As we move into ministry in a multicultural world, pastors can develop greater cultural intelligence by being open to try and reflect upon new experiences and perspectives. Then we will learn and grow in our understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of others.
Acknowledge Your Own Cultural Perspective
Usually we assume our cultural framework is “the way it is” for everyone else. To grow in cultural intelligence, we must recognize our cultural perspective for what it is – one particular way of viewing the world that we have inherited and developed. One way to do this is to intentionally spend time with a lot of people from different cultures. Another way is to explore your own primary culture type using tools like theculturetest.com.
Be aware that when other cultures function differently from our own, our first reaction is to respond in two ways. First, we conclude that we don’t like the way the other culture behaves. Second, we often decide it is simply wrong. But our reactions are most often based on nothing more than our own preferences.
Take Time to Reflect
Reflection can make the invisible influence of culture in our lives more visible. This where awareness begins. Cross-cultural experiences can be confusing and challenging. It’s worthwhile to take time to reflect on them. Luke 5:16 says that Jesus often withdrew to pray. As you spend time reflecting on culture in God’s presence, ask God to help you be aware of the shaping factors in your life.
Be Willing to Experiment
Deliberately place yourself in a mildly different cultural setting. Be willing to get uncomfortable a bit. Try different music and food. Don’t settle into just one niche. When traveling, get out of the tourist zone. Go to worship services that reflect different cultural backgrounds. Spend time with the people in your ministry on their cultural turf. Visit their homes, eat their food, experience their neighborhoods and work environments.
Don’t stop being a learner. Ask plenty of questions, both to help you understand another culture and to avoid making cultural blunders. This requires humility.
Embrace the Difficulty
Developing cultural intelligence will take us out of our comfort zone. We will have setbacks. Results will be mixed. These hardships can derail us from the growth process, especially if we decide in response to challenges to stop engaged across cultures. But the hardships pale in comparison to the privilege and joy of ministry across cultural barriers. Jesus himself is the model for this in his incarnation. He left the culture of heaven to embrace the challenges of human culture. Hebrews 12 says, “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” He knew what would be accomplished through his hardship.
Stay in Community
Cultural intelligence is more than an individual skill. Culture involves people living in community, so cultural intelligence is best learned as an interpersonal exercise. That makes it a worthwhile journey for an entire congregation, not just the pastor. People who know us and care for us can help us discover our own cultural limitations.
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?
- Talk about a time when you were exposed to a different culture and responded with distaste. What happened?
- What events have happened in your life to help you become more aware of your own cultural perspective?
- To what degree are these elements for learning cultural intelligence present in your life: reflection, experimentation, curiosity, hardship, and community?
- What will it take to build on those elements most present and to address those elements least present?
- How does the incarnation of Jesus model cultural intelligence for us?
- In summary, what are some reasons why you would want to develop greater awareness of your own culture and the culture of others?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.