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Review: Crossing the Divide

a fisherman in Burkina Faso

A reflection on Crossing the divide: Why culture should be cool. (2013, October 12) The Economist.

We all know that our denomination is declining and so are many of our congregations. The question is why? In California, churches that are growing reach across the cultural divide. But how do you reach across the cultural divide if you don’t understand your environment? Authors Kai Hammerich, a Danish headhunter, and linguist Richard D. Lewis, identify the inability of organizational leaders to understand the world view and aspirations of those around them as the biggest obstacle to success. In their book Fish Can't See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy they identify three world archetypes: linear-active, multi-active, and reactive. North Americans and Northern Europeans, who operate according to the linear-active archetype, stress time and getting to the point. Multi-active archetype areas, Southern Europe and Latin America, stress emotion and sociability. Asian societies, which are characterized by reactive archetypes, stress saving face. The authors assert that the more successful the organization is the more ethnocentric it becomes. It may invest in relationship building across culture and may even seek senior leaders to join its force, but their efforts are a veneer that will not capture the positive results of adapting to the environment. In their book the authors use Wal-Mart as an example of how an organization can change their brand and display their goods based on whether they are working with North Americans, Asians, or Latin Americans.

So what can we learn about sharing the gospel across the divide? Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 had the insight these authors write about.  

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.

The congregation that can adapt to the surrounding culture stands to gain the opportunity to present the gospel effectively. Our ability to grow will depend on how well we adapt to our environment while preserving our faith in Christ.

[Image: Flickr user Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)]


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