MULTICULTURAL & Multiethnic: Are They The Same Thing? Yes & No

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/11/15

A student once asked “Is multicultural and multigenerational the same thing?” Well in some ways they are, but in other important ways they are not.  Let me explain.

Multicultural is a broad term that can be an over-arching description for organizations with many varieties of culture within it (for more on this click here).

For instance, both multiethnic and multigenerational are sub-sets of a multicultural organization.  Thus …

  • An ethnicity can be a culture, but
    • Though an ethnicity also has many cultures within it.
    • Because ethnicity is usually tied to your historical geographic area, some ethnicities if they come from a small area can be cultures but those that come from large geographic areas are usually not cultures.
      • So a tribal group in Papua New Guinea might have a unique culture tied to their small geographic area from which they came.
      • But it is often not accurate to say there is any such thing as a Chinese culture.  Here is how I stated this in The Healthy Church: “For instance, China has 50+ recognized ethnic groups but they all originate from the same country.[iv] While all are Chinese, so too are all 50+ different cultures.[v] Since ethnicity is so imprecise, culture is usually preferred.”
  • A generation can be a culture, but
    • A generation can have many cultures within it too.
      • You can call my generation the Boomer Generation and we have some generally common characteristics, e.g. we were born to parents that had endured two World Wars and a world-wide economic depression. That gave us generally and world-wide some similar cultural traits.
      • Within the Boomer culture you have cultures, such as
        • Yuppies, now the 2 percenters,
        • Eternal Hippies
        • Jesus Freaks (now Evangelicals)
        • Nostalgia “Old Guys Rule” Clan
        • Still-think-they-are-30 grandparents, etc.
    • Thus using the term “multicultural” can be a meta-term that creates a general picture but tries not to offend by becoming too specific.  (For ideas for when to use multicultural or another term, keep reading below).
  • And, an organization could even be multicultural and not be multigenerational.

The key is to describe as accurately as possible type of culture you are addressing.

To understand what a culture is and the differences see:

  • Cultures & A Cumulative List of Cultures from My Books, excerpted from my books with page numbers and footnotes.
  • And here are Exercises for Cultural Diversity from my book The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to strengthen a Church’s Heart, Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013.
  • Plus you will find a list of the variety of cultures just in No. America in “The No. American Cultural Mix” in Preparing for Change Reaction (2007, pp. 50-60).

So, let me give some examples of when to say multigenerational and multiethnic.

So, if your organization needs to be multigenerational, then use multigenerational terminology when writing/discussing your organization.

But, maybe your church (or for instance a church in a denominational district) might need to reach out to a growing Hispanic community. Then that church might need to become a multi-ethnic organization.

One student might refer to their denominational district as “becoming multicultural” because some churches are becoming multi-ethnic and others are becoming multi-generational.

But another student might refer to his ministry as becoming more multi-generational, because it needs to create a partnership between several generations

Thus, one student might use “multicultural” in their discussion (and title of a paper) if they were dealing with an organization of several different cultures, and another student might use “multigenerational” in their discussion (and title of a paper) because they are focusing on reaching out to one specific new culture.  Now, every church is made up of multiple cultures, so don’t try to get too specific.

Capture how your organization will reach out to another culture. Thus, use the terms that most precisely describe what you are doing to expand the evangelistic footprint of your ministry.

GENERATIONS & The Benefits of Hiring Culturally-specific Pastors

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/15/15.

Below are my thoughts to a good question posited by a student who said, “I have a few questions about the generational pastors. I see where that would seem to work in certain size congregations, but what about in a church with 4000 people?  What about in a church with 10000+ people?  Our church has 10 pastors:

  1. Executive Pastor
  2. Lead Pastor
  3. Worship Pastor
  4. Spiritual Formation Pastor
  5. Student Ministries Pastor
  6. High School Pastor
  7. Global Outreach Pastor
  8. Local Outreach Pastor
  9. Small Group Pastor
  10. Pastor of Care/Counseling”

Hello (Name of Student);

Thanks for sharing.  I have helped churches like yours move to a more healthy (and organic) style with multiple pastors, each for a different culture.  Let me explain.

Basically, you have a team of 10 pastors cutting (horizontally) across several cultures.  Thus, some pastors will have more work, and some less.

But, you also have “cultural” pastors in your High School and Student Ministries pastor.  I would suggest you create more “cultural” pastors (Hispanic Pastor, African-American Pastor, Senior Adult Pastor, Emerging Generations Pastor, etc.) and call them what ever you want.  Then you will have leaders for different cultures.  And, your emerging cultures (e.g. Hispanic, Emerging Gen., etc.) won’t feel like one culture controls the church.  Instead, a “council of ‘cultural’ pastors” will lead the church.

This also demotes departmental pastors to directors (like worship pastor to worship director, and small groups pastor to small group director).  The power thus resides in “cultural” pastors working in tandem, rather than in “departmental” pastors often competing against one another for scarce organizational funds.

A church can grow to any size this way.

In the book, Inside the Organic Church you will find the example of St. Tom’s church in Sheffield UK and their 9 “cultural” pastors for 9 different “cultural celebrations.”

MULTICULTURAL & In This Model It Only Seems Like the Senior Pastor Isn’t Really a Shepherd

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/15/15.

Once a student felt I was letting the senior minister off the hook in the Multicultural or Multi-congregational model. To her it appeared that the senior pastor’s role “…seems a lot of oversight and administration, no real pastoring???”

I think the confusion comes over the word pastoring and its root word: shepherding. There are two general ways people define this term.

Definition 1: If we define shepherding as discipling others, then yes, in a church that is above 75 in attendance, the role of shepherding all individuals becomes too wieldy for one pastor.  Jesus Himself only discipled 12 individuals, and then had them (and their disciples such as the 72 – Luke 10:1-3) disciple others.

Definition 2: Or we think of shepherding as: leading the flock forward. With this alternative definition it then it is feasible for the senior pastor of a church over 75 to do this.

The Scriptures better support the former (Definition 1), where shepherding is analogous to discipleship. Thus, even Jesus didn’t shepherd a large group, but allowed the Jethro Principle to be utilized (oversight was given by multiples of 10 with basic groups of only 10 each, Exodus 18:17-27), so that small groups emerged as the basic discipleship venue.  Thus, there should be many shepherds in a church over 75 (and some would argue anytime a church is over 12). These many shepherds, including the senior minister, would each disciple a small group per Jesus’ example and as seen in the effectiveness of small group systems (see St. Tom’s example my book Inside the Organic Church, Whitesel 2006). The senior minister is not exempt from this task, for he or she disciples a group of 12 or so as well. This group will usually be leaders who themselves shepherd other leaders, and so forth (see Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus 18:1-27).

The confusion arises when pastors go into the ministry because they want to do “real pasturing” which they perceive as shepherding everybody in the church, only to discover that the church is larger than can be shepherded by one shepherd. Thus, because the pastor does not begin to disciple and mentor so-called under-shepherds, everyone looks to the senior shepherd for personal ministry. And, because he or she is overwhelmed the shepherd decides they are not cut out for the senior pastorate.  Semantics tend to confuse things here, for we shouldn’t probably call a senior pastor a shepherd (he or she is, just not of everyone … but of a group of under-shepherds). That is why I prefer the term lead minister, or senior leader.

And, most shepherds have other jobs too. A small group shepherd might do this as a church volunteer and work as an accountant or businesswoman the rest of the time. Similarly, the senior minister will usually be employed by the church and have as his or her other job (aside from discipling his or her leadership group) the job of church planning and oversight. Thus, it is easy to see how it can seem like “… a lot of oversight and administration, no real pastoring,” when in actuality in the Multi-Gen. Church the senior minister should be pastoring … just not everybody. That is the duty of an expansive shepherding network comprised of many lay and professional under-shepherds.

Thus, don’t let the semantics confuse you. The senior shepherd is really the senior minister and also a trainer/mentor.  Yet, the small group leaders are the most prolific shepherds, as is witnessed in the cell-church movement, St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England (the largest Anglican church in the UK) and in programs such as Stephen Ministers. I hope this clears up the often confusing explanations and opposite expectations that are put upon the terms: shepherding.

GENERATIONS & How Millennial Are You? Take the Quiz by #PewResearch

By Pew Research, 2/24/15.

Take our 14 item quiz and we’ll tell you how “Millennial” you are, on a scale from 0 to 100, by comparing your answers with those of respondents to a scientific nationwide survey. You can also find out how you stack up against others your age…

Take the quiz at …