One of the hardest things about pastoring a diverse church with different people groups in it is developing a cross cultural competency. Mark DeYmaz talks extensively about this in his great book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church. We are all learning about each other’s cultures and learning how to live and act together as the body of Christ.
For example, when doing things with the Mizo, you have to understand that they will avoid saying “no” at almost any cost. In their culture it’s rude or disrespectful to say “no” to someone. So you have to listen very closely to what they do say. If they don’t say, “yes” very emphatically, and you have a sense that they aren’t really excited about what you’re proposing, it could be that they are trying not to say “yes” directly which really means, in their culture, “no.” If you push on assuming “yes” when it isn’t ever said, you may find yourself disappointed.
In our Iowa culture I’d say that one of our cultural monikers is that we want to avoid conflict at almost any cost. In Iowa, it’s seen as very rude to disagree with someone or to raise your voice. Almost no one honks their horn when driving to reproach another driver. We just try to get away from the disagreeable person as fast as possible. This leaves a lot of conflicts unresolved.
Pastor Gakunzi asked me if he could use Zion to hold a theological conference. At least that’s what I thought he was asking me. Since the calendar was free and we want people to use the building, especially for talking about Jesus, I said an enthusiastic “yes!” He also asked for help with food for two meals for the participants. No problem. We’ve got great people for that.
Turns out I got it wrong. I didn’t understand where he was coming from culturally. Gakunzi and I both assumed the other understood what we were saying. And what we both assumed to be true turned out, to our mutual embarrassment, not to be what either of us expected.
When Gakunzi asked if Zion would help him hold a theological conference, he assumed I would be the host. I’m the pastor, after all. He assumed that I’d preach at the conference. He assumed I’d make some arrangements. He assumed a level of participation that my schedule simply couldn’t support.
When Gakunzi said “theological conference” I assumed he meant a conference like we’d have in the Lutheran Church: some lectures and a nice lunch. Very academic. Very orderly. Very mundane. Turns out, conference in his mind is more like revival in ours.
So we had a bit of train wreck in our cross cultural conversation. But we realize it now. We’ve laughed at our mistake and our assumptions and next time we do this, by golly, we’ll be on the same page.
Growing together to be the body of Christ, regardless of race, age, ability or class, requires us to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit together: to be patient with one another, to be loving, to be joyful for each other, to assume the best intentions about one another.
The theological conference this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Zion may not be as well attended as it should be. I didn’t realize what was expected. But we’ve grown. And in growing we’ve become closer rather than farther apart. Closer to being one body of Christ together. I think Jesus laughs at our attempts. But he knows that all we want to do is bring him the glory.
I’m sure there will be more going head first through cross cultural walls ahead of us. I’m sure we’ll get confused and I’m sure things will, from time to time, get complicated. But without taking the risk of all that we will never manifest the kingdom together. And I think our Master would have us take the risk. Don’t you?
Later in the summer I’m going to get some information about crashing through another wall head first: the generational wall. Grace and I are headed to a conference on how to make the church’s ministry more intergenerational. We believe that in order to truly be the body we need to honor and integrate across all the lines the world uses to divide us, including age. Hope to come back with some good stuff. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ