• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Culture wins

Culture wins

I’ve been reading a book on my Kindle lately entitled: Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistable Workplace.  I was somewhat skeptical given the title, but the farther I have gone in the book, the more I understand the thrust of the writer’s argument (who, by the way, was a pastor, before creating his own startup). 

William V simply argues that at the end of the day, it’s the context, the ‘culture’ that causes a company, a group, a mission to retain their workers. It’s the environment that causes people to want to stay long term with you, to recruit others to work with them, and to always speak highly of your organisation even if they move on to another ‘job’. It’s primarily because of the culture and how it makes them feel, how it makes them more productive and fruitful in their work.

Of course, the difficulty comes when our “culture” needs to be worked out in practice.  We know that it is easier to talk about culture than to actually function according to the principles or elements of that desired culture. 

World Team (based on the WT Ministry Framework) desires an organisational culture where we grow in accountability, character, competence, collaboration and community. We are probably doing well in some elements, and maybe less well in others.  What I have gotten out of this book, so far, is that we should not be content with where we are, but strive to grow more in all elements of our desired culture.  So that who we say we are, is how we actually live and minister together.

From where you stand, in which elements would you say we are doing well and in which elements less well?

Multicultural teams don’t work

Now that I’ve got your attention, neither multicultural nor monocultural teams work in the long run if team members don’t work hard to understand the ‘world’ of each member.

Teams do not work because team members do not take the time to understand another’s ‘culture’ or way of working.  I can be from the same culture as other team members, but if I am a ‘thinker’ and another is a ‘feeler’, I could be frustrated by his/her lack of being able to ‘make a decision’. It may feel like he/she is always stalling our team and never wanting to come to closure.  However, that is not how this person is ‘thinking’ or processing. Failing to understand another’s way of thinking will cause dissonance and conflict in a team.multicultural conflict

Teams fail, not because of the cultural make-up of the group, but because we believe our way of seeing and dealing with reality (for example, how to do ‘team life and ministry’) is the best or ‘biblical’ way.  Our own culture can create a sense of right-ness in our hearts, and keep us from humbly learning from others on our team.  We can miss the opportunity to experience team in a deeper way.

It is true that when you add the ‘multicultural’ card into a team, it adds another dimension that the team must address.  However, the ‘multicultural’ card will also add a dimension to any team that enhances its cross-cultural ministry capacity.

When two or more cultures come together to work on a church planting team, they must learn how to ‘bridge’ between the cultures represented on that team.  They learn not only how to ‘divest themselves’ (Philippians 2), but how to ‘translate and contextualize’ what another is saying.  This allows them, as a team, to be even better prepared to contextualize the message into the cultural context of the people group to whom they have been called.  In other words, they gain valuable experience for their ministry from learning to work together and minister to one another as a team.

So, whether your team is monocultural or multicultural, each of us needs to start by asking at least two questions so that our team can be built on grace and honesty:

  • What do I need to ask another to better understand how they think and process?
  • What heart barrier (cultural, emotional or spiritual) keeps me from hearing and learning from another who seems very different from me?

Do you understand me?

Happy Reformation Day (one day late)!

Today is Reformation Day on many of our calendars.  One of the crucial elements that the Reformation ushered in was the opportunity for ordinary people to read and understand the Word of God in their own language.  People who had to ‘hear’ the Word through another who served as their translator, could now take the Word in their own hands and speak it out loud in sounds and words that would cause their own hearts to be warmed.

What the Reformers did was, in part, to give validity to the necessity and value of Bible translation.  Even more than that, though, the work of the Reformers created a paradigm shift in the then known world of Christianity.  Cultural understanding and contextual application would become vital to the spread of the Christian faith.

language learningWe as workers in God’s mission must give the time and energy necessary to understand another’s world (language, culture, worldview and context) in order to ‘put the Bible in their hands’ for them to discover, learn and apply for themselves in their culture and context.

The possible pitfalls or detours along this road of working to understand another (and his/her culture) are numerous.  Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Global comprehension is adequate”: in other words, as long as I understand the gist of the conversation, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked for me when it comes to handyman projects. I need to know each step, each detail along the way.  Otherwise, I might find myself with water spewing all over the kitchen floor rather than the faucet correctly attached to the pipes.
  • They are happy I’m trying”: and the truth is, that many times people from another culture are happy you are trying. However, they also long for you to go farther in your abilities the longer you live among them.  The main reason being, so that you will be able to better understand their hearts and struggles.
  • It’s all about ministry”: our vision together is to see multiplying disciples and communities of believers among the unreached. It is about ministry.  However, here’s the rub with cross cultural ministry. It’s not only about what God is doing through us, but it is equally as much about what God is doing in us.  It’s often the ongoing cultural learning piece where God does a lot of work on our hearts.  Short circuiting the work of cultural learning may get you into ministry ‘faster’, but it might deprive you of Holy Spirit heart work that might provide greater foundation to one’s ongoing cross cultural ministry.

What’s great about our community is that there are many who have ‘walked this road before us’ and created ways and processes to help learn well how to ‘understand others’.  I’m sure that many of them would be open to sharing their ideas with other teams.

In the midst of all this work of cultural understanding stands Jesus; constantly calling us back to Himself so that we might have the strength, the grace and the courage to press in order to bring the Gospel to others.

Drifting

On a recent health questionnaire for a medical checkup here in Europe, I read the statement: “I have a tendency to doze off while reading.”  You were supposed to state whether that specific ‘tendency’ happened rarely, occasionally, often or regularly.  I thought the question was kind of silly.

However, early in this week I read the following quote from a book on building cultural intelligence: “The idea of mindfulness is what we often talk about as being “fully present” or “in the moment”. With our minds always active and thinking about a million different things, it is sometimes difficult to just be present and focus our attention squarely on our current situation and surroundings …. Mindfulness also goes beyond this and involves how we absorb and assimilate what we hear in interactions with others from different cultural backgrounds.”

wandering thoughtsTo put it in other terms, we can ‘drift’ when we are in discussion with others, when we are engaging others in conversation and dialogue.  We may be physically present in the same room, but we are kilometers away emotionally ,and are intellectually unengaged.  If that discussion involves others who are different from us (particularly culturally different), the ‘drift’ deprives us even more of opportunities to grow in our cultural intelligence and empathy.

Mindfulness then is a habit, a reflex, a discipline that needs to be developed.  It needs to be developed in order for us to be of greater service to God in a world that is growing more and more multicultural every day.

A small step in that discipline would be to try and summarize what was said in a conversation, at different intervals, and ask the other to amend or add to what you thought you heard.

It’s a bit of work, but the effort would be rewarded in greater ‘mindfulness’.