Cultural intelligence allows us to adapt to different cultural practices and perspectives with humility.
Cultural Preferences Versus Biblical Norms
We’re not always aware of the difference between our own cultural assumptions and what the Bible describes as normative in ministry. Our opinions and preferences about church life and ministry are often shaped more by our cultural background than by biblical principles. One example is music style. The Psalms define some normative biblical worship responses. But those might look different in particular cultural settings. Another example is leadership style. The Bible does define transcultural leadership principles, including servant leadership (Mark 10:42-45). But how leadership is worked out, and how decisions are made by groups of people, might be very different between cultures.
Evaluate Culture with Humility
The more we grow in cultural intelligence, the more our discernment will increase about our own culture, as will our ability to wisely evaluate other cultures. This calls for humility: toward other people and under the authority of Scripture. Jesus himself sets the example.
Philippians 2:5-7 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
Humility means we come to different cultures as learners. We don’t have all the answers for other. Our default is commonly, “That’s not right” or “That’s not how we do it.” But it’s not a matter of being right or wrong; it’s just different.
Be Aware of How Different Cultures Operate
- Communication. Low-context cultures emphasize receiving accurate verbal messages. The content itself is most important. High-context cultures rely strongly on nonverbal communication. As much is communicated through gestures, tone, and silence as through words.
- Time. Clock time cultures view time as a limited commodity. People are highly aware of their own schedules as well as the time commitments of others. Event time cultures are more patient and spontaneous with time and casual about starting and ending times. Cultural intelligence would help us understand that this reflects a cultural difference, not a character flaw.
- Relationships. Result-oriented cultures focus on individual accomplishments. Achieving goals is a higher priority than maintaining relationships. People routinely change jobs, churches, neighborhoods, and even families to get what they want. Relationship-oriented cultures hold interpersonal harmony as a premium. Cooperation is a higher value than competition. Maintain community cohesion is more important than achieving individual goals.
Adapted from Resilient Ministry by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie. ©2013 by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Give some examples of how personal preferences can be confused with biblical norms.
- How might this confusion affect how we evaluate the practices of different cultures?
- Why is humility so important to cultural intelligence?
- Does your organization reflect a low or high communication context? Give some examples.
- To what extent are you accounting for communication differences in your own cross-cultural encounters?
- What is your general attitude toward the stewardship of time? To what extent is your attitude shaped by your cultural background?
- Think of a time when your organization held onto the tension between results and relationships in a healthy way. What happened? What did you learn?
- Now describe a time when your organization failed to balance results and relationships in a healthy way. What happened? What did you learn?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.