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

Learning to Lead Across Cultures

Written by: on February 1, 2019

As I began to read The Culture Map by Erin Meyer I was thinking to myself, I wish I would have had this book years ago. As I was reading through the pitfalls of leadership within different cultures it brought back mission trips and outreach to refugees that probably could have been more effective. In her book Erin Meyer helps the reader move through the difficult field of cross cultural leadership. She effectively uses real world examples, both personal and leaders she has trained, to lay out the map of learning how to lead in different cultures.

Meyer gives multiple examples of making assumptions on working with a different culture than one is used to and making critical mistakes resulting in failed attempts at leadership. Karen Penney in her review writes “In mapping out these and six further behaviours, Meyer offers leaders a way to analyse how their own culture works with colleagues, finding the relative gaps between them. It is only by doing this that the similarities and differences will become apparent and any breakdown in communication or trust can be addressed.” [1] In beginning to understand how another culture leads, needs to be led, and works collaboratively one is able to communicate effectively. So how does this affect those of us in ministry?

One of the first things I learned while training with a missionary for my first mission trip was that I would not be able to talk to the people we were going to about Jesus without creating a bond of friendship with them. The people had been told by their local spiritual leaders that Baptists are inhuman and they eat babies, side note, I was actually asked by a 7-10 year old girl if I really ate babies. In understanding this, I had a industrial sized weed eater strapped to my body and went about offering to clean up abandoned lots in a neighborhood that had become overgrown and a danger to the children, others would come behind and pick up the trash and hazardous materials that had been discarded.  After doing this for about an hour people started to come over to see what we were doing. The missionary and several others who spoke the language started having conversations and soon we were invited for Turkish coffee (first time, and man I was hooked) to talk about why we were doing what we were doing. At the end of two weeks of what was called servanthood evangelism, the missionary had relationships throughout three neighborhoods and within six months was able to plant a church in one of the homes of the people we served. We were in a culture that valued service to one another and it opened a door. Without this understanding the opportunity may have never presented itself for God talks.

Meyer breaks down eight cultural differences and how to navigate them. They are as follows: Communicating, Evaluating, Persuading, Leading, Deciding, Trusting, Disagreeing and Scheduling.[2] These different scales are helpful in understanding not only the different cultures but also where your culture stands in relation to them. One of the most fascinating things Meyer keeps bringing up (it must be important) is not only where your culture and a different culture lie on the scale but where in relation you fall to each other.COMMUNICATING ACROSS CULTURES

So as shown above, the UK may be an Applications-first in Persuasion but in context with the U.S. they are much closer to a Principles-first persuader.[3] But, in context to Russian persuasion the UK is much more Applications-first. This was a fascinating idea, and one which we in ministry can take hold of. Just because someone seems to be standoffish to how we are presenting the Gospel does not mean they are not interested, it could be they just are not comfortable with how we come across in our discussion and because of that nothing we say or present has any merit. 

We see Paul using cross cultural ministry in Athens when he gives his speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17:23. He does not belittle the other Gods, he uses context to present the one true God in a context his audience would understand. He did not water down the Gospel and he drew in those who were listening to have deeper conversations. This seems to fall right in line with Meyer’s Leadership principles. You have to understand the power structure to be an effective leader. The story of Carlos Gomez was fascinating. He was a Mexican leader trying to manage Dutch employees, “But in the culture where I was born and raised and have spent my entire life, we give more respect to someone who is senior to us. We show a little more deference to the person in charge”[4] The Dutch he was managing are less authoritarian and much more egalitarian in there approach to leadership. They offended their boss with their culture, he amused them with his. 

Coming back to ministry, how many have I offended just because I did not understand their hierarchy? How many brushed my pleadings for Christ to the way side because I did not understand their natural persuasion style. This book gives me both pause and hope, pause because of the opportunities I have missed, hope because using the tools provided maybe I can make better use of the opportunities that come my way. I also am excited because I can use the tools in Meyer’s book to help others within my church to reach out to those who they may not have without them.

[1] Penney, Karen. “The Culture Map: Erin Meyer.” Director 69, no. 4 (2015): 20.

[2] Meyer, Erin. “Navigating the Cultural Minefield.” Harvard Business Review 92, no. 5 (2014): 119-23.

[3] Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done across Cultures. New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2015. 96.

[4] Ibid. 120.

About the Author

Jason Turbeville

A pastor, husband and father who loves to be around others. These are the things that describe me. I was a youth minister for 15 years but God changed the calling on my life. I love to travel and see where God takes me in my life.

15 responses to “Learning to Lead Across Cultures”

  1. M Webb says:

    Good introduction and connection with Meyer to your own missionary experiences. Baptists are really known for some weird stuff in certain cultures, but eating babies? When I was in a cattle post in Botswana I went to a preschool and all the children started crying when I entered the room because they had been told that “lekgoa” (white) missionaries would come and take them away from their families. After a while, when I sat in the middle of their group on the floor, they finally started warming up to me and after about 30 minutes we were friends.
    Thanks for sharing Paul’s most excellent testimony that leveraged the worship of the Athenians Unknown God. The Holy Spirit used him, and the differences made the difference that day for sure.
    Do you have any other Baptist myths to share?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      The funny thing is that is the only time I heard about that being used, the missionaries there told us the Orthodox priests there were afraid of people talking to evangelicals for fear they would leave the church. I did have one man come up to me in anger about his daughters fear because of the bombings in Serbia by the U.S. They connected that with Baptists because Bill Clinton is/was (not really sure of his status) a southern baptist. The bombings began on Eastern Orthodox Easter Sunday and caused much fear of us.


  2. Jay Forseth says:


    I too was thinking of Paul and his interactions in Greece. Thanks for sharing that. Great minds think alike.

    I did some research and found this from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention:


    That is WAY ahead of anything we have in place, and the “training” section definitely taught how to reach across cultures appropriately…

    Keep your writing coming, Jason.

    • Jason Turbeville says:


      They had to change what they were doing because the churches that had been planted were failing at a huge rate (I think it was about 65%) when the missionaries would leave.


  3. Great post, Jason!

    Meyer’s text was like a magnifying glass – it peered past our objectives and motivations and gave us a glimpse at our reality.

    You mention, “I was actually asked by a 7-10 year old girl if I really ate babies.” It must have been interesting to hear their assumptions before taking action. Who would have guessed that your presence would have been interpreted so strangely? I’ve seen this with many young people and their perception about pastors. Now, I’ve seen many pastors verbally abuse and act unkindly towards Millennials and Gen Z; however, I’ve also seen amazing men and women on their knees praying that God would use them to reach this generation. It’s been interesting to see both culture’s perception and misinterpretation of one another. I’ve had to aid them in bridging the gap and coming together without personal biases. What surprised you most about cultural differences? What are some ways that you’ll be assessing your congregation’s cultural perspective?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I guess what surprises me the most about churches and interactions with Millennials and Gen Zers is that both sides seemingly don’t think for themselves. They will allow one of their leaders to set the narrative and then both sides take that for truth. If both sides would take the time to explore for themselves they would find much common ground, and a path to being part of each others lives.


  4. Such great reflections, Jason. I appreciate how you are self-reflective and evaluating your engagements so that you might learn from them. Blessings, brother!

  5. Jean Ollis says:

    Jason, thank you for such a relevant post and exactly how I’m feeling about this book. I appreciate you questioning yourself on missed opportunities based on cultural differences. What we fail to remember is that here in the United States there are also cultural differences and our neighbors may not receive our message the way we intend it. How do you navigate cultural differences within your own congregation?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      Unfortunately in the area I live now there is very little culture variation. That being said, I agree in that there is a variation between the well off and those who struggle in my congregation and balancing those needs is difficult.


  6. Greg says:

    Jason. I felt like I was on the journey with you. I appreciated how you used your own experience to engage with Meyers. I think it is easy to read a book and not let it make an impact on us. I often wonder if I am doing more harm then good. I believe it is good to ask these kinds of questions from time to time but not dwell and let doubt overwhelm us. (At least that is how I try to live). Thanks for you reflections brother.

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      My feelings are this, as long as you are keeping these things on your mind, you have a better chance of not messing up. In the end your ministry will reflect how you view others and connect them with God in a way they understand.


  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Jason…I noticed you never answered the ‘eating babies’ question….hmmmmm? LOL. Just kidding bud. Excellent job using personal experience to connect the reading to ministry. With all the various international travel I have done over the past few years, I have had to learn to shut my mouth and listen before assuming anything. Stories I share from the pulpit may be completely lost in another country; furthermore, the challenges that we face here, may not even be a consideration to others. The best chance we have for connecting with others is to first try to connect with where they come from.

    Great job.

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      That sharing from the pulpit thing bit me once in Venezuela. I was preaching with an interpreter and we were on a roll together. I was excited and used an American expression, caught me with my pants down to mean I was caught by surprise. Well he starts translating, then got to that phrase, paused, looked at me with a question on his face and said, I don’t understand. I had to explain, he translated, then told everyone what I had said and they all had a good laugh. Reminded me to be careful that is for sure…


  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for these vivid reflections on your own cross-cultural mission experiences. I think a lot of us resonated with some of it, but also just enjoyed hearing about it :). I suspect that your worldview in general has been partially shaped by those kinds of places you’ve been and people you’ve met. Even as you work currently in a largely mono-cultural setting, I feel like your heart for the world and its people is so good for your church to see, hear and experience. Peace, my bro.

  9. Kyle Chalko says:

    Good job Jason,

    I wonder about this value of application or principle and how it plays out in our preaching. I feel many many pastors are taught to get to really solid applications, because thats what the audience wants to hear.

    I think sometimes when pastors say “here is the principle” they are really giving a nugget size application.

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