Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership


James E. Plueddemann.  2009.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As you exit the parking lot in my home church, a sign reads: you are now entering the mission field.   Few years back on a Sunday morning Evangelist Hussain Andaryas ( cited the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and said:  because you would not go across the seas to bring Christ to your brothers and sisters, God has given you a second chance.  Now, they live across the street from you.  Now, will you go?  Each of us, if we lead at all, must now lead across cultures.


In his book, Leading Across Cultures, James Plueddemann cites Geert Hofstede and likens leadership like learning to play an instrument and likens leadership across cultures as like learning to play several instruments (11).  For Plueddemann:  A missionary is anyone, from any country, who leaves home in order to proclaim the gospel, usually in another culture (13).  For Plueddemann, a Christian leader focuses, harmonizes, and enhances the gifts of others for their own growth while cultivating the kingdom of God (15).

From Everywhere to Everywhere

Plueddemann summarizes the challenges of multicultural leadership with a slogan—from everywhere to everywhere (25).  Mission challenges include short-term missions, church-to-church partnerships, leadership development strategies, and working under leadership of another culture (25-27).  Short-term missions, for example, imply that missions are undertaken with little or no experience with either missions or the cultures involved.  Clashes in culture are often therefore immediate and unexpected.  For example, the American assumption of “equal partners” is foreign in most of the rest of the world where the usual assumption is a senior and a junior partner (26).

Cycle of World Missions

Plueddemann envisions a cycle of world missions composed of 5 steps:

  1. Pre-evangelism,
  2. Evangelism,
  3. Church planting and nurture,
  4. Leadership development, and
  5. Partnership (48).

For Plueddemann, pre-evangelism involves both caring for people’s physical needs and their eternal needs through medical help, humanitarian relief, schools and development programs (51). Evangelism Is bringing people to Jesus and sharing the gospel:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV; 52).  In discussing the need to plant churches, he writes:  Evangelism without discipleship is like giving birth and then leaving the baby in a dumpster.  Newborns can’t live more than a few hours without the help of a family (53).

Role of Leadership Training

On leadership, Plueddemann observes that:  Jesus taught and healed the sick, but his lasting ministry came from the training of the 12 disciples.  Leadership development was also at the core of Paul’s evangelism (55).  Leadership development naturally leads to partnership because Plueddemann observes:  mature churches are characterized as self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing (56).  It is indeed ironic (and a bit embarrassing) to see former mission partners now sending missionaries to North America.

Dr. James E. Plueddemann  is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [1] in Deerfield, Illinois just outside Chicago. Leading Across Cultures is written in 12 chapters divided into 4 parts, including:

  1. Multicultural Leadership in the Worldwide Church,
  2. Leadership and Culture,
  3. Contextualizing Leadership, and
  4. Global Leadership in Practice.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue (7-8).

Clearly, there is not time to summarize all that Plueddemann has written.  However, I will never forget his comments specifically about culture.  He defines two concepts—context and power distance—which bear summarizing.

High and Low Context Cultures

Citing Edward Hall’s book, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Books,1976), Plueddeman high-context and low-context cultures.  In a high-context culture, information is passed informally with very little being communicated through formal speech.  What is important are the atmosphere of the room, the sounds, smells, facial expressions, and body language.  This is the norm in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.  In low-context cultures the opposite is true.  People pay attention to what is explicitly said.  For example, people remember ideas, but forget who said them.  Highly expressive forms of speech are valued in high-context cultures and viewed with skepticism in low-context cultures (78-79).  In low-context cultures, speaking the truth face-to-face is valued; in high-context cultures, relationships are more important and difficult conversations take place through intermediaries (81).

Power Distance

Leadership always involves use of power so attitudes about power are culturally important.   Plueddemann cites a study by Robert House (and others) called Culture, Leadership, and Organizations:  The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (London: SAGE Publications, 2004) which defines power distance as: the degree to which members of an organization expect and agree that power should be shared unequally (94).  In a high-power distance culture, everyone agrees that leaders should have more authority, respect, and status symbols (fancy cars, expensive clothes, and so on).  In low-power distance cultures, leadership is more participatory and leaders are expected to act like a peer and have a minimum number of perks (95).

Attitudes about the role of context and power distance can be dramatically different not only internationally, but between ethnic and age groups within a society.  This is, in part, why pastors are sensitive to the style of dress and musical preferences when speaking at new churches.


Plueddemann’s writing on leadership in a cross-cultural setting is insightful.  His writing is filled with personal accounts, particularly focused on his time as a missionary in Nigeria.  However, keep in mind that he writes primarily for the seminary student and professional missionary.  The growth of North America as a mission field, however, widens the number of professionals who need to take his counsel.


Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

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  1. Some cultures especially on the border of regions are a mix of high and low content in their communications.

    1. Countries are mixed in their cultures between ethic groups and even by age. For example, the British are definitely low-context, but the Irish are more on the high-culture side.

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