- New Series: 30 Days on the Chinese Church
- Developmental Stages of a Chinese Church
- The CFC Story: Moving toward Maturity
- Why Translated Services Don’t Work
- Growing Pains
- Models of Ministry in Chinese Churches
- A Tale of Two Mailboxes
- Why we don’t have a Senior Pastor
- Unity and Diversity in a Chinese Church
- Maintaining Unity in a Chinese Church
- The Resource Pyramid
- Why Leadership Training is Job #1
- How to Equip Spiritual Leaders
- Leadership and Culture
- Leadership and Culture (Part 2)
- The Jerusalem Council: Consensus Decision Making
- English Ministry Pastor Shortage
- Reaching Adults: The Importance of Ownership
- The Power of Vision
- Caring for Co-workers
- Culture and Biblical Truth
- What about Asian American Churches?
- Advice to a Young ABC Pastor
- Advice to an OBC Senior Pastor
- Reflections on a Series
There are universal biblical principles of leadership, but we must recognize that leadership does not operate in a vacuum. The way that leadership operates and is perceived is also affected by the culture(s) of the people in the church.
The Role of a Leader
The decision about who should be chosen as a ministry leader is influenced by culture. For example, in a more American culture, a person who is outspoken and assertive is often seen as the natural choice for a leadership position. But in Asian culture a person who is too aggressive might be seen as too risky as a leader. I experienced this contrast a number of times when choosing new members for the college fellowship leadership core. In order to select new leaders we ask the fellowship members for their recommendations, and then I meet with the current leadership core for discussion and prayer to come to a consensus on who should be the new leaders. On several occasions we were considering a person who was a strong natural leader but perhaps a little too assertive. While I might have been willing to let that person lead and work with them to improve their leadership style, most of the core members were reluctant to take the risk.
The expectations that people have of a leader are also influenced by their culture. Should a leader focus on caring for people in a tangible way by being “on call” to give rides, help move furniture, or do yard work? Should a leader focus on strategic planning for moving the ministry forward? Should a leader focus on evangelism? Should a leader quietly support the ministry of church members or should he be out in front blazing the trail? An argument could be made that all of these possibilities have biblical support, but which one(s) are the most important? The way that you answer that question is influenced in part by your cultural background.
Leaders and Decision Making
Few areas bring cultural differences into sharp relief as much as the way that leaders make decisions. A more American approach makes use of open debate, competing proposals, and majority rule. A more Asian approach makes use of private consensus building, acquiescence to those with seniority and a public display of harmony. Biblical arguments could be made for the value of each approach, and both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Both can be helpful at times, but both can be abused.
The problem comes when leaders from different cultural backgrounds try to make a decision together. Private consensus building is seen by the more Americanized leaders as secret political alliances and a lack of honesty. Open debate is seen by the more Asian leaders as a painful disruption of harmony and a lack of love and humility. Is deference to older leaders a denial of our fundamental equality in Christ or an appropriate expression of humility and respect?
I experienced some of these differences when we were studying Mandarin in Taiwan. At the time we were attending a small Baptist church, and we were invited to attend a members meeting after the worship service. As we watched, several proposals were brought up for a vote, and to my amazement every one of them passed unanimously! Later I realized that the decision had really been made before the meeting by discussions among the more influential leaders. Once the respected leaders voiced their opinion, everyone else went along with it. The vote was a mere formality.
Was this a beautiful expression of Christian love and harmony, or was it underhanded political manipulation? The way that you view it depends on your cultural background.
Tomorrow I will continue the discussion of Leadership and Culture, and explain why consensus is not always what it seems to be.
Now it’s your turn. . .
- How do you think that culture affects the way leadership operates in your church or organization?
- What challenges have you faced in working with leaders from different cultural background? What suggestions do you have for overcoming those challenges?