As Christian public leaders we are often learning new ways to navigate conversations and relationships with people of diverse cultures across churches and communities. Every interaction is an intercultural interaction, whether we realize it or not. Even if it seems like there are many shared cultural expressions (such as food, music, or dress), beneath the surface there are always deeper cultural dynamics and how we respond could make all the difference in someone understanding a sermon or feeling authentically welcomed into a congregation.
How to Lead More Effectively
One tool that can help us gain deeper insight about how to effectively engage culture is the Intercultural Development Inventory, a research-based assessment of intercultural competence. As a qualified administrator, consultant, and coach of the IDI, I’ve had the joy of working alongside church leaders as they discover a new cultural self-awareness and understanding of others. This work is developmental, meaning it involves an ongoing process of learning and is “about the journey, not the destination.” None of us knows everything about our own culture, let alone others, so the journey requires humility and compassion.
We can offer an authentic welcome and genuinely meet people where they’re at with practices that respond to the multiple dimensions of our cultures—honoring the ways we are alike just as much as the ways we are different. The research suggests that if we overemphasize our cultural differences it can result in fragmentation, but if we overemphasize our commonalities it can result in conformity. The sweet spot is finding a balance in how we approach cultural sameness and difference, developing behaviors that are cross-culturally responsive.
One Body, Many Parts
We can respond in ways that are culturally specific only when we learn the specifics of other cultures. As faith leaders, our context may include people who are more diverse than we even realize. Beyond the easily observable differences of race, gender, and age (which can each be complex in their own ways), a closer look may reveal there are also differences such as:
- Family background
- Work experience
- Socio-economic status
- Sexual orientation
- Abilities/ disabilities
- Many others
Increasing our awareness of these differences and learning how to respond in ways that are affirming and accommodating can help deepen a sense of safety and belonging within any community.
The apostle Paul paints a vivid image of what this culturally-response community can look like in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. He wrote this letter during a time not unlike today, when faith leaders were asking how to respond to the differences they found in the church.
Should they deny and dismiss differences?
Uphold one way of being as better than the other?
Treat them all as the same?
Or is it possible to embrace the unique particularity of each and over time, learn how to adapt for their sake?
While all of the ways may have worked for them in various spaces, Paul’s invitation was to practice living as “many members of one body.” He emphasized that each member’s individual differences didn’t make them any less valuable as part of the body. In fact, he further asserts, the diversity of each member is vital for the body to function properly. And if one part is in need, it serves the well-being of the whole body if that part is given specific attention and care.
This is also the developmental journey we are invited to take through the work of interculturality. It becomes an ongoing process and practice of learning how to more intentionally respond to culturally specific differences with compassion and humility. In many ways, it is learning how to love more deeply.
Intercultural development can be one tool that helps us live more fully into the vision given to us in scripture. What Dr. King and others called the Beloved Community, a culture and society of equity and justice, becomes more possible when we lovingly tend to both the ways we are alike and the ways we are different—appreciating commonalities while adapting to differences.
Of course, this takes patience and grace. More than anyone else, Jesus showed us how to embody this way of being. He moved across cultures with a profound self awareness and a transformational empathy, always able to illuminate the particularity of his experiences to speak to a universal truths. When we deepen our work of engaging culture, we not only deepen the impact of our ministry, we also follow Christ in bringing us closer to the Beloved Community God has called and created us to be.
Connecting With Others
We don’t do this work alone. There are a number of extremely helpful tools and resources in the field of interculturality. When engaging with the Intercultural Development Inventory it is important to do so with a Qualified Administrator who has the training to accurately interpret the results given by the assessment. They can serve as consultants and coaches providing learning opportunities and sharing best practices to support you on your developmental journey.
Both QA’s ourselves, my friend David Scherer and I are offering a second round of our sold-out course on interculturality and anti-racism online this October. There are two tracks: Faith Leaders Course and Standard Course.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto