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Cross-Cultural Comparison

As believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must be involved in cross-cultural ministry. This was the primary objective given by Jesus Christ to His followers before He ascended into Heaven (see Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Let us consider the magnitude of His statements…all nations, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth these are all the places Jesus Christ desires for the gospel to be preached! I would venture to say the first and last of these are fairly comprehensive. In order to be more effective as we share the gospel, we must consider the inherent differences between cultures. The gospel transcends all cultural barriers; however, our own personalities, family backgrounds, histories, values, sports, humour, etc… can be far different to people from all around the world. In fact, within a country there can be various cultures present which result in animosity and rivalry (for instance: ask somebody from Madrid what they think of Catalonia). We must be “culture smart” (to borrow a phrase I read somewhere…) as we carry out the great commission.

One way to better equip ourselves for cross-cultural ministry is to consult good old Geert Hofstede and his team of cultural analysts. Their website is packed with helpful resources which I encourage you to explore. But, for now let us turn our attention to the “Country Comparison” tool on the website http://geert-hofstede.com/ireland.html. You will notice that the country currently selected is Ireland (you may change this for a more personalised result). Please select a corresponding country of your choice. You should even be able to enter a third country for triple comparison! Now take a moment to consider the meaning behind the scores you are seeing.

This model is broken down into six main categories. If you have not had the chance to visit Geert’s website, you will find the definitions below:

  1. Power Distance – “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”

  2. Individualism – “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members.”

  3. Masculinity – “the fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).”

  4. Uncertainty Avoidance – “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these”

  5. Long Term Orientation – “how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future”

  6. Indulgence – “the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses”

You will notice that when you select your primary country, a description of each category should be included which explains that country’s scoring in the six categories. If you are not seeing a large difference in your comparison countries, attempt contrasting a western society with an eastern one. You will begin to see how different cultures vary in these six categories. However, it is important to add a disclaimer here: while tremendous amounts of research have been devoted to this tool, these are generalisations and do not necessarily mean that every person in each of these countries holds to the mindset/values mentioned. This is merely a tool to help us begin to think cross-culturally. We must understand the challenges and excitement of cross-cultural ministry and we must exemplify humility and compassion (Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34) as we share the gospel with those who are lost. It is my hope that tools such as the ones mentioned in this article will help equip others to take the message of the gospel from the Scripture to “the uttermost part of the earth” for the glory of God.