(Newsletter 2012 Annual)
Rev. Ken Carlson
Cultural diversity is usually thought of as differences in language, food, and customs. But there are many subtle differences that are often not recognized. Unfortunately, they surface in the church as a wellspring of misunderstanding, often leading to broken relationships or sometimes even resulting in church splits.
The OBC (Overseas Born Chinese) and the ABC (American Born Chinese) in the Chinese churches often experience conflicts arising not from disagreements on biblical issues, but from underlying cultural misunderstandings. The different approaches to ministry are misconstrued as “unspiritual” or even unbiblical when the background of the different culture is not considered.
Pastor Ken Carlson, having served as the English pastor of a Chinese church for 17 years, shares below, two instances in which the church experienced misunderstanding stemming from cultural diversity. Seemingly small conflicts could lead to much hurt and arguments if there is a lack of cultural sensitivity.
ABOUT PASTOR KEN CARLSON
Pastor Ken Carlson sensed God’s call to cross-cultural ministry while he was a student at Talbot Seminary. After spending four years serving in Taiwan with OMF, God led him to a Chinese church in Berkeley, CA, where he served as the English Pastor for 17 years.
While working on his Doctor of Ministry at Western Seminary he wrote his dissertation on effective English Ministry in Chinese churches. Some of his articles on this topic are available on his blog at http://reflections.cyberpastor.
net/chinese-churches. He is currently writing a book based on his dissertation.
DECISION-MAKING FOR LARGE GROUPS
Few areas bring cultural differences into sharp relief as much as the way that leaders make decisions. A more American approach makes use of open debate, competing proposals, and majority rule. A more Asian approach makes use of private consensus building, acquiescence to those with seniority and a public display of harmony. Biblical arguments could be made for the value of each approach, and both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Both can be helpful at times, but both can be abused.
The problem comes when leaders from different cultural backgrounds try to make a decision together. Private consensus building is seen by the more Americanized leaders as secret political alliances and a lack of honesty. Open debate is seen by the more Asian leaders as a painful disruption of harmony and a lack of love and humility. Is deference to older leaders a denial of our fundamental equality in Christ or an appropriate expression of humility and respect?
I experienced some of these differences when we were studying Mandarin in Taiwan. At the time we were attending a small Baptist church, and we were invited to attend a members meeting after the worship service. As we watched, several proposals were brought up for a vote, and to my amazement every one of them passed unanimously! Later I realized that the decision had really been made before the meeting by discussions among the more influential leaders. Once the respected leaders voiced their opinion, everyone else went along with it. The vote was a mere formality.
Was this a beautiful expression of Christian love and harmony, or was it underhanded political manipulation? The way that you view it depends on your cultural background.
APPROACH TO SHARING COSTS
Another example of cultural difference came up when we were trying to determine the pricing structure for our church retreat. Some of the EM (English Ministry) co-workers wanted to charge the full cost of the retreat and then offer scholarships for those who couldn’t afford it. But the CM (Chinese Ministry) co-workers said that OBCs wouldn’t want to ask for a scholarship because it would be too embarrassing. Instead, they simply wouldn’t attend the retreat. The CM preferred to charge a lower price and take special offerings during and after the retreat to raise the money to cover the difference. The EM co-workers felt that repeatedly taking offerings to pay for the retreat would be offensive because it would make it look like the church was pressuring people to give. Everyone agreed that we didn’t want anyone to miss the retreat because of a lack of funds, but we had different ideas about how to solve that problem. In the end we compromised by meeting in the middle, still offering some scholarships, and taking some offerings.
There is a danger of spiritualizing our cultural practices in order to win the debate. In the example above, the CM could have said that they have more faith because they trust God to provide part of the retreat cost through offerings. The EM could argue that they were being good stewards of God’s money by not risking having the church stuck with a large deficit as sometimes happened in the past. Happily, in this case neither group tried to spiritualize the discussion. It is better to explore the cultural factors behind each position and see how we can work out a compromise that respects both cultures. To do this successfully requires a healthy dose of humility on the part of all concerned.
Used with permission from http://reflections.cyberpastor.net/chinese-churches
These two examples show us the need for church leaders and congregants to exercise caution when it comes to making judgments on another’s actions. It is often not appropriate to label an action as “unspiritual” unless there is clear violation of Biblical teachings. Since it is practically impossible for someone to shed his cultural skin to see things from another person’s viewpoint, patience, love and grace need to be exercised when differences arise.java games downloadкопирайтинг отзывы