As you explore the path that God has called you to, it’s helpful to have a guide who has experience with following God in his own life. This guide will be able to use his wisdom to lead you along your journey — even if the path you follow leads you to a new country. Dr. Thomas Stallter, part-time professor of intercultural studies, has a passion for how cultural ministry can be used to reach people with the Word of God. His 18 years of service in Africa give him the experience and knowledge he needs to guide students in intercultural missions.
Read on to learn more about Dr. Stallter’s time in Africa pursuing intercultural missions and how God has used him to make an impact with cultural ministry.
How did you come to know the Lord?
My first encounter with God’s interest in me and his forgiveness was in a week-long vacation Bible school while in grade school. I didn’t know much about what I was doing, but it pointed me in his direction, and he did not leave me alone. I continued to grow in my understanding and in early high school made a commitment to Christ to follow him in my life. I set out to prepare myself for ministry to others by going to Grace College and then Grace Seminary. I later attended three other seminaries in ongoing preparation to serve God in Africa.
Tell us about your service in Africa. What led you there and what did you do there?
I first went to Central Africa on a short-term training program between my junior and senior years at Grace College. In those days, “short-term” meant nine months. The experience ignited in me a desire from God to know and help these people. I returned to Grace to finish my degree in communication and went on to seminary to prepare for this mission. Five years later, married, by God’s providence, to the perfect woman for such an endeavor, we left for Africa with our four month old son. In Africa, our work was in the areas of pastoral training and assisting them in church planting and missionary endeavors. We also eventually entered into development and ministries for the wellbeing of the churches there. These were relief ministries of vocational development, microeconomics, and food production.
How did your time in Africa impact you? How do you see that experience shaping and informing your teaching of cultural ministry?
Our time in Africa changed us forever. We were different from our peers when we came back to live in the U.S. But instead of reverse culture shock, we accepted those differences, odd as we may have seemed to our friends and colleagues here, and put our efforts into preparing others for the task of acculturating in another context for ministry. Of course our experiences in Africa prepared us to teach others not just from the textbook, but from real life relationships in that second culture.
How have you seen intercultural missions affect/shape ministry?
All ministries are up against the influence of culture. We do not realize how much our own disrupts our personal relationship with God and our ministries. My book, The Gap Between God and Christianity, seeks to help us understand how our culture affects us in reading the Bible, talking to others about God, and living our personal lives in a relevant way to incarnate God’s intentions for us. It is a greater barrier that we realize as we filter God through our cultural values, personal needs, and theological categories.
How did you become a faculty member at Grace?
After 18 years of work in Africa and studying intercultural missions for cross-cultural work, I felt a need to help others prepare for crossing cultures in an effective way for better and more relevant ministries. I had learned the value of reaching into the worldview of people with the Gospel but realized how ill prepared we all are when we arrive in the next culture to actually do this. By God’s providence, after some part time work at Grace College and Seminary, I was asked to come on full time to create a program for this purpose.
What is your favorite topic to teach?
My favorite topics are applied cultural anthropology, intercultural communication, and world religions. But, believe it or not, I really enjoy teaching social research methods to help students get to the bottom of the needs of people they should address in ministry.
What has been most fulfilling in your teaching career so far?
What really is fulfilling is to see the lights go on as students enter the world of intercultural missions. It is also quite fulfilling to meet students after they graduate and get into ministry who come back to me with stories of how the training has helped them reach people. One last thing is the meeting of older and more experienced students at the doctoral level who missed any such training in their seminary education and be with them in the discussions as they see the relevance of it for ongoing ministry, even in churches in the U.S.
How has your study of culture and intercultural missions helped you in your life and influenced you personally?
My study of culture has influenced all I do and think. I can’t imagine a life blind to its influences on us in all we do. We may be individualists, but we are not in control. Unless we come to some awareness of its subtle but powerful influence, our culture is in control of our lives and ministries and it makes a great deal of difference. Part of cultural ministry is helping people step outside the gravitational pull of their culture into freedom in Christ.
Thomas M. Stallter is Professor of Intercultural Studies . Stallter has a heart for the world and for preparing others to reach out to those of other cultural worldviews. Whether teaching cultural anthropology or world religions or even methods of social research, his real intention is to prepare students for the impact of culture on relationships and ministry. “Relating to real people in a multicultural world with a relevant message that touches both felt needs and spiritual needs is our part in the mission of God.” After 18 years of service in Africa, he has now served 18 plus years at Grace College & Seminary preparing others to take his place. “Penetrating worldviews with God’s love and grace is our purpose. His love for the world is our calling. His Spirit is our strength. His amazing grace in our lives is our motivation.”’