Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mutual Expectations

As ministry overseers we are often quite adept at letting the team members we lead know what we expect from them.  But the very term “team” will be a misnomer if we do not “mutually” understand. 

Latinos are highly relational and will go to great lengths to avoid conflict or confrontation. If a Latino coworker does not understand some aspect of his/her work, no doubt a problem will arise. Why? The Latino’s fear of a damaged relationship will often cause him to continue on, as is, with a strong hope that “things will get better.”  He may or may not know “what” is wrong, but just senses something is not right.  Anglo overseers will often become frustrated and question, “Why are those Latinos like that?”  This is an excellent question—and one that should be honestly answered.

The reality is that each cultural grouping will be guided by its values.  Decisions, plans and energy will be attuned to try to achieve what is most valued.  An example of this could be that an Anglo, supervising church leader may wonder why the monthly statistical report for attendance and offerings is not turned in very faithfully.  How could something so simple and basic be ignored and neglected by the Latino pastor?

As Anglos, we highly value organizational structures and systems.  The feeling is that if everyone knows the rules and plays by them, we will get along just fine.  The reality is this: the concept of structures, systems and rules seems quite abstract, and even cold and sterile to the Latino pastor.  What kind of friendship comes from a spreadsheet?  Is it so important to record and report exactly how many people attended each service?  The Latino is far more interested in the actual interaction he has with those who attend.  Is it quantity that is so important to report? Or is the quality of what we did together the more important element?

It’s a fact that both the systems and the people who are guided by those systems are important.  They are interactive.  As an example, the Anglo overseer knows that come year’s end, next year’s budget will have to be created around the statistical measurements of the current year.  His sincere desire is to serve the Latino congregation by supporting it within the larger context of all the affiliated congregations, both Hispanic and all others.  But many times, in our rush to create a start-up ministry, we overlook the importance of clearly communicating what we expect of those who serve on our team.  The Latino pastor needs to understand “why” the overseer needs the statistical information, and for what purpose it will be used.  As he comes to understand that it will be to his benefit to turn in the report, there will be greater incentive to do so.  Over time, the practice will become part of his/her normal routine. 
The Latino pastor must learn to ask the questions that he/she wonders about (without fearing repercussions) and the Anglo overseer must take the time necessary to be more relational in his/her response. Remember, the time investment made by the Anglo overseer is a high-value interaction for the Latino.   

Communication is essential to any relationship.  But we often forget to emphasize that clarity in communication is a critical element, in order for the communication to be effective.  It is not enough to speak, announce, transmit, email or write.  It is not enough to just say what you mean—the hearer must truly understand what you mean (and value it) in order to have mutual understanding.

Communicate your expectations then have the listener repeat them back to you.  Clarify anything that is not understood.  Then have the other party express his/her expectation.  Do this as many times as you need to, to make sure all is well understood by both of you.

An upper-level area supervisor once told me, “I appointed him (a Latino pastor) but I have never really had a meaningful conversation with him because he only speaks Spanish.”  In this case, the language barrier made mutual understanding impossible.  This is clearly a no-win situation. Do whatever is necessary (have a capable translator) to make clear, two-way communication happen. Then both of you will understand what is expected.

Until the next time,

Tom Hines
Hispanic Ministry Consulting
Global Partners

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Shifting Demographic Sands

One of the biggest frustrations for Hispanic pastors is the “revolving door” effect of ever-shifting Hispanic demographics. This “easy come, easy go” syndrome is common among Latino immigrant populations.  We know that longevity and consistency in ministry are valuable assets that lend much stability and strengthen influence.  Unfortunately, many Hispanic church pastors have to constantly “swim upstream” to try to overcome the instability of an ever-moving church population.

Why does this happen? The first big factor is economics.  To survive financially, one must find work.  For decades many Hispanics have engaged in farm labor jobs that follow the agricultural harvesting seasons.  They are often referred to in our stereotypical jargon as “migrant workers.”  And those workers live in “migrant camps”, makeshift and barely-livable communal housing they can afford until they move on to the next harvest fields. Their whole lives and existence revolve around moving from job to job, just to survive.

Some workers are fortunate enough to land a decent-paying hourly-wage job.  However, if the employee has lower-than-average education and skill qualifications, many of these jobs are so labor-intensive, and are carried out in such harsh conditions, that physical exhaustion forces the worker to immediately look for different employment, even if that means moving cross-country.  It is not unusual for a Hispanic church pastor to ask about a family who didn’t show up for a church service as usual, only to find that the absent family is permanently gone, without a word or trace of where they have gone.

For the undocumented, the constant fear of being “caught” by U.S. Immigration and naturalization services is very real.  If one does not have proper documentation and work permits, something as simple as a traffic ticket can start a process that could lead to deportation.  If things get too “hot” undocumented Hispanics (the minority) may feel obligated out of fear, to flee to avoid prosecution or deportation.

In Anglo congregations it is common practice to use a “connection card” which newcomers are asked to fill out with their personal contact information and then drop in the offering plate.  The pastor can use it to contact the new family to welcome them or to visit them in their home. This data is particularly important when trying to integrate new families into small group settings, and for quickly cultivating a sense of belonging.  However, many Hispanics who are undocumented will be very reluctant to give any traceable information to any church or group where deep trust has not yet been established.  Again, when that family disappears from services for a few Sundays, the pastor often has no way to contact them because the address and telephone information was false or just never came in to begin with.  Rather regular Hispanic attenders sometimes just vanish—and no one knows where to find them.

A few weeks ago, a young pastor of a small Hispanic congregation with a core of about 40 people told me that he absolutely has to make at least ten new contacts each week just to maintain the church’s attendance at an even level.  He explained that if he did not do so, the church would literally close operations if four to five weeks.  Needless to say, this is a tremendous pressure point for this caring pastor, or for anyone who has concerns about the continued health of the Hispanic congregation.

All of these frustration factors are exponentially multiplied when one confronts the fact that the shifting demographic factor that is so destabilizing, is also totally beyond his control. Although the longer a Hispanic immigrant remains in the USA the more he tends to adapt and adjust, reality tells us that as long as there are new waves of incoming immigrants, this shifting demographic sand will remain a nagging challenge.

It is very important to realize that this constantly-changing population phenomenon varies greatly from city to city and from region to region.  In a recent visit to a Hispanic church in Illinois, the pastor told me that, although there is not a great influx of new Hispanic families being drawn to his city, neither is there an exodus.  The actual population numbers are remaining fairly steady.  That congregation (which was about 14 years old at the time of my visit) has an average attendance of about three hundred. It has enjoyed steady growth, no doubt in part, due to the demographic stability of the area’s population. This makes the “shifting sand factor” a lesser challenge.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Study the demographics of the specific area where you are involved. Try to see any trends regarding the rate of demographic shift. This will help you determine if the area is becoming more stable or is still in a “shifting” mode, and to what degree.

The Pew Research website is a great source for demographic data.  You can find it at www.pewhispanic.org

Until next time,

Tom Hines

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Latino Family Ties

                                  A MINISTRY OF GLOBAL PARTNERS

The most basic unit of civilization from the beginning of time has 
been the family. It gives global humanity its form and order. Common North American, Judeo-Christian thinking leads us to a concept of a very autonomous family-unit. We call it the “nuclear” family. For most of us, “family” in its most basic format is Dad, Mom and the children.  One family under one roof.  There are many cases, of course, where an aging parent spends their later days cared for by an adult son or daughter.  Grown children often spend a few of their single years following college graduation back at home with parents.  But in general, our common thinking portrays an image of a single family in a single dwelling.

Latino families, however, think quite differently. They work hard to keep the family together. Anglos are often shocked to find three generations or more living under the same roof—and the amazing thing is, they do it in relative harmony.  For the Latino, it is considered “honoring your father and mother” to allow them to live out their final days (or as soon as they are widowed) in a son or daughter’s home.   Due to financial pressures that often cause both parents to work, many Hispanic children are primarily reared by a grandparent. And that would be considered quite normal.  It just makes sense to the Latino family to have a trustworthy person, who will always be home, loving and caring for their children until they get home from work.

So how do Latino family concepts differ from those of the North American Anglo?
·        Strength in numbers. When chores can be spread around between ten or twelve people it makes housekeeping faster and less of a burden for everyone.
·        Sharing.  Having much less material wealth will often cause needy people to pool any resources they have with what the others have, in order to survive or live better.  Well-to-do families likewise have a more communal thinking pattern.  Latinos are much more given to readily sharing with each other than are their North American counterparts. 
·        Perspective.  Just as Anglos pride themselves in being self-sufficient enough to maintain a stand-alone one-family home, Latinos enjoy the social closeness of multi-family households.  Many Hispanics feel the North American home setting to be somewhat cold, lonely or isolating. The idea that a mature couple, with no children at home, would feel a need to live in a three or four-bedroom house, can be confusing, if not amusing to a Latino.
·        Size.  Although economic realities of the 21st century have caused some Latino families to have fewer children than they did several decades ago, you can still expect them to be larger than the average Anglo family.  Many, due to their Catholic tradition, will not find any birth control method acceptable. Most Latina women hold the joy of motherhood as their strongest desire in life. It is inconceivable to most Latina women to think someone would be willing to deny themselves such natural fulfillment for the purpose of pursuing a career, or to be able to divide family income dollars among fewer family members.

For those of us who are Anglo, this family concept can catch us off guard or put us in an awkward situation.  For example, we might invite the Garcia family over for dinner knowing the couple has four children. The table is set for our family plus the six Garcias.  When the doorbell rings and we welcome the invited guests, we may be shocked to see far more people getting out of that mini-van than we thought we invited!  It’s Mom and Dad Garcia, Grandma Garcia, the four young children, two older married children who come with their spouses, and the Garcia’s three grandchildren.  What happened?  How did six expected guests suddenly turn into fourteen?—and without any prior notice! What happened is that you invited “the Garcia family.” You were thinking of the Garcias’ nuclear family—six people.  But to them, the “Garcia family” includes everybody in their household--all fourteen of them.  They wouldn’t see any reason you would invite the “family” and then only expect a few of the chosen. It would be very difficult for the six Garcia family members to just drive off and leave the others at home—how rude and unfair! And they would probably think it a bit disrespectful and unkind to you, not bring everyone, so you could enjoy the company of all.

Latino families are larger and more close-knit than Anglo families.  And overlapping generations stay together longer—sometimes permanently.

What you need to know: When dealing with Latinos, make sure any number-sensitive situations like invitations to dinner, paid admissions to events, or the number of actual people who will be living in church-owned housing, are very clearly stated and fully understood on the part of all involved.  As Holiday Inn used to say, “The best surprise, is no surprise at all.”

Until next time,


Monday, February 15, 2016

Hispanic Ministry Consulting Is Here!

My name is Tom Hines and I have been serving as a missionary in Latin America for the past 36 years.

In a recent gathering of  North American church leaders, the top-level leader said these words, "It used to be that we went to the mission field--now the mission field is coming to us.!" It was in reference to the large number of immigrants now living in the United States--most being Hispanic.

What is your church or ministry doing to reach out to this sector of our society?

Remember the three monkeys--Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil?  Their coping strategy was to cover their ears, their mouths and their eyes, and just pretend that no evil exists.

Our modern USA church response has been similar in many instances.  Because we often do not know what to do, we choose to do nothing.  We would rather choose to do the things we feel we are good at, and leave the unknown alone.

The wave of Hispanic immigrants into the USA has exploded and has changed our landscape. Because we feel unprepared to deal with this new challenge, we often hide from it, or choose to wait it out and see what will happen.  All the while missing a great opportunity.

When we meet a new challenge our first tendency is to try to simplify it and take control. We often strike out on an action plan without ever knowing what the real deep issues are. Our passion to help often outruns our willingness to take the time to understand another's way of thinking.  We make mistakes that are costly in time, energy, resources, and especially in souls.

Let's look at the question of cultural complexity.  Many churches have started Hispanic ministries by desperately choosing any pastor or leader who speaks Spanish and plugging them in,  That seems to be about as far as some understanding goes.  But lumping all Hispanics together in a category where their only distinction is their language is far off course.  Here's why.

When a missionary goes to a Latin American country, he/she learns Spanish and serves in one primary culture.  It is challenging, but far less complex than our North American Hispanic reality.

When a Hispanic ministry is started in the USA or Canada, any congregation of 50 or more will likely have people from 10 to 15 different countries. Customs and traditions around Central and South America vary greatly.  This, combined with the immigrant's very common desire to "hang on" to his culture, can cause lots of distress and fragmentation in a new congregation.  Combine that with the fact that the culture mix will not be even.  Half or more will likely be Mexican. Puerto Ricans and Cubans are often strongly represented.  The others are scattered among the total.

But wait, only 12 million of the 50 million Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. (The ones we hear about most in the news.) The other 38 million are residents and citizens of the USA and Canada. You can add in another complicating factor!

Now, back to the common misconception that all Hispanics can be put in the "Spanish" box. The dialects of Spanish vary from country to country.  And most Hispanics are bilingual--Spanish and English.  To the shock of some Anglos, there are many Hispanics who speak no Spanish at all.

The key to being ready for these challenges in Hispanic ministry is to get good advice BEFORE you begin.  Hispanic Ministries Consulting was launched in 2015 to help churches and groups of churches meet the Hispanic opportunity wave in a healthy way.

Let me help you gear up for Hispanic ministry by training and assisting your people to revitalize existing churches and plant new healthy, growing ones.

Contact me through my email:  tom@wesleyana.org

Until the next time--blessings,

Tom Hines
Global Partners
Hispanic Ministry Consulting