cross-cultural connections (4)

Download a pdf of this series of posts HERE.

How do you divide up the world? There’s lots of debate about the political correctness of these big labels, but here are some options:

  • First, Second and Third Worlds?
  • ‘East’ and ‘West’?
  • ‘North’ and ‘South’?
  • Developed and Developing?

Duane Elmer refers a lot to Westerners and the Western world, but then refers to the rest of the world as the ‘Two-Thirds World’. Linguistically it kind of bugs me, but I hope you get the gist of what he means…Globe

The latter third of Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections discusses a number of key cultural differences between the ‘West’ and the ‘Two-Thirds World’. Like all generalisations, it’s going to grate sometimes, but there was also quite a bit of wisdom. One of the things he said that really struck me was about goal- vs relationally-oriented people.

According to Elmer, Western society is dominated by a goal-focussed mentality. There’s plenty that’s good about this way of operating: goal-oriented people work hard, they are often trustworthy and dedicated. They get a lot done. The relationally-focussed person, on the other hand, dominates the Two-Thirds World. Relationships lay the foundation for activity; goals and schedules are only attended to after sharing in conversation and hospitality. When a friend drops in to visit, they become the relationally-oriented person’s priority — the doctor’s appointment will wait.

Now, there’s no right way to do things — Elmer’s clear this is just a case of difference — but here’s the rub… Elmer’s insight is that goal-oriented people will sacrifice relationships in order to reach the goal while relationally-oriented people will sacrifice the goal in order to maintain the relationship.

In light of this insight, I’ve been wondering what kind of impact discussions like this one will have? I think moving towards realistic goals is definitely a step forward, and generally I’m all for KPIs and SMART goals. But Elmer’s planted a small seed of doubt. What will we be prepared to sacrifice (marriages, friendships, sanity…?) in order to demonstrate we’ve achieved our man-made goals?


  1. Natalie,

    very interesting thought. What about if one of the goals was to be a community of ‘grace drenched relationships’, or to participate in joyous fellowship?

    Can they be integrated like that? Goals guide structures, relationships are the foundation and fruit of those structures?

    1. Andrew, I reckon you’re onto something about making relationships part of the goal. In fact, I think relationships should be part of our Vision…

      I think we get into problems when we poorly differentiate between Vision, Strategies and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We often set our sights on low on KPIs, rather than setting them high on the vision.

      Your Vision is how you want things to be, Strategies are the activities/work plans you think will help you achieve the Vision, and KPIs are how you think you’ll be able to measure whether you’re fulfilling your vision.

      The problem is, Strategies and KPIs are usually written at the start of something without an insight into the future. Yet as the future unfolds we grasp tightly to these plans and metrics and flog ourselves to fulfil them even if it becomes clear they’re not appropriate any more.

      I get worried when we make Key Performance Indicators goals in themselves. I want to see our attention fixed on the vision, not the KPIs. I want the flexibility to redefine the KPIs if we discover they’re not working.

      So, for example, our Diocesan Mission statement is:
      “to glorify God by proclaiming our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ in prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, so that everyone will hear his call to repent, trust and serve Christ in love, and be established in the fellowship of his disciples while they await his return.”

      Our Vision is to see people “established in the fellowship of his disciples” — how’s that for relationally oriented!?! But, the performance indicator we set for ourselves to indicate whether we’d done that successfully was that at least 10% of the population of the region of the Diocese would be in Bible-based churches in 10 years. And it’s the 10% that seems to get the ‘press coverage’, rather than the Vision itself. I reckon more people would be able to tell you about the 10% goal than you’d find able to recite the vision (let alone live it out!). I find this problematic.

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