Assessing Intercultural Competence

Date posted: Friday 09 July 2021

With widespread interest in anti-racism initiatives amplified by the cataclysmic response to the killing of George Floyd, many individuals and congregations have been seeking ways to better understand and address racism. Some have instituted book discussions and film recommendations, learning cohorts and anti-racism training. Click here for information about the synod’s own “Road Toward Racial Justice” initiative.


A tool that several congregations are finding helpful is the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), which assesses intercultural competence in organizations and individuals. While effective for helping to frame conversations around race, more broadly the IDI measures skills and mindsets for navigating differences with the goal of improving people’s intercultural competence. The IDI locates participants along a continuum, ranging from denial (inability to see deeper cultural trends or world views) at one end up to adaptation (ability to adapt to whatever culture they’re in) on the other end of the spectrum. It also helps individuals and organizations identify the gap that often exists between their intentions and the actual impact they are having on their neighbors and the world around them.


Here are four SPAS congregations that have recently engaged the IDI to help them clarify their ministry:


Trinity, Stillwater

With the goal of understanding the lens its members bring to issues of white privilege and race, Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater brought in Karen Gieseke, an IDI Qualified Administrator and Consultant. She was tasked with helping the church council, staff, mission ministry team and racial justice team gain a basic understanding of where the congregation is at so they could choose opportunities for learning and growth. With a group of about 30 participants, Karen led an introductory session, met one-on-one with each participant and then led group sessions with each team.


Lead Pastor Chris Bellefeuille said, “By and large, folks have found it both challenging and illuminating. It builds self-compassion and compassion for others. We feel better able to walk with the congregation through our collective growth.”


Pastor Chris finds following up to be the most challenging part of the work: having a plan and working the plan, with continuing encouragement by Karen. “We are doing racial autobiographies as our council devotion which is really powerful and trust building. We are bringing the new perspectives to all of our work: what vendors we are using, what hiring decisions we might make, are we naming the whiteness of our church, using music/liturgy/readings that reflect another point of view. When we do mission work are we doing accompaniment and are we able to see how racism has created pockets of need in our community?”


“The best part of the IDI is that when a person goes through it, that person can no longer deny the perspective they bring and why it might be challenging or getting in the way of their own growth,” Pastor Chris added. “Doing it as a team means we can invite others to share the learning experiences we are exploring.”


Grace, Apple Valley

Grace Lutheran in Apple Valley brought in a team from the Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement to lead its IDI efforts: the Rev. Kelly Chatman, Richard Webb, Dan Bielenberg and Kelly Schumacher Fuller. Participating from the congregation were members of the staff, church council and racial justice team, as well as the adult ministries team, which totaled more than 30 people. Senior Pastor Deb Stehlin says it’s important to get clear about “the why,” calling it slow and important work. She says the “why” is because people are dying as a result of racism, because we follow Jesus, and because witness to Jesus is at stake.


With the pandemic in full eruption, the congregation turned to Zoom to introduce the IDI. Individual and group debriefings followed with participants generating their own personal development plans. They were all paired with an “accountabila-buddy” for conversation once a month. Future plans call for a congregation-wide developmental opportunity.


Like others, the Grace leaders expected to find themselves on the IDI continuum at “acceptance,” but they were actually pegged at “minimization.” Pastor Deb’s response? “The results are an invitation to us!” The IDI process is an investment for the congregation, made possible with the addition of a racial justice line to the 2021 budget. “A budget is just a statement of your values, right?” notes Pastor Deb, whose first day of call at Grace coincided with the pandemic shut-down of the state.


“We are delighted for the eagerness of our people to begin this work, even during a pandemic,” she said. “I can’t imagine ever ending this effort. It’s how we witness to Jesus Christ.”


Incarnation, Shoreview

The Rev. Peter Harrits is the director of the synod’s Bega Kwa Bega companion partnership with Tanzania and an assistant to the bishop. Peter kicked off the IDI assessment as a half-day retreat for program staff and the congregational council at Incarnation in Shoreview. Besides the composite results for the organization, a few individuals pursued a one-on-one meeting with Peter to obtain individual results and an improvement plan with coaching. A second round with Peter brought in more lay leaders and the remaining staff. Then, Pastor Jenny Sung shared the experiences of St. Andrew’s in Mahtomedi using the IDI primarily as a tool to further racial equity progress.


Becky Benson, Incarnation’s director of engagement and service, said, “Peter presents a grace-filled and yet compelling case for navigating differences well that make a difference. Some Incarnation participants in the IDI were a bit leery about what they would hear based on previous experiences of the IDI in work settings which were experienced as shaming. Every person with that apprehension, experienced something different with Peter and were inspired by the end of our time together.”


The important follow-up work is still being assessed, although the leadership team that manages the congregation’s partnership with two parishes in Tanzania, has committed to making IDI conversations part of each monthly meetings. “One of those team members has been utilizing her individual IDI data for her own development for the last number of years and has agreed to coach/mentor Incarnation's Tanzania Action Group,” Benson said. “Some within Incarnation would like to use our IDI data throughout more ministry; however, obtaining buy-in from leaders of ministry areas seems like a critical element before doing too much planning.”


Faith, Forest Lake

Faith in Forest Lake used the IDI as a way to grow in its justice work through education, says Deacon Nina Joygaard. The opportunity was offered to anyone who wanted to participate; nearly 40 individuals signed up, including clergy, staff and volunteers encompassing children, music and prayer ministries. Young adults up through people in their 80s did the online assessment.


The congregation had been exploring a variety of ways to address racism, including service, education, advocacy and community organizing. “We discerned that education and advocacy were key growth areas for us at this time. Our leadership and our inclusion and racial equity team brought the IDI in order to learn and grow in our justice work,” Deacon Nina said.


The synod’s Rev. Peter Harrits led two online sessions for Faith. The first focused on all the differences that make a difference in our world. It included small group conversations about cultures, understandings, and diversity within the congregation’s context. Next, each participant did the online IDI assessment on their own. Then they re-gathered as Peter interpreted the scores from our congregation in light of the IDI spectrum, growth possibilities, and next steps for intercultural development.


Deacon Nina said, “It was enlightening to do the process from an organizational perspective and think about the breadth of worldviews, life experiences, and intersectionality represented within this Body of Christ... and also see where we are as a distinct organization within the breadth of our people. The small group conversations and discussion starters were provocative and challenged our thinking in wonderful ways.” She added, “We see this as a baseline and a tool to help us, as a congregation, in our growth of truly living out of vision to ‘Be the body of Christ: welcoming all, inspired by God, and sent out to live our Faith.’"


“For us, participating in the IDI was the GPS tool to let us know where we are actually starting from. The IDI has given us insights as to the landmarks, challenges and growth that we can expect as we travel this road together,” Deacon Nina said.


Learn More


If you’d like to know more about the IDI assessment tool and how it might accompany your congregation’s ministry, contact Peter Harrits in the synod office at 651-224-4313 or He can help you make the right connection for your situation.


Read more about the synod's partnership with the IDI.