LinLead 09-06-82

Leading Cross-Culturally

Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership



Sherwood G. Lingenfelter

Baker Academic, 2009, 175 pp., ISBN 978-0-8010-3605-7


Sherwood Lingenfelter is provost and senior vice president at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He is the author of several books including the widely used Ministering Cross-Culturally.  The book speaks to both Western and non-Western leaders in multi-cultural situations.  It is divided into four parts: Inspiring People, Building Trust, Pathways to Empower, and Leading Cross-Culturally.  Each chapter in this brief volume begins with a case study to illustrate the complexities and difficulties that leadership must face.  Lingenfelter hopes to help leaders understand their own culture of leadership, become effective learners, deal with power and control, and apply Christ-centered principles that transcend our culture and our sinfulness. 


1.  What Is Leading Cross-Culturally?

People are locked into a culture and tradition of leadership from their life history and social context.  Even our most current leadership principles are culturally bound and become obstacles when applied cross-culturally. 


"The first characteristic of leading is building trust within a relational community."  (16)  Trust is a fundamental characteristic of leadership.  "The complexity of leading cross-culturally lies in the challenge of building a community of trust among people who come from two or more cultural traditions that provoke a clash of worldviews." (20)  


Definition.  "Leading cross-culturally…is inspiring people who come from two or more cultural traditions to participate with you…in building a community of trust and then to follow you and be empowered by you to achieve a compelling vision of faith." (21) 


2.  Kingdom Vision and Work

The leader must ask whether the vision is his or God's.  "To have effective, compelling vision for ministry, the kind of vision that will motivate people to follow, the Christian leader must have a deep and intimate walk with Christ and listen to and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  But even more importantly, this vision must be tested in the community of the body of Christ, refined by the participation of the body in shaping it, and then mobilized by the body in prayer and action." (32)


"Kingdom work combines both good news and a healing touch." (36) 


"…the only vision worth following is God's vision, and God reveals that vision to many, not just one." (42)


3.  Kingdom Values and Rewards

In one case study the African partners saw partnership as relationships of commitment to God and one another for the work of ministry, somewhat like marriage.  The Westerners saw partnership as relationships for completing the task, unlike marriage.  Both understood partnership according to their cultural bias and worldview.  Africans valued reciprocity and social relationships whereas Westerners focused on performance and getting things done with quality and productivity.  The Africans saw the Westerners as harsh, unbending and uncaring whereas the Westerners saw the Africans as undisciplined, careless about time, and having low productivity goals.


The values Jesus proclaims in the story of the landowner hiring men to work in his vineyard contradict most cultural values about how we work. 


4.  The Necessity of Learning

Culture is not neutral.  Culture is God's gift to humanity but rebellion against God has degraded it.  We are not to conform to this world but be transformed (Rom 12:2). 


"One of the distortions that we as human beings bring to social relationships is that of making our familiar structure the only structure that God can use to accomplish his purpose." (64)  "Effective cross-cultural leadership cannot happen if we are unwilling to learn about and accept the social-game assumptions of our partners.  We cannot negotiate effective working relationships when we have disagreements about legitimate forms of behavior and action and do not listen carefully to one another with an attitude of respect and acceptance.  Further, when we allow such disagreements to reach a point where we judge and condemn one another's spirituality, we destroy any possibility of working effectively together.  The commands of Scripture make it clear that the first and most important criterion in our relationships is that we love one another." (65-6)


5.  Covenant Community, the Highest Priority

The strawberry marketing case study described a situation where an expatriate saw an opportunity for local farmers with an excess of strawberries to market them in the city at a profit, thus improving their standard of living.  The expatriate did not meddle in the local "default" values of the culture, some of which undermined the trust essential for a successful operation.   Their value on harmony in clan relationships and their worldview that promoted "getting my share," created a lack of trust and inability to confront those who were cheating.  The Westerner focused on the task and not spiritual or character development.  He assumed a separation of professional work and spiritual life. 


The alternative to one's personal default culture with its values, expectations, and roles, is the new life in Christ with its alternative lifestyle.  The hidden flaw in this project was a vision of a profit for local farmers, a vision for profit, instead of a vision to help local farmers realize their potential in Christ.  Unless the community changed in significant ways, the social needs would not be met and the development project not sustained.  "The relationships and rewards must focus on achieving the spiritual outcomes of truth and trust…." (73) 


The covenant community is a three-way agreement of relationship between people and people, and between people and God.  The foundation for every multicultural team must be an understanding that they are a chosen people with a new identity, that they are on mission for God, and that they have received mercy.


We must obey Christ's commands to not judge, to be merciful, and to forgive.  Judgment and condemnation destroy relationships and undermine every kind of ministry.  Task-focused ministries are misplaced at their core.  "Instead of giving first priority to attaining vision, meeting goals, and productivity, they must rather give highest priority to the formation of a community of trust and then to doing the hard 'bodywork' of creating both community and trust.  Leaders must help the group center on their new identity in Christ and lead them in a process of commitment to Christ and to one another to be the people of God on mission together." (80) 


6.  Creating Covenant Community

7.  Trustworthy Leadership

Leadership is not achieved through structures or social processes but by how one lives within a structure, respecting people, accepting their differences, and engaging them in ways that inspire trust and transform yet sustain relationships and structure.  (citing Max Depree)  This is particularly true on multi-cultural teams.  "People come together with different national identities, cultural histories, and values about work and leadership.  Unless they dialogue together about these differences and covenant to give their identities in Christ priority in their relationships, it will be impossible for them to work together." (99)  Leading multicultural teams requires higher commitment to "be the church" to fulfill God's mission.


"The critical factors for leading cross-culturally are Christ-centered learning and trustworthy covenant-centered leadership."  (101)  Cross-cultural ministry requires a commitment to entering into a culture as a learner. 


8.  Power-Giving Leadership

"Control is the basis of power.  People who seek to control their circumstances, their jobs, their relationships with others, and their effectiveness in their work are all seeking power."  Power is the "ability to produce intended effects in the world." (197, citing Marguerite Shuster)


A person's existence becomes linked to the kinds of things that one produces - work, relationships, wealth, etc.  "A person who does not find his or her life leading to at least one significant end feels impotent and even hopeless." (108)  "'Power transactions' are those reciprocal exchanges between persons of unequal power that result in each obtaining some measure of self-interest." (108)  "A power exchange occurs when someone who controls something of importance to another uses that control to obtain compliance or conformity of the other to his or her will." (109)


"Perversion of the structures of relationship most often comes from our obsession to achieve a particular good, such as a biblically sound church." (110)  Such a distortion leads us into destructive patterns of behavior and relationship. 


Power cannot be the source of our meaning and significance.  Jesus must become the center of who we are and replace our quest for power.  The Christian leader works to build relationships that influence others to follow Christ.  People are more important than authority and control. 


"Instead of powering outcomes, the relational leader builds trust and influences followers through integrity of character and depth of relationship." (111)  "When we obey his command to love first, relationship takes priority over control, and contextual leadership becomes possible." (112) 


9.  Empowering and Mentoring

"The mentor must take the risk of letting go and trusting that God will accomplish the purpose."  Many missionaries and mission agencies have great difficulty in releasing control.  The risk is great.  It is a significant act of faith and trust.


10.  Responsible-To Leadership

"When vision is lost, teams and projects become dysfunctional management nightmares…." (138) 


Our primary role should be to encourage, not to dominate.  "The key lies in building relationships that lead to trust, influence, and encouragement for the work and purpose of God." (140) 


11.  Exercising Power, Asking for Correction

"A leader must use power in such a way that the team is motivated to higher levels of achievement."  "One of the most important functions of a leader is to keep the team or organization focused on its mission." (145, citing Richard Wood)


One of the most important powers of a leader is to require dialog.  This puts the outcome at risk but it frees the leader to be a participant in seeking a solution.

"The exercise of power for the common good of the covenant community is a responsibility of those assigned leadership roles." (146)


"One of the most common flaws of leaders is their failure to ask for correction, and when they receive it, to accept it and learn from it." (147)  "Effective leaders encourage and empower followers to evaluate effectively their performance.  This must be built into our understanding of covenant community and social game." (147) 


12.  The Challenge of Cross-Cultural Leadership

What if I have unsatisfactory people on my team?   The author says God loves weak people and intends leaders to work with the people He gives them.  The disciples were a motley group of characters with a variety of flaws. 


People are emotional beings first and rational second.  We must practice spiritual disciplines and community fellowship to enable us to mediate our emotional responses in Christ. 


13.  The Hope of Cross-Cultural Leadership

Values are always eroding.  What are you doing to renew your sense of mission, your vision and your values?  "One of the first things lost in multicultural teamwork is a focus on mission and vision."  "Every leader…must give repeated attention to the mission, the vision, and the values that are essential to kingdom work."  (164) 


"The essence of effective leading for multicultural teams may be summed up in the phrase 'body work,' or 'being disciples to make disciples.'  We cannot expect to be effective in the ministry of the kingdom of God if we are not following Christ.  We must begin by being disciples if we hope to be able to make disciples and make a difference in our world." (166)   



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