Leading Multicultural Teams

by Evelyn Hibbert and Richard Hibbert

William Carey Library. 2014.

Reviewed by Henry Hyunsuk Kim, associate professor of sociology, Wheaton College.

In a world that continues to increase its bidirectional flow of labor and capital, where the intersection of time and space simultaneously shrinks and expands, and the purported Christendom becomes less white and Eurocentric, Leading Multicultural Teams provides an introduction to basic cross-cultural ministry principles. In these dynamic social contexts, I concur with Evelyn Hibbert and Richard Hibbert that “intercultural competence” (p. 41) is important for Christians who wish to make a holistic global impact. The authors correctly note, however, that effective cross-cultural teams are not a normative depiction of ministry settings.

Having established a good overview of God’s diachronic interaction with his creation (p. 55), the authors explicate some rudimentary social principles such as homophily and propinquity (p. 57) and that “no single Christian culture” exists (p. 58). The authors rightly note that cultures are impacted by control and power (p. 61) and that cross-cultural ministries tend to evince that the norms of the dominant group(s) supersede the respective minority groups. 

Further, privilege enables and blinds the dominant group in assuming that an abstracted theology exists (p. 21). That is, dominant norms conflate theology and culture whereby the ruling descriptive norm becomes a prescriptive mandate. As much as I found myself in agreement with the authors’ general delineation of “culture” (of what “culture” is or “does”), there was a lack of discussion on the conditions that create different cultures. There was a need to differentiate the interplay between social structures and cultures (a matter of structure, agency, and contingency).  

Although Hibbert and Hibbert provide a good introduction to cross-cultural ministry, scholars and practitioners will need to delve into more theoretically rigorous and or empirically-based literature. What was lacking in this book was noting a difference between majority or minority group leaders who led their respective ministries. Current research suggests that “multicultural” ministries continue to reflect paternalism as leaders from the status quo group(s) oversee (enact power and control) over minorities (groups without access to power and resources). 

Finally, the authors provided a lot of discussion about the individual traits or attributes of leaders (cf. the Meyer-Briggs discussion on pages 116 and 169). Treating leadership via abstracted individualism is like asking “What traits make a good U.S. President?” It would be naïve to list leadership traits without acknowledging that an intersection of race, class, and gender also seem to predicate the odds of one’s ability to become the next POTUS. 

It is here that Christian literature such as Leading Multicultural Teams needs to engage with complexity science in general and social network analysis in particular. Leadership entails individual attributes (agency or “culture” in group outcomes), as well as structure and contingency. Enacting effective multicultural teams is not just about the choices one makes, but also about the conditions of choosing. 

Check these titles:

Philip Jenkins. 2007. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Mark R. Warren. 2010. Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

John Scott. 2013. Social Network Analysis. Los Angeles: Sage.

. . . .

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 3 pp. 347-348. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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