In my previous blog post, I reviewed a book that argues that there are no shortcuts in missions. Why was this book written? Because supposedly we like to find shortcuts! Those who study cultural differences tell us that Americans and Canadians have a strong short-term orientation. Americans have a reputation for their fast pace of life and desire for quick results. We see their desire for instant gratification in the prominence of American fast-food restaurants and the fact that the USA has the highest average national credit card debt in the world.1 See 30 Credit Card Debt Statistics – 2023 Update | Balancing Everything. So we should not be surprised that shortcuts to achieve mission results are a hot topic in our North American churches. At the same time, it is also not surprising that those who understand the American preference for quick results are cautioning us about adopting these shortcuts.
Do we have a bias toward immediate results?
But do cross-cultural missionaries from North America really have a bias toward the short-term? Do we naturally tend to focus more on getting immediate results rather than wait for fruit that may be years down the road? My initial response to that question would have been “yes”. But I would have been wrong.
Recently, the members of my team all completed a CQ (cultural intelligence) assessment on cultural values. The CQ Center then provided us with a team profile report, showing us the diversity of cultural values that the different members on our team hold. The profile showed us where we stand individually and collectively on 10 different sets of cultural values. If you are wondering about which cultural values are highlighted, you can read about them on this blog. A series of blog posts back in 2020 summarized these 10 different value orientations.
Why did we score so high?
What stood out to me as I reviewed the results of our SEND U team profile was that all 7 of us scored high on the short-term/ long-term orientation continuum. The higher the score, the more long-term our cultural value orientation. Our scores were between 67 and 98 (out of 100) and our average score was 85!
Why is this noteworthy? Because the majority of my team are from North America and all of us are from countries that typically have a strong bias toward short-term results. For comparison, the average score on this scale is under 30 for the citizens of our passport countries. Therefore, my team and I clearly do not fit the stereotypical image of Americans, Canadians or Filipinos. Instead, our scores in this cultural value are more like citizens of Japan, China and Taiwan. The national cultural values for these Asian countries have a strong long-term orientation. See the graph below.
So then why is our training team scoring so high on long-term orientation? Are we different than most “normal” cross-cultural workers?
Training is about long-term results
If that were true, it would kind of make sense. Our training team is strongly committed to training and personal development. The whole idea of training favors more of a long-term orientation. Rather than immediately engaging in the work, training asks participants to delay their engagement until they have been equipped to become more effective. We stop to sharpen our axes so that in the end, we will be able to accomplish more than we could with a dull axe (see Ecclesiastes 10:10). As trainers, we invest a lot of time and energy in pre-field training. We hope and expect this will help missionaries transition well to new cultures and support them in their future ministry, years down the road.
Missionaries and long-term orientation
But while our training team was exceptionally high on long-term orientation, we are not really that much of an outlier in comparison to our mission colleagues. I also looked at all the CQ assessments that we have collected from various members of our organization over the past few years. We now have almost 200 completed assessments to compare. The average score for all members on this long-term / short-term orientation value was 69. Again, this is much higher than the average country score for the vast majority of the nations represented in our membership.2 Most of the missionaries in SEND International are from the USA and Canada, but we also have significant numbers from the Philippines, Guatemala, Germany and about 10 other countries.
Yes, the range of scores varied greatly. Some of those who filled out the assessment were clearly on the short-term side of the continuum of cultural values. But the vast majority of the respondents were on the long-term side with the average coming in at 69.
We come back to my original question. Do cross-cultural missionaries (primarily from North America) generally have a bias toward the short-term? Apparently not. Obviously, my conclusions are based on only the CQ assessments of members of SEND International. But if they are representative of cross-cultural workers, then it would not be fair to say that missionaries tend to focus on immediate results rather than patiently plan and work toward long-term fruit. Cross-cultural workers from the West, despite the apparent bias of their sending churches, are decidedly less short-term in their outlook than the countries from which they come.
Jesus and long-term orientation
How do we explain this? I am not yet sure I fully can. I would think that our faith has a lot to do with this long-term perspective. As followers of Jesus, we are definitely encouraged to have a long-term orientation.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.Matthew 6:20
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.Matthew 13:31
Furthermore, according to Geert Hofstede, a long-term orientation is closely correlated to personal adaptability. We recognize that adaptability is key to the resilience and endurance of cross-cultural workers.
In a long-term oriented society, a superior person is somebody who knows to adapt to the circumstances. In the short-term oriented society, the superior person is someone who is always the same.Geert HofStede, YouTube Video – 10 Minutes with Geert Hofstede on Long Versus Short term Orientation
Short-term orientation is not bad
But I hasten to remind myself and my readers that a short-term orientation is not a bad or inferior cultural value. The opposite poles of these different cultural values do not represent good and evil. They are just simply different. Just because a person or a team scores higher on the short-term / long-term scale, this does not make them a better person or a stronger team.
There are great strengths to a short-term orientation as well. Because of the emphasis on quick results, people with this cultural value probably demonstrate a higher sense of urgency to meet immediate needs around them (like the Good Samaritan). Rather than focusing on saving money for the future, they would be more open to share their resources freely without worrying about future needs. Short-term orientation is also positively correlated to a commitment to absolute truth. People with this value do not change their convictions easily. What they believe remains true, regardless of the circumstances.
The Bible also speaks positively of a short-term orientation:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.Matthew 5:23-25
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.Matthew 6:20
Not particularly tempted by shortcuts
Yes, some cross-cultural missionaries have more of a short-term orientation. We acknowledge that our culture has taught us to look for quick results. But we can also be thankful for those with a short-term orientation. Maybe their expectation for God to act now will encourage the rest of us to act with greater urgency and sacrifice.
But our CQ assessments show that the majority of our cross-cultural workers have more of a long-term orientation. They recognize the need to plan and prepare themselves for long-term fruitfulness. These missionaries understand the need to devote themselves to years of language study. They patiently and in faith sow the seed, waiting for the kingdom of God to grow and develop in God’s time. They are not opposed to learning new methods and trying them out. But they will be rightfully skeptical of claims that promise immediate results without considering the long-term consequences of those shortcuts.