I recently was able to finish Sherwood G. Lingenfelter’s LEADING Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership. In short – I really loved it. Partly on its own terms, partly for timing reasons.
What I often bemoan in organizational ministry is that things often get so driven by organizational values and strategic objectives that the larger ontological reality of who we are – as believers, as part of the larger church. Working in a parachurch, there’s sometimes great effort to be clearly defined as “not a church” that we don’t have a clear vision of what it means to be the body on mission, but not a local church.
We’re not a local church, but we’re still called to be the body. Mission teams in many contexts also wrestle with this. Team’s that are primarily focused on outreach and who they are trying to reach can forget that their outward efforts must flow from a central identity that can’t be taken for granted. I think our vision of what it means to be the body sometimes is just really small, or it’s been domesticated by business concepts or perspectives. It needs to expand and deepen.
This is some of why this book felt so good to read. It affirmed some of what I feel is often forgotten when ministry efforts are overly driven by strategy and goals. The big wheels keep on turning usually organizationally speaking, meanwhile core kingdom values get steamrolled and most can’t stop long enough to even notice. Maybe it’s combined with a over-focus on personal piety and not enough awareness of a Biblical corporate ethic. Regardless, nowhere is this more evident that in cross-cultural contexts and multi-ethnic efforts.
Strategic driven efforts that fail to be anchored in Kingdom identity will end up doing more damage than good.
This is what is awesome about Lingenfelter’s book. He affirms of absolute importance Kingdom identity and what he calls covenant community. He affirms the following elements as being essential to “covenant community”….
1. Identity in Christ as God’s chosen people.
2. Presence of the Holy Spirit
3. Love one another
4. One body – serving in diversity
5. One body – working together in unity
6. Submitting to one another
7. Speaking graciously
8. Restoring mercifully
One thing I really loved was the author’s explicit statement that strategy and planning in multi-cultural relationships is almost worthless or pointless unless a solid enough foundation of covenant community and identity is established. Couldn’t agree more.
Lingenfelter addresses what is essential to building trust in cross-cultural relationships and how that must be navigated across power relationships. Most of the illustrations or examples used are international in nature, but I feel like he captured power dynamics so well and in such an integrated way that I think it really helps in the area of understanding that trust cannot be build cross-culturally on very deep levels without some awareness and recognition of how power in those relationships must be stewarded. This typically is a massive blind spot for white, western ministry and church leaders.
What I’ve loved about my own ministry the last few years is feeling like I’ve been a part of an effort to really build a foundation of covenant community in the context of being on mission. There’s a deeper identity and integrity to what we’ve done because it’s anchored in the bigger and Kingdom vision and reality of which we are all a part of. It’s not always easy, but it’s powerful.
Many want covenant community and even more would say they really want to see fruit ministering cross-culturally, especially pragmatic evangelicals. This book will not provide a manual or “how-to” because that would work against the desired outcome. It’s primarily a book that helps leaders think about how they think and how they approach leading and working with people who are different or who come from different paradigms. It should cause healthy reflective thinking and promote good dialogue and conversations.
Unfortunately ethnocentric people could read this and think they are getting the message of the book and not really get it. Because some context and some experience is needed to truly make the needed connections for fruitful cross-cultural relationships. But people leading in contexts of multiple cultures need help with paradigms and with how to adjust their assumptions and presuppositions about what it means to build a foundation of trust in both community and on teams.
So this book was a very helpful resource to me helping affirm some crazy makers, providing some helpful structure and language, and bringing a clarity and simplicity to what is at the heart of effective and fruitful cross-cultural leadership. It’s worth the read in my opinion.