Peas in the Cultural Pod: Businesses and Churches

Whether at Home or in the Other culture, the peas of business and church are lodged in the pod of culture.

The other day my wife and I were asked for our help to solve a “church conflict issue” in a Latin American country about which we know little. I decided to spend some time surfing around to see if I could find any culture-related data that might “background” the conflict. Since I spend a lot of time considering business commonsense in Other cultures, I headed straight for sources that would give me insights into business management and conflict in that country.

What do you know? Businesses and churches in that locale operate on similar culturally-driven principles. Pastors like managers are directive and can seem a bit aloof. People expect to be told what to do and to hold the person in that role in quasi-sacred regard. Managers like pastors then always make an effort to get beyond the work of the day and make themselves available for counsel on a range of life issues. People expect help from the top down, and managers and pastors expect to be there for them.

American workplaces and church-places are more egalitarian than in that Other culture. We lay folk call the pastor Tom and take his wisdom seriously as a suggestion. We workers call our manager Hank. There is respect but little distance and formality. We will usually do it his way unless we can find a better way. We hope for agreement, but it won’t happen happily when it comes from Hank always telling us what to do.

Culture is not just an influence but a baseline on which businesses operate. That’s true for religion too. A few years ago, a theologian proposed that there is so much of American culture and so little of the gospel in religion in one sector of American religion that instead of Christianity it could rightly be called “suburban evangelical individualism” (H Conn).

peas-in-a-glassIf workplaces like churches mirror their resident culture, what happens when you relocate them? Maybe peas in a martini.


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Export Yourself: Be Superficial in the Other Culture

Don’t Export Yourself: Don’t Be Superficial in the Other Culture, or anywhere.

I have made it my business to advise businesspeople what to do, beyond the cultural surfaces of bowing or shaking hands, as they embed themselves in communities where the gospel needs a hearing.

(These are well-intention people much like me, perhaps too much like me.)

We export ourselves. We may do that by expecting Other-culture workplaces, marketing, managing, etc. to function in ways that make sense in our Home culture. We may do that by expecting Others to hear the gospel in our terms.

In Other cultures I have misrepresented what I wanted to represent because I defaulted to the grids and filters of my comforts, my Home culture and my flesh. (Heck, I do this with friends and family, so why not There?) And too, I have seen realities and understood only partially because of my self-reliance.

It was not all for naught, but I repent of my presumptions.

Jesus says not to “work for the food that spoils but for the food that endures.” The work we do and a day’s labor that we share with Others are more than moments, more than products that spoil – they are signs that needs to be understood by us and Others.

They signify

The world needs me and you to see clearly, to be skilled and wise beyond our defaults, and to rightly interpret the divine wisdom that undergirds the visible.

This is the mission.

The Son of Man is the food that endures.


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It’s not always about culture.

(1) “Culture skill” is a “soft skill,” so people say. It’s not part of the business portfolio, or at least not a very important part. I get this argument, but of course I think it’s a mistake to think like this.

(2) People also say Christianity seems not to be culture-specific, so a disciple-making program that accompanies BAM should focus on key theological beliefs, not the cultural stuff. I get this argument too, and again I argue that it’s a mistake to think that God hasn’t shaped the gospel (faith and practice) to address and fit with various cultures.


The other day I was talking to Kahlil and he was telling me about people he hates. I can relate to that. He’s from the Middle East and I’m from Baltimore (the East Coast). We don’t hate the same people, but we hate people for some of the same reasons. Nothing cultural there.

And stupid. Stupid in one culture is pretty much the same as it is in the next.rb-to-portlandia-1

The same thing goes for hammers, being hungry, having to work, and loving your mother.

In fact the list of culturally unbiased items, needs, tasks, obligations, and relationships seems endless: sports, politics, bosses, spouses, children, fools, connivers, and wise persons, taxes, the daily grind, and seeking a little bit of comfort. These things are universal.

The Bible is full of the universality of life:
◊ “The poor you always have with you.”
◊ “There is nothing new under the sun.”
◊ “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
◊ “All have sinned and fallen short.”
◊ “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There is no cultural bias in those words. God gives them to us all.

There is more:
> God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.
> Love your neighbor.
> Never be wise in your own sight.
> Through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
> The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you.

Business-as-Mission in the Other culture is NOT always about culture.
There is something wonderfully, universally “not about cultural” about it.

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16 Problems with BAM in Other Cultures

  1. We are about to destroy the Earth with (what we think is) “Western Capitalism sent from God.”
  1. A false integration of business and spirituality because the integration is American-style.
  1. Self-exportation: Terrence is an ace marketer for a major US Flooring Company and he plans to help people replicate himself overseas. Huzzah.
  1. THE message is an add-on: We have a spiritual message disconnected from a business message.
  1. Concurrently: a) complex Other-culture regulations and grinding hours of labor; b) efficiency experts.
  1. Listening and hearing – you. Listening and hearing – them.
  1. Leveraging American know-how among Non-American people in Non-American places.
  1. Loveless leveraging.yak
  1. Leading with fast and efficient “loud-speak” in nuanced, ceremonial realms without clocks.
  1. Mi transparency, su transparency: The expectation of full-disclosure partnerships.
  1. Mi workplace, su ажлын байран дахь: Thinking that the American workplace and the Mongolian workplace (and work process) are the same, or nearly, sorta (just dairy cows vs yaks).
  1. Prayerlessness in our larger community.
  1. “Hey (high-five) Bramachaudra Soongling, I’m Bob”: The assumption of informal equality.
  1. “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. (source: Bible, verbatim)
  1. “I get it,” said the newly arrived foreigner: You don’t.
  1. SUCCESS is pre-defined by the BAM initiator.

frightened-1172122_1920************************************* The above eat at my brain, nag at my hope, shiver me timbers, and make me think there is at least one field of study in the BAM community that begs rigorous attention.

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The Integrated Tamale Fruit Company in Ghana

The following paragraphs are from this month’s Harvard Business Review. As we consider BAM, we might learn from this pattern of business.
How might something similar might be done on a smaller scale? 
Consider the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company (ITFC), a nucleus-and-outgrower organization in Ghana’s poor northern region that exports organic mangoes directly to the European market. ITFC has its own 400-acre, professionally run commercial farm, but it also works with more than 1,200 smallholder farmers in the surrounding area (the “outgrowers”). In exchange for an interest-free, in-kind loan and extensive training, the smallholders agree to grow mangoes on an acre or two of their land using organic techniques and to sell them through ITFC’s marketing channels. The proceeds are used to repay the loans. By nurturing this cluster of farmers, the company can operate at greater scale without the tedious and uncertain process of assembling acreage in an area with communal and chieftaincy-organized land use.

ITFC’s efforts, which have led to transformational income growth for local farmers, have attracted the attention of development agencies such as the African Development Bank and the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as the Ghanaian government. These organizations have stepped in to bolster and expand the cluster scheme and to finance improvements in rural roads.
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BAM: Body-and-Soul Marketing?

What do you think about putting Jesus on a billboard?

Not my idea of helpful evangelism, but . . . The other day we were riding down the highway with my neighbors and their 8-year-old. He noticed a huge billboard and read it aloud to the rest of us in his best reading voice: “Jesus is alive.” Then he added with some profundity: “. . . His soul.”

Cody’s analytical addition is the crux of a Christianity mistaken. I quickly added, “His body too!” My wife elaborated, “Yes, all of Him is alive!” It is a grave distortion to say that Jesus is alive only “in soul.”

What happens if BAM goes with a so-called Christianity, a “gospel” devoid of the bodily living Jesus? What if we advocate for work and material transactions that yield earthly sustenance and yet preach a spirituality that exists apart from that? Let’s get this straight: We are in the world just as Jesus was in the world, body-and-soul. And we are making disciples in the world God made, one world physical and spiritual.

We are not just talking creed and theology here in the world while we tinker about to help Other culture people gain comforts and sustainable wealth. The power in our spiritual marketing is not in clever words. The tinker has power.


Yet – Nor is our power in the introduction of innovative thinking into primitive societies. The business ideas, plans, and transactions are by-products not power. Paul’s point is clear: “We have power in earthen vessels.” Jesus came in an earthen vessel. We too are face-to-face in Other cultures in the same flesh as His, in His Spirit, doing business in body-and-soul.

BAM is far more than a transfer of creative Western capitalism.
BAM is an earthly task that is intrinsically spiritual and intimate,
if we are in Christ.
BAM is a spiritual task that is intrinsically earthly, fleshly, gritty, and human,
if we are in Christ.

PRE-REQUISITE: In basic discussions about crossing cultures, we always say that we must understand ourselves in our own culture if we are to understand an Other culture. The platform for understanding Other culture is us understanding ourselves as culture-bound.

The same is true of the gospel. We want to understand how the good news can touch Others in their (perceptibly very different) Other culture. The starting point is knowing ourselves, body-and-soul, on the turf of our own Home culture. Jesus is alive here . . . and there.

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Get a Grip on Yourself and the American Dream

The profound piece that follows exhorts American followers of Jesus not to yield first place to our Home culture. The writer’s point is equally valid in any Other culture. Thanks Bob, we desperately need to hear this.


from Bob DeMoss on Election Day 2016– Whether or not you will be pleased with tonight’s election results, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this letter is meant for you.

My purpose is to remind you, that, as a citizen of these United States, we are also, and primarily, citizens of God’s Kingdom. This awareness can enable you to be of greater value to both realms.

The esteemed church Father, Aurelius Augustine, lived in a time similar to our own. The mighty Roman Empire was declining and coming to an end as he wrote, in the early 5th century, his renowned City of God. His thesis was that there are two very different cities co-mingled here on earth, the City of Man and the City of God. Both cities compete for our ultimate allegiance.

The City of Man, in all its forms, has one thing in common: It is motivated by self-will and self-aggrandizement with the goal of exalting mankind. The City of Man takes on multiple manifestations. The ones we remember are those with the most expansive powers, such as the Roman Empire in Augustine’s day.

In contrast, the City of God, although existing side by side with the City of Man, has been initiated and energized by God. Unlike the City of Man, its citizens desire to live by His commands, and to love and serve others. In so doing, they bring glory to God.


America was founded by people, most of whom were God-fearing and were guided in their work by a profound respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition. God has uniquely prospered our land because of this. Indeed, this “Shining City on a Hill” has become so attractive that some believers have been seduced by its freedom and wealth to the point of overlooking their primary allegiance to the Kingdom of God. They have been co-opted by the appeal of the American Dream.

Notwithstanding its past or present greatness, America is still inherently a part of the City of Man and in need of God’s transforming grace.

As Augustine learned from Scripture, one cannot be committed to the values of both the City of Man and The City of God. As believers, who enjoy the freedom of America, it is incumbent on us to retain our Christian distinctiveness, while “rendering unto Caesar his due and to God His due”. In being good citizens of the City of God, we will thereby be salt and light to help enrich and preserve America. If we divert our primary love and energy towards securing the American Dream instead of God’s Kingdom, we will be withholding this preserving and enriching leaven which our country needs. It will also lead to personal disillusionment.

By late tonight, or early tomorrow, many believers will be disappointed because their candidate did not win. But to be inordinately disappointed, is not warranted. Surely one cannot believe that the election results will lead to a mortal blow against the Kingdom of God! If the disappointment many feel, enables them to more clearly see the distinction between the two cities, and energize them to more wholeheartedly “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33), this election may yet result in good news.

We believers must have our fundamental loyalty directed by Scripture and rooted in God’s Kingdom and values, not in the American Dream. We are cautioned about this as John writes, “Do not love the world or the things of this world, for all that is in this world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” Then, although being in this world, we will not be of it…..a world “which, together with its lusts, is passing away” (I John 2:16, 17).

It is ironic, but the ongoing cultural, moral, and fiscal decline of our great country, can actually be a huge wake up call for the citizens of both Cities. For the followers of Jesus Christ, such a decline can be used by God to awaken them to a renewed awareness of their primary citizenship in His Kingdom. This should result in their being more productive citizens of the City of God…which in turn will enable them to more effectively be salt and light in this world.

And for the citizens of the City of Man, their ongoing restlessness to achieve the ever elusive satisfaction of the American Dream, can awaken them to God’s invitation to become citizens of a far greater city, the City of God, “a city, which has foundations, whose builder and Maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).



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