Earlier this week a friend, Jim, who is leading a short term ministry trip to Eastern Europe this summer called me for some advice. His team has led basketball summer camps in the past and this summer they hope to expand the program to include soccer. The basketball camps have worked well. The US leaders have done all the planning and worked the camp in a “turn-key” fashion. The local Eastern European church provided the gym and recruited the children. However, Jim was hoping that the local Eastern European leaders would accept more leadership responsibility for the soccer program. He hoped that the local Christians would take initiative, and the Americans would serve them.
Unfortunately, from Jim’s perspective, as he is preparing for a set-up trip next week he is finding that the Europeans seem to be holding back. They are unwilling or unable to step into proactive leadership roles.
It is difficult to confidently determine all the dynamics in this situation. However, I ventured some guesses that Jim agreed were probably accurate. My guess is that the Europeans are preconditioned to expect the Americans to take charge because that is what they have done before. The current leadership model in this situation is that the Americans are the experts and they run the show and the Europeans take care of local responsibilities. Furthermore, as a result of many years of authoritarian governments, regular people have come to accept that they are better off not taking initiative. They have observed that the tallest blade of grass is the one cut off.
So, Jim and I concluded that his best strategy next week when he meets with the European Christians and through the upcoming summer is to work within their cultural expectations. As they continue in relationship and build trust, he will have opportunities to train and empower local people to take over certain responsibilities. In time, local leadership can arise, but he should not expect that to happen immediately.
Furthermore, he should not have negative feelings for his European brothers and sisters. Rather, he should seek to understand them before he expects to be understood. This principle is appropriate for all communication and especially important when working across cultures.