Category Archives: Epic

Quick Review: Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific

I have been reading Bruce E. Barnes’ Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific and found it unbelievably helpful as one who has been working in Asian contexts for the last decade and who currently is engaged regularly with people from over a dozen Asian nations.

The book is an exploration of how culture has influenced dispute resolution practices throughout Asia. There are chapters for each main country in Asia and they include Hawaii as well for integrative reasons.  Each chapter uses some of Hofstede’s cross-cultural indexes in different areas to provide a basic framework for the discussion and then the author unpacks the history of conflict resolution practices within those nations and how they may or may not have changed due to political or national changes.

For example – I didn’t realize China had such a rich history and interesting systems of mediation built into the framework of their history and culture and it was fascinating to see how Confucianism shaped conflict practices in different ways in China, Korea, and to a lesser extent Japan.  There was so much that really helps you understand more nuances of approaches to negotiation, conflict, or how to handle disputes.

The book provides a lot of comparative analysis between nations in some ways too so you can see how Japan is different from other Asian nations or how the Philippines or Indonesia is different.  In the west, most people now understand that “saving face” is a big deal, but this was a great resource to explore how those dynamics are different in different Asian countries and what the background influences culturally and historically might be.

The biggest takeaway from this book though relates to third-party strategies to conflict. Henry Cloud posted on facebook a couple of weeks ago a quote that said, “Direct communication is the best way to go through life.”  He went on and elaborating on things related to emotional and relational health. I think there are ways that this statement is true, but the book reinforced the reality that there are many ways in which indirect conflict resolution is healthier and in fact – better.

This is a worthy conversation – but I’ve seen too many white or American leaders write off, dismiss, wear down, or shame Asian-American or Asian leaders who were trying to resolve things genuinely, but that just weren’t respected or judged because their approach was different. Some of those things are not healthy, but not as much as what an average white American might think.

There are many ways where an indirect and third-party system of dispute resolution is very much compatible with the Scriptures and it’s worth a lot of reflection and cross-cultural dialogue about these situations and practices. You may find that it may offer a helpful corrective to some assumptions about certain Biblical passages related to conflict or at least it may expand the possible range of meaning and application.

I have been working through different strategies of how to apply some of the wisdom gained in this book, especially when matched up with insights from Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures and Cross-Cultural Conflict.  At the heart – it’s about a relationship first approach to conflict which I have come to increasingly value instead of the propositional truth or logic approach to conflict resolution.

Quick Review: Shame Interrupted

Over the past few months I read Edward T. Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & RejectionIt was one of those books that lent itself to casual reading over time to maximize the experience of reading it. There are about 30 chapters that all take about 15 minutes to read and they are thematically organized so taking it in short doses while I read other things as well was a quite refreshing way to go through it.

Welch is a counselor so he tackles the issue of shame from that perspective, but he also offers some solid theology to ground his writing. What I appreciate was that in addition to the theological and psychological insights, Welch shows himself aware of many of the cultural and social dimensions to shame and identity. He draws on helpful insights from both the Ancient Near East as well as cultures today. He also addresses power and majority-minority dynamics intentionally at various places, which I appreciated.

There’s a poetic and lyrical nature to how this book is written so it is very easy to read in some ways, but it’s an easy read more so because the style targets the human heart and reality so authentically that there’s not much in the book that you don’t feel like you relate to.

In Asia, shame is a more recognized and understood dynamic. People just get it – and as such, this is a great resource here in Asia. In the west, shame is not something most know their way around. Many either are not aware of what it is and its impact on identity and relationships or they don’t know what to do with it or how to find freedom.  This book helps develop awareness of how shame may be at work in one’s life and it offers a grounded and hopeful perspective from Scripture to help one understand how to see their story re-written as they place their story within the God’s story.

It’s actually a really creative and insightful book that offers an immense depth of wisdom and insight. I would recommend it to just about everyone because I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t benefit from going through this book whether for personal growth or leadership development.


Quick Review: The 3D Gospel – Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

I recently finished The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jason Georges. This had been on my list for over a year since reading The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke last year and attending Mischke’s online webinar hosted by mission nexus.

This is a fairly brief (less than a 100 pages) primer on how to see the full range and impact of the gospel as expressed in different cultural contexts.  Georges uses the metaphor of a multifaceted diamond that reflects the same essence in different ways.  I actually appreciated the diamond metaphor as it provided a more holistic and integrated approach to the discussion about guilt, shame, and fear which sometimes degenerates into either/or application.

The book gives a great, user friendly intro to the discussion and unpacks the correlation between the gospel, culture, and ministry application.   For each of the 3 main culture  (guilt/innocence, shame/honor, fear/power), Georges provides a succinct summary of the salvation narrative through each of those thematic areas of focus, followed by the core ministry approach that may be the most appropriate expression of ministry for that culture.

The connections between culture, the gospel, and ministry expressions is really helpful as it helps one begin to think about contextualization and integration of the gospel into a specific context in specific ways.  I’m very encouraged that more and more are providing practical and theologically grounded efforts at contextualization in light of these common themes in different cultures.  It may not make since to many who have not experienced much beyond their native culture and context, but these perspectives and efforts to provide real tools for ministry are incredibly valuable.

Because of the brevity and and clarity to this book, I really am motivated to find ways to use this in my ministry and leadership training.  There is potential application beyond evangelism and discipleship to other aspects of ministry and leadership development that excite me, but it serves as a great intro and primer to how to think about contextualization in non-western contexts so I highly recommend this as a resource.


Quick Review: The Global Gospel

Maybe one of the best books I’ve read recently was The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World by Werner Mischke.  It took me a while to work through it, partly because it generating so many new questions and new thoughts.

There are many books and resources out there that call for deeper and more thoughtful contextualization of theology and ministry methodology.  This is one of the few books I’ve seen really try to take a clear shot at contextualizing evangelism and discipleship for the non-western world.  Half of the book is theory and theology, but the other half is comprised of concrete efforts to take that knowledge and move it to real, useful approaches to evangelism.

The heart of this book really relates to contextualization of ministry in view of the honor/shame paradigms in the Ancient Near East culture and how they are captured in the Scriptures.  The author goes to great lengths to show these different (9 of them) dimensions of honor/shame as they are expressed in Scripture – from encounters that Jesus had with the Pharisees to Paul’s letters.  Then he attempts to use each of those nine dimensions as a means of communicating the gospel in a relevant way to people from contexts where those honor/shame dynamics are part of the cultural landscape.

I personally felt like the book really expanded my perspectives in reading the Scriptures.  So many narratives and exchanges in Scripture were taken to new levels of understanding and some I would go so far as to say that they felt like they were “unlocked” because of the significance of the cultural components.  It really deepened my motivation to study Scripture because my understanding of so many passages was dramatically enriched through a better awareness of honor/shame realities.

But I also appreciated the real and genuine effort in developing connection points for people to connect meaningfully to the Gospel. I loved reading the author’s efforts at contextualized evangelism, but enjoyed just as much feeling challenged to think bigger and more creatively about how to bridge from Scripture to people in meaningful ways.

I highly recommend this for all Christians – it really can enrich your perspective on Scripture and ministry deeply.  It also is a good reminder to think in terms of culture and it is a guard against ethnocentric ministry philosophy and theology.




Identity & Holistic Coaching

As I continue to share some of the things I learned through my experience serving cross-culturally and in multi-ethnic contexts, many of the posts I share will directly or indirectly point to a theme that really is central to effective ministry and leadership development – identity.

Similar to what I shared in my previous post on the problem of paternalism, prior to my experiences doing leadership development in an ethnic minority ministry context I didn’t think much about identity.  Prior to that I had only really thought about identity through the lens of what some call “positional truths.”  These are those truths in the Bible about a believer’s identity in Christ.  My experience cross-culturally took me deeper into those positional truths and their significance for cross-cultural peace and reconciliation and unity.  However, my experience also took me to a broader and more holistic understanding of identity and its significance in discipleship, leadership development, and culture shaping.

My previously narrow understanding of identity I believe stems in part from the dynamics of being part of the majority culture. As I mostly have fit in culturally and have not often been in environments that raised the question for me about whether I belong culturally or not, this arena  existed for quite a while outside of my consciousness.  But some of that also stems from being exposed to perhaps overly propositional approaches to meaning making by my faith tradition.  But through my multi-ethnic and cross-cultural journey, identity has grown to become a central component of my leadership development philosophy and theology. Identity is always being lived out and formed. It’s dynamic. Some things are fixed, some things are dynamically changing.

Several years ago this espn cover really powerfully communicated the complex nature of identity – both in terms of how we see ourselves and how others may perceive us.


Leadership and community ethics really get to the heart of identity – it’s how we express and treat the image of God in ourselves and one another. It includes how we shape others and how others have shaped us. It’s how we understand what distinguishes us from others as well as what binds us together.

But while many like me minimize or are ignorant to the importance of identity in life, leadership, and ministry – identity is a larger or more central journey for people who have straddled multiple cultures or worlds. A word for living in this type of cultural reality is liminality – living in between when you don’t fully belong to one side or another but much of your identity and meaning lies in the tension and the in between.  We have raised our family the last couple of years in the Philippines and have watched first hand the identity journey our kids are on. They are already asking more questions related to identity than I ever did at their ages.

Beyond liminality – any oppressed people group will be aware of and wrestle more with identity because that’s part of the journey we must take to make sense of our experience.  The question of who we are for some is a more complicated one because their identity in the context of their ethnicity and uniqueness has not always been celebrated or affirmed. Most conscientious people today  will ask the questions at some point – why is this happening and what does it say about who I am? Some are forced to grow up asking these questions very early on while some, as a result of their circumstances, may not ask those questions until later in life, if ever.

It’s also important to highlight here that identity is important because ethnic minority stories are very different and people are on different journeys at different paces in different contexts. There has to be a commitment to learning who individuals are within their communities to free us up from unhelpful assumptions and stereotyping. When I paint groups of people with a broad brush I tend to get myself into trouble. Generalizations aren’t always bad, but when they become labels and things that we are projecting onto people, when they might not be true or representative of them then we have crossed a line.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this season of ministry was about the importance of listening to and paying attention to how people see and express themselves as a window into their identity journey.  Only through learning and listening can one truly come alongside in an affirming and empowering way – and when we see and affirm people’s identity, who God has made them, I’ve seen how incredibly empowering that can be.

As a practical note – this is why ministry efforts anchored in transferability of methodology has limits to its effectiveness.  What can be effective in one context can be ineffective somewhere else and furthermore it could even be unethical!  The degree to which we can see the difference is a reflection of our capacity to see and understand the power of identity in an individual and culture.

A few years ago I co-wrote this brief post on identity with my friend Adrian as a cornerstone of our philosophy of leadership development for Epic Movement.  As an additional resource, here is a team building exercise designed by friends of mine to surface themes of identity and stimulate conversation.

Hope & the Fragility of Ministry

To see the background on this new series click here.

There’s a line from the second movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that resonates with the reality of ethnic minority ministry in our organization. Things are looking bleak and the voice of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is providing a mid-movie narration. She’s says with somber urgency,

“The quest stands at the edge of a knife.
Stray but a little and all will fall.”

Obviously a little dramatic, but this captures some of the reality of doing ethnic minority ministry in my experience and from my vantage point (which is in a white dominant context).

The overall ministry and effort so often seems like it is only one conflict, one bad decision (either someone within our immediate context or someone outside of it with power), or one failure away from disaster.  There’s a weariness that comes with doing ministry where the bottom feels like it could fall out at any moment.  And over time it can become a deep weariness.

It takes a depth of character with a strong capacity to stay connected to hope in the face of discouraging realities and to persevere in what feels like a sysyphean challenge. To that end I co-wrote this post for my ministry addressing hope as a key dimension of leadership capacity and development when serving ethnic minority communities in a multi-ethnic context.

I’ve been tested in what my hope is in, where to look for it, and how to look for it amidst discouragement.  At times I’ve wondered why is hope so fleeting serving in these contexts. From a multiethnic standpoint I couldn’t help but think that part of why I struggle with hope is the pioneering nature of what this ministry involves. In a predominantly white ministry context with years of history – like many churches and organizations have – it’s very easy to depend on strategies and resources and find hope in what has worked in the past.  Yet what has worked in the past in an ethnic majority context does not always or even most of the time translate to ethnic minority or multi ethnic pioneering.

Hope has to come from somewhere else.  I had to learn that – sometimes I had to learn the hard way.

A helpful resource for me in my journey of sustaining hope was a short ebook entitled Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang.  I shared some thoughts a couple years ago on the book here.

The fragility is real.  The potential for internal or external sabotage lingers. But there’s a hope in Christ and God’s Kingdom only to be found on the other side of the fragility and discouragement.

How do you stay connected to hope?

How do you help others stay connected to hope when the ground feels like it could give at any moment?

New Series: Multi Ethnic Learnings

Of great interest to organizations and churches these days is the challenge of a multi-ethnic community.  What does it mean to be a multi-ethnic organization? A multi-ethnic church? A multi-ethnic ministry?  I don’t have all the answers for what that means or what it should mean.  But maybe I can offer a few learnings from my own journey that can help catalyze greater development for others.

Prior to moving to the Philippines to teach and serve at the International Graduate School of Leadership, I was serving in an ethnic minority ministry for about five years in the United States.

I am white.  In those years I continued to journey through a couple key things related to what it means to be white.  I had to explore what it means to myself and what it means to others from different cultural backgrounds.

Serving cross-culturally has been a powerful learning journey for me as it relates to multi-ethnic ministry and what it is that God is at work to do in the lives of all of us. Prior to leaving the United States I was encouraged in my transition to write up some of my key learnings learnings from this season of ministry – lessons that were personally transformative for me and that have continued to shape and refine just what servant leadership and transformational leadership truly are in a world full of differences and imbalances of power.

So while I will not try to provide solutions or analysis of what it takes to be “multi-ethnic” as many aspire, I do hope to share some of the realities and the ways people are impacted as I’ve experienced and observed them. The majority of these  posts were written 2 years ago and I never posted them because…moving to different country is hard!

I happen to have been a history major an undergraduate with the Strengthsfinder themes of context, intellection, and learner. The only reason I share those things is that it means I have a strong aversion to repeating mistakes that can be learned from as well as a strong drive to learn in context and pass on that learning to help anyone else’s journey so they don’t have to start at square one!

So if you come upon this series of blogs you may find that some of them may or may not relate to your context. Or maybe you have already learned them. And maybe you have many more insights of your own in addition to those I share here.  If that be the case, please share!

So in the next month or two look out for what I hope to be a 15-20 post series sharing brief summaries of some of what I learned as a white leader and minister in a primarily white organization serving an ethnic minority community and demographic.

These are not comprehensive, but a window into how my views of and vision for ministry and leadership have changed.  I’ve labeled these as learnings from my first season of ministry in an ethnic minority context – because I anticipate several more seasons that no doubt will continue to challenge and sharpen my perspectives, behaviors, and beliefs.

Before diving in I would acknowledge I would not have learned many of these insights without a rich array of input, reading, and most importantly ethnic minority “guides” – kindred spirits, and wise friends and teammates who opened up the doors into many different cultures and perspectives . This learning is the product of relationships first and foremost!  For through learning stories firsthand and serving alongside others day to day in another context, I began to see in new ways.

A Three Cultures Approach to Engaging Scripture and Cross-Cultural Ministry

Have you thought about the way culture and the Study of Scripture interact?

Have you thought about how the intersection of these two things are essential to ministry effectiveness across cultural difference?

I wrote most of this article about two and a half years ago but never released it because it felt incomplete. Over the past year after reading a few new resources and after a couple years teaching in a multi-ethnic and multi-national context in a different country, I was able to finish some of what I started.

This is not a short nor an overly academic article, but an overview and introduction to some perspectives that have greatly enhanced my ministry effectiveness as well as my study of the Scriptures.  I believe they may be able to help you and enhance your own ministry and experience of the Scriptures as well.

There are two books that were released after I wrote the bulk of this article that perhaps do a far better job in introducing some of the same concepts. If you get a chance I suggest you read Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes or The Global Gospel. In the meantime I hope this provides some food for thought and reflection!

Servant Leading Through Absorbing Pain

Last week I attended a gathering of leaders from different ethnic minority ministries within my organization as well as a handful of other organizational leaders.  I presented briefly on one of the days one of my learnings as a white/majority culture leader working in multi-ethnic contexts.

The theme related to being a servant leader in situations where one is serving and empowering through absorbing ethnic minority anger and pain for the sake of building trust, safety, and consistency in those relationships.

This session is my twenty minute presentation as well as about 9-10 minutes of interaction over the topic which was valuable and instructive.  If you’re interested, feel free to have a listen here:

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I also captured some of these thoughts and the primary illustration of “paper towel” leadership in the following blog posts a few years ago: