From Multicultural Ministry to Intercultural Ministry


Frist draft written by John Lee, September 1, 2006

Revised on August 1, 2012


How does the church sense the flow of the world? Does the church move with the flow of the world? How much does the Church realize the impact of globalization and the mass media on cultural life? The popular topics in any secular institutional development are: reflecting on globalization; public and cultural policies; economics and culture; communications and culture; and cultural globalization, etc.


To sense and follow up with the flow of the world, church must understand that new cultural indicators are fundamental to measure the degree of influence of cultural diversity in human development. Current indicators of growth are based on economic criteria that contribute to adopt patterns that result in an increased fragmentation of society. Interaction with cultural diversity is an essential tool for human development and it is important in human development of contemporary world of globalisation. As a crucial factor, the cultural sector should take an initial step for  its resolution by facing the challenges of the human kind, namely the fight against poverty, insecurity and conflict resolution.


Cultural diversity is also related to a series of elements that are the key to development, as it introduces pluralism, social cohesion, growth and sustainable development, cultural dialogue and juridical security. For this reason, multicultural policies in community give recognition to differences, defend diversity and foster cultural identity in order for all individuals to be able to communicate in their own language, practise their religion and, ultimately, to be able to claim their own truths.


Multicultural Ministry is a new concept which resulted by interaction that arose out of changing social demography as a reactionary perspective from the ministry of the power group, the mainstream's mono-perspective. There is tension between the power group and less powered group. Therefore multicultural ministry focuses on the ethnic visibility and the mainstream’s inclusiveness of the ethnic minority. It speaks about hospitality of the host’s for the guests or new comer not as one body/family.


Multicultural Ministry in the context of diverse cultures is about ethnic minority or newly arrived migrants. It focuses primarily visibility. People’s understanding of Multicultural Ministry varies and mainly focused on visibility or superficial coexistence of diverse culture. This mindset has to do with ethnocentrism, eurocentrism, and racism on the part of the majority culture which are implicit in our codes of behaviour and practice, world outlook, cultural norms, indeed in all aspects of our lives. The consequence of these phenomena is the alienation, exclusion, and marginalisation of ethnic minority from equal and full participation. That is the reality for most people outside that cultural norm. At the same time, it develops into racism within the church and society.


For many churches ministry in a culturally diverse context is a new frontier of mission which is not reactive but proactive that enables the people move into one body of Christ. How this can be possible? Seeking the answer to this question is moving towards the intercultural ministry as it is joining in God’s ongoing new creation in the chaotic situation of all sorts of diversity. Intercultural ministry goes beyond ministry with and for the minority ethnic groups or with newly arrived migrants. It is a ministry to all people across the boundaries of their various cultures. It involves deeper engagement and mutual impact between members and congregations of different cultures, leading to new opportunities in the life and mission of the whole church.


The raison d’être of Christ’s church is to serve the world as it is “with”, “in” and “for” the world. Then the  context of church’s ministry should be based on recognition of differences of individuals amongst cultural diversities, since the community of faith develops by recognizing the unique gifts in differences of many. Recognition of different gifts and valuing them as unique treasure of the community and individuals enable the church to establish the cognitive links within the communities with many diversities



The United Church of Canada affirms inclusiveness of different cultures so that all may be one from its inauguration. It has taken a faithful journey to become on body of Christ since its birth through union of three churches, Methodist Church, two thirds of Presbyterian Church and Congregational Church in Canada. However becoming into one has not been realized within all the aspects of its ministries. In this journey of “becoming community” to be one, the Church realized that ministry in and for the new world requires a new institutional status of intercultural ministry and finally the Church develops into a new faith stance that takes the intercultural ministry as primary subject matter in ministry.


On the last day of GC39, the Church approve the statement “Call to Purpose: A message from the church to the church” which proclaims “we will be mindful of our commitment to interculturalism.” With will support the Church to promote the ministry with full acceptance of diversity by all members of the Church. Intercultural Ministry speaks of cultural diversity, ethnic minority and ethnic majority as the same level, not as host and guest paradigm. Therefore intercultural ministry names ethnic minority and ethnic majority not as qualitative difference but as quantitative difference. Enactment of intercultural ministry requires a commitment to create cultural visibility in which all people of the Church participate. It is necessary to develop participatory cultural experiences within the current ministry so that all of its members acting in full awareness of their cultural uniqueness as individuals and also as a community.


Intercultural ministry is not a marginalised ministry only to  ethnic minority groups. It is not an extension of mission overseas. It is an integral part of the life of the whole church, enriching every aspect of it and including every member. Given this reality, as Christians and as members of the United Church, we can only speak in terms of a vision and hope for what is the journey of it  to become. Church needs to be challenged and changed so as to begin the journey to being truly multicultural or go beyond multicultural ministry and move into intercultural ministry. Intercultural ministry is a vision of God’s diverse human family becoming a reality right here in the United Church. It is a vision of the church becoming a community of faith where all equally belong and walk together.


Intercultural ministry talks about inner dynamic of the community and its transformation. It is not to achieve transposition that ends up with superficial change. Therefore it is a longing for a new spirituality; a new way of being where all can trust, forgive and practice active welcoming, just sharing of resources, and affirm interdependency, connectedness and belonging to one another with mutual respect. It is more than co-existence. It is more than simply making space for one another to be part of any communities, and it is more than tolerating difference. The United Church’s journey to becoming truly intercultural requires the recognition that the unity of the church is more than the union of three former denominations.


The spirit of the union should go beyond the physical dinominational union, and it should include also the union of Christians of many cultures and ethnic origins. This union is a gift of God through Christ who is the head of the church and who heals and reconciles. It is an expression of the commitment to be faithful to Jesus Christ who taught us to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will bedone." It is an expression of the church’s commitment to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ that transcends cultural and ethnic, national and racial barriers. It involves taking seriously the good news that Jesus Christ has made peace between people of every ethnicity, culture and class. This unity is a foretaste of the reconciliation of all things in Christ . This is a goal to be achieved as the church commits itself to becoming a church characterised by its commitment to justice, respect and valuing one another’s cultures, and protection for victims of racial hatred and violence.


The Church needs to realize the fact that its membership is made up of people of different cultures and ethnicities. The Church should be open to visitors and new comers, and particularly to strangers. Seeing diversity in a positive and proactive way is a reminder that the church is both product and agent of God's mission of healing and reconciliation. This reminds the people of the church that church's responsibility as a church to be the sign and witness to the good news of Christ. The Church should therefore seek to be a sign of hope within the Canadian society, particularly to those marginalised because of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.


To be the church of transformation, it needs to provide for the full participation of minority ethnic people in its decision making process; it needs to ensure that they are welcomed and given equitable rights in the use of the church’s properties; and it needs to ensure that they have access to its resources. Their concerns and perspectives should be reflected in the agenda of business of all the church structure, and most of all, the church needs to be open to the changes so that the Holy Spirit will bring through the creative contributions and participation of people of different ethnic and cultural groups to its life.


The journey to becoming a church that is truly intercultural will not be easy. It will inevitably involve painful and difficult times. It does not happen in a day to eliminate people’s misunderstanding and hurting each other. Unconscious attitudes of the dominant culture that ‘our’ way is the best way of doing things continue to be challenged. Intercultural ministry means how to live together in harmony and it is the matter of changing life style. The Church’s affirmation of intercultural ministry means that all the members of the Church need for new hearts and minds for this new journey in and for the contemporary world.


The hope of intercultural ministry is the realisation of the reign of God on earth. The vision of intercultural ministry is for a Christian community in which -

  • mutual respect between different cultures
  • the uniqueness of each culture is recognized, valued and affirmed
  • all can accept as they are
  • all can share and learn from each other
  • all can participate equally in decision making
  • includes the harmonious sharing of life with people from diverse cultures
  • people of no faith and other faiths with the love of Jesus Christ
  • ecumenism is more than union of denominations.


A truly intercultural church is a place where unity in Christ is affirmed whilst at the same time the distinctiveness of each culture is valued. It is a unity without uniformity; the harmonious sharing of life with people from diverse cultural traditions in one church as the body of Christ. We now can say that an Intercultural Church:

  • knows that the human family is one race, consisting of people of different ethnicity and cultures, by God’s deliberate design;
  • rejoices in the diverse gifts of the human family as treasures in their own right;
  • welcomes all people into the community of faith regardless of colour, ethnicity, language or culture;
  • boldly rejects racism which prevents authentic engagement with the diverse cultures within the community, and allows hatred and prejudice to thrive;
  • uses interculturalism as a key organising principle for the church in society;
  • opposes and challenges institutional racism at all levels of church and society;
  • welcomes the diverse spirituality of all in its liturgy, worship and learning;
  • is open to sharing its gifts, premises and resources with brothers and sisters who need a place to gather and worship God;
  • is committed to developing cross-cultural, intercultural and multicultural relations amongst its members respectfully and with sensitivity; and
  • works for justice for all of creation.

Multicultural church remains within the transposition which ends up with many difficulties and limitations to move towards the holistic ministry that reflects God's mission. To achieve the transformation, church should move into the new vision of interculttural ministry through intersubjective, mutual respect that will become truly one body of Christ..


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 This site is prepared by the Rev. John Young-Jung Lee,

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Updated Septemter 1, 2006.  Revised August 1, 2012