Preaching in Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Ministry

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Written by Rev. Moonyoung Lee, Calpac Annual Conference

It’s surprising to discover that the majority of United Methodist congregations in the U.S. continues to be predominantly Anglo-centric despite the fact that our society is becoming increasingly multicultural. Moreover, the lack of diversity isn’t only limited to the UMC, but pervades through different denominations. Per Multiracial Congregations Project, only 8% of Christian churches in the nation are identified as multiracial whereas the rest of the churches are comprised of a singular racial group that makes up at least 80% of its membership.[1]

Therefore, challenges are inevitably faced by both pastors and churches alike when a cross-racial appointment is made as only a few are equipped to navigate through such context of ministry. While there are many joys and concerns that come with CR/CC appointment, I would like to focus on the aspect of preaching.

Fear of the Unknown

In current times, it is a great possibility that you will be the first non-white clergy to be appointed to the particular local church. The congregation will undoubtedly have some level of anxiety (known or unbeknownst to them) in regard to your appointment. It will be helpful for you to use preaching as a tool to allay their fears. Affirm their reservations ─ it’s only natural to feel apprehensive when charting unknown territory ─ but at the same time build anticipation to move forward in hope by inviting them to journey with you in ministry to discover what God has in store for the church in the here and now. Remember, we are called to make disciples of Christ, and Jesus broke down barriers and crossed cultural boundaries throughout his earthly ministry.

Helpful scripture references: Genesis 12:1-4, Luke 10: 29-37, John 4:1-26, Acts 11:1-18 (Bible is filled with cross-racial/cross-cultural stories).

Preparation

Most often, many bilingual preachers who have learned English as a second language face criticism regarding their accent and the difficulty parishioners may have in understanding the sermon. While having a full command of the English language is important in preaching, it’s worth noting that a multiple set of skills in addition to language is required to achieve effective cross-cultural communication.

As language proficiency takes time to acquire, be patient, and in the meantime diligently strengthen other areas that may help you preach effectively:

  • Learn to exercise intercultural competency and tailor your sermon to your congregation by being cognizant of the geographical location, demographic and generational factors, and spirituality of church membership.
  • Choose quality over quantity, and keep your sermon simple and to the point. Moreover, take time to practice. Preach your sermon beforehand several times, and work on pronunciation and adjust your speech delivery accordingly. Worshipers prefer a clear and concise sermon over a homily that is inundated with many difficult theological words and concepts. Remember to focus on feeding their soul by proclaiming the Word of God to the best of your ability rather than trying to impress them.
  • Explore different preaching styles to see which one works best for you and your congregation.

Pray: Let go and let God 

Lastly, remember that God’s grace goes before us. Even before your first Sunday at the new church, the Spirit has already prepared and paved the way for you. The movement of the Spirit is trans-cultural and embracing of all races and cultures. Thus, trust in the One who has called you to preach and leave the rest to God. Your congregation is blessed to have you, and both you and the church will grow as you learn from one another and build on each other’s strengths.

[1] Klagge, James C. The Most Segregated Hour in America? Retrieved from https://www.phil.vt.edu/JKlagge/ConductorChurch.htm

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