Featured Leadership Theology

The Importance of Studying Culture – 4 Reasons

In Stella Ting-Toomey’s fascinating book Understanding Intercultural Communication, the author presents eight solid reasons to study intercultural communication. She proposes that it is essential for leaders in the 21st century to understand how to communicate effectively in this ever-shrinking global society. Though she gives eight reasons in the first chapter of her book I will only cover what I believe to be most important four.

We must understand how to communicate to multiple cultures because of…

1. The Rise of Domestic Workforce Diversity

People from all over the world are moving to the United States to work in our industries. According to the U.S. Census data for 2010, 12 percent of the total U.S. population are foreign-born nationals. Another 11 percent are native born with at least one foreign-born parent. This means each of these 1st and 2nd generation Americans are part of our community and must be reached with the good news of Jesus and welcomed into our churches.

2. The Increase of Technology in Global Communication

Social media has changed everything. People who think alike can find each other with incredible ease. Birds of a feather will create, distribute, and like the same page. It is also easier to be confronted by someone who thinks differently. Someone from a differing viewpoint has the ability to analyze and critique anything you choose to write. Therefore, followers of Christ must be able to deftly interact with various viewpoints without compromising Christian doctrine or misrepresenting the person of Jesus. We must speak the truth in love.

3. The Challenges inherent in Intercultural Relationships

With the demise of forced segregation and the shameful Jim Crow Laws we have welcomed a dramatic rise in intercultural relationships. Entire groups of people who once had little interaction with one another are now working together, living together, and worshiping together. This is a beautiful thing and represents what we will see in the Eternal Kingdom of Heaven. However, these blessings are not without their challenges. Language barriers, cultural taboos, and ethnic traditions can easily become dangerous pits in which a wise minister must avoid falling. He can stay safe by understanding, mingling, and appreciating various cultures.

4. The Dangers of Ethnocentrism

Seeing your own culture as superior and other cultures as inferior is the height of ignorance and pride, both of which are condemned in the Scripture. You may prefer a McDonald’s hamburger above a bowl of rice, but your meal is not superior simply because YOU prefer it. It simply means you prefer it. You happened to be raised in a culture that taught you to value a meaty sandwich over a steamed bowl of grain. There is no danger in preferring one above the other. The danger is in believing or declaring that one is right and the other is wrong with little Scriptural support. To avoid this trap we must be aware of our own cultural biases and reject the temptation to establish our preferences as RIGHT or Biblical.

 Perhaps the best book I’ve read on this subject is Center Church by Timothy Keller. I recommend it to all ministry leaders.

Questions? Comments? Do you see value or danger in studying Intercultural Communication? I would love to hear from you. Please comment in the sections below:

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  • Reply
    Matthew Roop
    November 9, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I would caution on #4. While the food you eat is part of your culture, it is perhaps the most superficial aspect of culture. Much more important is what your culture values and how it interacts with people. Western culture traditionally valued virtue (Plato), work (Protestant Work Ethic), and life. This is objectively better than a culture that values submission and suicide bombings. On the other hand Chinese culture values self-deprecation while American culture values self-esteem. Insomuch as Chinese culture teaches humility, that is better than American culture (personally I think the Chinese take it too far, but that may be a biased American opinion).
    There are many superficial aspects of culture like a Hot Dog vs Chimichanga (put me down on the Chimichanga side), but actual culture is extremely important. Understanding your neighbors culture is practically a prerequisite to real communication, but upon understanding culture we need to make judgement calls on what aspects of the culture are right, wrong, or just simply different. This applies to ones own culture as much (or even more) as it does to a foreign one.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      November 9, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Well said Matthew! I should have you edit each of my blogs before they post. Seriously, wonderful thought.

      • Reply
        Matthew Roop
        November 9, 2015 at 6:44 pm

        Good to hear from you again. It has been a long time. I first found out that you were blogging when you wrote that great post on Dr. Mullenix. I have been following ever since.

  • Reply
    Alan Ladd
    November 9, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    One must remember must cultures are built around false religions and superstitions. one must use Christian wisdom, understanding to deal with them. Even new believers in Christ will find it hard to make change at first with their family and friends lost in understanding. It takes time for them to overcome in power of Gods Holy word to change their light into victory in their lives and others. but never should we ever bring false culture into the church. many American Indians, Muslims, and a lot of others have this problem in language and customs also. .

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