Post Seminary Reading Plan: Pastoring In a Multicultural Society

Post Seminary Reading Plan: Pastoring In a Multicultural Society February 5, 2018

By Pastor/Professor Dennis Edwards

When I started out as an urban church planter, nearly 30 years ago, there were just a few books focused on urban ministry, such as Ray Bakke’s classic, Urban Christian, and even less discussing multicultural ministry (no surprise, considering the Homogeneous Unit Principle of Church Growth was pushed in seminaries in the USA). The few books that started to emerge were typically the “here’s our story” kind of book, which might serve as a source of inspiration, but typically did not take seriously matters of context. Such works often lacked rigorous theological or sociological study. There is a need for studies that engender transferable principles that might apply in a variety of settings. I offer the following book titles as helpful analyses to encourage all practitioners to approach multicultural ministry with more than good intentions (and most of these books are written by people of color).

Multicultural ministry is not a snapshot of a weekend worship service, even if that service looks like a United Colors of Benetton advertisement. The real work of multicultural ministry takes place over the long haul. Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland gets to the core of why we all can’t “just get along.” Christians say that we should be united but it is difficult and Dr. Cleveland not only explains why, she offers a way forward.

Korie L. Edwards, in The Elusive Dream, goes where many fear to tread. She is a sociologist who observes that churches who claim to be multicultural—even with the senior pastor being a person of color—still function in ways to preserve the comfort of white people. In other words, the power still resides among the white members of the congregation. This book challenges many assumptions about what a multicultural church is.

I believe that an updated edition of Divided by Faith is in the works. It’s hard to believe the book is 17 years old. Even so, this has been perhaps the most helpful for me in articulating why white evangelicalism has often been toxic for people of color. While the authors (Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith) eschew the word “racism,” preferring to use “racialized,” the book examines how the theology and worldview of American evangelicals can contribute to racism rather than work to dismantle it.

Soong-Chan Rah knows how to stir things up, get us thinking, and prompt us to action! The Next Evangelicalism confronts white supremacy in American Christianity while Many Colors provides some practical direction for multicultural ministry.

Scot McKnight has done the rare thing of taking his serious study of the New Testament and finding ways to communicate to the average church attendee. His love for God’s church comes through in Fellowship of Differents. The church should be a “salad bowl,” whose unique elements come together not to lose their identity, but to enhance each other’s “flavor,” so to speak. McKnight looks at various Pauline communities and we contemporary followers of Jesus do well to understand as much as we can about the First Century Church.

If I could be allowed to squeeze a bit more onto my list, I’d say all pastors do well to read anything from the legendary John M. Perkins, whose work applies to urban, suburban, and rural contexts, and also assists us in multicultural ministry.

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