Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

James Plueddemann, Leadership Across Cultures
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

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 Demystified Leadership Across Culture

Also see:

Martinez Family Ministry: OASIS Mission in Manassas Virginia 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Myrtle Beach Ministry: 3,000 Opportunities at Stake…by Stefan and Ellie Sultanov


Myrtle Beach Ministry

By Stefan and Ellie Sultanov

Our guest bloggers today, Stefan and Ellie Sultanov, are a ministry team from Bulgaria and fellow classmates of mine at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.  Their post focuses on a unique ministry that they initiated among international students working in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Myrtle Beach Ministry

In recent years the immigration law and reform in the U.S. have been a hot issue. Politicians have taken sides and so have voters. But what about us as Christians? It is enough to just side with our preferred political party when it comes to foreigners?  There are also no doubt legal implications. But what about the spiritual implications?  In this brief post I will address one with eternal significance.

Ministry Backstory

Our story began in 2008 when Ellie and I began a 5-year ministry to international students while working at Myrtle Beach, SC on a work-and-travel program. According to local news statistics, there are some 3,000 international students that flood Myrtle Beach each summer. Most of them come from Eastern Europe which, of course, includes a large number of Bulgarians. During our summer outreach each year, we came in contact with Bulgarian, Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Turkish students.

Our strategy was quite simple. Over the summer we developed relationships with students by inviting them for meals at our home, watching movies together, fixing their bicycles, and taking them shopping.  Because they only used bicycles for transportation, we drove them on short trips to visit other places and even took some to church with us. And we talked and talked.

We had countless opportunities to share the Good News with them. Remember, these young people came from former communist countries. Most of them had never heard about God or held a Bible in their hands. Most of them had no sense of spirituality.  At best, they might share some vague understanding of eastern religions or their personal philosophy of life.

Still, at Myrtle Beach some took significant steps forward in their spiritual journey. Some decided to follow Jesus Christ right by the beach.  Others began the thought process and later took the final step with someone else in their lives.


Over the years we looked for other people and churches who might share in this ministry.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity for international evangelism that does not require travel or the need to send missionaries overseas. Still, we were unable to identify any ministry partners. Then, about three years back, we talked with a pastor of a local church that is strategically located in the middle of Myrtle Beach.  He was excited about the opportunity. We offered to outline the whole project and to train a ministry team.  However, our timing is not always God’s timing.

A few months ago, missions people from that same church contacted us to learn more about this ministry. We got together for breakfast and emotions ran wild!  This group was as passionate about missions among the visiting students as we are.  Soon, a mission group from that church plans an organizational meeting where we will be able to present our ministry experience.

*****Please pray that God will give us utterance–the ability to share passionately, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit–at this meeting.*****

We are excited that this ministry will come back with more resources than we were ever able to offer. God knows how many students would be impacted by a more systematic, more sustained, outreach effort.


Stefan’s passion is building deep and long-lasting friendships, teaching and discipleship.

Currently, Stefan is a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (–Charlotte, North Carolina. He completed a Master of Divinity degree (Magna cum Laude) and is now finishing a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling degree. Stefan also holds a Master of Arts in French Language and Literature and prior to becoming a seminary student he has worked as a private language tutor and worship leader. He is a founding member of Holy Trinity Bulgarian Free Church in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.


Stefan was born and raised in communist Bulgaria where he had a first-hand experience of living under an atheist dictatorship. Shortly after the fall of the regime, when he was only 14, he responded to an altar call and gave his life to Christ. Stefan’s early ministry experience includes working with worship teams, children’s work, orphanage visitations and open air evangelism. While serving the Lord in different capacities, he started sensing a special call from God to pursue a seminary education.


Ellie has a special heart for evangelism, discipleship, counseling, and the persecuted underground church around the world.

Currently, Ellie is completing a Dual degree – Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary-Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ellie grew up in Bulgaria while the country was still under communism. After the fall of the regime Ellie began attending church with her parents which marked the beginning of her family’s journey with God. Shortly after, Ellie’s parents became some of the first full-time missionaries with Campus Crusade for Christ International in Bulgaria ( – a ministry they have been working with for nearly twenty years now. Ellie’s point of conversion came at a winter children’s camp organized by Child Evangelism Fellowship where she gave her life to Christ at the age of 9. Ellie traveled with her father extensively throughout the country to show the Jesus Film, evangelize and preach ( Ellie witnessed for Christ to people around her and her spiritual identity became deeply ingrained.

Read Stefan and Ellie’s full stories at

For other ministry in Eastern Europe, see: A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith

Continue Reading