Understanding culture is vital in developing relationships and communicating effectively. Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies is a marvellous place in which to learn about and experience the effects of culture on relationships and the communication process. Living in community forces you to confront differences and your reaction to those differences is telling. Misunderstandings can occur because of differences in culture, and the opportunity to learn through them is helpful preparation for living as a worker in another culture.

Overseas students coming from cultures in which teachers are highly respected and put on a pedestal may find it difficult to call a teacher by their first name and not their title. They may be surprised if the teacher answers a question by saying, “What do others think?” or “I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you”. In the kitchen someone might be horrified that dishes are washed in a sink filled with water and not rinsed. How dirty is that? Australian students might wonder why someone from another culture said “yes” when they really meant “no”, or why they find it so difficult to evaluate a peer, or why they like to do things so often in a group.

Having so many staff who have had experience living in other cultures means that conversations are peppered with the lessons they have learned. This ensures that, both formally and informally, students learn of the relationship of culture to life and ministry.

Besides lessons learnt through daily life, core units like Cultural Anthropology, and Cross Cultural Communication and Church Planting, focus closely on culture and its implications for ministry. These units address how knowing the learning and communication style of a culture will affect how you share the gospel. Social structures also influence communication. How decisions are made, and how cultural forms might aid or hinder communication, are just some of the things to be aware of in exploring another culture. One assignment, which is a small example of contextualisation, is to present a Bible story tailored to a particular people group and explain the reasons for the content and style.

Korean and Italian
Above - South Korean and Italian enjoy a Mexican fiesta at Worldview

The premise of an elective such as Ethnodoxology is that God delights in the diversity of cultures and his desire is for people to worship him from within their own culture, expressing that through the arts. The short course Explore Language is another example of how Worldview takes seriously the issue of culture. Learning a language goes hand in hand with learning culture. Ministry doesn’t begin after learning the language; it happens at the same time. But an adequate grasp of language is essential to effectively sharing the gospel and discipling others.

Even in studying the Bible units culture needs to be understood. Lecturer Simon Cozens, while researching for a book on the subject of shame, argues that we must be careful how we approach the Bible. Concepts of honour and shame are more prevalent in the Bible than our Western mindset credits. They are important in many cultures today and workers need to adjust to that reality to be effective.

Understanding culture will help a person entering another culture to build genuine relationships and communicate the gospel. Studying at Worldview is a way to experience and learn more about this important factor.