Two years ago, I took on a pastoral role at a very diverse church. I knew then that I would need to learn a lot to shepherd a church of mostly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation global expatriates in Brooklyn, New York. I am learning new things about Jesus through other’s perspectives and am even more inspired by his love for all peoples. Also, I vastly underestimated what I will need to learn.
Yesterday, I counseled a couple who had a difficult encounter with another couple at our church. Of the four individuals involved, there were four unique cultures of origin, three unique native languages and birth countries, and of course four unique personalities. In the midst of the conversation, I was experiencing both the joy and the hardship involved with ministry in a diverse context. Two mixed-culture couples representing the Asian, Central American, European diaspora groups had found Christ, found each other, found friendship, and now were doing the discipleship work of allowing God’s power to hold all that together. Flowery “Jesus-language” to explain a typical church member conflict? Perhaps. Or perhaps that’s what we do. We strive to reveal the grace of God in everyday relationships and encourage our folks toward real, everyday discipleship. I just have the amazing privilege of doing it in a radically diverse church.
Let me briefly explain what I’m learning now.
Speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15) requires studying three layers of our listener’s context - Culture, Age, and Personality
Careful confrontation and relational triage are the surgical tools in diverse contexts
Understand the different ways cultures and individuals prefer one or two of the three social-placement oppositions: Power vs. Fear, Honor vs. Shame, or Justice vs. Guilt.
Starting to wrap my head around alternate understandings of time (punctuality vs. presence), power (vectors of authority), and order (cyclical vs. linear).
Briefly I’ll expound on the first learning area I’ve had.
Peter Drucker taught us that communication is what goes on in the mind of the listener, but that it is still the communicator’s responsibility. I am learning about the layers of filters that we each have that change the way we hear others. At least three of them include our culture, our generation, and our personality. Others might include our unique experiences (divorce, military service, childhood trauma, etc), gender, marital status, etc. But the three big ones that make a huge impact in the reception of what I’m communicating are the first three.
1. Culture: Expressiveness is not appreciated in the same way in Scandinavian cultures while it is expected in some South-American cultures. Asking some in my flock to clap during a song is received as an instruction to obey and won’t help them emotionally engage with the worship. Accepting gifts graciously isn’t only polite for some in my church, it’s essential to my credibility. Studying multiple cultures takes a great deal of time, but it is rewarded quickly when my communication is more effective. The smallest amount of cultural knowledge has always been deeply appreciated.
2. Age: In an age / generationally diverse church this aspect of communication variance is really challenging but important. The following reactions to a folding wooden measuring stick illustrates the different perspectives and values:
Teen - “What is it?"
Millennial - “Cool, artisan measuring sticks"
Gen X - “Throw it away."
Boomer - “That’s embarrassing."
Builder - “That’s my tape measure and it still works just fine."
(This is a true illustration.) When I preach of God’s love, I have to remember that the Millennial has never been hungry and the Builder has never been told by his father that he loved him (generalizations for sure). My Teens have been overly protected and underly sheltered and my boomers have been disappointed by life’s promises. In all I need to understand how to speak truth through these filters.
3. Personality: Much ink is spilled on communicating well to introverts and extroverts, builders, planners, judgers, perceivers, etc. I will only add that in multicultural contexts we must remember that sometimes personality traits will work against cultural tendencies in very profound ways. This last filter brings the person into a more clear focus. As we get to know individuals we get even better at sharing God’s truth in ways people can really grasp.
Christopher Hooper recently began serving as pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Brooklyn, NY (http://firstfreebrooklyn.org) after working in an executive pastoral role for several years at Open Door Fellowship Church in Denver, CO (http://odfdenver.org). His wife and ministry collaborator Holly has supported him for a couple of decades while his boys, Maxwell and Miles have brought him joy and pride for over a decade. Chris doesn’t tweet (but enjoys those who do), and can often be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.