A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2011

View more articles in the Fall 2011 issue.

The development of intercultural competency and leadership at Luther Seminary

by Elizabeth Flomo, GMI/CCE Project Coordinator

Stained glass window in Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, Rocky Boy's Reservation, Mont., created by Danielle The Boy

How are church leaders prepared to think through an intercultural lens? What does this thinking mean for their future ministries?

From its inception, the Luther Seminary Cross-Cultural Education (CCE) program has believed that: "One of the major tasks of theological education is not only to know the gospel, but also to provide the opportunity for interpreting the culture in which the gospel is to be confessed."

With this focus of better equipping and preparing students for intercultural engagement with the world, CCE is employing recent developments in intercultural communication, including the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

Respecting and Understanding Cultural Defaults

In developing intercultural competence, the goal is to respect the cultural defaults from which another person is operating. One does not necessarily agree with another's beliefs or actions, but rather, acknowledges that they are living from as complex a cultural reality as you are.

Our intercultural trainers and IDI facilitators, Paul and Akiko Maeker of Interculturalist, LLC note that in order to affect intercultural development, one must have:

  • Cross-cultural experiences
  • Intellectual Framework (theory) about intercultural communication
  • Intentional reflection on those experiences, guided by the theory

Research has shown that short term (less than one month) immersion courses in and of themselves do not affect significant intercultural leadership development. Thus, throughout the Cross-Cultural Mission Experience (CCME) courses, students are provided with the theory and reflection pieces to deepen the learning from their immersion experiences.

Grace Gravelle, M.Div. '14, completed the IDI before departing for her summer 2011 course at the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE), in Chicago. Having done a fair amount of work on intercultural communication before taking this course, she found the IDI gave a fair analysis of where she is developmentally and where she wants to be.

The IDI: A Unique Tool

Unlike the Myers-Briggs personality inventory or other skills or gift inventories, the IDI does not provide a typography. Instead, the IDI assesses intercultural development (a term that, while nearly synonymous with cross-cultural, points to the fact that there are always interactions between cultures). This is done by:

  • Placing participants along a continuum of intercultural development,
  • Identifying the gap, if any, between one's perceived and one's actual developmental orientation, and
  • Identifying topics or situations needing attention in order to narrow this gap and further intercultural development

Additionally, the IDI may be used to create a group profile by compiling individual results.

IDI: A Component of Cross-Cultural Mission Experiences

Students participating in Luther Seminary Cross-Cultural Mission Experience (CCME) courses take the IDI as part of the preparation for their two- to three-week domestic or international immersion experience.

"In pre-departure sessions, we were encouraged to explore what it means to be a cultural person and to identify intercultural communication tools to use in our cross-cultural experience. We spent time learning about the IDI and intercultural development continuum and exploring our group IDI profile," Gravelle said.

Because of the importance of taking time to set up this intercultural framework and having participants from multiple CCMEs in each pre-departure session, students receive context specific do's and don'ts from the CCE office and/or their site leader at a later time.

Gravelle said, "I also really appreciated the one-on-one conversation with the IDI facilitator after the pre-departure session. I was able to ask more questions about things I still need to work at to close the gap (between my perceived and actual developmental orientation), and get to where I want to be. I am also thankful for the time we had to process our cross-cultural experience in the facilitated debriefing session soon after our return."

With the increase of distributed learning students (who take the majority of their classes online) participating in CCMEs, the CCE office has been challenged to provide expanded means for participation. Currently, distributed learning students are able to participate in the pre-departure session via live Internet streaming of the presentation and are able to chat live with the in-person participants, resulting in an interactive online session.

An Expanding Presence

The insights gained from the intercultural communication field are not limited to the Cross-Cultural Education programs of Luther Seminary. The IDI, in conjunction with other intercultural communication tools, is being used by faculty and administrative departments on campus to assess areas of strength and growth in intercultural development.

Roland Martinson, vice president for academic affairs, said, "The goal in developing intercultural competence throughout the seminary structure is to foster a campus-wide culture that is inviting, inclusive and participatory for all who seek engagement with Luther Seminary."

"This work complements the seminary's strategic plan, where we state that welcoming new people to the seminary community means 'demonstrating a genuine hospitality that seeks to include the gifts, perspectives, and experiences all persons bring and a willingness to invite all to participate in and shape our shared community.'"

Read more about the purpose and biblical and theological underpinnings and envisioned competencies of the CCME courses on the CCE website

Learn more about the IDI