oliver-phillipsA selection from the forthcoming book, How to Sponsor and Nurture an Ethnic Church—Without Losing Your Mind by Oliver R. Phillips and Fletcher Tink

Sponsorship of a new socio-ethnic congregation has too often been considered as the culmination of years or months of planning, as well as the result of the desire and aspiration of a mission-oriented congregation. Such a posture relegates the daughter church to a journey of isolated growth pains that leads to stunted growth and adolescent angst. Every effort should be made to forge a long-term relationship; whereas, the sponsoring church becomes an incubator for the nurturing of a cultural intelligence continuum that enriches the lives of all involved in the mission.

Why is culture so important? Culture is the self-imposed shared collective programming that a society uses to align their behavior as they think, feel, and react to various situations and actions. No people group is cultureless. When the decision is made to sponsor a new congregation, the task of those involved is to begin an intimate study of the group.

Friedman’s observation of the “flat world” is never truer than in the experience of sponsoring a new church. In a flat world or community, it is really unthinkable to assume that the new congregation should be expected to grow without constant interaction with the mother congregation. In fact, this should be the expectation of both congregations. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the sponsor to embark on a journey to hone behaviors that are critical to the bridging of the gap between the desire to be multicultural and the ability to do so.

As new congregations are mothered through the embryonic embrace of sponsoring congregations, the assumption is often made that the task is complete once the launch is accomplished. This is far from the truth! There must be a continued relationship between the two congregations; this is the nurturing aspect of the affiliation. However, challenges are intrinsic in this adventure that could be mitigated by an understanding of the differences and commonalities in the respective cultures.

The two congregations are now inextricably linked by mission objectives to accomplish that which God intended to be the purpose of congregations, i.e. to be a perpetual witness to the Kingdom objective of establishing the Shalom community of faith. Both congregations share the mandate to be God’s presence, albeit targeting a different socio-ethnic neighborhood or community. However, the strength of this new relationship is dependent upon both congregations accepting a dual impetus to assault the gates of hell and to be unified in mission. The experience is not ephemeral in nature, but one that must be sustained by perseverance and intentional mutuality.

Because of the differences in cultures of the congregations and enclaves of ministry, they often become estranged or remotely independent in time. How do these congregations strengthen this relationship? What are the important factors that would enhance unity? The simple answer is that both congregations and the district leadership must transition from a Great Commission entity toward becoming a Great Commandment Church. Before there can be unity in missional objectives, there must be the acceptance of LOVE as the basis for everything that is undertaken. In the first place, the motivation for sponsorship should have as its foundation LOVE for the unchurched and those of a different culture. When approached with the project of starting a new congregation targeting a different cultural group, most people exhibit a visceral ambivalence that is founded on fear of the unknown. The nuance and uniqueness of cultures presents this fear, because many do not recognize that ministry to and with other cultures can be a pleasant experience, when there is a complementary recognition that it is necessary to embark on a pathway to contextualizing the ministry partnership. This is best accomplished by an intentional adventure into the improvement of one’s cultural intelligence.

There is no such thing as coltureless people.

If one is seriously committed to this journey of cross-cultural ministry, there are two indispensable texts that should become the cornerstone of the cross-cultural toolkit: Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith, in which the writers use quantitative and qualitative techniques to investigate the enormously different ways Christians view their faith and the issue of race. The sequel to this thorough treatment of the race issue in America, United by Faith, is authored by Curtiss DeYoung, Michael Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim. These authors lend credence to the truism that there is no such thing as a cultureless people or person. To be human is to be immersed in an encounter that involves human nature and individual personality. These texts reveal the need for the Christian community of faith to be deliberate and intentional about becoming brokers for a loving, respectful, and redemptive option within multicultural communities. What these texts further disclose is the need to develop a system that nurtures the relationship between people of different cultures; this mechanism is Cultural Intelligence or CQ.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the third of a series of disciplines that have been employed in leadership development. First came the recognition of the need to analyze one’s “Intelligence Quotient” or IQ as a means to measure cognitive capacities and abilities. Recently, the “Emotional Quotient” or EQ has been developed as a measurement of one’s emotional intelligence. Both IQ and EQ assumed that individuals are somewhat familiar with the environment in which they interact. CQ, on the other hand, provides a measurement for individual demonstrations of comfort level when called upon to minister in a variety of cultural contexts. While IQ is rarely an attribute that could be drastically improved, and EQ is inherently a product of human nature and individual personality, CQ is a life skill that may be incrementally improved by assessing how one reacts to the chasm that is created by the interaction of different cultures.

Why Cultural Intelligence?
Cultural Intelligence is the conduit that moves the sponsoring congregation on a journey from merely desiring to love the members from the new congregation, to the expression of that love in ways that are meaningful and reverential.

The relationship with the new congregation can be an enriching experience, as members of both communities accept the challenge to address the hindrances that are created by differences. The following information has been gleaned from the writings of David Livermore, expert and lecturer on the art of Cultural Intelligence, as well as faculty member of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Livermore’s approach is grounded in the motif that cross-cultural successes are based on transformation rather than information. He insists that, “we must actually become more multicultural people so that we might better express love cross-culturally.” Other approaches engender the need to know (information) and to act (behavior). Cultural Intelligence takes one on an inward journey, while at the same time bridging relationships through the alignment of responses and behavior.

Livermore insists that the foundation of the journey to improve one’s CQ must be love for the other culture, which is created in the Imago Dei. No culture was ever created without the will and purposes of God, and as such, the creation of a new congregation should be for no other reason but to reach a people, because within that group God has imbedded prevenient grace. Missions has often been portrayed as the delivery of a message that addresses a spiritual deficit existing within the target culture. This is partly true; God is the Creator and the mandate to embark on the missionary enterprise is to respond with love to the neighbor. But the desire to love and the ability to love are two different things. The desire to love will arouse a congregation to start a new congregation. A corollary to this desire must be the implementation of a learning path that increases the awareness of the differences, as well as an ability to adapt behavior to reduce misunderstanding. CQ seeks to provide an approach to help both congregations to interact effectively. It is the framework that helps the sponsored church, district superintendents, sponsoring pastors, and sponsoring congregations to lovingly explore the differences, with the understanding that it is the Christ of mission who is in charge.

OLIVER R. PHILLIPS is director of Mission Support USA/Canada, and FLETCHER TINK is director of the Bresee Institute for Metro Ministries


NOTE: Copies of the forthcoming book, How to Sponsor and Nurture an Ethnic Church— Without Losing Your Mind (available in June 2010) by Oliver R. Phillips and Fletcher L. Tink can be obtained by contacting Multicultural Ministries USA/Canada via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Only a limited number of copies are available.