Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David A. Livermore

Posted: August 3, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Church, Pastoral Ministry, Theology and Faith
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Thesis of the Book

            “The biggest problems in short-term missions are not technical or administrative.  The biggest challenges lie in communication, misunderstanding, personality conflict, poor leadership, and bad teamwork” (14).  Livermore suggests that we can’t simply change behavior but must also “open our eyes” to cultural assumptions that lead to conflict and rectify it by increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ).

Evaluation of Sources Used

            The sources used supported the thesis of the book.  Most of the sources employed were not much more than ten years old from the writing of the book.  This makes use of contemporary knowledge and theories, rather than relying on outdated modes of psychology, sociology, or missiology.  However, that is also its potential weakness, since it does not track historical thought, how it has changed, or why that is necessary.

Livermore should have used more sources to support or supplement the CQ sections.  Although that section is helpful, it likely could have been much stronger.  Granted, there may not be much research on that particular topic; there should be other research that would help further support what Livermore is talking about in each section.

The theology resources implemented were very good.  N. T. Wright, Robert Webber, Mark Noll, Henry Nouwen, and Lesslie Newbigin were some of the notable theologians used to undergird the theological position of the book.  This was a very strong point.

Development of the Main Idea

             Globalization is happening exponentially.  There is tremendous opportunity to engage in cross-cultural interaction daily.  These interactions shed light on the inequality of resources and power that often exist between cultures.  Disease, wealth, expansion of business and consumerism, refugees, and a growing global population are all issues confronting us.

Along with these cultural issues, the face of the Church is changing.  The Western church is no longer the most numerous member of the Church universal.  Rather, non-Western countries, such as Africa, are the dominant figures represented.  Yet, much of the power and resources are consumed by the Western church, and specifically the American church.  So, although there is a larger representation in non-Western churches, the West continues to hold an inequitable amount of power in shaping the Church.

This inequity in power is extremely evident in short-term missions.  Quite often the focus for our short-term missions has been what we will get out of the experience.  Our motivation for doing short-term missions is important.  Is it from a desire to serve God or to get something out of it?  Our expectations shape our interpretation of the impact of our short-term mission endeavors.  Sometimes this can lead to vastly overstated impact by those that engage in the short-term mission.

Short-term mission, by its very nature, instills a sense of urgency to accomplish the task quickly.  Time-centered cultures, such as America, tend to focus on checking off the to-do-list.  However, in an “event-centered” culture where time is not as big of a concern, this can create tension.  In this way, we must consider the way the national church’s culture operates and work within that frame of reference.  At the same time, we must keep in mind that “our” plans may not be what are most needed and we must be flexible to respond to God’s leading.

Blanket beliefs concerning other cultures can lead to great misunderstandings.  Although there may be overlap between people groups, there are also vast differences.  Livermore suggests that we must not only expand our knowledge CQ, but must also increase our perseverance to understand and assimilate into the culture.  Knowledge CQ alone, according to Livermore, is the most dangerous if not supplemented by perseverance, interpretive, and behavioral CQ.

A fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture can also lead to major issues.  I see this being connected to our blanket assumptions about other cultures.  Because people are seen to be the same, their interpretation must also be the same.  This mentality can lead to dissonance when other cultures’ interpretation of Scripture does not entirely line up with ours.  We can quickly demonize others who think differently than us, though their interpretation may be good and valuable.

As mentioned earlier, there is great inequality between the poor and the rich of the world.  The gap between the rich and the poor can create a power imbalance between the host and the guests.  Livermore makes the point that we must live in the tension between being generous with our resources and not using them in ways that are manipulative or self-serving.  We must see the people we are serving as equals, not as inferiors.  Otherwise, the attitude of imperialism has not changed but merely been re-packaged.

Finally, there is something to be said for simplicity.  However, this does not mean that we should be unreflective about our engagement of another culture.  This connects to the interpretive CQ, as well as, the perseverance CQ.  Hopefully, this leads to more knowledge and a positive change in behavior.  In order for us to grow, it is important that we provide space for honest reflection.  The quick, cliché responses to the impact of our short-term missions often create a barrier to true understanding of the significance of the cross-cultural experience.  This helps deflate our sometimes overly inflated egos that make us feel like we are “Rock Stars” to this people we have come to serve.

The strength of this book is found in Livermore’s inclusion of cross-cultural intelligence (CQ).  Knowledge is vital; however, it can also cause us to be blind to the ways that we are culturally insensitive.  Behavioral CQ grows out of our knowledge and ability to interpretive cultural cues.  This only comes about by persevering through cross-cultural conflict which is inevitable.  Most importantly, there is never a point where we are finished growing.  Again, short-term missions must become a partnership where each group can be mutually challenged and empowered.  Only in this way may the Body of Christ, through the power of the Spirit, be made one.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

Overall, Livermore’s book was insightful.  It was similar in many ways to Lingenfelter’s book, but provides a more holistic picture on challenges of cross-cultural ministry.  The strength of Livermore’s writing is found in the integration of the cross-cultural IQ (CQ).  This helped to delineate the need for more than just knowledge concerning the culture that one is engaging.  Rather, one must integrate interpretive, perseverance, and behavioral cross-cultural intelligence to knowledge.

I appreciated the dissonance that the book creates in discussing short-term missions.  Although we cannot totally disregard short-term missions, we definitely should question the motivations that often undergird our desire to engage short-term missions.  Our culture often blinds us to the realities of other cultures.  The result is a diminished impact both for the host and for the guest.  We definitely must be more aware of those cultural conflicts when engaging cross-cultural ministry and missions.

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