Building Relationships in Cross-Cultural Churches

What Does Intercultural Competency Look Like in Native American United Methodist Churches? The Answer is in Relationship Building.
By Cynthia Kent

All United Methodist Churches are not alike. Each church has its own history and culture, and Native American United Methodist Churches are no exception. Yet when a congregation is faced with a cross-racial/cross-cultural pastoral appointment, it can be challenging to develop a strong congregation. There are many reasons, and one is the intercultural competence of the pastor.


I love watching movies and what I see in almost every movie is the building of a relationship. Regardless of how much we want things to work, it cannot be done without building a mutual relationship, this comes first. This is also true in churches. Most of the time, pastors serving in a church in a native community have no idea who the people are in the congregation, nor do they understand the history or culture of the congregation and its congregants. At times, the only pictures they have of native people are from movies. And many pastors see their appointment in a native congregation as a brief stop in their pastoral journey. “Let me do my time, and then I will get a real church.” However, those who come with the idea of first building a relationship — by listening to the congregation, following their lead, and seeing where they, as a pastor, fit in–find their appointments are rewarding ones.

A pastor, once he or she has established a good relationship, can then teach the congregation about the history and structure of the Church. In return, the congregation can share how to communicate and relate to their congregation and larger community. As a result, the church sees itself as a part of the denomination and not a mission of the denomination. Both the pastor and the church members learn how to be a strong church in the community.

The result of this work does not happen overnight. Just like any relationship, it takes years to build. It is also important to find the right pastor for the right church to make this relationship as strong as possible. And if the pastor has done his or her job, the congregation will be prepared to receive another pastor who, in turn, must have the ability to listen, lead, and, at times, sit back and let the church members take the lead.

A successful church built on strong relationships will encourage all to use their gifts and graces to strengthen the congregation and encourage church members to be advocates in their own communities.

Cynthia Kent is the leader of the Native American Ministries Committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. This article was originally posted on November 17, 2014.

GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.