Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner

Posted: August 11, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Church, Pastoral Ministry, Theology and Faith
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Thesis of the Book

            The globalization of the world and its cultures is increasing movement to cross-cultural partnerships.  With these partnerships inevitably come conflicts over money and resources.  As such, it is vital that we increase our “cross-cultural intelligence” so that we may work more effectively together.  Cross-cultural partnerships must be mutually held accountable in using their resources and equally empowered to live out the mission of the Church in our world.

Evaluation of Sources Used

            The sources implemented throughout the work were helpful in solidifying Lederleitner’s position.  Many of the sources used detailed stories about cross-cultural conflict that helped to illustrate specific areas of potential conflict in our interactions with others.  As a result, this made Lederleitner’s concepts and points easily understandable.  There were a great number of sources used and many of those were fairly recent, utilizing recent research.  This also strengthened the writing.

One particular area that Lederleitner’s sources was very evident and provided content to her argument was the concept of “negative attribution.”  Duane Elmer developed a form that outlined the process of negative attribution.  These three steps helped to highlight the easy path we often take when others’ actions do not meet our expectations.  This observation was further solidified by C. S. Lewis’ observation that we often make excuses for ourselves that seem justifiable while negating others’ excuses as inexcusable and wrong.  In these ways, Lederleitner made a strong case for a need to re-assess our partnerships and accountability between those cross-cultural partners.

Development of the Main Idea

            There are several factors that determine the way that cultures handle money and resources.  One of the most fundamental cultural perspectives that shape this conversation revolves around individualism versus collectivism.  Individualism places responsibility on each person to take care of themselves.  Collectivism, in juxtaposition, holds that the community’s needs are greater than the individual’s needs.  This can be a potent arena for conflict.  It is vital that proper communication is exhibited in these situations to keep confusion and disappointment to a minimum.  This means we are careful in receiving gifts (they may be attached with promises) and making sure the details are outlined in what is being promised between the partners.

Issues of power, face, and status can also play a major role when dealing with money.  People in America are generally considered to be on the same footing.  Thus, status plays less of a role.  But, other countries place a great deal of emphasis on status.  In these cases, it can be seen as a great insult for someone of lesser position to help someone in a greater position.  “Face” is the “essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies” (45).  When someone “loses face” it reflects poorly on their character and identity.  Again, how we handle issues of power and money should take these things into consideration.  Is it appropriate or would someone be shamed by our actions?

The concepts of universalism and particularism are helpful.  Universalism is the belief that rules apply to everyone in every circumstance.  Particularism is the belief that rules are subject to the context and the relationship of those involved.  Rules are to be adapted.  How cultures deal with ambiguity and time can be significant.  Cultures uncomfortable with ambiguity will try to outline everything and may be disappointed in others that do not operate on this level.  Likewise, time is a matter that impacts our involvement with others.  Monochronistic versus polychronistic cultures is another arena for potential conflict.  Monochronistic viewpoints look at time as linear and limited.  Thus, efficiency is prided.  On the other hand, polychronistic is more interested in the people rather than what they can simply accomplish for the organization.  Both have significant advantages, but we must also consider their potential pitfalls, especially when working together.

Our culture inevitably shapes us.  Our interaction with our culture trains us to interpret actions and events in specific ways.  However, as we interact with other cultures, those same actions may mean something different in that context.  The result can be a misinterpretation of actions.  When those actions don’t meet our expectations, we often assess them as wrong.  It is important to be careful when trying to interpret others’ actions.  It is best not to rush to conclusions, but to seek out information that may shed light on the situation.

Paternalism and colonialism are still alive and well.  They often disguise themselves as seeking the best interest of our partners, but cloak the underlying superiority complex.  On the flip side, just because that has been the case in the past does not mean that is the way it is now.  Measures of accountability may be necessary aspects of partnership.  The motivation behind the call for accountability determines whether it is superiority complex under a thin veneer of paternalism or colonialism.

Part of our responsibility in establishing these partnerships is not to create dependency.  In doing so, the ministries of the indigenous people can become anemic.  If funding and support is then cut, the ministry may very well fold because the people have not been equipped.  That is what partnership is about: equipping others to do every good work.  The illustration of the missionary helping people cross the bridge to find resources is a great story.  It teaches us the importance  of equipping people so that ministry is sustainable.  This can only happen as we give value, dignity, and mutuality between partners.  We are looking for sustainability, not merely short-term impact.

Conflict will naturally happen as cultures have different expectations and those are not always explicit.  As such, we must learn to navigate the sometimes tricky waters of cross-cultural partnerships.  Likewise, when there are misallocations or fraud, we must find creative solutions.  In some instances, such as misallocation, direct conflict may not be the best approach.  It may actually cause someone to lose face and only aggravate the situation.  On the other hand, fraud may require a more firm approach, but even within this there can be a measure of grace extended to those individuals.  We believe that even the most horrific situations are redeemable and we desire to move in those directions as people respond to those opportunities.

Personal Evaluation of the Book

I thought this book was helpful.  Although it covered many of the same concepts as other books on missions and money, it did provide helpful analysis and potential solutions for avoiding these cultural conflicts.  The suggestions for working through these cultural conflicts were the most helpful aspect of the book.  The stories included helped to illustrate the cultural conflicts that arose in various partnerships.  As such, it was easy to see that these conflicts usually had good intentions behind them but caused distress because both cultures were unaware of the other’s modus operandi.  Overall, I would suggest that others read this as a good primer for cross-cultural interactions and partnerships that are mutually beneficial and accountable to one another.

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