionaries.

“I lost count of how many different nationalities I was living amongst when it got to 100,” he said.

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Dr Shumack said the increased diversity in many communities required a correspondingly higher level of cultural awareness.

“In an Arab Muslim context, the way you have meaningful discussions is by being loud and passionate, yelling even. In a Vietnamese Buddhist context, the last thing you’d ever do would be to yell at someone you were conversing with,” he said.

He said mainstream Australian churches were beginning to address the current challenges facing mission work.

Dr Shumack said he hoped his talks at SUTS might help attendees gain a better understanding of how to evangelise in an increasingly globalised world.

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