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Ministering to an intercultural community

By David Moore

One in every four Americans (61.2 million) is identified as an ethnic minority. An understanding of the minority groups in the community and a sensitivity to their needs are necessary for effective ministry in an intercultural community.

Know the community

We seek to win people to Christ, not to ideologies.

Exercise caution in coming to generalized conclusions about ethnic groups. Not all Native Americans share similar values. The Hopi language (and culture) is as different from the Navajo as Italian is from Mandarin Chinese. Hispanic Americans represent several different countries, and each has a unique cultural identity. Though most are from Mexico, many other Hispanic groups with significant populations identify themselves as separate, such as the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, and the Dominicans.

Research to determine where ethnics in the community come from, how long they have been there, and how long they intend to stay. (The Bureau of Labor is the best source for this information.)

Many interculturals have strong ties to their ethnic communities. If feasible, they go home for holidays, weekends, and family gatherings. In one Native American church, the midweek service is the most heavily attended. It is important to understand these dynamics and taper the church’s programs appropriately.

Be sensitive to cultural differencess

When a service or an outreach event is planned, be aware of how the time, event, and worship affect the intercultural community.

Europeans and some Asians may be governed by the clock, but Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans are not. They enjoy the richness of the fellowship and do not rush to conclude the service or social activity.

When planning an event, understand the community nature of most ethnic groups. They are not as inclined toward special programs and events for individual age groups.

The generational struggle within an ethnic group is another factor. Avoid forcing integration. Allow groups to meet separately if they choose. Understand that youth are being torn between American values and those of their parents.

When witnessing to ethnic groups preach Christ, not the American culture. Printed programs, preset formats, time schedules, and new choruses well-suited for most American churches make most minority groups uncomfortable.

Carefully avoid prejudices about different worship styles and format. While young boys dancing at the front of the church may not be appropriate in an Anglo Assemblies of God church, it is common in some Hispanic churches.

A major problem in ministering to minorities is impatience. Americans have grown up in a culture with ideals such as individualism, competitiveness, and moving up the socioeconomic ladder ingrained in us. We develop church programs and preach sermons that reinforce these values, which often conflict with values that emphasize interdependence and accepting one’s lot in life as immutable. Most minorities struggle with our success-at-any-cost mentality.

Be genuine

It is not what you do that counts but what you are and what you are willing to become. Everyone wants to feel loved and understood.

Almost all ethnic minorities view Anglos as being in too much of a hurry. Don’t rush, become impatient, and give up. They need time to get to know you, to know they can trust you, and that your interest in them is more than token.

Indirect communication with ethnic groups is helpful. Ethnic minorities frequently view Anglos as being too direct, straightforward, and insincere. Taking time for them is a sign of genuine interest.

Among most ethnic minorities, identity is derived within the group. Those seeking to minister to an intercultural community must know the groups’ traditions, customs, and values; understand and accept their values; and be genuinely and sincerely interested in their well-being.