Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — As Christian congregations, organizations and movements in the United States and Canada become increasingly diverse, being able to lead wisely in the context of difference is becoming more and more crucial.
That’s why planners of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) annual Pastors Week chose to focus this year’s leadership development event on helping participants strengthen their capacity for intercultural leadership. The event, “Cultivating Intercultural Leadership for Diversity-Oriented Churches,” will take place from 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 23, through 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, on the seminary campus in Elkhart, Indiana.
An awareness of the changing demographics and growing diversity in many of the congregations the seminary serves was primarily what motivated the planners to take on this topic, said Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, AMBS’s dean of Lifelong Learning.
“Congregations are experiencing a lot of change, whether they want it or not. In some cases, people seek diversity; in others, it’s a fact of the world we live in,” she said. “We wanted to address how to work with people in ways that do not just absorb them into the dominant ethos, but allow the ethos to change. How does the congregation take the voices of new people seriously? How does it become a new thing — more like God’s intentions for the world?”
“When you’re working in pastoral ministry, you have power,” she added. “I think it matters for any pastor what they do with that power in relationship to the kinds of people who are in their congregation, and it matters in a particular way for people who have been part of the dominant culture all along. That’s also part of the motivation for addressing this topic.”
Developing tools for intercultural competency
Planners selected A. Brian Leander, Ph.D., a church planter, researcher, and the assistant director for the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, as the resource person for the event. Leander brings more than 25 years of experience in coaching leaders of churches, church systems, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions on cultural intelligence, cross-cultural ministry, organizational development and strategic planning. He’s also an adjunct faculty member in the Master of Arts in Intercultural Leadership program at Goshen (Indiana) College.
“Brian has deep roots in pastoral ministry and church planting,” Gingerich Longenecker said. “His capacity to make a practical difference in how people understand themselves and how they relate across differences is very strong.”
Leander will lead Pastors Week participants through a three-part program that he designed specifically for church leaders who want to expand their own intercultural competency to more effectively carry out the mission of Christ in their churches and communities. It’s based in his research and leadership development practice with leaders of diversity-oriented churches, Gingerich Longenecker said.
Participants in the event will:
- complete and receive feedback on the Cultural Intelligence Scale. (Cultural intelligence is defined as “an individual’s [or organization’s] capability to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings.”)
- hear what leaders of diversity-oriented churches have to say about what it means to be interculturally competent and how intercultural competence influences the diversity climate of the church.
- learn best practices for leading a diverse leadership team.
- explore ways to develop leadership teams that are culturally diverse and open to diversity.
- learn how to reconcile cultural dilemmas within their church or organization.
- identify and assess their organization’s cultural competency as strategic outcomes.
Tapping into a yearning
Gingerich Longenecker sees value in Leander’s focus on providing leaders with tools for working across differences in values, experiences, practices and identities: “It’s something that moves people forward, and people have energy for it.”
She said she’s sensed appreciation from people who are signing up for the event for what Leander will bring: “I’ve noticed that people who have been in multicultural churches for a long time are eager to come to this Pastors Week. It somehow speaks to a yearning that people have to develop their intercultural competence.”
“It’s very easy to have gaps in our awareness and not know how we're handling ourselves,” she continued. “To have someone who can guide us through a process of self-assessment and give us tools to understand what we're missing and assess our own potential — this is significant. Regardless of who we are and what our background is, we have something to learn about how to relate to people of other perspectives and cultures.”
Gingerich Longenecker noted that the event has something to offer for leaders of congregations of all denominations and people of all racial/ethnic identities. She sees the content as being relevant for anyone who is trying to approach cultural differences in a healthy, Christ-centered way.
“Developing intercultural intelligence is bigger than any one denomination,” she said. “We hope that participants will leave the event with more confidence that working across cultures is a good thing and worth working toward — and that there are resources and support for people who are taking these kinds of steps.”
Registration fees for the event vary for individuals, married couples, part-time participants and students. Register by Jan. 7 for discounted rates. To learn more or register, see ambs.edu/pastorsweek. See also Leander’s recommended reading list.