Jesus never seemed to lose his sense of both being called to and from a particular group of people and recognizing the need proclaim God’s love and mercy to people who didn’t share his culture. This tension continued in the early church. Evangelists and church planters were acutely aware of cultural difference and similarity. Some of St. Paul’s most well-known writing centers on how to balance shared purpose (the mission of Jesus) with the differences between people in the church (members of the Body).
In today’s church, we find ourselves in a social milieu that Jesus and Paul would have found familiar. We too have our own marketplaces and temples, with fierce competition of spiritual ideas, religious practices, and services. Those churches seeking to grow numerically or be authentically present in changing neighborhoods need to pay just as close attention as our forebears to the ways our congregations manage similarity and difference.
Within a congregation, conflict can arise when assumptions about the way we have always done things clash with new leaders or members with different assumptions. When a congregation reaches out to grow its membership or serve a new demographic (young families, ethnic minorities, different socio-economic strata) it can be hard not to project our own way of doing things and thinking onto the people we are trying to attract and serve.
Unhoused people with tenuous employment tend not to have the same delicate communication strategies as well-heeled folks in upper management who might be serving dinner or staffing a shelter. Immigrants from other countries may very much want to worship with us, but may not be used to a church service that starts at 10am on the nose. Parents of small children today may be looking for something very different from the church than parents of small children 40 years ago.
Congregations doing the work of evangelism and outreach should consider formation around Intercultural Competency. This work may take the form of key leaders assessing their individual levels of intercultural development and identifying goals for their ministry with the help of a CCN Consultant. The work might also take the form of groups of ministers reflecting on the ways the cultures they are encountering may be different than their own and how that might enrich their ministry. These tools can help ministers to create more effective responses to the spiritual needs of the people in their communities. They can also help prevent unnecessary conflict that can come from unspoken assumptions leading to misunderstanding and hurt.
If you’re interested in Intercultural Competency Training (formerly Anti-Racism) or Congregational Consulting with an emphasis on intercultural dynamics, contact us! The Rev.Newton can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone at 206.325.4200, ext 2030.