Posted September 24, 2007
Preaching that embraces and welcomes cultural diversity within the congregation ó taken from Preaching Words [Already posted on our website]
The increasingly multicultural context in North America poses a range of issues for preachers. Although some resources for the planning of worship and for church leadership currently exists, there is very little written regarding multicultural preaching. Recently, James R. Nieman and Thomas G. Rogers have published a book based upon interviews with practicing preachers who have some experience with multicultural congregations. Their book provides several helpful insights.
In the first place, Nieman and Rogers assert that it is crucial for the congregation as a whole to adopt both a theology and an ethic that support and encourage the welcoming of persons from other cultures. Congregations must assess whether, in fact, they are truly open to others and decide consciously to pursue the presence of a wide range of persons in their midst. Unless the congregation has a core commitment to embracing cultural diversity, multicultural preaching wil have no real effect.
Second, preachers must assess their listeners. This process should take place regularly. Some of Niemanís and Rogerís interview questions could be revised for this process: 1. Describe the congregationís cultural diversity and your place in the mix. What would an outsider coming in to preach need to know in order to preach effectively in this context? 2. What expectations about preaching already affect what you do? 3. What gets in the way of good preaching here? What seems to work well? Less well? 4. What cultural mores or conventions are present that might affect how you preach? 5. What themes are most important for this congregation to hear at this time?
Third, it is important to study the social and cultural context and its demographics. Sermons can be written to respond to the issues and problems of living together as a diverse community beyond the congregation. Nieman and Rogers highlight typical issues caused by class distinctions, such as wealth and a sense of danger, grief, and loss, as well as the need for spiritual place, sanctuary and hope.
Fourth, preachers can be careful about the ways they teach the faith to persons from other cultures. Nieman and Rogers encourage respect for the traditional religious backgrounds of listeners, coupled with the clear articulation of the basic, distinctive elements of Christian faith. They also encourage preachers to teach the core ideas and values of Christian faith on a fairly regular basis.
Fifth, preachers can use multicultural illustrations and images, working to locate the good news in varied cultural experiences. Preachers will need to get to know well persons from cultures other than their own, in order to learn best how to identify and celebrate the ways that Godís grace is experienced in their lives.
Sixth, preachers can consider conversational or collaborative forms of preaching that can build relationships around the pulpit itself. Preachers can establish pre-sermon round-table discussions that are intentionally multicultural. This provides a regular context for listening to the ways persons from other cultures relate biblical ideas to their lives. This process should provide ample time for storytelling so that the preacher can hear the ways the gospel is relevant for diverse forms of experience.
Seventh, preachers can allow time in worship for testimony. According to Lucy Rose, testimony is an important way of including marginal voices within a congregation. Testimony allows congregations to hear the different and often unique ways the gospel is received is received and understood. Testimony also allows diverse persons to gain a foothold in the churchís practice of proclamation.
Finally, preachers can pay special attention to the ways in which ritual process, liturgical symbol, vestments, artifacts, and music respond to cultural diversity. The context for preaching can be intentionally multicultural and express, in a natural and indigenous way, the cultural diversity present and hoped for in worship.