Multicultural Ministry Paradigms: Hostility to Hospitality to Household

12 Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”  (Ephesians 2:12-15, 19a, NIV)

In most church circles in the US it is becoming increasingly evident that there is a need to move towards multicultural ministry.  As the church begins to recognize the incredibly rich diversity of our cities and our nation there is an increasing awareness that this cultural diversity is not always present in  our congregations, ministries, and dioceses. Furthermore, many global ministries and organizations are beginning to realize the need to recognize non-western styles and cultures when they meet and host gatherings. Often attempts are made at having multicultural worship services or reaching out to a specific cultural group, but things don’t always go as planned. There can be, at times, a surprising degree of miscommunication and awkwardness. The question arises: How do we actually do multicultural ministry?

In the New Testament the primary category for this kind of work is the Jew/Gentile relationship which was one of the primary conflicts and challenges in the early church. In Ephesians Paul talks about the reality that in Christ these two groups which began at enmity with one another have been brought into a new reality of being one household, or family, together in Christ.

This article will discuss ways of moving from hostility, to hospitality and then on to household, to truly living together a multi-cultural family in our congregations, ministries and networks. 

Dr. Soong Chan-Rah has proposed this basic framework which we are elaborating here. He says: “The true challenge is making a home together. We are not merely hosting each other as a guest, we are working at building a home together. There is a difference between having a guest stay over one night and getting married, moving in together, creating a joint bank account, and making the other person a beneficiary of your life insurance policy as well as the beneficiary of all your possessions. The Scriptures testify that the church is the household or family of God. A family does not simply offer up hospitality towards others it ceases to use the language of “otherness” altogether. The church is not merely a place where we tolerate strangers; it is a place of grace and acceptance that comes from being a family” ("Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church", pp.175-176).

Before living into the reality of a multicultural “household” most ministries or organizations will need to first take steps of hospitality. Before marriage, dating. This in and of itself is challenging. Christine Pohl speaks these challenging words on the ministry of hospitality:

“Tasks aren’t what hospitality is about, hospitality is giving of yourself.  If hospitality involves sharing your life and sharing in the lives of others, guests/strangers are not first defined by their need.  Lives and resources are much more complexly intertwined, and roles are much less predictable” (“Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition” p. 72).

We’d like to propose the following continuum and article as a guide both at identifying where you and your ministry is at in terms of "household" ministry and as a tool for taking next steps towards growing in life together. 

A quick note before we dive in: While this article will attempt to provide practical tools for moving towards multiculturalism some readers may still question if multicultural expression is important or how important it is in the midst of so many other ministry priorities and commitments. If so we recommend you watch this video or see the resource section at the end of this article. 

With that introduction, let's dive in!

Are all congregations, all ministries called to practice, all the time, the reality of “household” of what in this context we are describing as a fully multi-cultural expression of life together? Yes and no. On the micro-scale (think individual congregations or very local, geographically limited ministries) not all are called to live this reality day in and day out. Some more rural contexts for example, may not have much cultural/racial diversity. Also, some congregations, due to calling and ministry season may not have the resources necessary to do the kind of sustained long-term intentionality and work that getting to household requires. Some disempowered cultural groups (such as immigrant congregations) may need spaces where they can fully express their own culture and feel at home.

It is our contention, however, that on the more macro-expression levels of the church such as dioceses and regional or global networks household is a Biblical mandate simply given the fact that these macro-expressions of the Church encompass larger geographic regions which will involve a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. In the sense that individual congregations and leaders then participate in these larger circles through diocesan or network gatherings, for example, they will be called to step and live into “household" though in their local contexts they may not live into it on a daily basis. Biblically, it is clear that all congregations and furthermore all Christians are called to practice hospitality, a “welcoming of the stranger” (Matthew 25), which would include all those considered different to oneself, whether that be due to socio-economic, cultural, ethnic or racial background.

Now, let's look at the following graph which encapsulates the continuum model we are proposing. 

Common Pitfalls in Multicultural Events and Services

When the desire for multicultural relationships and fellowship is sparked, many naturally turn to events as a way to make this happen. A common response is: “Let’s have a worship service and bring everyone together!” It is important to be aware of this response and also aware of some common pitfalls with this approach, that can, if not done carefully can actually be a hindrance to more long-term trust and relationships.

A common mistake is to have an event in order to build relationships, rather than to build relationships in order to have an event. Most cultures in the world are relational in focus, rather than task focused.  In multicultural contexts, relationship should always precede event and task.

Often the dominant culture will invite leaders from other cultures to an event, but have not involved the leaders of those other culture groups in the planning of said event. Unwittingly, multiple barriers to participation of these other cultural groups in said event may be set. For example, a planning meeting is set at a time in which most, full-time pastors or staff are available, say Tuesday lunch, a time which may be very difficult for leaders of other cultures to be present if they are bi-vocational or not full time staff. 

How do we do multicultural events well then?

First, it is important to realize that truly multicultural events, whether it simply be a worship service, or a full-conference, requires a lot more work! Ask yourself, have the leaders of this event already done the necessary relational work and built the necessary relational trust a head of time in order for an event of this kind to be a success?  Before jumping into planning an event, you may realize that first a season of relationship building needs to be had. See the section below on building cross-cultural relationships.

Second, are the different cultures that will be participating also participating in the leading and planning of the event?  Usually these kinds of events are planned by the dominant cultural groups who happen to have more time and resources available to go to meetings and planning sessions. Pastors and leaders from disempowered cultural groups are often vocational and have less free time.

How will you involve the leaders of these different groups in the planning of the event as well as the execution?

Third, realize that communication is usually handled very differently in different cultural groups. While Anglo churches and leaders may depend heavily on email and indirect, technological communication, many non-Anglo cultures are much more word of mouth, relational communicators. An Anglo leader may dutifully send out an email to a non-Anglo leader and assume that effective communication has been had and then be frustrated when the invitation was not followed up upon. In general the more personal communication the better: a text is better than an email, a phone call is better than a text, a face-to-face invitation is better than a call. 

Furthermore, it’s important to realize that language can vary widely in different contexts. Words or phrases such as “high church” or “vigil” may mean widely different things in different contexts. Care must go into planning an event and the language used around the event so that different cultural groups even understand the nature and purpose of an event.

How to build healthy cross-cultural relationships?

Healthy relationships are founded upon deep trust and mutuality. Again it is important to be very aware of the power dynamics that often hamper and get in the way of honest, truly authentic cross-cultural relationships, whether here or abroad.

1)    Never begin a relationship with money. This knee-jerk reaction often present, unfortunately, immediately furthers the power-distance and makes one group a “giver” and one group a “receiver” making future mutuality and trust very difficult. Sharing of resources should only be done after a lot of relational work has been done, usually over the course of years of trust-building.

2)    Eat, eat, eat together. Why did Jesus spend so much time in people’s homes and at parties? He understood that so much of building relationships and trust is about the table. This should be easy for us Anglicans who sacramentally understand the centrality of the table. Before doing an event together, eat together. If you do plan an event, make sure food is at the center. Eat at each others’ homes, also and eat each others’ foods. Invite yourself to their home, invite them to your home.

3)    Listen: Good cross-cultural relationships are born out of a careful listening of the “other’s” story on it’s own terms and categories. It involves a deep empathy, a “putting yourself in their shoes” and a considering others as “better than oneself”  This is especially key when there is a need for healing between groups.

4)    Learn to celebrate and to mourn together: Galatians 6:2 calls us to “bear each other’s burdens.” Suffering is often much more at the forefront of disempowered cultural groups, whether it’s due to poverty, social exclusion, or historic racism. Learning to both celebrate together, but also to mourn together is key to living as household.  1 Cor. 12:26: “If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it.”

Practical Steps to Move Towards Household

1)    Identify where you are. Are you in hostility, unconscious apathy or hospitality?

2)    Identify your goal. Are you called to full household? Perhaps, you are called to deeper hospitality.

3)    Realize that to move from hostility to hospitality involves a need for healing.

4)    Build Relationship, first, do events second

  • Meals, Meals, Meals.
  • Be willing to listen to other’s pain (especially minority and disempowered groups) recognizing that some times it takes years to build the necessary relationally trust for others to open up and share to this degree. Sometimes, after a season of listening, an apology from the dominant group may be helpful on ways the dominant culture has hurt others.
  • Reciprocal Hospitality

5)    Be intentional:

  • Seek a cross-cultural consultant to help guide this process.
  • Clearly make an explicit public goal as a ministry or congregation: include in your vision statement, or values or goals for the coming year a growing in multi-ethnic hospitality, or a vision for being a multicultural household.
  • Make a clear teaching, preaching and formation plan for your leaders first and then parishioners or ministry members.
  • Seeing gifts (rather than deficits) of other
  • Provide regular Cross-cultural training opportunities, especially for dominant culture leaders. Non-dominant culture leaders, by necessity have developed more cross-cultural skills.
  • Make a plan to begin inviting the voice of non-dominant leaders. Listen carefully.
  • Invite non-dominant culture leaders into different teams, leadership circles
  •  Prayer

6)    Moving from hospitality to household

  • Count the Cost: Be clear on how much work it’s going to take and how long.
  • Seek a cross-cultural consultant to help guide this process
  • Cross-Cultural Conflict teaching and tools necessary for leaders/staff
  • Make a plan for how to do deep, structural change in your organization:

 i.     How are power, leadership, resources and decision making distributed? How can this be shared?

 ii.     Leadership Pathways: how do we create unique, sustainable pathways for non-dominant culture leaders?

 iii.     Redistribution of Resources (buildings, budgets, staff): how do we share and redistribute resources in equitable and just ways?

Addendum: Reflections on Household and Overseas/Reciprocal Mission

“Sometimes it’s easier to cross the ocean than to cross the street.” -Pastor Michael Wright, True Freedom Cornerstone

“In Mexico they wanted to be my friends because they wanted to do missions to me, but when I moved to the United States no one wanted to be my friend.” Testimony from a Mexican student who came to study in the US after having received many short-term mission trips from the US. (Urban Entry’s “Race and Culture” DVD Curriculum).

The above graph and ministry model, in addition to describing how to build local cross-cultural relationships, can be used as a model for growing in relationship with global mission partners and congregations in other countries. There are key difference however which are worth noting. Why is it the case that it’s often easier to do mission in Mexico than to partner with Mexican congregations and leaders here in the US? Why is it harder to build “household” with African-Americans on the West side of Chicago than with Nigerians in Nigeria?

One way to describe this reality is that it’s one thing to host someone from another country for a week in one’s home, it’s something very different to have someone live with you for two years. Little differences or misunderstandings that are more easily brushed aside on a short trip or visit begin to loom larger when they come up time and time again in long-term living together.

Also, when trying to build relationships locally that there is a history of hurt to deal with between racial and cultural groups in the US and most of our major cities. There is a healing that needs to take place before relationships can be built that is not necessarily the case with leaders in other countries. Lastly, we must be honest with ourselves and realize that often the “foreign” and the “over there” is more exotic and often simply more appealing than the difficult, long-term work required to build equitable and just relationships here.

For deep trust and relationship, healing is usually an intermediate step, say, between black and anglo cultural groups that needs to take place to move from hostility and hospitality and then to household. Because of this it may be quicker to go to hospitality between a white American and a Nigerian in Nigeria than between white and black Americans in the same city in the US. Overseas relationships which are often easier to begin can be a great bridge, though, towards building more difficult local relationships. Kenyans can, for example, help bridge the gap between black and white Americans within the same city. Chileans can help bridge the cultural gap between Latino Americans and Anglo-Americans. And conversely, US-Latinos may be of help bridging the gap between Anglo-Americans and Mexicans in Mexico, for example.

It is important to note, however, that it is not always obvious or easy to predict how different cultural groups may relate to one another. A common assumption among anglo leaders in the US is that African Americans and Africans (say, Kenyans or Nigerians) are fairly similar to one another. Pastor Wright says that “the cultural gap between Africans and African Americans can often be larger than between African Americans and white Americans. There is a misconception that just because we share the same skin color our cultures are the same. The dynamic of oppression that black Americans have lived for centuries that is often difficult for African leaders (especially those with enough resources to travel to the US) to understand or identify with. “ Many would assume that all Latinos are essentially the same, but Chileans (who are often light skinned) often don’t identify as “latino,” see themselves as being more European in background and have the tendency of looking down on Mexicans and Central Americans who tend to be darker skinned, have a very different dialect and accent of Spanish and quite different cultures. Bringing Chileans to serve among Mexicans or Central Americans in the US, for example, can be quite complex and not as easy as it might seem. It would be like sending white, upper-middle class Americans from New York to serve among Irish immigrant day laborers in South Africa. The differences in culture and language are perhaps as many as the similarities.  


Contributors: Jonathan Kindberg, Eduardo Dávila, Joel Girard, Michael Wright, Ruth Velazquez,

Key Terms Defined:

Multiethnic: Multi-ethnic can refer to an event a congregation or gathering where many different ethnic and cultural groups are present in the audience. This could be referred to as a multi-colored room. However, this does not imply necessarily that the cultures of those present is represented in the leadership of the event or in the cultural expression or way the event is held. You may have lots of latinos in the cafeteria, but the food may still be macaroni and cheese. You may have a multiethnic congregation that still still sings primarily anglo, CCM style worship songs each week, for example.

Multicultural: A multicultural event or congregation, will have, at least to some degree, both in the audience as well as in the leadership and execution of an event, multiple cultural styles and expressions present.

Dominant Culture: The term often used is “majority culture” but in the US as a whole, and especially in most urban areas in the US demographically there is no “majority” culture. In Chicagoland, for example, an area which comprises over 9 million people and both city and suburbs, anglo americans comprise less than 50% of the total population. In metro-Chicago, whites (which also includes polish, Ukranian and other white immigrant groups), blacks and latinos are each approximately 30% of the population. To speak of “dominant culture” is to realize that though numerically no longer a majority in many settings, anglo or “white” culture is still often unconsciously seen as the norm or the “normal” way of doing things.  It is also to recognize that inherent in this reality is a power dynamic.

Disempowered Cultural Groups: Rather than speak of “minority” groups, a term that no longer has demographic validity, this term highlights that many cultural groups though large in number in society or in a region may not be represented either in leadership or in power in different congregational settings. 

Recommended Resources: 


Key Books:

The Next Evangelicalism 


Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong Chan Rah