One of the areas of great growth and learning for me since I’ve been with Encompass World Partners has been in cross-cultural relationships. One of the experts in that area, and former board member with Encompass is Sherwood Lingenfelter. I encountered his book Ministering Cross-Culturally and learned a lot!
I have poked around in Lingenfelter’s more recent book Leading Cross-Culturally primarily because of our implementation of coalitions which are an architecture for everyone everywhere to engage in mission! It will be best if multiple cultures are involved, and it will also be a stretching experience for everyone involved.
Last night I was transfixed by chapter 8 on “Power-Giving Leadership.” Lingenfelter walked through the sticky Paul, Philemon, Onesimus situation. What a beautiful example of Paul giving away his position and power and empowering Philemon to lead and be like Jesus. This study provides an excellent contribution to Biblical leadership!
Lingenfelter’s definition for the book: Leading cross-culturally, then, is inspiring people who come from two or more cultural traditions to participate with you (the leader or leadership team) in building a community of trust and then to follow you and be empowered by you to achieve a compelling vision of faith.
The most important part of empowering new leaders is to support them in the early stages when they need help and to release them as soon as they can walk in the ministry by themselves. Consider the analogy of a toddler learning to walk: as soon as the child takes steps alone, we encourage the child to keep going. Some people are very cautious about releasing young leaders; this is a serious mistake. To release is not to abandon but to let the young leader learn to walk. It is vitally important that we allow young leaders to take halting steps, allow them to stumble, even fall, and then, as mentors, encourage them to get up and try again. We can always support them and help lift them up after they have fallen. But they will never be successful leaders unless we release them to play the game, to do the work for which we have equipped them.
The focus of power-giving leadership is to follow Christ and, in so doing, to lead others to follow Christ. In the patterns of “normal” cultural life, our power and skills may produce leaders but probably won’t produce followers of Christ.
“Giving Philemon the freedom to choose is also a vision to grow (‘I know you’ll do even more than I ask’). Part of empowering leadership is to remind people of who they are and the way their (potential) actions are consistent with their identity in the Lord”
The power-seeking leader uses position and authority to exert mastery over others. In this situation, Paul used a letter to engage in a power exchange with Philemon. He had Onesimus in his custody, and he could have easily written a different letter that would have asserted Philemon’s obligations to him and induced Philemon to release Onesimus to Paul without ever letting Onesimus out of his sight. Paul understood that if he took that tactic, it would be a false path to acquire something that he desired. He would pervert the relationship that God had given him with Philemon, using his position as the senior brother in Christ to advance his own selfish interest. In doing this, Paul would have, in fact, undermined Philemon’s faith and the work of the grace of God in their relationship together.
Jesus must become the center of who we are…
To restore our human psyche and relationships to the will and purpose of God, Jesus must become the center of who we are and replace our quest for power. Only as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit and through the living Word of God can we relate to one another within the structures of human society to accomplish the purpose of God.
I will first argue that we must put Jesus “in the place of power as a proper source of healing and will”
The task and the routines of daily work always erode our mission and vision for the ministry. They also erode our spiritual values. The question is not whether our values are eroding; team values are always eroding. The question is, what are we doing as leaders to renew our sense of mission, to restore our vision, and to renew the values that are critical for multicultural teamwork? Our hope for effective leadership and ministries lies in aligning ourselves with the mission and work of God in a lost and broken world.
Leaders in particular must surrender their obsession to control and achieve, through worship at the cross.
While the process will be difficult, with periods of intense testing and struggle, building covenant community is a process of refocusing from doing what we want to being the people of God.
In the end the work of the kingdom depends on our obedience to the King. God cannot rule in people who are disobedient and in conflict with one another. God rules as we obey God and love one another.
Every leader who expects and hopes to be effective in leading cross-culturally must give repeated attention to the mission, the vision, and the values that are essential to kingdom work. Every team meeting should include some intentional renewal of mission, vision, and/or values. As soon as that component of the team is lost, the mission and the vision will be lost to the routines and the pressures of doing our daily work. Every case study that we have considered here has suffered because of a loss of mission, vision, and/or values among the people who were part of the multicultural team process.
Saying, “I was wrong,” is more powerful than saying “I’m sorry.”
One of my colleagues, Janice Strength, notes that saying “I was wrong” is far more powerful than saying “I am sorry.” She notes that we often push children to say “I am sorry” when they and we know they are not. To acknowledge “I was wrong” is to take responsibility for the action we have done.
I remind students in my classes that we are first emotional creatures and only secondarily rational. As we respond to crises or stressful situations in leadership, we rarely operate based on reason and rational processes. When things get tough, we first respond emotionally—frustration, anger, fear, disappointment, and betrayal. These emotions often get the best of us, leading us to seek power to protect ourselves, which in turn undermines the will and purpose of God.
I remember praying, “Please remove this person from leadership and give me someone else who can do the job more effectively.” God’s answer to this prayer was, “Absolutely no; don’t you understand my work?” I learned over a period of time that God loves weak people and that God intends leaders to work with the people whom God gives to them.