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Preaching to Every Pew: A Book Review Essay

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Introduction

            The issue of immigration continues to be a thorny issue in the United States. The number of Hispanics and Asians is on the rise. Even if there are sectors in the society who want to limit the number of immigrants in the country, it can no longer be denied that immigrants play an increasing role in the fabric of the American society. Up to some extent, the authorities and the people in the society should be able to cope with this reality and make the best use of the situation.

            As different races enter the United States, culture becomes richer and more diverse. The society, including the churches, should take note of the changes brought about by this phenomenon and reach out to people belonging to different cultural backgrounds. This multicultural setting, however, is a difficult thing to handle. There are different issues that have to be understood and dealt with if the churches would like to be relevant to all people groups.

After all, the church is not only a church for White people but the Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly stressed the universality of the Gospel and the brotherhood of all humans.

            Cultural diversity includes differences in language—and this not only involves the grammar and modes of speaking and writing. Rather, there are subtle nuances and differences in expressing metaphors and meaning, which is inherent in every language. As such, those who speak English as a second language would not easily understand metaphors and idiomatic expressions in the English language.

            In addition to this, every culture has different practices, which would seem incomprehensible or downright crazy to people from another culture. If the lenses of a particular culture were used to understand another, then the result would be conflict and misunderstanding.

Dealing with Multiculturalism in the Church

            The churches are not spared from this difficulty of dealing with multiculturalism. However, unlike the corporate world that explores how to deal with multiculturalism, churches are floundering with their efforts to reach out to people belong to different cultures. With this reality in North America, Nieman and Rogers’ book “Preaching to Every Pew” is a timely advice and provides a blueprint in dealing with multiculturalism.

            The book is not merely the musings of two theorists. Rather, the authors did extensive research and interviews with pastors whose ministries are located in multicultural settings. Hence, their ministry is grounded in actual practice, thereby providing credence to the concepts and principles that they explore. Their approach is systematic and comprehensive. They cover all the major factors affecting the issue of multiculturalism.

            The authors explore hospitality as a theological mandate for pastors and church members to deal with the cultural diversity in their congregations. Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, hospitality[1] is an important commandment of God.

In the New Testament, hospitality was extended to Jesus and eventually to the disciples as they propagated the world to different areas of the world. Their setting then was also multicultural. Jesus, himself, offers a great example of cross-cultural communication. When Jesus was in Samaria, he transcended cultural differences and social differences when he talked and ministered to the Samaritan woman. When he spoke to the woman, he used terms and cultural references that the woman could relate to. If he did not, then the chances are, the woman will not listen to him and simply dismiss his claims.

By looking at the example of Christ, we can see his sensitivity as well as the way he considered the cultural background of the person he is talking to. Through these theological principles, then, Christians are reminded of their roots and how they can emulate the example of Jesus and of the early disciples in dealing with believers from other cultural settings. This discussion is then followed by an examination of different cultural “frames” of the congregation.

Cultural Frames Affecting Diversity

There are four different cultural frames that the author explored: ethnicity, economic class, geographical displacement, and religious belief. These cultural frames were used by the authors in explaining the nature and dynamics of multiculturalism in the church. Through carefully crafted chapters, the authors described the cultural frame under consideration. After such a description, they listed down misconceptions and dealt with them point by point.

According to the authors, the concept of ethnicity is more comprehensive than the term “race” because the former takes into account the communal identities of peoples instead of merely taking note of colors and physical characteristics. In addition to this, people who move to the United States are usually displaced geographically because of economic needs—they do not have much opportunity to work in their countries. As such, they choose to risk their lives and their identities by coming to America.

As a result of the displacement, they become disoriented and they might feel that they do not belong to the new society where they relocated. Even if they were Christians from their places of origin, they still find it difficult to assimilate themselves to the American society that they find themselves in. In a sense, ethnicity becomes a question of politics and economics. Their social situation also has an important impact on the way they will accept or listen to sermons directed to them. Furthermore, because of their cultural backgrounds, they will have different views regarding Christianity and the message it brings.

Economic class is another cultural frame through which immigrants view their world. Because they have to work a lot and meet their needs, a lot of immigrants would rather go to work on Sundays rather than attend church and listen to the sermon. This should also be taken into account by preachers. After all, a pastor or a priest talking to middle class families will not make much sense to an immigrant who is barely making a living, in the same way that middle class could not relate with preaching directed towards rich people.

After dealing fully with the cultural frame, the authors then enumerate several areas in the frame under consideration, which preachers, pastors, and even priests should take into account as they minister through preaching to a multicultural congregation. In conclusion to the chapters dealing with these cultural frames, the authors suggest several strategies in preaching to a multicultural congregation.

People from other parts of the world tend to bring with them their own religion. When they enter the United States, they might have come from a Buddhist, Islamic, or non-Christian religions. Each religion would have its own worldview and assumptions about the world. Hence, there is also a challenge in communicating with people from different religions. But in a manner of speaking, those who have a similar concept of a personal God might be easier to talk to than those from polytheistic religions.

In the final chapter of the book, Niemann and Rogers provided a discussion on the ministry of preachers and their role in this fast changing world. Multiculturalism is another issue that they have to deal with if they were to minister effectively to their congregations. With globalization raging all over the world and as people become more mobile, the challenges of preaching can easily become gargantuan. The authors, therefore, provided several means in which preachers and pastors can do this.

The authors dealt with cultural diversity in the churches. However, they did not dwell much on the social advocacy part of the issue. Nonetheless, the authors did a good job of helping church workers be jolted awake in dealing with cultural diversity. The world tends to be confusing and more difficult to deal with because of a great deal of issues. Yet, the authors have drawn upon God’s word and actual experiences in the field to draw out interesting concepts and strategies to deal with this cultural diverse world created by God.

The Authors

            Both James R. Niemann and Thomas G. Rogers teach Homiletics. The former teaches at Wartburg Theological Seminary while the latter is Associate Professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Both authors are Lutheran in background. Even with their background, the authors were able to transcend denominational differences to become relevant to most denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church since the issue they are dealing with affects not only protestant churches, but every church in general.

Cultural Diversity and the Challenge of the Times

Cultural diversity can no longer be prevented. In fact, it might grow even more pronounced in the coming years as more and more countries become open to each other. Because of this diversity, people from different cultural backgrounds will have different and radical interpretations even if they were listening to the same message. Niemann and Rogers’ book helps preachers deal with this. In the process, they are also helping congregations in the long run in understanding God’s word preached to them.

            “Preaching to Every Pew” is a relevant book to our times—for mainline protestant denomination and even for the Roman Catholic Church. The book provides a comprehensive look at how culture shapes the worldviews of people and how it influences the already complicated process of communication. Since preaching is a form of communication involving the word of God, the authors then outline principles and practices based on scriptures and on actual practice so that preaching can be more dynamic in dealing with cultural diversity.

In this regard, the book is a very useful tool for pastors, priests and even lay preachers. It helps them become more relevant and interesting. Hopefully, by consulting this book, pastors, preachers, and priests can avoid becoming boring and insensitive in the church. Rather, they can become dynamic and sensitive to the cultural diversity that God has instituted in the world.

            The authors have provided great insights into the cross-cultural nature of society. These are grounded in biblical principles and practical application. Yet, there is no alternative for loving people and treating them as neighbors in accordance with what the Bible teaches. Differences may be there but through cross-cultural strategies, pastors, preachers and priests can truly help in making these Christians one although diverse.

Conclusion

            The Church is Christ’s legacy. It is His instrument in working out His will on the planet. The church, on the other hand, even through its flaws and mistakes, is called upon to initiate people into the wonderful experience of following Christ. This is done best by preaching and actual means of reaching out to people.

            The issue of immigration has been going on in the United States for the past decades. As this trend goes on, the Church is called upon to rethink its strategies and its framework in dealing with an increasingly becoming multicultural society. Although preaching is still a good way of reaching out to these immigrants, additional strategies are needed so that they can become more receptive to the message that the church has to offer. If they were tapped and immersed in the life of the church in the United States, these immigrants can add vibrancy and dynamism to the church through their different perspectives[2].

Christ, as the model of the Church, loved people and accepted them. In the course of his ministry, he showed cultural relevance and sensitivity. The church should no less than follow his footsteps. Otherwise, it fails to be relevant and it fails the mandate given to it by Christ.  Niemann and Rogers have done a great job in showing to the church and Christians alike how to devised strategies and techniques dealing with multiculturalism in the society and in the church.

Bibliography

Niemann, James R. and Thomas G. Rogers. Preaching to Every Pew: Cross-Cultural Strategies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.

Warner, R. Stephen and Judith G. Wittner. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Temple University Press, 1998

[1] Niemann, James R. and Thomas G. Rogers. Preaching to Every Pew: Cross-Cultural Strategies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. (p. 18)

[2] Warner, R. Stephen and Judith G. Wittner. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Temple University Press, 1998, p. 368.

 

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