CULTURAL ADAPTERS & A exercise to help you identify consonant, selective and dissonant adapters.

Commentary by Prof. B.: Recently a student shared a case study which is not too dissimilar to what many of my students and colleagues have experienced. This student created an informal fallacy by equating generational age to culture. Here is the LEAD 600 student’s case study followed by an exercise  the reader can utilize to identify the consonant, selective and dissonant adapters in the story.

Student: You’ve presented a particularly intriguing ethical dilemma. You (another student) said, “Based upon research from Barna, more than ¾ of Christians come to faith before they are 21 years old.” However, you also stated, “The older worship leader should have equal opportunity to a worship position.” Therein lies the dilemma. Equality has forever been a problem in society. In his classic book on poverty and racism, Howard Thurmon closed a chapter with the following words: “Instead of relation between the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity.” In a conversation about church strategy and demographics, the desire to hire a younger person makes complete sense. However, in a conversation about equality and human dignity, the reduction of possibility for an older candidate is an offense. Of course, Thurmon is referring to serious issues like the racism of the 40’s and 50’s. However, from a broad ethical perspective, his statement remains true and useful.”

I responded:  I appreciate that you stated, “In a conversation about church strategy and demographics, the desire to hire a younger person makes complete sense.  However, in a conversation about equality and human dignity, the reduction of possibility for an older candidate is an offense.”

I think the key is to not always equate age with culture. Doing su could be an informal fallacy. By that I mean, your point seems to be that the worship leader should relate to the age of those people who make a decision for Christ. However as we know, being part of an age demarcation, i.e. generation, does not necessarily mean they are part of that culture. There are many people who live and assimilate into a dissimilar culture from which they’ve been raised. The culture in which most people have been raised is age specific. But we all know people who have been raised in one culture and yet relate to another… even assimilate into it.

To understand this phenomena is to understand the difference between “consonant, selective and dissonant adapters.” Charles Kraft gives an introduction to this phenomena in his classic, “Christianity in Culture: A Study of Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective” (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), p. 113.

Kraft points out there are three types of adapters:

1) Dissonant adapters adapt very little to another culture because they’re very proud of their existing culture. They can become xenophobic and can usually only be reached by indigenous art forms such as music, liturgy and language.

2) Selective adapters adapting some areas but like to preserve the traditions of their culture. in my experience, they are often found in churches that offer blended services. They enjoy multiple cultures but sometimes are disingenuous: seeking to push other dissonant adapters to adapt beyond the comfort level of the dissonant adapters. This has been called the “creator complex,” e.g. to make over others in the image of our culture or the dominant culture. Wagner describes this as “Deep in the heart of man (sic), even in missionaries, lurks that ‘creator complex’ by which he (sic) delights in making other people over in his (sic) own image.” Wagner, C. P. (1979). “Our kind of people: The ethical dimensions of church growth in America,” John Knox Press, p. 76.

3) Consonant adapters adapt to a different culture previous culture and hold on very little to their previous culture.

There is a further an explanation of this in “The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart,” The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013, pp. 69-70) https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/cultural-adapters-3-types-consonant-selective-dissonant/

Now, knowing those missiological terms, how would you analyze the players in this example? The purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness to anthropological in sociological dynamics in our staffing, volunteerism and leadership.