As society becomes more diverse, pastors need to be more aware of the role of culture in life and ministry. All of us are shaped by different cultural environments. Cultural intelligence helps us navigate the influence culture has ourselves and others – and on how we think about and do ministry.
The Importance of Cultural Intelligence
Cultural intelligence can be defined as the ability to function across various cultural contexts. It involves being tuned into the cultural influences in one’s own life, as well as being aware of and responding appropriately to the cultural shape of other people’s experience. Understand culture helps each of us to know our own identity. It also helps us understand how the people we minister to function and respond to different circumstances. In the past, this may not have seemed very urgent. But cultural diversity is increasing in every community. Without developing greater cultural intelligence, we will miss out on many opportunities to help people pursue God.
Every person is embedded in culture, although we may not be very aware of it. Culture is our unconsciously held map of reality. Starting with our underlying worldview, culture can be defined as people’s “patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to various situations and actions.” Our culture shapes the way we think, function, feel, respond to all sorts of different circumstances. We learn how to deal with life informally, simply by watching and imbibing what others around us do. Our default cultural responses are deeply ingrained. They are just “the way it is” – or “the way it should be”. Thus cultural patterns are difficult for us to see and difficult to change.
Cultural Domains That Affect Ministry
Each of us operates in and is shaped by a number of cultural domains. This might include:
- Family. Unconscious values, practices, attitudes we gained in the home.
- Generation: Each generation’s unique experiences affect their perspective.
- Church. Including formative church experiences and current church culture.
- Denomination. Each group – along with subgroups – is a subculture.
- Geography. Regional differences in norms and expectations are real.
- Socioeconomic status. Issues like education, income, and profession.
- Socioethnicity. Racial and ethnic diversity is a reality in ministry.
Pastors from one generation or socioeconomic background need to be able to understand people from other generations and other social and economic backgrounds.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- What aspects of your childhood neighborhood and hometown do you most appreciate? How have these defined your expectations of how “things ought to be?”
- What was your church or nonchurch experience from birth to adulthood? How would you describe the religious culture of your upbringing? What aspects of it can you affirm? What parts do you challenge?
- In what ways might your childhood experiences have positively and negatively affected your current vision of the church?
- How might your childhood experiences have affected your perspective on leadership in the church?
- How long have you been involved in your current organization? How would you list the cultural nuances of your denomination or organization?
- What issues tend to be of most concern at the organization level? What things are most celebrated at the organization level?
- What are the demographics of your area: the education levels, occupations, employment rates and lifestyles? In what ways is discrimination in any form evident?
- What are the ethnicities represented in your community? What are their cultural distinctives? How could your ministry welcome and celebrate some of these cultural distinctives?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.