Nicholas Bose, a youth leader at Second EFC in Brooklyn, talks with some students during a VBS (Photo by Norman Tu).
I was the new pastor, and while everyone welcomed me warmly, I frequently found myself lamenting to my wife, I don’t seem to be connecting with the people. Second EFC was then, and still is now, a wonderfully multicultural church in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. But I kept falling into miscommunication and missteps that left me confused.
One experience stood out: Our trustees had called a meeting to decide whether to transfer our banking services from one institution to another. We began by discussing the pros and cons of each. Eventually, wanting to move things along and reach consensus, I went around the group and asked each member if they were in agreement with the decision to change. Each person replied in the affirmative. Wonderful. I closed the meeting with prayer and left the room.
I didn’t get five steps from the door when one of the committee members tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We cannot go ahead with this change.”
“Didn’t we just go around the table and everyone said ‘yes’?” I asked, confused.
“Yes, but the way they said ‘yes’ really meant ‘no.’”
What had happened in that meeting was an example of a cultural dynamic referred to as “high and low context.” Some culture groups (primarily Eastern) accentuate the context within which interactions occur—for example, who is sitting where, who is or is not speaking, and the way things are said (“high context”). Other groups, like my Western culture, are more focused on just getting things done (“low context”). My failure to pick up on the highly charged context prevented me from understanding what the people were actually relaying.
This dynamic is common when engaging in multicultural ministry. Cultural differences also show up in arenas such as:
- authority and the response to it
- individualism vs. collectivistic mindsets
- long- or short-term decision making
- male-female role differentiation
- the degree of comfort with risk-taking
The more cultures you mix in one setting, the more potential for conflict. Continue Reading…