The book Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church by James Plueddemann (2009) is an excellent resource for missionaries, pastors and all working cross-culturally. Pleuddemann hopes “to foster mutual understanding, cooperation and enhanced ministry as leaders from around the world work together more effectively” (2009, p. 12). Throughout the book, Pleuddemann seeks to “integrate biblical principles of leadership with social science research and experience” (2009). The book is divided in four parts: “Multicultural leadership in the worldwide church;” “Leadership and culture;” “Contextualizing leadership;” and “Global leadership in practice” (Plueddemann, 2009, p. 7).
In the global world today, it would be an exception not to have a multi-cultural team. “From everywhere to everywhere” is the new reality of missions (Plueddemann, 2009, p. 25). Short-term mission teams, church leaders partnering across the globe, educators in leadership principles, and local host church leaders are often not adequately prepared to deal with the “hidden assumptions about cultural values regarding leadership” (Plueddemann, 2009, pp. 26-28). As Deputy International Director for SIM states, “Crosscultural leadership is a school from which you never graduate” (Plueddemann, 2009, p. 29). Personally, after 25 years of cross-cultural marriage, 20 years of serving in Vietnam, and 10 years pastoring an international church, I cannot more wholeheartedly agree.
As the international director of SIM, Plueddemann described his job as follows: “[To] harmonize, enhance and focus the leadership gifts of others in working toward a common vision for SIM” (2009, p. 40). Over his 40 years of ministry, Plueddemann had learned multicultural leadership from educators, mentors and critics alike; he learned to lead with vision and through educating, to change leadership styles according to the situation, to empower women and local leaders (Plueddemann, 2009, pp. 36-43). Leading a mission agency spread across 40 countries, Plueddeman needed to “[create] an atmosphere of change centered around a compelling vision” (2009, p. 42). I could very much relate to the author’s multicultural leadership journey and have previously described my role as an international church pastor in a similar way: “[To provide] an environment for collaboration around a shared vision and [to provide] the necessary leadership to steadily move forward towards fulfilling that vision” (Schmidt, Cheung, & Owen, 2013).
The book is filled with practical tips, charts, diagrams, and real-life stories and illustrations. Throughout the book, various leaders from non-western nations shared their reflections on multicultural leadership. As the author highlighted, “Too many Christian books on leadership are written from a monocultural [Western] perspective interspersed with Bible verses and marketed as universal biblical principles of leadership” (Plueddemann, 2009, p. 67). This is one topic I would like to pursue further, to learn more about non-Western perspectives on multicultural leadership and to help non-Western partners prepare for cross-cultural partnerships.
I intent to be an ongoing student of multicultural leadership. The world is ever changing and the dynamics of cross-cultural teamwork only increasing given the current global dispersion of people. The diversity of members in my international church is consistently expanding as Vietnam opens its borders and policies to a growing number of nations. Becoming more aware of my own hidden assumptions while learning about the cultures of my team and church members is an ongoing challenge I intent to not lose sight of. I also will update my Multicultural Teamwork workshop presentation with the insights I have learned from this book.
By Jacob Bloemberg
Plueddemann, J. (2009). Leading across cultures : effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
Schmidt, T., Cheung, J., & Owen, J. (2013). Summary Evaluation Meeting with Lead Pastor. Document. Hanoi International Fellowship. Hanoi, Vietnam.