CROSS-CULTURAL MANAGEMENT & THE EXPERIENCE OF JESUS

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I share on a rotating basis in the leadership of an adult Bible study group in my congregation. This week our study group considered six stories recorded in the New Testament that are evidence of the cross-cultural contact that Jesus Christ had during his three and a half years of public ministry. While preparing for the lesson, it struck me that the biblical record offers relevance for managers.

Most principles of management textbooks, including the one I wrote (Pearson Education, Inc., 2012, pp. 104-137), have a chapter on cross-cultural management. Instructors may have some latitude in choosing which chapters to “cover” from a textbook during the school term, but it is difficult to completely escape the issues relevant to international management that can be considered in a principles of management course.

The Scriptures mention the word “nation” and “nations” over five hundred times (New American Standard Version – King James Version is similar in its use of the term). The term “Gentile” and “Gentiles” appear over one hundred times, mostly in the New Testament. The term “world” is used over two hundred forty times. There are other terms in Scripture that are used to refer to people in other lands or countries. The Bible writers, as a group tended to have a perspective that encompassed a region wider than their own country.

In the New Testament we find interesting stories of Jesus making cross-cultural contacts within his own region.  Here is a summary to use with students:

  • (John 4:4-30) Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman who becomes instrumental in leading Jesus to her village.
  • (Matthew 8:5-13) A Roman army officer looks for Jesus to heal his servant.
  • (Luke 8:26-39) Jesus, in the region of the Gadarenes (on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, casts out demons from a man.
  • (Matthew 15:21-28) Jesus casts out a demon from the child of a Canaanite woman.
  • (Luke 17:11-19) Jesus heals ten lepers in the region of Samaria. One was a Samaritan.
  • (John 12:20-23) Greeks look for Jesus just a few days before his death and resurrection.

Don’t forget that the Apostle Peter had a cross-cultural experience (Acts 10 – 11) and the Apostle Paul also made several cross-cultural contacts during his ministry.

One way to handle these stories in the context of a management course is to assign each story to a different group of students. Ask each group to read the text carefully and record their observations regarding the cross-cultural experiences that Jesus had. In discussions that follow this assignment, students can be asked to share their observations and conclusions. Another way to encourage students to consider the Scripture record is to assign a short paper where the students read some or all of these stories, report their observations for each story and the stories as a group, and then draw lessons for managers. Encourage students to consult Bible commentaries as part of their study so that they can make use of the scholarship of Bible scholars.

Here are a few observations that can be made regarding this group of stories (you will be able to add to these during your discussion with your students):

  • Jesus did not limit his ministry to people of his own cultural subgroup.
  • Jesus didn’t travel far to engage people cross-culturally. Opportunity for cross-cultural contact may be nearer than you think. A person may not have to travel thousands of miles to have cross-cultural contact in a management situation. In most metropolitan areas of the world cross-cultural contact part of the living and working arrangements.
  • Jesus did not seek to avoid cross-cultural contact. Instead, he seemed to welcome it. In his own instructions to his disciples, he indicated that their work would involve cross-cultural contact.
  • In the story about the Samaritan woman (John 4) Jesus initiates the conversation around a basic human need (for water). He places himself in a vulnerable position. Then he lets the woman drive the direction of the conversation.
  • In some of these stories, people from other cultures had heard about Jesus and came seeking the opportunity to talk with him or to benefit from his ministry. This indicates that news about his work among the Jews spread cross-culturally by word of mouth to other segments of society and even across borders (from Judea to Samaria). When people from other cultures came to him, he did not shrink from the opportunity to talk with them.

Discussion Questions

  • What observations can be made regarding these stories individually and as a group?
  • What lessons might we draw from these stories for the work of Christian managers?
  • From a biblical perspective, what are the opportunities in cross-cultural management?
  • From a biblical perspective, what are the risks in cross-cultural management?
  • Critical thinking: To what degree is it a valid use of Scripture to read stories such as these and then attempt to draw conclusions for the work of a manager?
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