DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Good Reminder for All

Written by: on January 31, 2019

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work.”[1]

In her book The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures, Erin Meyer seeks to better understand cultural differences and how those dynamics can undermine or strengthen a cross-cultural leader.  She is writing primarily for and about managers and leaders in business settings. However, in reading through her book, it could just as easily describe many American churches, especially in an increasingly globalized and multi-cultural world.

One of the strengths of this book is that it is chock full of stories and real world examples that bring the ideas to life.  As a professor in the Organisational Behaviour Department of INSEAD based in Fontainebleu, France, Meyer is clearly an expert in her field, but also appears to be a skilled communicator.  To catch and keep the attention of the reader or the listener, her examples are given, and then the underlying ideas or principles are unpacked and explored.

To use her own terminology, this is a more “inductive” way of communicating, rather than “deductive”. Meyers explains that in some cultures, the leader/teacher begins with the theory, the principle, or the big idea, then shows the supporting data and work, and finally goes on to demonstrate how this idea might be applied.

But in US/American culture (and, apparently in her own writing), there is a different approach. She calls it “application-first reasoning”, where “general conclusions are reached based on a pattern of factual observations from the real world.”[2]  In this view, we tend to start by looking around at what we observe or experience, and then we make plans, move ahead and get things done very quickly in response. This sounds a lot like my church’s culture.

I am trying to imagine what it would be like for a person from a different culture, maybe someone from Asia, who moves into our town and comes to visit our church.  They would walk in and immediately be greeted by very friendly and forward folks, who are quick to smile and eager to welcome them in. But along with that outward friendliness, is also an expectation that things move pretty fast.

I doubt that anyone would invite them out to lunch or tea the following week.  I suspect that we would make announcements about small groups and other fellowship activities and then expect that if they were interested, they would sign up or show up on their own.  From what Meyer shows in her book about where people from Asian cultures tendto be on the power-distance scale (which she refers to as the “leading scale”)[3], it seems unreasonable to expect these new folks to just “jump right in” the way someone from US/American culture might.

Meyer advises, “As a general rule of thumb, investing extra time developing a relationship-based approach will pay dividends when working with people from around the world… when you work internationally, no matter who you are working with, investing more time in building affective trust is a good idea.”[4]

This is one of the insights for those seeking to work across cultures within a church setting. Relationships take time.  Within a single culture, there are a lot of cues, shared expectations, short-hand for how things should go.  But when working across cultures, there are many opportunities to miss each other and to miss out on the chance to really work well together.

As I read this book, I am reflecting on my own church setting and the ways that we often move ahead very quickly, making decisions and setting things in motion, but that we don’t always do a good job of building relationships or taking our time. Sometimes, we have been intentional and good about this as when a group of Koreans joined our church at the same time. We set up special meetings with the Pastor and Elders, as well as meals together.

But, as I read this book, it was a helpful reminder to me that I need to take more time with those from other countries, especially around meals, or shared experiences or other relationship building times.

One critique of this book is that the basic idea that you can understand individuals by first understanding their culture is flawed.  This is a common critique of Meyer, that, every person is unique, different and distinct, so there is a danger in overgeneralizing based on cultural background.

This is good to keep in mind, however, as one review puts it, “to eventually get to understanding individuals, you may want to start with trying to understand their culture, and know the differences of how they see things.  This is only a starting point to really getting to know them, which I think only comes from more frequent and meaningful exchanges with them.”[5]

This is a key takeaway for leaders who seek to work across cultures in any setting.  There are, “specific differences in how people from different cultures communicate and consider ideas at work”[6](and I would add, in church!).  And getting to know those differences and the cultures that lay behind them is one of the tasks for leaders to take on.  As the United States becomes more multicultural in the years ahead, acknowledging and learning about cultural differences needs be part of the health and growth of any church.

[1]Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures(New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 10.

[2]Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures(New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 93.

[3]Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures(New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 125.

[4]Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures(New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 178.

[5]Rawn Shah, review of The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures, by Erin Meyer, Forbes, October 6, 2014, Leadership, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rawnshah/2014/10/06/the-culture-map-shows-us-how-we-work-worldwide/#6b8f745f5bcb.

[6]Rawn Shah, review of The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures, by Erin Meyer, Forbes, October 6, 2014, Leadership, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rawnshah/2014/10/06/the-culture-map-shows-us-how-we-work-worldwide/#6b8f745f5bcb.

 

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

10 responses to “A Good Reminder for All”

  1. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks for this reminder and challenge, Dave. I am recognizing in my time with the Kenyans – lots of meals and meetings and driving conversations – that doing this kind of cross-cultural relationship-building “work” is both invigorating and also emotionally consuming. Still, super broadening and maybe sacramental in that I think it’s a foretaste of the new heaven / new earth.

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Chris,
      Totally. I think you are in a condensed, focused, almost ideal version of this. I hope it’s a great trip!

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Dave!

    Yours is the post I was most looking forward to this week. With your international travels, and your cross cultural living experiences, I wondered what you might say. And you certainly did not disappoint.

    This really made me think, “I am trying to imagine what it would be like for a person from a different culture, maybe someone from Asia, who moves into our town and comes to visit our church.”

    I read “10 mind blowing facts to fuel your hospitality ministry” in response to your writing.

    https://www.willmancini.com/blog/10-mind-blowing-facts-to-fuel-your-hospitality-ministry-1

    Thanks for writing!

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Jay,
      Thank you for this– I’m printing up this list to share with our welcome team. It’ll be good food for thought and will help focus us again! Gracias, hermano.

  3. Dave,

    I think your post is bang-on. One must not do ministry based on assumptions of how people will react or sign up or invite. Instead, I like your careful and care-filled approach to meet relationally with groups and walk them through the process. Very often with other cultures it takes what we might name “hand-holding” but in reality it is walking alongside. The end result is deeper friendships and more engaged and participating parishioners.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Dave,

    I think you are right that we need to be more intentional about our relationship building (affective trust), especially in the church. You are in a much more diverse congregation than is found in most PCUSA churches. How do you help your congregants take into account the wisdom of this book when seeking to build a vibrant and inclusive faith community?

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Dan,
      Thanks for the response. Yea, this is an ongoing struggle and project. In reality (“reality”?) about 20% of our new members are non-white, which is still much less than our surrounding area. And, even as we gain these new folks from various backgrounds, the sense of our church will still seem fairly “white”. I think we’re still 90% white in our active membership. So, it’s something that I talk about and is important to me, but the numbers aren’t great. However– it has taken us nearly 7 years to even get to this point– so, we gotta have a long-term vision for it. We’ll talk more in Seattle 🙂

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Dave,
    I love how you touched on the culture map being the starting point and not the only tool. You can get to know the culture but until you know the people it is all speculation anyway. Thanks for sharing what your church is doing.

    Jason

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *