A Good Church: From 1992-2004 Lana and I served as pastor and wife of the International Baptist Church in Singapore. These writings are a collection of personal memories and reflections of those years and about the general topic of serving in an international church overseas.
The Challenges of Multiculturalism
“When in Rome, do as the Romans,” a centuries-old saying, has much to recommend itself. First attributed to Augustine who, when he arrived in Milan did not fast on Saturdays as they did in Rome, simply because it was not the habit of the church in Milan. His reported response was that when he was in Rome he worshipped as the Romans, and when in Milan he followed their traditions. He followed the custom of the church where he was.
But international churches are a breed apart from the norm of any nation’s churches. Even among one another there is considerable diversity. International churches differ from one another due to: what nationalities comprise the membership of the church; what is the host culture of the society where the church exists; whether the people are there short-term or long-term; and who do they need to be reaching. The home-cultures, the host-culture, the length of term of the members and attendees, and the opportunities, these are the outward factors that tend to influence the type of culture that the church takes on.
Someone will ask, “But shouldn’t all churches seek to have a unique culture based on the kingdom of God?” Yes, certainly! Yet every church will in some way or another apply the truth of the Scripture in a way that fits into their own culture, and this has been since Bible times. For example, the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:26, “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss,” is normally understood to consist of a command that is binding on all Christians, “greet all the brothers,” and a custom that fit into the first century Thessalonians’ culture, “with a holy kiss,” but the kiss is not required for all Christians in all cultures in all centuries. An international church is typically a hybrid of sorts - not really completely identified in all ways with any one single culture but a mixture of many, but, also, in a way its own unique culture. Personally I believe in the international church there is greater opportunity to strive for a purer kingdom culture than in most churches in mono-cultural environments.
If we travel to another climate or country we find quickly that things are done differently than back home and they are done that way for a reason - we are smart if we adjust. Living in Europe, one finds out quickly that it makes sense to dress like Europeans, to live like they do, and to eat like they eat. Every now and then you see the foreigner, stubbornly hanging on to his nation’s way of doing things - perhaps as much for personal identity as for anything else - even though no one else around him looks like him or acts like him. Some of these are innocent customs, sometimes just to let everybody know that he is from somewhere else, but others are unrealistic. In the cold, wet, long, and dark winters of Europe, wear a turtle neck or a scarf.
Sooner or later, most people begin to “do as the Romans” even if the “Romans” they are living amid are Southeast Asians. But suppose we read the saying, “When in Rome, think like a Roman.” This would be much more difficult to achieve. We will ask: How does a Roman think? But more to the point, how could we discover how a Roman thinks? The truth is that we will never really act like the local people until we think like the local people, for it is our thinking that determines our actions.
There is a difference between customs and culture. Customs are those outward acts, those ways of doing things of a certain cultural group: celebrations, greetings, traditional foods, appropriate clothing, housing, family relations, living arrangements, how you relate to your neighbor, at what time and for what reasons do you call on another, how do you show respect, etc. Culture, however, is the underlying thought process, the values and ideals, of a certain people. Customs are only like the tip of the iceberg of how a certain people really think. As 7/8’s of an iceberg is below water, so behind each custom centuries of values are built up. Cultural values are passed along primarily by the parents but also by other contributing influencers in society: schools, songs, sayings, friends, books, poems, stories, movies, television, etc. Every culture is changing, and every cultural value is held in a somewhat different way by the individuals that make up a certain people group. So in evaluating cultures we can only speak with authority as we speak in generalities, for each culture will have someone or some ones who are different.
Why are cultures different from one another? The answer is that cultural values are formed over a long period of time as a response by a certain people to the circumstances in which they lived. Geography, wars, threats from outside, difficulties from within the group, charismatic leaders, diseases and epidemics, religion, economic advancement or retreat, political realities, migrations, epic historical moments, and just plain weather conditions all play a part in shaping cultural values. Leadership across cultures is demanding and challenging. Geert Hofstede wrote:
Learning to become an effective leader is like learning to play music: Besides talent, it demands persistence and the opportunity to practice. Effective monocultural leaders have learned to play one instrument … Leading in a multicultural and diverse environment is like playing several instruments. It partly calls for different attitudes and skills, restraint in passing judgment and the ability to recognize that familiar tunes may have to be played differently. The very qualities that make someone an effective monocultural leader may make her or him less qualified for a multicultural environment.
Someone said that leading an international church is like trying to play Bach on a banjo and still make it sound pleasing to the classical musician.
There have been many excellent summaries of the leadership qualities that transcend cultures, especially to those that relate to Christian ministry. J. Oswald Sanders, writing from a mission administrator perspective, emphasized discipline, vision, wisdom (”the faculty of making the best use of knowledge”), decision (”when all the facts are in, swift and clear decision”), courage, humility, humor (”clean, wholesome humor will relax tension”), anger (”righteous wrath is not less noble than love, since both coexist in God”), patience, friendship, tact and diplomacy, executive ability, and, of course, the fullness of the Spirit and a strong prayer life. Rodney Woo, The Color of Church, in his “character sketch of a multiracial leader” emphasized nine “nonnegotiable” qualities for multi-cultural leadership: (1) exposure and experience with multiple races; (2) a strong biblical base; (3) an evangelistic heart; (4) a global vision; (5) a teachable spirit; (6) a forbearing spirit (”the attitude which gives others permission to be different”); (7) advocate of shared diverse leadership; (8) seasoned facilitator in conflict resolution; (9) person of passionate prayer.
We would all agree that above all other things, leaders in international churches, or any church for that matter, must demonstrate the character of Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God. In chapter two we introduced several different cultural components. In this chapter we will examine more in detail the impact that the components related to identity, actions, power distance, and communication make on a congregation. In the next chapter we will examine more in detail other components and examine how differently sincere believers may view the same gospel.
Identity: Individualism and Collectivism
Some researchers place this as the primary difference or the major dividing line between all cultures. The value is shaped early in life and forms the basic way we identify ourselves. “Am I mainly me, or am I mainly a member of my social group?” is the key question. All cultures are a mixture of both but they each tend to place a higher value on one or the other. The values must be held in some sort of balance, whether the rights of the individual outweigh the rights of the group, or vice versa. Basically, Individualistic cultures are from the West - English-speaking countries in North America, most European countries, Australia and New Zealand. Collectivistic cultures are the “Rest,” that is, the remainder of the world’s cultures. But before we judge too quickly, it is important to know that some research places cultures at different points along a scale. Hofstede places Japan, India, Brazil, and many Middle Eastern countries near the middle of the scale. China, Africa, and most Asian and Latin American countries are more collectivistic. The GLOBE study indicated that Southeast Asia scored very high in collectivistic values, and that Eastern Europe was more collectivistic than Western Europe.
The collectivistic value sees the self as a member of a group, normally of the family, the clan, or the nation. It form alliances, loyalties, and allegiances based on this identity. A Middle Eastern Proverb says, “My brother and me against my cousin, my cousin and me against the stranger.” On the positive side, the group celebrates life together; on the negative side individualism and “different-ness” can be discouraged.
The individualistic value tends to see the individual as the goal of society. The person growing up in such a culture is taught to think for himself, to be himself, to be unique, to go his own way. Independence and self-sufficiency are high values. A good working definition of the difference sees “individualism as a prime orientation to the self” and collectivism “as a prime orientation to common goals and objectives.”
Dr. Harry Triandis of the University of Illinois explained the different ways people form self-identity. We each see ourselves in three different ways, what Dr Triandis calls, “The private self, the public self, and the collective self.” But we each will, from our parents and other social influencers, tend to develop one of these more than the others. It will be more “complex” than the others simply because it is more developed. Where our minds are more complex allows us to see situations in life with more detail. For example, a trained musician will hear a symphony differently from a non-musical person. The musician will identify the different instruments, the movements, and have an intelligent understanding of the work, where as the non-musical person may just hear it as a lot of nice noise (or, perhaps, not so nice). And the trained athlete will observe a sporting event with much more complexity, understanding the plays and the players, whereas the non-athlete may just consider it a bunch of sweaty men running up and down the field. Mind complexity in various areas of culture will determine the degree to which we will see and note certain aspects of interactions among people.
In families in which children are urged to be themselves, in which “finding yourself” is valued … the private self is likely to be complex. In cultures in which families emphasize “what other people will think about you,” the public self is likely to be complex. In cultures in which specific groups are emphasized during socialization (e.g., “remember you are a member of this family,” “…you are a Christian”) the collective self is likely to be complex, and the norms, roles, and values of that group acquire especially great emotional significance.
There is a significant difference between the public self and the collective self. The public self in moderate doses helps us maintain social conformity, which is why mothers say such things as, “What will the neighbors think!” but in large doses tends to be an unhealthy influence that can lead to neuroses, especially if it predominates, but it still basically sees identity from an individualistic perspective, for him or her it is still him versus the public. The collective self, however, sees himself as part of the whole. Westerners often confuse the collective self with the public self, or giving into negative peer pressure, but something very different is happening in the identity of the collectivistic. It is not just about peer pressure, it is also about identity and how they see themselves.
These values are caught and taught - though mostly subconsciously. If one grows up hearing one of these messages more than the others - and we all do - then that becomes his orientation. For example, a first grade reading primer in China has a picture of a brother and sister and it says, “Big brother loves little sister. Little sister loves big brother. Big brother takes care of little sister.” This re-enforces the collectivistic value of the importance of the group for self-identity. However, in a first grade reading primer in the United States the individualistic perspective is emphasized. We see a picture of an older brother and little sister, Tommy and Sally, out in the front yard looking at a yellow bus. Sally says, “I see the big yellow bus. I want to go away on the big yellow bus. I want to go far away on the big yellow bus.” Little Sally is only five years old but she is already talking about getting out of town and on her own
Triandis stated, “Self-definition results in behavior consistent with that definition.” Though we are each a composite of these three “self’s” the degree to which each exists shapes how we view ourselves and others. In the actual research Triandis referred to in his article, the participants of various cultures were asked to complete twenty “I am…” statements. The participants were completely free to talk about themselves in terms that were meaningful to them. Statements like, “I am bold,” would be scored as individualistic scores, and statements like, “I am a son” (family) or “I am Roman Catholic” (religion), since they show the person’s identity is connected to a community, would be scored as collectivistic. Among Asian participants 20-52% of the responses were collectivistic, and among Westerners, 15-19% of the responses were collectivistic.
Collectivistic societies tend to use stereo-typing of others more often than do individualistic societies, in fact it is expected and not considered taboo. The individual is taught and expected to fit more into the group and not stand out. A Japanese proverb says, “The nail that sticks up is the one that is pounded.” Group cohesiveness, humility, a willingness to go along to get along, loyalty, and contribution to the group are highly valued qualities. It is very normal in the non-West to see work colleagues enjoying wearing the same uniform. Westerners, on the other hand, tend to not like uniforms because they stifle individuality. Individualistic societies tend to discourage stereo-typing of others, and because of this value the societies are typically more complex. In the west the wheel of interpersonal relationships must constantly be re-invented. With fewer stereo-types to fall back on, every person, every relationship, every conversation takes a unique shape.
This means that there is something different happening in the mind of the person from a collectivistic society than is happening in the mind of the person from an individualistic society when they are both reunited with people from their own cultures. The collectivistic is re-affirming his identity, but for the individualistic it is more a trip down memory lane. In IBC Singapore while we were there, we had a Korean fellowship, a Burmese fellowship, a Filipino congregation, a West African fellowship. Once I suggested we have an Australian fellowship, to which the Australians responded, “We would rather just choose our own friends.” For those from collectivistic societies their customs and ways of doing things, and just being in one another’s company, affirm the individual’s identity. He is part of the whole.
Actions: Loose or Tight
“Tight” and “loose” cultures mean the degree to which social constraints are placed upon people within the group to behave a certain way. “Tight” means that social norms in behavior are well-fixed and everyone within the group is expected to follow them. “Loose” means more flexibility, that social norms are not as rigid, that either there is no norm or there is tolerance with deviations from the norm. This factor varies from culture to culture, even among Asian cultures, with Thailand, for example, being rather loose and Korea being fairly tight. But there are variations. China, for example, is a collectivistic and relatively loose culture; Germany is an individualistic but northern Germany is considered tighter than southern Germany. But in general, collectivistic cultures are tighter and individualistic cultures are looser.
Even in the West, rural and small towns tend to have a higher degree of tight values than in large urban centers. In a small town, the way people dress, the types of homes they live in, the cars they drive, how they spend their leisure time, and even how they do church, will typically have a more subconscious same-ness than in a large city. City life has much more variety, and more deviations from whatever passes as the norm are accepted.
Often Western Christians do not understand that people from other cultures will carry their understanding of the collective self and tight social behavior into the religious experience. Their children will be more subjected to a collectivistic understanding of their faith identity and expectations of tighter adherence to social norms than Western children. “We are Christians, so we will do this…” is a much more common concept in the Rest than in the West. From our Western strong private self perspective, such rigidity may appear to us to inappropriately infringements on the rights of the child, and we may mistakenly assume that is even doing long-term damage to his faith.
On the other hand Asian or African Christian understanding of what constitutes authentic Christian behavior also may not take kindly to Western individualism with our greater acceptance of diverse behaviors. I was leading a pastors’ training meeting in Davao City, Philippines, in the 1990’s when a potentially divisive topic came to be discussed: women deacons. One Filipino Christian educator, who had been well-trained at a Bible school on the northern island of Luzon where most of the teachers had been Westerners, said, “We need unity but not uniformity.” In response, however, a home-grown and Mindanao educated pastor, taught mostly by Filipino teachers in Bible school, said, “We need both!” He echoed the tighter social behavior perspective, that not only should the churches believe alike, but they should act alike, dress alike, sing alike, and preach alike.
Typically, though not always, cultures which lean toward the private self or the individual are more apt to be accepting of differences of behavior. Western minds are attracted to themes that emphasize individual identity, feelings, responsibility, and freedom. Westerners may naturally embrace others from collectivistic societies, not realizing that they are seeing themselves and their world through the lens of collectivism. If the private self is the predominate view, then one may socialize with anyone, so long as one remains true to one’s self. However, if the collective-self is the predominate view then one is more attracted to themes that emphasize community, identity within the group, group cohesion, and relationships within the group.
Power Distance: Low or High
Power Distance is the relative distance in various societies that the average people are from those in power. Generally speaking, in the West there is a low power distance and in the Rest there is a high power distance. In the low power distance societies while leaders are respected they are also held accountable by their followers. Followers are more likely to ask questions and demand their rights and to expect to be recognized for their contributions to the group. Low power distance means the responsibility for success or failure is shared with the entire group. In the high power distance societies leaders are less likely to be questioned. The GLOBE study defines power distance as “the degree to which members of an organization expect and agree that power should be shared unequally.”
In high power-distance societies, leaders in all strata of society and in all areas of leadership, are expected to exercise more authority in their decisions. Whether in the office place, the home, the classroom, or the church, leaders are respected and rarely questioned. Leaders do not feel the need, nor do followers expect, that the rationale behind decisions should be given. In a low-power-distant setting, the opposite is true: leadership is more democratic, sometimes even apologetic. Students ask their teachers difficult questions, employees can give suggestions to management, and in church leaders seek to gain the understanding and agreement of the membership for major decisions.
In the extremes, both high and low power distance cultures can be dysfunctional. The extreme high power distance becomes a harsh and cruel dictatorship, and the extreme low power distance becomes a chaotic and unruly mob. In the histories of some nations and cultures they have taken wild swings back and forth from one extreme to another. A dictator rises to power and becomes oppressive, then the people rebel and oppose his harsh policies, a new government is formed that lacks a strong leader, then the lack of leadership creates disorganization that eventually erupts in chaos, which creates such a need for order that the people welcome the rise of another dictator, and the cycle often then repeats itself. Even sadder, some churches have also had such a history. The solution is to find the mid-range of respect of leadership and accountability to the membership.
In the mid-range both a relatively high and relatively low power distance value seem to be sustainable for most nations and for most cultures. The United States of America, rising out of centuries of European monarchies, chose to call itself a republic in its constitution, not a democracy. A republic is ruled by law, and the law prevents wild swings in policies and directions simply because on one occasion 51% of the population voted in favor of something. Pure democracies are subject to the whims or strong reactionary emotions of the people, who, when they go to vote, may not have all of the facts before them, or may not understand the facts they do have. Whether it is the written laws themselves or key political leaders or both, some stabilizing influence is generally necessary to prevent over-reactions by a slim majority that may disintegrate the next day. This is why many nations feel a need for the royal families to retain some degree of power - just to provide for some stability.
The two issues in churches relative to power distance are leadership and accountability: the importance of good leadership - meaning that the leaders indeed lead and lead well - and the importance of the accountability of the leaders to the people. If either is written off or ignored, then problems arise. In a low power distance setting, if the leaders are so fearful of public reactions that they make no decisions at all this creates problems for the organization. If in a high power distance setting, the leaders completely refuse to listen to advice and concerns of the people, this creates another set of problems. Since churches are voluntary associations of people, churches of all denominations, regardless of their hierarchy or organization, tend to operate in very similar ways. Accountable leadership, sometimes called “Servant Leadership,” is essential for long-term sustainability and health. A phrase that is often used, at least in academic circles, to describe the ideal relationship among leadership in the church is “mutual accountability,” and it stems from an understanding of Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The leader in Asia also assumes responsibility for the actions of his followers; he owns the success and failure of the organization. One way this reveals itself is in the responsibility that schools feel toward the success or failure of their alumni, that the failure of the alumni reflects back on the school as a whole, upon the faculty, upon the dean, upon the trustees, etc. Of course, this varies from case to case, but it would be rare to find these attitudes so strongly in the West. What the graduate does with his life in the West is mostly his problem; after graduation the school takes little or no responsibility for his failure.
In the West followers expect the leaders to listen to them as well as lead, and to have respect for their views. The followers also own the success of the organization, and own their own failure. In the West another danger more often asserts itself to leadership - the danger of being given responsibility for a job but not the authority to get the job done. In a high power distance situation leaders do not need to know much about the subject of leadership because people generally do what they tell them to do, but they do need to know much about connecting emotionally with the people and building trust. In a low power distance situation, however, there is much to know and to learn about leadership - this is why we find so many books on leadership in the West. In both settings the art of leadership is complicated, but in the West it is complicated for different reasons than in the East.
In the best of both environments - both East and West - a balance in these attitudes and values is most beneficial and most likely to wear well and succeed in the long term, as well as in the short term. One of the challenges in an international church is that two people may use the same words but mean two different things. The low power distance sees “leadership” at its best as leading a team of equals to fulfill its potential, at its worst as trying to corral an unruly mob. The high power distance sees “leadership” at its best as assuming the responsibility for the success of an organization, at its worst becoming a dictator.
As concerns management of staff, the Asian management style is more autocratic than the Western style. This is one of the stresses that both Asians and Westerners feel when coming into a multicultural environment. Of course, much is the same in both environments, but what is different is interesting. The Asian expects more top-down input into his job situation than does the Westerner. The Westerner expects more bottom-up input from his job to management than does the Asian. Comparing German and American perspectives highlights the interesting dynamics that different assumptions about life makes. The German tends to emphasize following the correct procedure, while the American tends to emphasize having the right result. Most of the time there is little disagreement, but sometimes Americans can be impatient with the German attentiveness to procedure and details, and Germans can be frustrated with the American tendency to jump over what they perceive to be important procedural steps and leap toward an end result.
Comparing the West with Asia, most of what happens in an office will be similar in both settings, but the differences are what seem more noticeable. Westerners and Asians acknowledge the need to maintain harmony as well as to achieve progress. Asians, however, when forced to choose will be more willing to select harmony over progress. Westerners, however, when forced to choose will select progress over harmony. Asians emphasize maintaining good relationships; westerners emphasize getting the job done. This filters down to Asians expecting a more rigid adherence to office hours, office relationships, and respect to management, and Westerners emphasizing more on tangible results, with Americans, in our frontiersman independence, sometimes even admiring a bit of rebellious independence. This American perspective was spoofed in the movie Office Space where the main character decided to continue to show up to work but not to perform his job anymore and rather than being fired was tapped for an executive position because of his leadership potential.
Communication: Clarity or Ambiguity
Societies tend to lean either to directness or toward indirectness. Direct speakers want to get to the point, achieve progress, and they also believe that the best way to avoid conflicts is be direct. Indirect speakers tend to value what they would call “artful communication,” and they will go to great lengths to avoid offense. Both cultures seek progress and harmony but they seek them in different ways. The direct speaker takes the shortest path to the point; the indirect speaker takes the long way around. A direct speaker will tell you directly what he thinks you did wrong; an indirect speaker may tell a story, or drop a hint, or ask a question about how things are done in your country. Indirect communicators are more likely to use go-betweens to settle disputes, and direct communicators may feel that to use a go-between is a betrayal of one’s integrity.
Systems Theory, as it relates to communication in certain societies, indicates that cultural groupings have worked out a way to communicate with one another, but that there are checks and balances in the specific system so everyone can peacefully co-abide. Trying to adopt the communication patterns of other cultures without knowing more about their system may send the wrong message. Currently we live and serve in Germany, and Germans are noted for their directness. Yet there are many situations in which a German will avoid coming to the point if he fears his words will hurt the feelings of a friend - there is still a very present indirect element to German communication. One of the classic differences between Germans and Americans is that when a German agrees with you, he is quiet, but when he disagrees he speaks up. For the American it is normally just the opposite: agreement prompts more speech in reply and silence could signal disagreement. Yet the Philippine culture, a society with a very indirect style of communication, sees Americans as very direct. In fact, the English word “frank” has been incorporated into many of their languages, which means that they also often find the need to be “frank” with one another.
It is good to review the basics of communication that transcend cultural differences. Body language and tone of voice, normally in that order, are more powerful communicators in conversations than even the words we speak. Trust is built up by listening to others share their ideas and their feelings, without harsh rejection - showing respect and kindness to others in ways they can understand. Typically there is a subconscious inner connection that people make with those they believe they can trust, and trust facilitates communication, just as a lack of trust makes good communication more difficult. Friends make friends who introduce other friends to their friends. The investment of time and the show of genuine concern go a long way toward building trust. The selection of the time and the place to communicate something important also communicate something. American casualness, for example, where we can say something very personal and deep to someone as we pass in the hall, is not the way every culture communicates. For many cultures, meaningful communication should only be done at a certain time and a certain place. On a practical, day-to-day basis, some of the best advice on communication is still, “Be as nice to everyone you meet as you can possibly be.” Still better, however, are the inspired words of Paul, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Cultures that are indirect tend to have higher power distance and are tolerant of more ambiguity. Their goals are not always to achieve progress in terms of the church as an organization, but to achieve peace and harmony in terms of the church as a fellowship. What to a Western may appear to be a lack of planning, is instead a greater concern for the thoughts and feelings of others. Someone from a high-power-distance and indirect culture may instinctively feel that the timing is just not right for a decision, because they know the relationships are not right or a key leader is not yet behind the idea. Paul may have revealed this type of value when he wrote to the church at Corinth and said that they were not ready for solid spiritual food (1 Cor. 3:2). Two years later he wrote 2 Corinthians, where he explained in more detail the deeper truths of the faith, but at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians, key leaders in the church itself were divided on too many minor issues. Those cultures that are more deterministic and less fatalistic in their view of life will also more likely seek to avoid ambiguity. Those cultural values that were formed in circumstances that led them to be more fatalistic, less sure that they can truly effect real change, are more likely to be more accepting of ambiguity.
There are numerous implications from this cultural value, both in how it was formed and in the ways that it functions. Nordic and Germanic Europe scored the highest in this uncertainty-avoidance. Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe had the lowest scores. Surprisingly the Anglo (British and North Americans) joins the Asian, African and Latin European in the mid-range. Some surmise that the insistence on certainty is based on fear of the future, and acceptance of ambiguity arises from such influencers as oppression and disease.
In one multi-cultural church setting, three different participants, an American, a German, and a Hispanic, were involved in a study to help bring clarity to their church’s program, to determine relevant programs and goals for their future. They each committed to the study and were equally involved in the process. But when the results were to be presented, they each reacted as typical from the study from de Luque and Javidan suggested they would. The German felt the greatest need for clarity and felt strongest about the importance of continuing in the process. The American thought it would be good to do, but was also willing for it not to be put aside if better plans could be identified. The Hispanic, though he felt good about the study, was the least insistent on the process being followed.
In the multi-cultural church it means that those from cultures that seek to avoid uncertainty, will want frank and open discussions, all the details clearly laid out, plans and procedures made abundantly clear, risks clearly calculated, and will have less tolerance for veering off course. It means that those from cultures that tolerate uncertainty, will depend on people they trust more than on formal agreements, will be more willing to take risks, will show more tolerance for breaking rules, and will put less emphasis on planning for the future.
Perhaps the biblical balance is best spelled out in the Scripture, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). We are wise to make as many preparations as we can, but there are always matters that we cannot anticipate, about which we need to be flexible, and to ultimately trust in the Lord. Trust and reliance is not merely a step we take when we run out of things we can think of to do, but it is to be a part of the process all the way through. In an international church it seems wisest to take the middle road in this matter and to do both: adequate preparation and also faithful watching, anticipating that the Lord may direct us in a new direction we had not anticipated.
The Benefit of Balance
The cultural values discussed in this chapter, for the most part, are neither right nor wrong. They have each been hammered out by social groupings of people trying to survive while seeking to make sense of their surroundings. They each, in that sense, “make sense,” at least in the environment in which they have come from. But they can each seem out of place in other environments that see life differently.
Leading a church of many nationalities and cultures requires more than just knowing the customs of each; it also requires learning about how different people view life and make decisions. If communication will be successful it should be done in words and actions that others can understand. To ignore the different cultural values, or, even worse, to insist that people must see and do everything the way my culture sees and does it, is to guarantee misunderstanding, missed opportunities, and conflicts in the church.
Friendship can and must span cultures if effective communication for the cause of Christ will happen. Louis J. Luzbetak correctly observed the church leader “will necessarily be dealing with individuals, not with an abstract society.” A church leader in a multicultural church is a change agent; like every missionary he is, by the act of introducing the gospel, introducing also a new ethic, a new vision, a new approach to community, a new perspective on life. Even to those who have been Christians for some time, perhaps even generations, the multicultural church leader is also introducing to them a church whose nature and practices transcend the culture and practices of any church in any single cultural environment. As he seeks to be this type of leader, he himself will undoubtedly make his own share of cultural mistakes. He is ultimately making friends for Christ and seeking to lead them into a new way of life and ministry. I find myself in whole-hearted agreement with Luzbetak’s observation: “Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and similar collections of purely human wisdom may sometimes make more missiological sense than many an ex professo missiological treatise.”
Systems Theory is relevant to learning new cultural values and customs. It is easy for an outsider to miss something very significant when he moves into another culture and tries to learn their ways. Slow and gradual progress toward understanding and changing behaviors is normally best and the surest way to make healthy cultural transitions. But it is probably not necessary for all the people to completely change their cultural orientations for ministry to be meaningful and effective in a multinational church. If people can only open up to the point of understanding the different views of others, if they can only seek to progress a little bit toward the mid-range, then many potential misunderstandings can be avoided, and others perhaps even cleared up.
 Geert Hofstede, foreword to Leadership in a Diverse and Multicultural Environment, by Mary L. Connerly and Paul B. Pedersen (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2005), p. ix.
 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), pp. 43-84.
 Rodney Woo, The Color of Church (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2009), pp. 201-18.
 GLOBE stands for Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness. A study lead by Robert J. House and others, this project may be, according to James E. Plueddemann in Leading Across Cultures (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009) p. 94, “the most comprehensive of all the studies so far. One hundred and seventy researchers worked on the project, costing millions of dollars.”
 Plueddemann, Leading Across Cultures, p. 116-17.
 Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business, 2nd Edition (London: Nicholas Brealy, 1997). p. 50.
 Harry C. Triandis, “The Self and Social Behavior in Differing Cultural Contexts,” Psychological Review, 1989 Vol. 96, No. 3, 506-520, Copyright 1989 by American Psychological Association, Inc.
 Harry C. Triandis, “The Self and Social Behavior…”
Harry C. Triandis, “The Self and Social Behavior…”
 Plueddemann, Leading Across Cultures, p. 94
 Mary Sully de Luque and Mansour Javidan, “Uncertainty Avoidance,” in Culture, Leadership and Organizations, ed. Robert J. House et al. (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2004) pp. 636-37.
 Louis J. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures (Techny, Illinois, USA: Divine Word Publications, 1970), p. 230.
 Luzbetak, ibid.