Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Cultural Navigation or Integration?

Written by: on May 10, 2018

As I look into the problems associated with missionary effectiveness and sustainability, there is no doubt in my mind that what David Livermoore says is correct, “Cultural intelligence is an important skill set for anyone living and working in the twenty-first-century world but it’s essential for leaders in order to lead.”[1] Nevertheless, I agree with reviewer Dr. Mary Lou Codman –Wilson who writes that Livermoore’s book, Cultural Intelligence, “may not be needed for most missionaries’ libraries.”[2] The reason I won’t be recommending this book to new missionaries is that this book was clearly written for those who “travel widely but not deeply.”[3]

Livermoore portrays himself as one who bounces around the globe like a rock skips across the water. He’s writing about being able to navigate in many different cultures, not about how to integrate deeply into one culture. And these, in my experience, are not the same thing.

I have actually gone through Livermoore’s CQ assessment that is offered through the Cultural Intelligence Center website (https://culturalq.com/products-services/assessments/cq-assessments/).  I was testing it out to see if it might a useful tool to use in assessing the cultural adaptation of missionaries. I chose the 360° evaluation, in which I was asked to evaluate myself and then recruit five friends to evaluate me as well. My first clue that this test was not going to be a good fit for my missionary adaptation project was the assessors comment that it didn’t matter if the people evaluating me were American or French, or Chinese or Kenyan for all he cared. Apparently anyone who knew me would do.

My second clue that this test was not going to work well with my project was the type of questions that were used to assess my cultural intelligence. They were geared at gauging my ability to work in ANY culture, but did nothing to measure my ability to work specifically in the French culture. For example, an elementary acquaintance with several languages showed greater cultural intelligence than fluency in a second language.

Given that Livermoore’s definition of cultural intelligence is “your capacity to function effectively in intercultural contexts, including different national, ethnic, organizational, generational, and many other contexts,”[4] it makes sense that he is more concerned with cultural flexibility than cultural adaptation. But most mission experts agree that cultural integration is paramount to missionary sustainability and effectiveness. This goes beyond CQ and being able to “function effectively” to a level of assimilation that makes the missionary able to live a life and preach a gospel that is relevant to the people of their host culture.

In an effort to try to assess how well missionaries were adapting to the French culture, I did some surveys of my own. When asked “How would you describe your level of cultural adaptation, seventeen percent of missionaries selected the option “Je suis presque français(e)!” (I am almost French!), sixty-three percent selected, “I am well adapted” and twenty-percent selected “I get by.” However, when asked if their cultural adaptation has ever been evaluated, eighty-two percent said, “no.”

French partners were asked to evaluate how well the foreign missionaries with whom they had worked had adapted to the French culture. Fifty-seven percent of the French partners gave foreign missionaries a rating of five or lower (on a scale of one to ten), indicating a low level of adaptation. One French minister stated, “la culture anglaise était une barrière aux évènements de l’église.” (The English culture was an obstacle during church events.) When asked to evaluate if, in regards to culture, “Il/elle était bien préparé(e) culturellement à venir en France.” (He/she was well prepared to come to France.), sixty-four percent of French partners gave the missionary a score of five or lower (on a scale of one to ten). One respondent remarked, “La formation linguistique ne suffit pas à l’intégration” (Language training is not sufficient for integration.)

Of greater concern for me, when considering the usefulness of Livermoore’s work for cross-cultural missionaries, is the motivation behind becoming culturally savvy. Livermoore writes, “If leaders don’t become culturally intelligent, they’ll be managed by the cultures where they work rather than leading by their guiding values and objectives.”[5] My belief is that we need to be culturally intelligent in missions so that we can adapt to our host culture’s values and objects. Whereas “contextualization” has been the missions buzzword over the past fifty years, I believe “collaboration” is the way of the future. It’s time we stop trying to figure out how to lead others in another culture, and start figuring out how to follow and release the leaders that God has already provided in the host culture.

In the book Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Dana Robert observes that historically, “A strange omission from western scholarly critiques of mission history has been the role of indigenous initiative in mission…. Missionaries were powerless without indigenous partners who could express the gospel in their own cultural framework.”[6]  And more recently, Engel and Dyrness assert, “There seems to be an unwarranted assumption that a Western expatriate can somehow perform the task as well or better than those who are much closer geographically, linguistically, and culturally.”[7]

Cultural adaptation, then, is not about learning enough about the culture to be able to sell one’s products or make one’s point. Cultural adaptation is what enables the missionary to develop healthy collaborations and offer relevant assistance to those nationals who are equipped to be leading the work. In a review of David Platt’s talk at the 2018 Together For the Gospel Conference, Richards and Yang astutely observe:

“Much of our missional paradigms come from an expired anthropology …. In accepting underdeveloped anthropological models, we built modern missions around doing mission to the ‘other’ rather than the Antiochene model that insisted on doing mission with the other and from our collectively ‘otherliness.’”[8]


[1] David A. Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, Second edition (New York: American Management Association, 2015). 176.

[2] “Book Review: David Livermore, Cultural Intelligence, Baker Academic, 2009.,” accessed May 10, 2018, http://marylousreviews.blogspot.com/2011/11/cultural-intelligence-by-david.html.

[3] Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence. 14.

[4] Livermore. 11.

[5] Livermore. 176.

[6] Dana Lee Robert, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion Series (Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). 94.

[7] James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2000).

[8] John C. Richards, Jr., and Daniel Yang, “Preaching on Racism from the ‘White’ Pulpit: Reflections from David Platt’s Talk at T4G,” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, accessed April 15, 2018, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/april/preaching-on-racism-platt.html.

About the Author

Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

7 responses to “Cultural Navigation or Integration?”

  1. M Webb says:

    I am impressed by how deep you drilled into Livermore and took his test to validate your position that his CI matrix does not fit you. I do not think his approach fits everyone, but it does fit quite a few, or at least gives a secular approach to engaging other cultures. I read his other CI CQ book and it pretty much follows the same pattern as this one. From my experience in missions and international travel and vocational marketplace ministry there are many ways the Lord can use people to reach multicultural least reached or unreached people groups.
    You are clearly called to integrate, adapt, and create collaborations with the French culture, so you can advance God’s Kingdom in France and minister in a variety of contexts to fulfill the Great Commission. Praise the Lord for your calling and service!
    I am seeing more short-term missions and missionaries who are test-driving their calling who would greatly benefit from Livermore’s multicultural guide that could give them a beginning level CI CQ. I have seen many short-term missionaries who had little if any CI before they went, come home and respond to the Holy Spirit’s calling into full-time missions.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jennifer Williamson says:

      Hey Mike, I did the CQ assessment about a year ago, after having heard about it from a teammate. He is trained in this, and actually does believe it is helpful for missionaries, so clearly there are differing opinions on the matter.

      But you are right, short-term missions has been on the rise. I struggle to see short’term missions as the same type of thing, as usually the one coming “on mission” gains more from the experience than those in the receiving country. I’m not against such trips, I think it’s great for people to see the world and broaden their horizons, and lend a hand at the same time, if they can. But I’d like to push for a new vocabulary around such trips. I’m pushing for “ministry exchange” which implies that the ministry goes both directions, and that both those who come and those who welcome have something to offer the other. But no matter what you call it, this idea of CQ could be helpful–to both those who go and those who receive.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jenn!

    Your expertise on this subject was one I was very much looking forward to hearing. Then when you said you had taken the inventory, and subsequently found it lacking, I was paying attention. Then, when you said you would not recommend this book to new missionaries, because it lacked depth, wows!

    Good job! Is there another source you would recommend to missionaries?

  3. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jay, just to be clear, I don’t think the book is lacking for it’s intended audience–those who travel broadly, but not deeply. I just think it is not the right approach for missionaries, who are seking to live deeply into one particular culture.

    My recommendation is pre-field training in cross-cultural living and then something like ELAN, which is the association I’m building (in collaboration with French partners) to help missionaries transition to the field in France. The critical piece of Elan is mentoring by a national partner.

  4. Greg says:


    you did a better job than I did this week connecting with your research. Our organization loves using the word “collaboration” to differentiate the top down leadership models that are normal in cross cultural work. I too found some of Livermore’s concepts a little basic but took that as being his audience as well as a way to begin some discussion with people who see their own culture as dominant (at least in their own minds). Great quote at the end and a good reminder that sometime leaders get excited about a concept but don’t always understand the intricacies of the culture that the idea is living itself out in.

  5. I love the 360 feedback from French parishioners regarding the missionaries who came to them. I hope it spurred the non-French to greater cultural integration and language competency. We need this sort of mirror in our work.

  6. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jenn! Great use of the text to apply your own experiences in France. I’m curious if there are tools available to assess a missionaries skill/ability to deeply embed into new culture? I’m thinking this connects with the immigrant/refugees ability to assimilate in the US? – which would be helpful in my research!

Leave a Reply