Cultural Relativism and the Rebel named Jesus
Throughout the Gospels Jesus challenges the cultural and religious norms of the day while preparing His followers for the work to be done after His departure. He was constantly pressing against cultural relativism of the religious leaders which argues that “what the tribe, nation, social unit says is valuable is valuable” (Sire, 1997, p 87). The religious leaders approach to their culture had no room for a rebel like Jesus. They acted as if Jesus was going to “upset [their] social cohesiveness and jeopardize [their] cultural survival” (Sire, p 87). One could argue that the religious leaders felt threatened by Jesus and were simply in a power struggle to preserve their moral values. Because Jesus knew of this power struggle, he would have needed to provide a final set of instructions to the disciples before his departure. In Luke 24:44-49 we find the farewell discourse in which Jesus provides the summation of his work in the form of a strategic plan for the early Christian Church.
49 “Now He said to them, These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 “You are witnesses of these things. 49 “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (NASB, 2000).
Jesus would have known that His plan would require the disciples to break out of their comfort zone and they would need to be prepared to go “to all the nations” starting with Jerusalem and working their way outward to the entire world. Their mission was “to seek and save all the lost” (Andres, 2000, p 426). Strategically, Jesus provided the disciples with all of the steps necessary to accomplish this specific goal. Jesus told them to go and “wait for the power from the Spirit with prayer, joy and worship” (Andres, 2000, p 426). It is noted that from the very beginning, “the message of Jesus Christ has sent people into the world, not kept them cloistered away from the world” (Andres, 2000, p 426). One must note that at the time of Jesus final discourse the dominant culture was still in conflict with the followers of Jesus Christ. The dominant culture of the religious leaders presented “a system of attitudes, values, dispositions and norms […]supported by social structures vested with power to impose its goals on [the] people in a significantly broad territorial region” (Robbins, 1996, p 86). Much of the discourse of the early church was subculture rhetoric, which appeared to imitate “the attitudes, values, disposition and norms of dominant culture rhetoric” (Robbins, 1996, p 86). One could argue that the religious leaders saw the Christian church as a new cultural system imposing itself over the “law” and replacing the law with a new process of doing things. (Robbins, 1996, p 86). Sire (1997) argues that this process “upset social cohesiveness and jeopardize cultural survival” (p 87).
Emergent Strategy and the Process of Planning
One could look at the emerging church and the conflict it produces as an example of how contemporary organizations could handle emerging strategies within conflict. One could note that an emergent strategy will emphasize learning and “coming to understanding through the taking of actions” (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel, 1998, p 189). Mintzberg, et.al. (1998) argue that the “concept of emergent strategy […] opens the door to strategic learning, because it acknowledges the organizations capacity to experiment” (p 189). The emerging church could be seen as a great experiment, which required a process of strategic thinking and planning. de Kluyver and Pearce II (2009) state that the “process of crafting a strategy can be organized around three key questions: Where are we now-? Where do we go? and How do we get there?” (p 19). If one examines the position of the early Christian church, one would note that the church was under the Law of Moses and the authority of the religious leaders. The strategy of the emerging church went against the status quo, as the disciples were to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ encouraging people to repent and be baptized. The church got there by first waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and aid them and then they were to go and preach the gospel. de Kluyver and Pearce II (2009) remind us that each “question defines a part of the process and suggests different types of analyses and evaluations [and] shows that the components of a strategic analysis overlap, and that feedback loops are an integral part of the process” (p 19).
Strategically when one asks where are we now? they typically look at the process “concerned with assessing the current state of the business or the company as a whole” (de Kluyver and Pearce II, 2009, p 19). The question examines such things as the organizational mission and the long-term vision or the organization. Jesus presented to the disciples an organizational mission and vision that was clear and concise – Go into all the world and make disciples. This question would additionally consider the cultural context in which the organization would operate. Would there be a culture push-back or acceptance of the plan. Once it is determined where we are now the organization can turn its attention to addressing the questions where do we go from here.
Where do we go from here questions are “designed to generate and explore strategic alternatives based on the answers obtained to the first questions [where are we now]” (de Kluyver and Pearce II, 2009, p 19). Jesus final discourse offered a two-step process of where do we go from here; wait for the Holy Spirit and then go into all the world and make disciples. Jesus would have understood that there would be great conflict from the religious leaders of the day. Because of such conflict, the disciples would have had to consider How do we get there from here knowing that they would likely meet great resistance. As it relates to the disciples, the resistance would arrive from the religious leaders.
In asking How do we get there, one will enter into the process of strategic thinking which requires focusing on “how to achieve the desired objectives” (de Kluyver and Pearce II, 2009, p 21). Jesus and then later the disciples would have to consider “key success factors associated with successfully implementing the chosen strategy” (de Kluyver and Pearce II, 2009, p 21). In asking how we get there, we explore the journey portion of the process. Hughes and Beatty (2005) state that Making the journey requires and assessment of how “well are your tactics integrated with your strategy” (p 208). The journey includes an emphasis on long-term as well as short-term outcomes.
The final portion of an emerging strategic plan would entail a continual review of the organizational process. While one could argue that the scripture does not speak to the specifics of this process, one can conclude that the Holy Spirit plays a part in the disciples’ continual assessment and realignment. The Checking our progress process implies that the organization “use some kind of balanced scorecard to assess organizational performance” (Hughes and Beatty, 2005, p 208). One would need a metric by which to measure the performance of the plan. In the case of the disciples, they would check their progress by the number of conversions to Christianity and the number of countries in which the movement had expanded. One would need to ask, “How do you assess your progress in developing future capability (Hughes and Beatty, 2005, p 209).
The process of declaring ones strategic intent requires consideration of cultural relativism as well as potential cultural conflict. Jesus understood this premise when he left the disciples with a specific plan to go and make disciples of the world. We have learned that the strategic process requires a review of some basic probing questions: Where are we now? Where do we go? and How do we get there?” Exploring the answers to these basic questions helps the leader develop a better thought-out and effective long-term plan. This concludes with a review of the plan to assess the strategy for strengths and weaknesses. One will note that the process of strategic intent is a continual process of consideration and adjustment. One will note that Jesus gave very specific instructions with no options for deviations. One could argue that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to act as the guide to help maneuver through the strategy changes required as the disciples acted on the plan. The role of the organizations leadership is to continually evaluate and adjust as needed. This requires continual evaluation and adjustment of the plan as needed. It is through the adherence of this process that an organization can achieve greater success.
Sire, James W. (1997). The Universe Next Door. Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press
Life Application Study Bible. New Living Translation (12nd ed.).(2004). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, Publishers, Inc.
Andres, Max (2000). Holman New Testament Commentary of Luke. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.
Robbins, Vernon K. (1996). Exploring the Texture of Texts. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press
Mintzberg, H., Ahlstrand, B., and Lampel, J. (1998). Strategy Safari – A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management. New York, NY: Free Press
de Kluyver, Cornelis A. And Pearce II, John A. (2009). Strategy. A View from the Top. Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Hughes, Richard L. And Beatty, Katherine Colarelli (2005). Becoming a Strategic Leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Philip A Foster, MA is a professional life and leadership coach with Maximum Change Inc.
He works with leaders to develop their purpose, life balance and achieve greater success. Encouraging leaders to take active and consistent steps toward reaching goals and objectives. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.