My third Sunday at Good Shepherd was a bit of a whirlwind. I was still very much learning the ‘ins and outs’ of what a ‘regular’ Sunday and so this ‘special’ Sunday was a complete mystery. This fact was complicated by the fact that I didn’t know that there was going to be a baptism that Sunday when I showed up to church that morning.
In the transition to a new pastor there had been some miscommunication and this family showed up – with extended family from out of state in tow – expecting a baptism that we hadn’t been planning on & wasn’t in the bulletin.
After a quick talk with the clerk of our session, we made the arrangements to have a baptism that Sunday in worship. As the couple was Cameroonian, I asked one of our Cameroonian elders if there was anything different or out of the ordinary, hoping to not have any more surprises that morning. She responded that ‘no, it was just a regular baptism’.
That discussion only increased my surprise as Esther walked up to me, literally in the middle of the baptism, and whispered, ‘When are you going to do the anointing with oil?’. As you likely guessed, I hadn’t planned on anointing the child with oil, as that was not something I had every done as part of a baptism. But, as I was finding out, it was an expected part of a ‘normal, regular’ baptism in the Cameroonian tradition.
David Livermore’s practical book, Leading with Cultural Intelligence is designed to help leaders anticipate and avoid these types of situations and, through a four-dimensional model and a four-step cycle allow leaders to function effectively across cultures, whether they are national, ethnic or even organizational. (Livermore, 24)
Thankfully, because of some quick thinking on the part of an elder, the baptism situation was resolved happily, but it was definitely not an ideal situation and it definitely taught me the value of cultural intelligence. As the the pastor of a multicultural church, the reality of the situation is that I have been in the middle of a sort of cultural intelligence ‘intensive’ for over seven years.
I can unequivocally say that I wish someone had shared this book with me at the start of my time at Good Shepherd as it would have been immensely helpful to have a plan and a system with which to engage different cultures and grow my cultural intelligence.
It is important to note, as Livermore does, that cultural intelligence – or CQ – is applicable beyond just what we think of as typical cross-cultural situations. Different organizations can have very distinct and unique cultures that need to be approached with careful CQ analysis.
Because of the business focus of the book a lot of the conclusions and much of the ‘value’ that Livermore places on CQ and it’s application are not direct fits for a church setting, but the process is still incredibly valuable and the conclusions are easily altered to fit faith-based setting.
I particularly enjoyed the Whet your Appetite: CQ Drive step 1 section. It was with a sense of understanding that I read the stories of unfamiliar food and customs around food, and I appreciated – although they came too late for me in my current context – the practical types for engaging a different culture in eating and social settings. It has been my experience that these can be some of the most challenging times and places to successfully navigate a different cultural setting and skillfully apply CQ.
Livermore correctly points out that ‘In most cultures, eating together has far more symbolic value than simply ‘grabbing a bite to eat.’ Sharing a meal together can often be viewed as a sacred event. (Livermore, 51). The is definitely true in Cameroonian culture, and it has been my consistent participation in the sharing of a meal – and the cultural norms that go along with the shared meals and celebrations around food – that, more than any other single thing, have allowed me to form meaningful and important bonds with many of our Cameroonian members and, importantly to gain their trust and respect.
I love the Cameroonian food that I have been exposed too – especially the spicy stuff, less so the bitter greens – so that aspect has been relatively easy for me. The related customs around food and the culture of honor and respect have been a more difficult challenge for me at times.
I work hard to be a servant leader, and in truth I am very comfortable rolling up my sleeves and helping in the kitchen as a physical demonstration of that. But this runs very counter to the practice and expectation at Cameroonian gatherings. The pastor has to eat first. Different households put this tradition into practice to varying degrees.
At one of the homes, I know that I shouldn’t even try to get up, a plate of food will be brought to me and I should eat – even if they aren’t letting others eat yet. This is uncomfortable for me, but part of what I have learned is that it isn’t about me. It is about the culture and the importance of showing honor and respect to the pastor.
I can’t imagine our church without it’s multicultural character and I know that maintaining that character, nurturing it, and ensuring that it has the opportunity to flourish will require that I use all the CQ I have developed thus far. This book will help me to develop more and apply it more successfully and I am thankful for it.