“We look like the United Nations. But we’re not as dysfunctional as the United Nations.” That was my standard line explaining the multicultural church I once pastored in Brooklyn. We were “a diverse family on mission,” a Southern Baptist church plant that was from the nations and for the nations. Like the UN, we were diverse. Like the UN, that diversity created complexity and, occasionally, conflict.
Our leadership team was comprised of people who traced their roots back to four continents: North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Our church (and its leadership team) had a unique West Indian vibe, as we were situated in a majority West Indian neighborhood. If you walked into one of our worship services, you might have heard the Scriptures read in Italian, praise songs that sounded Jamaican, and a sermon offered by a Taiwanese preacher. Not every church will look like this, because contexts vary wildly. However, for those who wish to engage in cross-cultural missions, learning how to lead in a multicultural environment is essential. International missionaries will need to lead teams that look like the United Nations, but hopefully are not as dysfunctional as the United Nations.
Imagine you are a new missionary, deployed overseas to a major city like London, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Tokyo, or Mexico City. You will cross cultural lines in multiple directions. First, you will need to cross cultures merely to function in society. Second, you will need to cross cultural lines as you make disciples. Third (and most importantly), you will need to cross cultural lines to develop a trans-national mission team.
The trans-national mission team could consist of American professional missionaries, translators, global humanitarian experts, and local pastors-in-training. This is what I call a diverse team on mission, and I know from experience that leading such a team is rich and rewarding. It is also hard.
During my time as a Southern Baptist church planter in Brooklyn, I learned valuable lessons about leadership, especially in multicultural settings. These leadership lessons can be summarized in three statements.