There are an increasing number of books written for the purpose of developing a multi-cultural and diverse church. Erin Meyer’s book is not one of them but should still be mandatory reading for anyone interested in Christian leadership as the effects of globalization continue to be felt. Whether in business partnerships or faith communities multi-ethnic understanding is essential for leadership in our increasingly multicultural world. Clearly ‘The Culture Map’ by Erin Meyer was written with the business world in mind, but its implications and principles are applicable to a plethora of situations and institutions, including the contemporary church.
Here is the thing. Emerging generations frequently desire connection to and are certainly more comfortable with people who do not look like them or share a similar background. The church in the U.S. tends to be less diverse than other institutions. For emerging generations this suggests antiquated values and perhaps even racism. The live, go to school, work, shop, maintain a social media presence all in very diverse circumstances and then come to their local church to frequently find everyone looks the same.
Further, even where there is some diversity within individual congregations this is usually not reflected in leadership. Again, this suggests that yes, the church is open to diverse people as long as they are willing to conform to the dominant leadership and worship style. Little wonder then that churches are so monocultural. It requires tremendous effort to develop a multi-ethnic faith community whether from the ground up or attempting to transform an existing monocultural community.
The impetus for understanding diverse cultures in the business community is clear. Productivity and ultimately profits are reduced in cross-cultural corporations if employees from various backgrounds cannot communicate effectively. Meyer’s text provides a multitude of anecdotes that demonstrate failures and successes in cross-cultural understanding in the business realm. These are used to demonstrate the culture map and the various scales. For a leader in a multi-national corporation there is every reason understand and apply these principles.
One might assume that there is an even stronger motivation for developing these skills in the Church, that it may be a better reflection of God’s love for all the people in all the cultures of the world. However, maybe as a result of the ongoing effort required to share life with others cross-culturally, this does not seem to be happening on a significant scale. Meyer even suggests that the education required to attain leadership positions may in fact be contributing to greater challenges and misunderstandings. She states; “Education tends to move individuals toward a more extreme version of the dominant cultural tendency.”How many MDiv programs require any form of diversity training or cross-cultural experience? If this does not occur with some intentionality it will likely not happen at all in any significant way.
While all of the eight scales are valuable there are some which are particularly pertinent for Christian leadership. Obviously communication is vital but also leading, interpreting the power distance aspect in a multi-cultural context. In many cultures, such as the Polynesians, the pastor or Christian leader is held on a very high pedestal. This impacts the types of relationships the pastor can have within a congregation as well as the personal anecdotes that can be appropriately used in presenting a sermon. For anyone stepping into one of these contexts, even as a guest speaker or on a mission trip of some description, it is important to be aware of this dynamic.
Trust development is also a critical scale to grasp when working in Christian leadership. Distinguishing between cognitive and affective means of developing trust as well as designation of cultures as peach or coconut in terms of personal interaction will clearly impact relationships and presentation of the Gospel.Not taking these perspectives into account will likely hinder any cross-cultural relationship building and inhibit the evangelism that might have occured.
This text is not limited to understanding and communicating with diverse people. It could be argued that Meyer’s culture map has other applications as well. It is also useful for interpretation of the Biblical text, particularly when considering the ‘communication’ spectrum. Ascertaining a high or low context certainly is important in seeking to understand the intent of the author in their ancient historical location and just as important for the contemporary reader that they seek to avoid reading it through their own location in time and culture.
In the end it must be realized that it takes work to work cross-culturally. This will be no less true in faith communities. If all are willing to recognize our limited perspectives there is some hope that we can share leadership, worship, and service together in a truly multicultural community of faith. As Meyer puts it; “The way we are conditioned to see the world in our own culture seems so completely obvious and commonplace that it is difficult to imagine that another culture might do things differently.”Beginning from that place of humility provides a door to something so much greater.
Development of a multi-cultural perspective is dynamic. While everyone who puts in the effort will grow in this area no one should expect to ever conclude this process. For the Church, and Christian leadership training institutions, continual training and work in this area should be mandatory. We cannot afford to remain in our mono-cultural bubbles and hope to effectively connect with contemporary society. The LGP program is an important starting point both for the students in it and what it promotes to other ATS schools. But, it must be remembered that it is only a beginning point for all concerned.
Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures. New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2015. P. 44.
Ibid p. 175
Ibid p. 244