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Jan Paron, PhD | July 17, 2021

Cultural Iceberg Model

When an iceberg floats on water, ten percent rises above the surface visible to the naked eye while the remaining ninety percent hides submerged below sea level. Without sonar equipment, the seafarer cannot realize the iceberg’s girth or understand its nature. Culture resembles an iceberg in appearance, dimension, and attributes. Edward Hall in his seminal work Beyond Culture (1976)[1] likened a society’s culture to an iceberg with some aspects visible above the water and larger hidden beneath the surface. He called the external aspects of the cultural iceberg as surface culture and the internal as hidden culture (Figure 1.1). Based on the premises of Hall’s surface and hidden cultures, a cultural landscape map of a given population guides the ministry practitioner across the wide-ranging effects of the two composite cultures.

Figure 1.1

Hall’s Cultural Landscape Model

External: Surface Culture

The external or surface part of culture lies at the iceberg tip. When first engaging with a particular culture, one experiences only the surface ten percent of a given culture. These characteristics demonstrate the surface level behaviors a culture exhibits—the see, hear, and touch behaviors and rules group membership teach and reinforce in their culture. A given culture may change expectations for behavior over time, i.e., generation to generation. Further, a person may culture surf adapting to the culture at hand.)

One acquires cultural behaviors and rules through explicit[2] learning. Members of a given people group consciously learn rules and customs within the culture through experiences from others within the group. Surface-level behaviors consist of habitual patterns that manifest in a group’s daily culture (Kraft, 2008). Regardless of the societal culture, a person gains knowledge of surface culture consciously and purposely. 

People often misjudge a culture, whether an individual or collective, by making assumptions the visible ten percent defines the totality of a culture. However, the sum of a culture’s parts equals a more developed framework. To grasp a culture in totality, one also must investigate its hidden dimensions. Culture does not remain static nonetheless since individuals and people groups change, thereby culture continually fluxes. When cultures and societies interact, each mutually influences the other. Cultures leave their distinct flavor in a population, changing its overall dynamics. Thus, while a person gains a more holistic understanding by learning cultural surface and hidden dimensions, one constantly must interpret it through the lens of change.

Internal: Hidden Culture (Also Called Deep)

The internal culture (hidden or deep culture) lies below the surface of a society comprising ninety percent of culture. It undergirds external behaviors. These encompass norms for rituals, language, roles, ideologies, philosophies, values, tastes, attitudes, desires, assumptions, and myths. The most hidden dimension of culture comprises one’s worldview. Kraft (2008) defines worldview as “the totality of the culturally structured images and assumptions in terms of which a people both perceive and respond to reality.”[3] Most important, worldview structures culture’s deepest level with presuppositions and mental images upon which people base their lives. Since cultural worldview remains hidden, one cannot observe it. Hidden dimensions of culture occur through implicit learning. Worldview forms unwritten, usually invisible norms for behavior that guide appropriate or inappropriate behaviors expected for that culture.

Schein (2008) defined the mechanics of culture as the “shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptations and internal integration…to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”[4] While cultures explicitly teach rules for engaging life, an individual’s personal hidden dimensions of culture determines how one integrates external adaptations with internal integration. The aggregate emotional components of hidden dimensions drive how one responds to a culture’s dos and don’ts. Internal culture found below the surface runs unconsciously on subjective knowledge.

Cultural Landscape Mapping

Cultural landscape mapping provides a neutral analysis of an intended population’s ethos (worldview, values, and external practices) by gathering cultural data for supporting discipleship across cultures. The map helps a ministry leader respond to culture based on the biblical disciple model adapted to human needs applying principles of grace-filled leadership.

The process of cultural landscape mapping displays cultural patterns from both surface and hidden cultures of an individual as well as the collective body. It gives a working portrait of what motivates surface (external) and hidden (internal) of behaviors, feelings, judgments, and mental constructs from cultural learning and interactions with various group memberships. The leader must understand one’s own and team culture in comparison to the aggregate and individual cultures of ministry participants. 

As you approach cultural landscape mapping, keep in mind a few key thoughts from anthropological, missiological, and theological perspectives. Each carries a distinct focus, yet all converge to provide a comprehensive body of knowledge when approaching cultural landscape mapping. Anthropologists study culture from seen and unseen cultural patterns and experiences apparent in human culture; missiologists view culture from its interaction between God’s mission and humankind’s nature; and theologians look at culture through biblical lenses emphasizing ethics. Ministry heads combine all three perspectives as practitioners in grace-filled leadership with the goal of discipling across cultures. 

Three Levels of Cultural Landscape Mapping

The cultural landscape map includes three levels of culture: level one culture (external practices), level two culture (unspoken rules), and level three culture (unconscious rules). The levels increase in complexity from external practices, to unspoken rules, and ending with unconscious rules associated with worldview. Although every level stands independent of the other, in turn, each also affects it (See Figure 1.2). One’s experiences and encounters with culture shape worldview in the level three culture of unconscious rules, which in turn, influences level two unspoken rules that comprise values and then drives level one culture visible in external practices.[5] (Figure 1.3) 

Figure 1.2

Cultural Landscape Mapping Level Influences

(Based on Morris Opler, 1945)

Level One Culture (External Practices: See, Hear, and Touch Behaviors)

This level orders a specific society through visible external practices of historical patterns, values, societal arrangements, manners, ideas, and ways of living. Members of a given culture know the rules that guide their external culture. Surface culture may include language, food, music, art, power distance, dance, dress/clothing, greetings, esthetics, etc.

Level one culture has a relatively low emotional load. Therefore, if the source culturally miscommunicates a message or action with the receiver, one can correct it without extensive damage. For example, ministry leaders at the Lighthouse Church of All Nations, a multicultural church in the Chicago metro area, consistently greet newcomers with the love of Christ. Showing love through words (Praise the Lord!), gestures (handshake/hug), and other actions govern leadership behaviors that encompass the external or surface church culture at the church. If a leader gives a hearty welcome to a visitor unaccustomed to it, the gesture may make the person uncomfortable. With quick adjustments on the leader’s part with a different greeting, more than likely, one can turn around the cultural differences. Again, the emotional load carries low baggage.

To create a cultural landscape map of the level one external practices requires careful observation and research of an aggregate people group to determine their cultural patterns. Do remember that people may code switch to adapt to various subcultures. For example, a person might converse with an informal vernacular among friends, but change to one more formal when interacting with colleagues in a work culture. So, what the observer sees in a given people’s encounter with a particular environment changes with another. Further, bear in mind visible external practices and invisible worldview assumptions connect. One’s underlying worldview often manifests itself in external practices. Thus, patterns in visible actions provide clues as to the way people think. Communication, in particular, helps one understand how people perceive life. Hiebert related the interrelationship between language and worldview “opens the door into the way people think because words are one of the primary ways in which people communicate their inner thoughts.”[6] In other words, external practices demonstrate cultural signs of the deepest held beliefs about life contained in worldview. 

  • Language (Oral and written). The cultural influence on linguistics includes what you can hear or read such as dialect, speech patterns, jargon, tone of voice, pitch, silence, rate of speech, accent, pronunciation, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar, style, facial expressions, academic vocabulary, vocational vocabulary, religious vocabulary, family vocabulary, speech impediments, generational differences, text, E-mail, social media, cell, face-to-face, memory loss, phrases, first language, second language, prayer language (or no prayer), etc. To note, the United States does not have an official language, while 28 states named English as their designated languages including Hawaii identifying English and Hawaiian as its official.[7]
  • Food. By observing the comprehensive aspects of food, one learns about culture reflected in different facets of life. Though taken for granted as a daily necessity, consider food’s multiple dimensions. Examples: time spent eating, dine in or out, eat with others or alone, dining times, food tastes, food preparation, diet, food to express emotions or celebrations, food determined by wealth, prestige foods, ethnic foods, clean/unclean rules, organizational food (church, family, business, etc.), healthy vs. unhealthy, hot vs. cold foods (Asian and Mediterranean), food cures for disease, prepared food vs. fresh food, availability of food, etc. 
  • Dress. External culture also encompasses dress, a personal expression of self or group identity or utilitarian fashion. Examples: style, generational differences, organizational affiliation, national culture, covered/covered, class, blend in/stand out, tattoos, formal/informal, color for men/color for women, color in general, work; etc. 
  • Music. What role does music play in culture? Humankind incorporates music into the fabric of life from mile markers to worship to entertainment. Examples: Taste, selections, church/secular, music as part of storytelling, extent played, leisure-time pursuit, way of life, lifestyle, worship, music as language; weddings and funerals; graduation; war; sports; dinner etc.
  • Visual Arts. (Drama, fine art, and dance) Visual arts influence society throughout the ages such as chronicling history, illustrating social change, providing political commentaries, and communicating creative expression. Examples: color palette; podcasts, YouTube; storytelling through drama, mystery, or comedy; political cartoons; drawings in the bathroom, doodles on a napkin; religious art forms; praise dance; sermon illustrations; theater; house decorations; magazines, digital art; poetry, proverbs, etc.
  • Literature. Literature serves different purposes in various cultures. Examples: types of literature read (Bible vs. Science), tracks/pamphlets, propaganda, literary level, oral storytelling vs. written narrative, folklore, reading in multiple languages, literary genres, literary vs non-literary text, social media, business languages, role of literature, and symbols associated with text, etc. 
  • Games. Entire scholarly journal exists exploring games and culture, most notably the social, economic and political aspects of their mutual interaction. Examples: interactive media, military games, cards, video games, sports, or toys (across generations)
  • Celebrations or Rites. Cultural celebrations reflect rituals that contain specific meaning and sustain culture. Examples: birthday parties, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Christmas, weddings, death rituals, cleansing, fasting, goal targets (Weight Watchers), family reunion, marks on a wall marking a child’s growth, etc.

Level Two Culture (Unspoken Rules: Values)

The second level of culture comprises unspoken rules directly below the visible level of culture’s surface. This level has a higher emotional load than the previous focusing on values. While first level features the see, hear, and touch external practices, the second level encompasses values. Pludeddemann described values as “cultural ideals link abstract philosophy to concrete practices.”[8] He furthers explained that values are subconscious assumptions about how people address power, time, personal space, individualism, and status.[9] Values also include conversational patterns, rules of conduct, nonverbal communication, patterns of handling emotions, eye contact, concept of beauty, courtship practices, and notions of leadership. Misunderstandings in addressing culture at this level carry a high weight because it has a high emotional load. Thus, it can cause mix-ups and tensions. 

Actions include:

  • Power Distance: Small Power vs. Large Power Distance. Hofstede defined power distance as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutes and organizations within a country expect and accept power is distributed unequally.”[10] People from cultures which function in small power distance relate to one another as equals regardless of position, have decision-making responsibilities, contribute and critique decision making of those in power, participate in consultative or democratic power relations, like rewards, and value a flat organizational culture.[11] Those from cultures with a dominant large power distance show centralized authority, paternalistic management style, institutionalized inequalities, highly structured vertical organization, power and authority, and status and rank (Hofstede, 2005; 2013). Examples: (Large Power Distance) people who function well in a traditionally organized academic setting, prisons structure, factory settings as opposed to (Small Power Distance) technology industry, open classroom, collaborative communities, etc. 
  • Personal space (Proxemics) Personal space involves a group’s rule on use of space and its effects on behavior, communication, and social interaction.[12] It includes subcategories of haptics (touch), kinesics (body movement), vocalics (paralanguage), and chronemics (structure of time). Hall emphasized the interrelationship between space and communication in culture.[13] Examples: Preference of distance between people; working space; office size; living; social order; public spac; personal space; confinement; space location; geographical locale; space in moral, formal, and informal situations; sacred space; post modern view as fragmented, chaotic and disorder; modernity as ordered and structured; unity between people vs. separation; etc.
  • High vs. Low Masculinity. According to Hofstede,[14] a High Masculinity culture is more competitive. It measures the dimension’s extent to (1) ego-driven social norms, in which work and material needs take precedence (2) conflict resolution by force, (3) high regard for religion, (4) male dominated leadership roles in which women have a lesser presence, (5) failure not optional, and (6) gender traditional roles and expectations like men don’t cry,[15]  Low Masculinity indicates a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life.[16] People from this culture work to live with a preference for working less hours, elevatating quality of live and placing people over work. It measures the dimension’s relational capacity with respect to (1) relationship-driven social norms, (2) work to live with people and quality of life important (3) conflict resolution by negotiation, (4) lesser emphasis on religion, (5) both genders serve as leaders, with more women in leadership roles, (6) failure not critical, (7) nontraditional gender roles and expectations.[17]Examples: Concept of pain, self identity, male/female roles in society, parenting, paternal/maternal households, gender pay, long work hours vs. quality of life, (status) servant of the Lord, etc. 
  • High Individualism vs. Low Individualism. Hofstede noted individualists from High Individualistic societies have loose ties with individuals and expect everyone to look after themselves and their immediate family. Their allegiance forms to the self than group, looking at the individual as the most unit in any setting. They stress independence rather than interdependence, and reward individual achievement. People tend to belong to many groups, and change membership as it suits them.[18] Low Individualism measures preference towards the we dimension of culture. It reflects a central focus on (1) reliance and support for an in-group, (2) emphasize on views, needs, and goals of the group rather than one’s own, (3) support for an in-group in exchange for their loyalty, (4) trust on a group’s decision over the self, and (5) group harmony over individual competition.[19] Examples: attitudes towards elders, prefer independence or shared experiences, rewards, concept of self (we vs. I), patterns of decision making (group vs. individual), nature of friendships, social interaction rate, etc. 
  • Time Ordering (Polychronic vs. Monochronic). People orient themselves around time. Polychronic Time holds characteristics of multiplicity and flexibility. People have various activities taking place at one time, without a fixed schedule. They are flexible with time, and easily can do multitask. Also, people move slower in decision making. Monochronic Time typically emphasizes doing one thing at a time during a specified time-period, working on a single task until it is complete. Further, monochronic people are inflexible, seeing time as divided into fixed elements and sequential blocks that can be organized, quantified, and scheduled. They change tasks after one task is completed and are uncomfortable moving to another.[20] Examples: nursing homes keep structured schedules to give participants a sense of time. 
  • High/Low Context. In Low Context cultures, people value clear meaning, high verbal interaction, and explicit codes.[21] (People communicate with one single meaning, give very specific detail, stress written or spoken message over nonverbal cues, and emphasize the verbal codes because it contains meaning.)[22] With High Context cultures, people leave many things unsaid using fewer words and nonverbal codes to communicate.[23] They interact with each other knowing the preferred meaning beforehand; communicate information with different meanings according to context; already understand the context of the current situation; place a large emphasis on nonverbal codes; and one party assumes the other understands the shared meaning.[24]Examples: (High Context) high non-verbal methods to relay meaning, non-verbal more important than words, and develop relationship before business transactions¾(Low Context) meaning in words, straightforward communication, and rules spelled out.

Level Three Culture (Unconscious Rules–Worldview) 

Deeply hidden and invisible to the eye, level three holds unconscious rules associated with worldview. It has an intense emotional load. Worldview relates to “beliefs about the deepest meaning of life and assumptions about the nature of reality”[25] In this level, worldview helps people make order of their lives through foundational cognitive, affective, and evaluative rules (or assumptions).[26] Worldview informs internal values and external practices. Ministry leaders seek to determine and sift out cultural worldviews not in alignment with the Gospel with whom they disciple. 

Worldview comprises:

  • Myths. Myths display the overarching narrative believed to be true based on the interpretation of history and stories of human lives and memory of a community. Myths define moral boundaries to its members.[27] The Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt forms the basis of God’s deliverance of the Israelites. It orders how people view time, sin, and redemption.[28] Examples of myth possibly include biblical narrative of redemption, Jesus’ divine healing and miracles, Jesus’ messiahship, witchcraft dependency on the occult; etc.
  • Ideology. This dimension deals with ideas about how things are or how they ought to be. Examples: capitalism with equal opportunity, communism with distrust of established government, Marxism with humans in an idyllic world of equality, socialism with an element of state distribution of wealth, Darwinism, mercantilism, classical liberalism, kinship, definition of obscenity, attitudes toward dependents, definition of insanity, and mutual care. Ideology also may address systemic rules about generational poverty, caste systems, class, roles related to age, gender, ethnicity, concept of beauty, and notions of cleanliness and smell, etc.
  • Teleology. Teleology comes from the Greek telos (end) and logos (reason). It defines a final destiny in terms of the purpose phenomena serves rather than the cause by which it arises. It seeks to answer three questions: “(1) Does the universe have a purpose?…(2) If the universe has a purpose, whose purpose is it?…(3) What is the purpose of the universe?”[29] Examples: Concept of past and future, God as Elohim, Who created something from nothing with a divine design in mind (Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe has a beginning, and therefore, one can posit the universe has a causer-a creator. The creator of the universe created with design and purpose. God fine-tuned and designed the universe for the existence of life, just for us);[30] scientific big bang theory; and mythology about god/goddesses in the creation of the earth/universe.
  • Epistemology. Epistemology pertains to how people distinguish justified beliefs from opinions. It relates to what you believe about knowledge and affects what you accept as valid evidence and particulars. This cultural value dimension asks the question, “What is the basis for knowledge?”[31] It affects the relative significance you ascribe to authority, empirical evidence, reason, intuition, and revelation. It affects how certain you can be about any knowledge and therefore what risks you will take in acting on that knowledge.Examples: modernity (sought order and fulfillment in the world, scientific knowledge mirrors reality and gives access to the external world); post modernity (sees reality as unordered and unknowable, no one truth rather constructs of individuals and groups); and spiritual (based on a scriptural viewpoint and one biblical truth of redemption).[32]

Cultural Landscape Mapping Considerations

Humans behave according to cultural orientation resulting from their interactions with worldview, values, and external social practices from various group memberships. Combined, the three elements represent individual or group ethos. Culture encompasses a wide range of people groups with each representing their own complex ethos. A person shares ethos with multiple groups and has one’s own set. Thus, one’s culture does not remain fixed, rather changes as a person’s interacts with new cultures. Consider the many facets of cultural landscape mapping.

First, an observer cannot see a person’s culture directly on display, although it may become evident through what people say or do. Nevertheless, a leader must decipher and understand surface and hidden cultural patterns to respond to them appropriately. 

Second, culture strictly informs human behavior insofar as patterns and structures people follow. However, people make choices that govern their actions. While they behave according to surface-level cultural patterns, they unconsciously look to hidden, below level culture to structure and interpret their actions. 

Third, while people learn above surface cultural patterns and draw from hidden culture to structure their actions, they make choices regarding how they behave. Culture reflects the script people follow. People think, feel, and evaluate culture resulting in revisions to worldview as people make readjustments and new interpretations to unconscious assumptions. Thus, the script remains in a fluid state and changes.

Figure 1.3

Cultural Landscape Mapping Level Influences

(Based on Morris Opler, 1945)

Steps in Cultural Landscape Mapping

The process of cultural landscape mapping requires mindfulness to analyze a ministry’s intended population and understand the three levels of cultures (external practices, values, and worldviews). Creating a cultural landscape map of a ministry population requires the observer to do more than spend one hour to complete a chart. Rather, it necessitates taking on new roles as a missiologist, anthropologist, and theologian with the approach of mindfulness: a developed awareness of culture through mindful listening, mindful seeing, mindful thinking, and mindful discerning. The practice of mindfulness while engaging culture enables one to detect surface and hidden dimensions of culture. The practice of mindfulness includes the following steps when cultural landscape mapping.

  • Be a learner of culture.
  • Realize the observer’s cultural landscape map differs from a given ministry population since one holds a distinct formation of surface culture, unspoken rules, and unconscious rules. At the same time, the observer, ministry population, and individuals within it share common cultural norms. Seek to understand. 
  • Review the sample maps from prison and elder care ministries your teacher will distribute in class. These provide starting examples to assist in developing a new cultural landscape map. 
  • Research the cultural value dimensions of the given population. Review online authoritative and reliable articles, journals, and books; talk to people in the assigned ministry including its leaders and members (with permission from the ministry head) and read available material from your assigned ministry.
  • Fill in the cultural value dimensions for each of the three levels of the aggregate ministry participants. The lower the culture level lies below the surface culture, the more challenging to detect. Level one behaviors give clues to probable level three.
  • Level three unconscious rules drive external behaviors. Sift worldviews that do not align with Scripture, but contextualize the Gospel to communicate truth. A leader must appreciate the diversity of God’s creation, while at the same time supporting transformation for Christian spiritual formation. 


[1] Hall, Beyond Culture.

[2] Explicit learning rests on concrete, observable knowledge. Luzbetak describe explicit culture as the “who, what, how, when, what kind, and where” that make up a specific people group’s norms ( Luzbetak, L. (1996). The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

[3] Charles Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (10th ed.) (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2010).

[4] Edward Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 18.

[5] Adapted from Morris Opler “Themes as Dynamic Forces in Culture,” American Journal of Sociology, 51 (3), 198–206.

[6] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 91. 

[7] Dine Racoma, “What is the Official Language of the US” [cited 18 May 2012]. Online: http://www.thelanguagejournal.com/2012/05/what-is-official-language-of-united.html.

[8] Plueddemann, James E. (2009). Leading across cultures: Effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 69.

[9] Plueddemann, Leading Across, 69.

[10] Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations, 46.

[11] Paron, Communication Across. Please read pages six through eight in the Communication Across Cultures Reader 2 for additional information. 

[12] Nina Moore, Nonverbal Communication: Studies and Applications. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010.

[13]Edward T. Hall (1963). “A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behaviour,” American Anthropologist. 65 (5): 1003–1026. doi:10.1525/aa.1963.65.5.02a00020. 

[14] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions,” The Hofstede Centre. Online: http://geert-hofstede.com/dimensions.html

[15] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.”

[16] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.” 

[17] Hofstede, G. “Dimensions.”

[18] Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences, 76.

[19] Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences.

[20] Hall, Beyond Culture and Dance of Life: Other dimension of Time (Garden City: Anchor. 1984); Paron, Communication Across. 

[21] Samovar, L., Porter, R., & McDaniel, E. (2010). Communication between cultures (7th ed.). Boston, MD: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.p. 254.

[22] Hall, 1981; 1984

[23] Samovar, L., Porter, R., & McDaniel, E. (2010). Communication between cultures (7th ed.). Boston, MD: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.pp. 110-1

[24] Hall, 1981; 1984

[25] Plueddemann, James E. (2009). Leading across cultures: Effective ministry and mission in the global church. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 69.

[26] Hiebert, P. (2008). Transforming worldviews: An anthropological understanding of how people change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[27] Hiebert, Transforming worldviews, 27 

[28] Hiebert, Transforming worldviews, 60

[29] Ken Funk, K. What is worldview? (21 March 2001) Online: http://web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~funkk/Personal/worldview.html.

[30] Ana Harbin, “Apologetics: Arguments,” Walking Through the Word 2, Session 6. Alsip, All Nations Leadership Institute, 2012.

[31] Funk, What is worldview?

[32] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 216-17

From: Paron, Jan. “Discipling Across Cultures as a Grace-Filled Leader.” In Leading in a Diverse Church Two, Reader One: 2019, 9-20. Alsip, IL: All Nations Leadership Institute Press, 2019.


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