Making Multi-Ethnic Ministry Work

 Pastor Kent Reeder is at the Exponential Conference this week - April 27-30 - and will be regularly posting notes and thoughts based on the sessions and speakers in the conference. Please note that while many of the speakers at the conference are not confessional Lutherans and will, therefore, have some errant theology, the principles discussed are scriptural and godly. Pastor Kent will filter anything that isn't valuable out of these posts - you can enjoy the beneficial parts! 

presented by Oneya Okuwobi

We must build cultural competence in multi-ethnic congregations. It is immanently practical - it makes things happen effectively in a setting that is realistic. 

The business world is probably the best current example of how to make multiple cultures work together. This is unfortunate, because the church should be the leader in this. Christ and the apostles frequently spoke of the value of oneness. 

We should strive for making mixed cultures work in our church because we love people and we want them to get connected to Christ. If they don't feel like they fit, they aren't going to stay. If they don't stay, they don't get our message.

How do we do this? Here are several principles. 

Understand Yourself So You Can Lead

We have to deal with the truth that what people see has quite a bit to do with who they are (and not just to do with what they actually see.) If we want to make multi-cultural mixes work, we have to dig deep and understand who we are - what our biases are, what our tendencies are, what we find easier and will most likely default to because that's the easiest route. 

If you want to be a leader in a mult-cultural setting, get to know your biases (there's a helpful quiz for this at You have to understand your own blind spots so you understand how you interact with people.

Understand Your Church

We also have to dig deep about our churches. Different churches are at different points in the multi-cultural journey. Your church might be exploring the idea. Your church might be emerging as a multi-cultural church. Your church might be experienced and intentional about being multi-cultural. 

The ideal, of course, is to be experienced and even experts (or as close to experts as there can be in this realm). Your services would be cross-cultural. Your leadership would by multi-cultural. Your programs would teach people about other cultures and their values. 

It isn't as simple as your church being multi-color. The styles of leadership and organization, the decisions that are made for direction and vision, the methods of teaching and communication have to be just as multi-cultural as the population. If that isn't the case, people who come in won't be able to envision themselves thriving in your setting, but will instead have to picture themselves compromising their personal culture and values. 

This process isn't easy, and it requires difficult conversations. We should realize that the conversations we aren't having (read: we are avoiding) say almost as much about us as the conversations we are having. 

Listen, Listen, Listen...then Act

Ask questions, and then listen. Ask if you are authentically representing someone else's culture. You can't have a black woman singing a spanish song. You aren't authentically representing either culture, and the only way you will find out if you are is by asking and listening, listening, listening. 

Asking these questions will help you realize things you couldn't have thought of on your own. You will hear things you don't want to hear, but you have to do the hard work of keeping an open heart and mind, the heart and mind of a servant. 

Change Your Personal Experience

If you are a majority-culture person, your personal life experience will be remarkably different than that of a minority. Therefore, to successfully lead in a multi-cultural setting you must put yourself into situations that put you in the shoes of a minority-culture person. 

This can be as simple as finding a recreational league where you will be a minority. It might be as extreme as traveling overseas. It probably will be crucial enough to keep doing.

Serve the Various Styles of Your People

Realize that if you have attendees from different cultures, there will be different styles and songs and things that speak to the hearts of those people. You have some things that speak to you, and you'll want them in worship. Others have specific things that are valuable to them, and they'll want them in worship, too. 

Art is an expression of who you are. Your art must be represented. The rule of thumb is 75%. Try to make sure that 75% of what happens serves a person, and teach them that it is ok for 25% of things to be outside of their wheelhouse.

Empower Diverse Leadership

We have implicit biases. These affect the way we react to different people of different cultures. We make quick, almost unconscious decisions based not on accurate data but on biases. The tone, look, presentation, and style of a person presenting an idea might be affecting your ability to accept that idea more than you realize.

Include/Value the Stories, Challenges & Concerns of All Congregants

Mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate. If we have people who are going through something deep and cultural in their lives and they go to church - and that thing isn't addressed at all - they aren't being served by your church. You think you're maintaining peace by avoiding these deep issues, important stories, etc - but all we are doing is maintaining a veneer of peace. 

When people are hurting, they don't want you to throw them a party. They want you to be with them and love them and help them. They want you to promote social justice and God's glory in the midst of whatever they are going through. 

You don't have to preach on your opinion of Ferguson. You have to preach on the difference the gospel makes in the lives of people who care about Ferguson. You have to preach on the way the gospel moves people who aren't paying attention to care about those who are.

Interdependence, reciprocity, humility. If these can't be our core values, we will struggle in this journey. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder