Leading Ministry in a Multicultural Society

Date Posted: 11/13/2013

How do we do ministry in what sociologist Steven Klineberg deems as "the most diverse city in the United States?” How do we adapt to Texas demographics that change daily as people migrate here from all over the country and all over the world? Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education for SMU's Perkins School of Theology offered some advice and a framework for multicultural ministry in a recent "Lunch & Learn" for the Houston-Galveston Extension Program.


Change is so rapid that by the time a leader reads a book about a different culture or generation, the book is outdated, noted Dr. Hunt. Christian leaders need to focus on developing cultural intelligence, which is where “we learn to be alert to the clues that we’re given that we are in a different cultural world, a different value world, and then to respond appropriately."


Cultural intelligence is important in congregations that want to cross cultural boundaries and invest in the young. “Younger generations are multicultural, and they are uncomfortable with monocultures,” he adds. Church growth models that emphasize outreach with methods appropriate only to people of a single culture, people who are similar in age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, will not work in the long run. They don't reach important cultures within our society, and they create congregations -- that a rising generation of young Christians -- find out of touch with their daily experience of diversity.


In their introductions and initial conversations, Dr. Hunt observed that the informal Lunch & Learn group showed a variety of experiences relating across cultures. He described four aspects of cultural intelligence. The first is motivation: “You have to be motivated to work with people in a different culture. You have to believe cultural diversity is a good thing for the church,” he said. The second aspect is knowledge, specifically the knowledge that every human has a culture. Thirdly, working across culture involves a strategy for responding to cultural differences, and the fourth aspect is acting appropriately within complex cultural frameworks.


Students who participate in Perkins’ Global Theological Education program are introduced to cultural intelligence in a five-hour seminar before traveling around the world to be immersed in a culture different from their own. With the guidance of Perkins’ faculty, students have traveled together to every continent except Antarctica. Dr. Hunt has also led seminars on cultural intelligence for Texas Conference mission teams.


To learn more about the Global Theological Education program visit: http://www.smu.edu/globaltheology.


“Future Church” is the title of the next “Lunch & Learn” presentation by Dr. Elaine Heath on Monday, November 18, 2013, from 11:45 a.m. to 1p.m. at 3501 W. Alabama at Edloe in Houston. Prospective students are invited to experience what it’s like to learn from a Perkins professor. Current students, alumni and friends are also welcome. Contact Rev. Susan Buchanan, Director of Recruitment & Student Services, at susan@smu.edu or 713-621-5059.