Intercultural Communication in Ministry

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, Exec. Elder

Culture Defined

Culture is an interesting word. Its mere utterance is sure to fill the imagination with all sorts of images, and none of them are likely to be the same from person to person. For this reason defining it proves to be quite problematic.

Cohen (2009) remembers Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s research that collected more than 160 definitions for this term. Their findings show extensive perspectives ranging from heritage to protocols, and goods to behaviors. These elements are more specifically visible in:



thought patterns,

ethical norms,

social environments,

religiosity, and


Therefore, culture has a general definition that alludes to various elements of societies, yet there seems to me no concrete thing that can be identified as culture. Rather, it seems that culture is an abstract concept consisting of the manifestation of harmonized ideological elements.

Satterlee’s Elements. Determining what qualifies as a major element of a culture is not particularly as easy as it may seem. Cultures differ from one to the next and many have components that are nonexistent in other regions of the world. For this reason a universal standard is appreciated. Satterlee (2008) says: “The dimensions of culture may be categorized as:







Social Structures, and

Organizations, and

Education” (p. 42).

These angles are relatively existent in all societies.

Hofstede’s Dimensions. Geert Hofstede is remembered for developing a systematic approach to culture.

The first of his list is Power Distance which is the general tolerance of the gaps between authorities and subordinates.

Secondly there is Individualism which is the evaluation of a society’s preference for communal solidarity, or a single-handed approach to work.

Third is Masculinity; the extent to which a society is comfortable with the expression of roles and attributes by sexes opposite of their traditionally defined traits.

Lastly, there is Uncertainty Avoidance which is characterized by the extent to which a society is comfortable with undefined leadership roles, and unpredictable events (Jones, & Alony, 2007).

Trompenaar. From Hofstede’s path, Trompenaar has developed a model of seven cultural dimensions:

Universalism/Particularism (rules vs. protocol),

Individualism/Communitarianism (independent vs. solidarity),

Neutral/Affective (deals with behavior towards accomplishments),

Specific/Diffuse (considers the measure of involvement),

Achievement/Ascription (attributed reason for status),

Sequential/Synchronic (concept of time), Internal/External (residence of control) (Bickerstaffe, 2002).

Cultural Communication can be risky business. What is acceptable in one culture may be taboo in another. Below are two of the founding theories of understanding cultural differences and approaches for communication.

Reflective Questions:

Please read the below two articles:

Hofstede’s Framework…

Fons Trompenaars

1) Describe human relations of people in cultures with small power

2) What are the differences between individualist and collectivist
cultures?  Also, which one is the culture of the Jews in Biblical times?

3) According to Hofstede, what are the differences between masculinity and femininity based cultures?

4) What is uncertainty avoidance?

5) What are the differences between long and short term orientation?

6) How can you see this information to be helpful for leaders?


Cohen, A. (2009, April). Many forms of culture. American Psychologist, 64(3), 194-204.

Jones, M., & Alony, I. (2007, January). The Cultural Impact of Information Systems –Through the Eyes of Hofstede — A Critical Journey. Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, 4(13), 407.

Satterlee B., & Robinson, J.  (2008).  Global business: From theory to practice.  Roanoke, Virginia: Synergistics Publishing.