In his book, “Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership“, Sherwood Lingenfelter says that the most difficult challenge in leading multi-cultural teams or communities is to build trust within that team or community. So he places great importance on this leadership task of forming a community of trust, which he goes on to call a “covenant community”. In fact, he goes on to say that “instead of giving first priority to attaining vision, meeting goals and productivity, they (leaders) must rather give highest priority to the formation of a community of trust and then to doing the hard ‘bodywork’ of creating both community and trust.”
This is not the typical advice we give to a new team leader, not even to a missionary team leader. But when we have served on or worked with a team or church in which its members no longer trust one another, we quickly realize how absolutely essential the foundation of trust is for leadership and for teaming. The community will not just be stuck in neutral if trust between members has deteriorated; it will start to fall apart and/ or destroy itself. How ironical that a community whose very identity is defined by its relationship of trust to God (it is after all, a community of faith) can so completely lose its trust in its own leadership or membership. Every action and word of the “opposition” becomes the subject of painstaking review and analysis for possible hidden meaning or negative connotations; nothing is taken at face value. Somehow it seems easier to trust the God we do not see than our fellow brothers and sisters whom we do see, but are from a different culture or generation or family or race.
So how do team leaders build trust on a multi-cultural team, or even on a mono-cultural team, serving in a cross-cultural context? The first step seems to be that we must not take trust for granted, even among missionaries who all follow the same Lord. Team leaders must recognize the priority of trust-building, and must intentionally design activities that will strengthen and renew the trust among team members.
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