Discipleship is part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), so when we share the gospel with international students we also take responsibility to disciple them on their Christian walk. However, international discipleship can be tricky as we navigate crosscultural differences. Here are 6 things to bear in mind when discipling your Christian international students.
1. Understand Cross Cultural Differences
Leadership and discipleship go hand in hand, and leadership looks very different across cultures. Be aware of
- Indirect/Direct communication
- Honor/Shame, Innocence/Guilt, and Power/Fear value systems
- Power distances between teacher and student (or mentor/disciple)
- Cultural gospel understandings and blind spots
- Some typical American blind spots include making the gospel about individuals, privatizing the Christian life, avoiding suffering
- Some typical international blind spots include believing one has to be virtuous before following God, seeing discipleship as working hard to please God, conforming to the group
- High- vs. Low-initiative (e.g., Americans tend to volunteer immediately, internationals do not)
Learn more about basic crosscultural competency or go more in depth about crosscultural differences in discipling.
2. Create an Encouraging Atmosphere
Everyone needs encouragement! Internationals in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs learning to grow in an unfamiliar religion often need more encouragement than American Christians. Affirm them often and encourage them to develop their gifts and skills.
3. Provide Opportunities to Learn and Fail
It is tempting to want your study or event to go perfectly, but the best way to make an action or discipline stick is to physically do it. Give space for your international students to lead others in ministry and practice their giftings as soon as possible. When they fail, talk about the experience and help them learn something new about themselves and God. Follow a basic path:
- Experience (together)
This will instill good disciplines that will serve them in the future and allow them to mentor others.
4. Be Sure of Genuine Conversion
Walk deeply through the gospel to be sure your students have fully internalized it. Many times international students may appear to be Christian, but haven’t changed their worldviews. Note the difference between a surface level decision and a worldview changing conversion.
As you meet and talk, ask them about these topics to help them understand true worldview conversions.
- God is a personal Creator desiring intimate relationship, not a god who must be pleased in order to receive blessing or good luck
- Relationship with God is dynamic and ongoing, not fear-based or “be good”
- Jesus is the only way (not the Western way)
- Relationship with God
- How do they relate to the trinity?
- Is the relationship shamanistic, legalistic, or dynamic?
- Do they hunger and thirst for more of God?
- Is experience with God reinforced by truth convicitions?
- Relationship with Self
- Is their sense of identity in Christ?
- Are they being freed from personal and family bondages?
- Do they depend on the Spirit to defeat sin in their lives?
- Relationship with Others
- Are they characterized by openness, grace, and forgiveness?
- How are they honoring non-Christian parents?
- Do they fear the Lord more than human beings?
- Relationship in the Kingdom
- Are they using their gifts to serve?
- Do they have a vision of how God can use them?
- Have they been baptized?
5. Choose Disciples Strategically
Every Christian should be discipled in some capacity, but as one person you need to strategically choose how to invest your time. International students that are returning to their home countries are often the most likely to have a high impact on their surroundings as well as least likely to have someone available to disciple them. Other qualities to look for in students include:
- Has relational influence
- Takes initiative to obey God
- Relates to others and fills community needs
6. Involve American Students
When you include American students as part of the discipleship group or as mentors or mentees of international students, you’re providing discipleship opportunities to them as well. These opportunities include
- Preparing Americans to be global citizens
- Shaping their views of God as a global God
- Ethnic identity and development
- Transitional practices for short- or long-term missions or study abroad
- Learning how to lead and follow in crosscultural groups
These discipleship ideas come from various articles by Ard Louis, Eva Liu Glick, Collette Michal, Katie Rawson, and Yii-Shyun Lin.