Respect

Christian Women in Leadership: Rachel Morton

For Rachel Morton, an important part of being a Christian leader is recognizing our own fallibility and need for God’s grace as we lead others in Christian love. Read on…

What does it look like to be a woman in a leadership role? How does Christian faith impact leadership? And what happens when you put the two together?

To find out, we caught up with Rachel Morton, Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, WI. Since July 2012, she has spent her time directing choirs, writing worship services & school chapel services, overseeing traditional worship services and the groups that serve in them, and overseeing the women’s retreat committee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Parish Music (double emphasis in piano and organ) with a Theology Minor and a Master of Church Music (emphasis in choral conducting) from Concordia University Wisconsin.

We asked Rachel a few questions about her job and her views on Christian Leadership:

What’s the favorite part of your job?

I love the relational aspect of my job (and that my job allows me the time and opportunity to be relational). Working with people isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, but it’s so rewarding! I love walking with people through the joys and struggles of their lives, even if it means walking them through conflicts. I love watching them have these “light bulb moments” when they can personally connect with what it means to be a loved and forgiven child of God and the impact that has not only on their service within worship ministry and the church, but also the impact it has on their relationships with family and friends and co-workers and the impact it has on how they live their lives. There’s nothing better than watching someone know and feel God’s love and getting to be a part of that journey with them!

How would you define Christian leadership?

Christian leadership is both leading AND following. It means humbling ourselves to follow God’s will (to love Him and serve Him with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves) and then leading people to follow it as well (and to come back to it when they stray). It means leading with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, and realizing that when (not if, but when) we fall short, there is a time and place to practice repentance and forgiveness. Christian leadership is leadership with integrity that leans hard into God’s grace and love at all times and in all circumstances.

How do you bring your Christian values into your work?

You would think that working in a church would make it much easier to live out Christian values, but that isn’t always the case. The church is full of sinful, imperfect people just like anywhere else, and I am definitely one of them! I bring my Christian values into the workplace when I acknowledge that I personally need to practice daily repentance and forgiveness, to speak the truth in love (even when it’s hard or met with opposition), to respect the authority of those I work under even when I don’t agree with them (and to refrain from criticizing them when I don’t agree), and to be a godly team member and not a “glory hog.” The Lord knows I don’t do any of this perfectly, but I try to be a person of integrity and to be consistent in living out my values; they should be the same whether I’m at home or at work.

Looking back, is there a time on your leadership journey where you perhaps felt uncertain about the future, but God had a bigger plan?

I remember struggling part of the way through college with what I actually wanted to do with my life, which was strange because I’ve known since I was 12 that I wanted to pursue music as a career and since I was 15 that I wanted to pursue a calling to serve as a church musician. I struggled through a lot of personal issues and life circumstances that made me wonder if music was where God was calling me. I thought I might be better served to change my major and go into counseling or even social work because I felt this strong pull toward a profession that would allow me to help people. I sought advice from people who I knew cared deeply for me and who would support me in whatever decision I made, I spent time in prayer and in God’s Word, and in the end I had to just trust that God would guide me to where He wanted me.

I finished my degree in church music, and then the time came for some big decisions: 1) to continue on in school to get my masters in church music, 2) to go to St. Louis to get a degree in deaconess studies with a counseling emphasis, 3) to pray for a call to take me home to Texas, or 4) to accept the call that was coming in from St. John’s in West Bend (WI) to be their Assistant Worship Director. After a lot of prayer, I felt a pull to follow God’s call to St. John’s, and I have been so blessed in that decision. It has not always been my ideal and every now and then I do wonder if this what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life, but I do know that right now I am blessed. I have learned and grown so much as a leader through my job, it gave me the opportunity through proximity to complete my masters in church music at CUW, and allowed me to see that I don’t need a counseling degree to be able to help people through the trials in their life (and it’s put me in a position to do that). It wasn’t easy to trust God each step of the way, but I am glad that He led me down the path that He did.

How does working in a religious or secular setting change the way you lead as a Christian?

I don’t think that working in a religious setting changes HOW I lead as a Christian, but it definitely heightens my awareness that people watch to see how Christians lead (both inside and outside of religious settings). If nothing else, working in a religious setting helps to keep me accountable to my Christian values.

Who are your biggest role models as a leader?

I look up to people that I can see making a difference in the world or an impact for the Gospel of Christ (coincidentally, some of them are women that are speaking at the Gifted to Influence Conference or were highly involved in putting it together!). That is something that I hope and pray that I am doing or am able to do one day.

On a more personal front, my mentor from age 14 to now, Martha Garmon, has been the biggest role model in my life. When I was younger she modeled a strong work-ethic that helped drive me through high school and college. She modeled respect for my parents and those in authority, she modeled integrity in her job (as a worship director for our church) and in her personal life, and now as an adult/peer she continues to model all of those things as well as what it means to be a godly wife, mother, sister, friend, and what it means to be a woman of Christian influence. I owe so much of my character and value development to her!

Is there a passage in scripture that resonates with you as a Christian woman in leadership?

Two scripture passages come to mind when I think about my values as a Christian leader, and I cannot really choose between the two.

The first is my confirmation verse (that has become my life verse): “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17b-19). This verse reminds me of what my foundation is: the love of Christ that makes me a part of the kingdom of God. God’s love is something that fills my heart and life to overflowing and influences everything that I do. It’s a reminder of what I am working for: to spread the love of Christ that I have been privileged and blessed to know!

The second verse is one I find myself turning to when I wonder what God’s will for my life is or when I’m faced with difficult decisions (both as a Christian and as a Christian leader). “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it,” (Isaiah 30:21). No matter what I may be facing in life, I need to trust that God is leading and guiding and working things out for the good, even when I can’t see what that is yet.

What most prepared you to be a Christian leader in the workplace?

I think having Christian mentors, leaders, pastors, and teachers to look up to during my “formative years” prepared me the most to be a Christian leader once I entered the workplace. Really, those people (men and women) prepared me to be not only a Christian leader but also a “decent human being,” if you want to think of it that way. They modeled Christian living as something that affects all aspects of my life, not just my leadership.

 What challenges do you face as a Christian leader in your workplace?

I think fatigue (physical and emotional/mental) is one of my biggest challenges to face in Christian leadership. I don’t think any of us should ever underestimate the impact that our words and actions—our leadership—can have on the lives of those we interact with every day. At the same time, being so aware of the people around us and then trying to figure out how to meet their needs can be tiring (or even exhausting) after a while. So it’s been an important part of my leadership to have “safe places” where I can go to talk through my thoughts or my feelings as they relate to leadership. Those conversations are usually reserved for my mentors or for colleagues who are experiencing a lot of the same issues. It’s just important to have a place of support (where I can both receive and give it) to help combat the fatigue that could lead to burnout.

What is the most important piece of advice you would want to pass along to other Christian women in leadership?

Don’t ever try to go through life alone. Leaders especially need people in their lives to give them moral and physical support, to hold them accountable, to pray for and with them, and to remind them that they don’t have to be “perfect” all the time. If we’re being transparent, I don’t know what I would do without those ladies in my life with whom I can laugh and cry and talk about anything. Sometimes we just need someone to “be real” with so we can continue to be encouraged for the tasks that God has given us to do.

Being an Assertive Christian Woman

By Ruth Koch

Sometimes it seems like life is uphill all the way.  Someone is rude to you, verbally abusive, takes advantage of you—whatever—and you, being raised as many women are, to ‘make nice,’ just don’t know how to handle the situation.  If you make a big effort to ‘make nice’ with the person who is doing wrong, you will encourage the behavior and participate in their wrongdoing.  You don’t want to be the doormat woman who forfeits the respect of those around her.

And I’ll bet you’ve seen too many women who hold it in and hold it in and then just blow up, raining nasty words and red-hot anger and even hatred that has been fermenting for way too long.  You don’t want to be that woman who behaves aggressively—hurting others and later regretting it.

And, besides, you’re a Christian woman and that is at the very center of your identity.  You want to represent Christ well in all your interactions with others, but you may not be sure just how to balance the whole counsel of God which tells us, for example, to put the needs of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:3) but also tells us to ‘look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ (Philippians 2:4), affirming that it is appropriate to look to our own interests.  To untangle some of these competing instructions, we need to look at the concept of assertiveness, the healthy antidote to both passive and aggressive behaviors.

And thus we look to the Word, and to Jesus’ life, for the answer to this important life dilemma.  In the gospels, you can observe Jesus’ behaviors, His attitudes, His loving, compassionate interactions and His sometimes direct, fiery interactions as well.  Jesus embodied a higher law, the law of love.  Jesus was beautifully assertive in His interactions with others, discerning what would most effectively accomplish His goal of salvation and service.  The heart of assertive behavior is that it embodies both self respect and respect for others.

Mark 10:17-22 is the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus.  Quite proud of himself and determined not to be vulnerable, the rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to be saved.  Jesus knew his heart, wanted him to know salvation and began where the young man was by telling him that he must obey the commandments.  “No problem!  Been doing that all my life,” the young man answered.  And Jesus looked straight at him with love (v.21)How easy it would have been to dismiss this arrogant young man!  But Jesus loved him and wanted him to be a part of God’s kingdom.  So He looked into the young man’s heart, saw how it was tangled up in riches, and spoke assertively and directly to him: “Sell it all, give it to the poor and follow me.”  Jesus did not compromise His mission to bring salvation to this young man, nor did He mince words and try to make nice.  Too much was at stake!  His loving engagement reinforced His words.

Alas, we are told that the rich young man’s face fell, and “he went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (v. 22).  Important to note that Jesus was loving, direct, focused on His own mission of redemption and fully engaged with this young man.  All that, however, did not guarantee that the man’s response would be to repent, sell and follow Jesus.  Behaving assertively does not guarantee success, but it greatly increases the likelihood that a genuine and authentic encounter will take place

At its heart, Christian assertiveness is dedicated to the welfare and respect of others as well as honoring a commitment to the mission and ministry set before each Christian.  An assertive Christian is not asserting rights, but is instead choosing behaviors that support, enhance and celebrate that Christian’s call to love and serve God and others, living out respect for self and the person God has created you to be—and respect for the other person as beloved and precious to God.

Christians can wade into messy situations and gather up our courage, knowing we are called to imitate the beautifully, lovingly assertive Christ.

Ruth N. Koch, M.A., NCC is a mental health educator and National Certified Counselor. Trained in both social work and counseling, she specializes in conflict management, grief education, and everyday mental health issues that impact personal and family relations. She is the co-author of Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be an Assertive Christian, Stephen Ministries, St. Louis, MO. Come to the Gifted to Influence Conference in Milwaukee, WI September 29 – October 1 to hear Ruth’s presentation, “Neither Passive nor Aggressive:  The Assertive Christian Woman.”

Workplace Connections: The Blessings and Challenges of Being a Millennial and Working With One

By Rachel Morton & Rebekah Karolus

Generational studies are all the rage right now. Over the past five years in particular, people have spent a lot of time speculating about the differences between generations and what impact those differences have on social, economic, and religious levels. At the moment, one of the most talked-about generations—in both positive and negative ways—is the millennial generation (our generation). Millennials are defined as anyone born between the year 1980 and 1997 (give or take a year or two depending on the study). Most recently millennials made headline news as they officially surpassed the baby boomers as the largest (by population) living generation in the United States!

You may be asking yourself, “What does this information have to do with the workplace or with ‘workplace connections’?” Well, at some point in your life you will find yourself sitting across the interview table from a millennial. You might be the one hiring or you might be the one hoping to get a job. In either of those situations, it would be helpful to know a little bit about the generation you will be working with in order to create a more positive work environment.

The thought of working with millennials might actually be something that worries you. After all, we’ve all heard the stereotypes about them: they’ve been called the “me, me, me” generation, lazy, entitled, self-obsessed, and even narcissistic. Who would want to work with someone like that? However, they also have been given some positive stereotypes. People have called them open-minded, generous, self-expressive, upbeat, definitely tech-savvy, and passionate about social causes. We promise…they aren’t all as scary as you might think!

So let’s get real. Have you ever wondered if there is any truth behind the stereotypes about millennials? Have these stereotypes positively or negatively affected your desire to ever work with this generation? Do you think these stereotypes affect the millennials’ abilities to work with other generations and vice versa? Have you ever wondered what stereotypes about older generations might be affecting the millennials’ desire to work with them? And at the end of it all, what kind of example are we setting for future generations by letting different stereotypes affect how we all work together?

Regardless of whether or not any of the stereotypes are true, the fact that they exist has already affected the ability of different generations to work together. Each generation already has a pre-conceived idea about the other. In some instances that has helped workplace connections, and in others it has hurt them. Regardless of your generation, we can all benefit from the perspective of different generations in the workplace. Better perspective allows us to more effectively connect with and support one another, creating a healthier work environment. How do we gain this perspective? By talking together.

Rachel Morton is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin’s Master of Church Music program, serves as Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. She directs all traditional worship services and musical groups, serves as primary organist, collaborates in the writing of school chapel services, and oversees the Women’s Retreat Committee.

Rebekah Karolus is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin with a degree in both Theology and Lay Ministry. She currently serves as the Director of the Sr. High Youth Ministry, College Ministry, Young-Adult Ministry, and Women’s Ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. 

Come to their presentation, “Workplace Connections: The Challenges and Blessings of Being a Millennial and Working with One” at the Gifted to Influence Conference in Milwaukee, WI September 29 – October 1. There you will gain valuable perspective on generational differences as well as some practical tools that you can use right now within your various vocations to help strengthen your workplace connections.

Christian Women in Leadership: Sarah Guldalian

Sarah Guldalian is a champion of integrity and interpersonal relationships in her journey as a Christian leader. Read on…

What does it look like to be a woman in a leadership role? How does Christian faith impact leadership? And what happens when you put the two together?

To find out, we caught up with founder and CEO of Rhino Hyde Productions. She holds a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Mass Communications—Political Science from Drake University and participated in an Advanced Social Media program with Columbia University – New York. Sarah is also a speaker at the upcoming WLI national Conference where she will lead a workshop on Confidence to Share Christ in the Workplace.

We asked her a few questions about her job and her views on Christian leadership:

What’s the favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of my job is working with people to find solutions for their problems and/or obstacles then, by the grace of God, helping them overcome these to see meaningful results for their ministries and companies because this equates to positively impacting their employees and constituents. I also love my team and seeing them exercising the beautiful gifts God has uniquely given them.

How would you define Christian leadership?

I believe that kindness goes an incredibly long way. When there is kindness, I believe true joy and success can flow from that. Yet, even in kindness, there needs to be an ability to speak the truth in love – not letting things go too far or get out of hand for happiness’ sake. Happiness is incredibly awesome but it is not the same as kindness.

If you keep the end in mind – to please God and to see people ultimately succeed – you will realize that kindness is both a joy that you bring to work but also sometimes a loving firmness that leads to someone’s (and the team’s) success in the end.

The above is an overarching viewpoint of mine as it pertains to Christian leadership because it incorporates integrity, truth, passion and love.

How do you bring your Christian values into your work?

I try to operate by focusing in on the fruits of the Spirit as well as our company’s Core Values, which are also rooted in the Word.
Fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
Our Core Values: Integrity, Humility, Love, Fun, Courage and Passion.

Can you remember a specific experience where you relied on your Christian faith or values to lead you through a tough decision or important task?

Absolutely! We had 60 commercials associated with a huge media buy to produce in a very short window of time – only two weeks. Meanwhile, we had a family crisis which was devastating and, in a business founded by a family, we cried out to God and rallied the troops to help each other in every way. God came through in the family crisis and the business transaction in miraculous ways! It was so clear that only HE could have accomplished it all – and He did – so He gets ALL the glory!

Looking back, is there a time on your leadership journey where you perhaps felt uncertain about the future, but God had a bigger plan?

I love people so deeply. Meanwhile we are in an industry that is very fast-paced, high-demand, and constant; and starting a business can be very difficult too. This can really lead people to become tired and anxious along the way as the demands are high even as the excitement is high; and exhaustion heightens emotions. When you work with friends and family, this can be difficult because you can become afraid that crucial relationships will become marred.

I have often looked to the Lord and said, “God, I know you have a plan. You had a plan in us starting this. How do we do this well and keep relationships intact for the future?”

You don’t get to see into everyone’s minds or hearts – only God does. So, I am always looking to Him to help and to lead and to heal and to guide. Leaders, after all, are only human so we must rely on the Lord daily for success, not only in business, but more importantly in relationships.

How does working in a religious or secular setting change the way you lead as a Christian?

Honestly, it shouldn’t change how you lead as a Christian. Whether you are in a secular or a Christian setting, you will need to guard your heart and be sure that you look to Lord for your affirmation and for your answers. Obviously, though, working in a secular setting can pose different challenges.

For us, we work in a Christian-owned business but we are operating in the secular business world when we go out where, admittedly, people can be more cutting and painfully direct. So, it is so important that you go to the Lord with your wounds so that you do not get jaded; but you also need to stand up for yourself in an honest and respectful way so you respect yourself and show others where your boundaries are.

And, on the flipside, inside of a Christian organization, sometimes you must make the conversations more open and honest – versus concealing issues – for the health and success of the organization long-term.

So, there are different circumstances in either setting; but, ultimately, circumstances should not dictate your leadership style. When they do, I realize I get off path. It’s so crucial that I just keep my eyes focused on the Lord in either and work to operate according to His Word.

Who are your biggest role models as a leader?

I have been blessed to have had two awesome bosses who love the Lord and love people deeply: Dave Dawson, during my time at Lutheran Hour Ministries; and my boss, Terry Knoploh, the CEO of our corporation. They both are wise in business even as they love their people, yet they stand their ground in a respectful way. This shows me that being a people-pleaser can be dangerous ground. It’s important to love people but you need to serve God and think of the greater good of the organization.

On a personal level, my grandpa, Jim Jordan, who helped raise us, was perhaps the biggest role model in my life. Everyone looked up to him as, in the world’s standards, he had the education and experience that would cause them to do so; but more important was that he just served people consistently and treated everyone equally. He was not too important to change his neighbor’s lightbulb or take their trash out, or drive us back and forth to private school. What really stood out to me also was that he didn’t see race or economic status. He treated everyone with the same love and respect.

Is there a passage in scripture that resonates with you as a Christian woman in leadership? 

Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” This reminds me to be aware – not sticking my head in the sand – but to remain innocent and honest even yet.
What most prepared you to be a Christian leader in the workplace? 

I first worked in secular media where, frankly, I was appalled by some of the underground practices and how people were treated unethically just so goals were hit. It was when I went to Lutheran Hour Ministries where I really saw people love one another, which brought a healing and joy to me; but then this was coupled with the incredible opportunity to work for a very experienced businessman who also loved people, Dave Dawson. By working for Dave for almost eight years, I learned how to couple loving people with shrewd and honest business practices. That was an incredible opportunity and education. It was also a lot of fun too.

What challenges do you face as a Christian leader in your workplace?

It can be hard to balance loving people so deeply and of course wanting that from them in return with towing the line, meaning holding people accountable – both clients and employees – so that your teams hit your goals and your business turns a profit.

What is the most important piece of advice you would want to pass along to other Christian women in leadership?

Remember your identity. We live in a day and age where it can easily feel like you are as valuable as your last deal or last project. It can feel like we are only as valuable as what we can do for others. But I challenge other Christian women – and myself! – to remember who God has created you to be from birth and not lose yourself in trying to achieve and please others. Instead of working for approval, start by knowing that your identity is in the Lord; and, when you lean into Him, He will cause you to have favor and have others approve of you. And, when they do not approve of you, get closer to God so that you don’t change to please man, but continue to please God.


Meet Sarah and other passionate Christian leaders at the Gifted to Influence conference September 29 – October 1 in Milwaukee, WI. Click here for more information.

WLI Helps Tori Homann Grow In Life and Leadership Skills

TORI HOMANN

I was initially introduced to WLI in 2011 when I came up for the last day of the national conference to participate in worship via liturgical dance with my mom, sister and some other ladies from my church. I don’t remember very much from that experience, other than that I thought it was an amazing opportunity to get to share the Lord through dance – an art form that I love.

My second experience was at the national conference in 2014. The theme for the event was Christ-Connected Women with the theme verse being Hebrews 10:24 which says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” A friend of mine and I were blessed to be asked to speak about how the women attending the conference could relate to and foster relationships with younger women of our generation. I was so honored that women who were so much wiser and learned than me would want to sit down and listen to what I had to say. This was a humbling experience, but more than anything it was a learning experience. I was surrounded by SO MANY amazing women leaders. This is my favorite part of WLI: it brings the best female leaders in the Lutheran Church together in one place so that all can learn and grow from their experiences there at the conference and from the experiences of other women and speakers.

My most recent experience with WLI was receiving the call to be a member of the WLI marketing committee to assist with the Twitter and Facebook accounts (the username for both accounts is @wlicuw so check out our pages for upcoming events and other wonderful, encouraging content!). I have already learned a lot, just from listening to the other women discuss how the marketing committee plays into WLI’s bigger picture of educating, encouraging, and equipping women leaders for Christ. I know that in my time on the board I will gain valuable life skills and continue to grow in leadership.

I think Paul sums it up best in his letter to Philippi. He says “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:3-6). This is what WLI has been for me. The work that this group is doing is truly Kingdom work. God is working in amazing ways through this organization: touching lives and bringing gifts to fruition that many women never even knew they possessed.

Tori Homann

Hope College 2020

Marketing Committee Board Member

How to Share Jesus with People of Other Cultures

By Marilyn McClure

Imagine wandering around in a foreign country on a rainy night, not knowing where you are going, not even knowing how to speak the local language.

This is exactly what happened in 1970 when my husband Garry and I were sent to learn Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico, so that we could serve as missionaries in Guatemala. Our plane landed in Mexico City, and a pastor was to pick us up and take us to Cuernavaca, which is about 50 miles away. There was a mix-up in schedules, so we were told to take a taxi. We had no Spanish language skills, and our cab driver had very limited English. By the time we arrived in Cuernavaca, it was dark and raining. Our cab driver, who was unfamiliar with the town, asked directions to the pensión where we were to stay. People consistently provided directions, but none of them were correct. After about two hours of searching, we ended up at the edge of a field where cows were grazing. Finally, my husband spotted a car with a Michigan license plate in front of a house. He asked the taxi driver to stop. Garry went to the door, and explained our dilemma in English to the visiting U.S. family. They communicated to their family members who got in their car, asked us to follow them, and guided us to the street and house for which we had been searching. What a relief!

Our initial reaction to this experience was one of anger and frustration. However, later in analyzing why people had given us directions if they didn’t know where the place was, we were told that it would have been impolite for them to say that they didn’t know. In their culture, that would have been interpreted as not caring, especially on a rainy night when someone was asking them for help. So they gave us directions to the best of their abilities, even though they themselves were not quite sure of the location. They wanted to show us that they cared.

People who are from different cultures, but are now living in the United States, have similar experiences every day. In the past, multicultural populations were primarily found in border towns, coastal cities, or in pockets of large cities in our country. However, over the past few years we find people of different cultures scattered throughout the nation. Some are refugees; others may be from families that have immigrated to the U.S. to find a better life. Some may have been here over a generation, but they still identify with people from their own country or those who follow their cultural practices and speak their language.

The question is: How do we relate to people of other ethnicities and cultures and share the love of Jesus with them, especially if they don’t speak our language?

We need to be honest and accept that there are challenges when we try to communicate and work with people cross-culturally. Sometimes the cultural differences impede our ability to understand each other and work together. Because of the differences in our backgrounds, we cannot take for granted that we understand their behavior nor that they understand ours. Most of all, it is important not to judge other people’s words and actions until we understand the motivation behind them.

I could give a whole series of lectures on intercultural learning, awareness, and effectiveness, beginning with the importance of being aware and understanding our own culture first and how others see us. I could also talk about the danger of attributing stereotypes to people who come from a specific country or cultural group. All of that is important, and very helpful if we hope to be effective in interacting with people of another culture. Knowing their language adds to our ability to communicate with them, but sometimes God puts them in our lives before we have had a chance to do any preparatory study about culture and language.

When that happens, here are some simple tips:

BE SINCERE

When you want to befriend someone from another culture, be willing to invest the time and energy it takes to get to know each other. If you invite the person to join you in an activity at church, offer to pick her up and accompany her when you arrive at the event.

Introduce her to your friends, sit by her, so that she knows your intention is to be her friend.

PLAN ACTIVITIES THAT ARE NOT LANGUAGE-BOUND

If you are planning an event to which you will be inviting an ethnic group, it is a good idea to arrange activities that are not dependent on understanding the language. For instance, it will be easier for your ethnic friends to pack health kits for the homeless, which they can do alongside of you, than to expect them to go to a workshop or lecture that would require that they understand English well. If you are planning some time alone with your “friend,” a visit to the zoo where you can take your children along with you would be more desirable than going to a mystery movie.

HAVE CONVERSATION STARTERS IN MIND

If you are going to invite ethnic women to an event at your church, like a Mother’s Day tea, some good conversation starters might be talk about your childhood homes. You might talk about favorite holidays or celebrations in your respective countries. Ask questions like, “What makes you feel most proud when you think about your community or your country?” or “What were some of your favorite foods as a child?” Choose topics that allow everyone to contribute, regardless of where they grew up.

LEARN A LITTLE ABOUT THE CULTURE

Sometimes cultural stereotyping can be useful. For example, if you know that German people generally are punctual, you would want to make sure that you are on time when meeting a German friend. In Latino culture, that may not be the case, so you might need to be prepared to wait while your Latino friend finishes getting ready to go with you. However, whatever the culture, people are individuals, so it is important never to assume that an individual is exactly like the stereotype of her culture.

DON’T FORGET PRAYER

Always remember to pray for your new friend and ask God to bless your time together. If you sense there is confusion about something that is said or an activity taking place, ask the person if there is a problem, and assure her that you care about how she feels.

Each person, regardless of her ethnicity or culture, is a redeemed child of God. May your world be expanded, and may you find blessing in getting to know new friends from around the world!

About the author: Marilyn McClure is an educator by profession and, since 1969, has worked alongside her husband in Hispanic ministry in Guatemala and the US. In recent years, Marilyn worked with the Gospel Outreach Committee of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) to help establish the Heart to Heart Sisters program, that intentionally reaches out to women of all cultures to assure their participation in the mission of the LWML and the church-at-large. The McClure’s have three loving adult children and six wonderful grandchildren. Marilyn says that she is truly blessed to serve at this time on the Education Committee of WLI.

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Adult Learning Styles: What Do They Mean For Bible Study Leadership?

How do you learn best? By listening to others speak? By reading and writing? Through a hands-on activity? Each of us has a preferred method of learning (notice that it’s a preferred method and not the correct method) and that can create a paradox for us as Bible study leaders. You see, the way that is most comfortable and most effective for you as a learner is probably the way that you tend to teach. But not everyone learns that way. When you lead a Bible study, you may need to step outside of your comfort zone and deliberately look for ways to engage and reach those who learn differently than you do.

Think about how Jesus taught. He lectured in the Sermon on the Mount, first using conceptual ideas in the Beatitudes and then following that with some practical application. He told parables or stories that allowed others to find themselves in the story. He asked questions; He answered questions. He took people aside and explained things to them. He used teachable moments and familiar objects. Jesus definitely used a variety of teaching strategies! Not all good teachers use the same strategies and techniques, but good teachers – and Jesus was the perfect teacher – will always find a way to include a variety of teaching strategies.

There are several ways of categorizing learning styles, one of which recognizes four learning styles: Verbal, Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. Let’s think briefly about each one.

THE VERBAL LEARNER

The verbal learner is one who prefers reading, writing, and speaking. Asking good questions is one way to appeal to these learners. By ‘good’ I mean questions that are not necessarily yes/no questions or fill-in-the-blank questions. Ask questions that allow the learner to interpret or apply or discuss or share. For example, Jonah’s eventual sermon to Nineveh consisted of 5 Hebrew words. If you were asked to give a 5-8 word sermon, what would it be? Discussing a question in a small group can also engage the auditory learner as he listens to the discussion. Another strategy is to review the meaning of words used in the Bible and then look for how those words are used in a passage. There are three terms used to refer to God, for example, and each has a slightly different meaning. The book of Jonah uses all three terms so looking for when a different term is used can say something about the passage.

THE AUDITORY LEARNER

Another learning style is auditory – learning by hearing or by sound. Having something read aloud is good for this type of learner. Also, auditory learners tend to like to have things repeated so find a way to stress important points in a study in different ways. Another strategy is to have people tell the story or a section of Scripture to a partner in their own words. While this gets at auditory learning, it has another effect in helping people feel comfortable sharing the Bible in their own words. Music is another powerful strategy for some auditory learners – use music to set the mood, sing a song related to the study, ask someone to write a song. For a study of the book of Jonah, I found a Jonah song on the web with a seafarer kind of lilt that I played at the beginning of one class and by the end of the song, most of the class was singing along on the chorus and having a good time.

THE VISUAL LEARNER

Clearly the visual learner needs to be able to see something – a map, a picture, a chart, etc. I like to use photos I find on the web, especially when it gives the class an opportunity to point out how the photo is inconsistent with the Bible story itself.  Another way to reach the visual learner is to ask the class to close their eyes and picture the story or setting in their minds. Visual learners also tend to like to draw as they are learning so you could ask them to draw something about the lesson. In teaching Jonah, I asked the class to use a Venn diagram (two circles that partially overlap) to describe how the sailors and Jonah differed (the two non-overlapping parts of the circles) and how they were alike (the overlapping part). In another class, I asked the class to work in small groups and design a banner that depicted Jesus as healer.

THE KINESTHETIC LEARNER

The last type is the kinesthetic learner or physical learner. These are the ones who learn through experience or by doing things. They tend to learn best by role playing or playing games or touching and feeling objects. In fact, statistics tell us that we learn 15% of what we hear, 35% of what we read, 50% of what we see, and 90% of what we do. You can include objects related to the lesson that allow the students to do something – touch, smell, taste. Be aware, though, that objects lessons can be overused so less is more. You might find that some adults might feel a little silly with object lessons, depending on what you ask them to do or if they are new to the group. So you might want to wait until you sense the group is comfortable before you include an object. If there is a word or symbol that will capture the teaching point, you could have the class make something, even if it’s with clay or a pipe cleaner. Another example is if the lesson is about casting stones, like the story of the woman caught in adultery. Ask each person to hold a stone while the story is read.

Remember that not everyone learns the way you do. Follow Jesus’ example–take the risk—and use a variety of teaching strategies to reach the greatest number of students so they can apply the text to their lives. God will bless your efforts!

Karen Soeken is a wife, mother of two, and grandmother of 6. She retired in 2008 after a career teaching research and statistics courses at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and is now Professor Emeritus. In her congregation, she teaches adult Bible study classes. Karen is also involved in LWML, having served as District President and Planner at the national level. Currently she serves on the Lutheran Hour Ministries Foundation Board and the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Board of Directors. In her spare time, Karen enjoys working on her family history.

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.