Volume 43 - Issue 2

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons

by Matthew D. Kim

Preachers face culturally diverse congregations. Churches increasingly gather listeners from multiple ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Preachers feel stretched by the demands of ministry and fear insensitive responses to the pressing cultural challenges confronting the church. Matthew Kim urges preachers to aim not only for the insiders of the majority culture, but also for the outsiders who are usually forced to conform to the majority. Kim, a professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes as an ethnic Korean who was born and raised in the United States living with the cultural tensions of an outsider. With this helpful book, he introduces the concept of cultural intelligence from the business world. Preachers must develop the ability to communicate to people with whom they do not have a shared cultural background. Preaching is bridge building that takes the main idea of the biblical text into the listeners’ hearts. An explanation of cultural intelligence as a tool for understanding our listeners and ourselves (Part 1) provides the framework for homiletical practice within varied cultural contexts (Part 2).

Cultural intelligence requires understanding listeners’ ways of living, ways of thinking, and ways of behaving as the preacher considers how his listeners will respond to the biblical text (chapter 1). The plan for preaching with cultural intelligence follows three stages, each developed by an acronym (chapter 2). Hermeneutics, stage one of the homiletical template, encourages preachers to follow the HABIT of engaging with the Historical, grammatical, and literary context, Author’s cultural context, Big idea of the text, Interpreted in your context, and aware of your Theological presuppositions. Stage 2, the homiletical BRIDGE, examines Beliefs, Rituals, Idols, Dreams, God, and Experiences of listeners. Stage 3 of homiletics offers a DIALECT of Delivery, Illustrations, Application, Language, Embrace, Content, and Trust. Seasoned preachers who have developed shortcuts in their preparation will no doubt benefit from a review of the homiletical template Kim offers, even if the somewhat cumbersome acronyms are left unutilized.

Exegesis requires a cultural understanding of the world of the biblical text as well as a cultural exegesis of the various cultures represented in the congregation. The preacher’s first task is to understand the biblical author’s culture in order to uncover the Big Idea of the text (chapter 3). In using this language, Kim reveals his debt to the former professor of preaching at Gordon-Conwell, Haddon Robinson. Pastors will also benefit from the practical homiletical reminders to be sensitive and varied in illustrations. Applications, likewise, should show balance between individual and corporate applications as well as balance between “being versus doing applications” (p. 27). The admonition to exegete one’s own cultural assumptions is particularly timely for majority culture preachers who long to move from cultural stereotypes to cultural empathy (chapter 4).

The homiletical template—cultural understanding in hermeneutics, consideration of the listeners, and culturally sensitive homiletical delivery—is applied to the cultural diversity found between denominations (chapter 5), ethnicities (chapter 6), genders (chapter 7), locations of urban, suburban, and rural congregations (chapter 8), and world religions (chapter 9). The format of the chapters, tied to the acronyms of the homiletical template, lends to repetition but Kim’s insights into ethnicities forces Anglo-American preachers to prayerfully consider the needs of their listeners as the church makes a meaningful contribution to the cultural challenges of the twenty-first century.

The preacher must understand his denominational context to expose the assumptions in theology and ministry practice that can undermine meaningful communication. Perhaps the most helpful chapters, given their timeliness and Kim’s own pastoral experience, discuss ethnicities and gender. “Members of the dominant culture would be well served to realize that ethnic minorities live under a cloud of shame because we are continually reminded that we are different and do not blend in” (p. 112). Kim’s insights into preaching with cultural intelligence across ethnicities alone makes the book an essential addition to the homiletical literature. Consideration of gender impacts not only preparation, by forcing the preacher to consider the different kinds of questions men and women are likely to ask, but also requires sensitivity in tone and application. Kim suggests, “Ask real and meaningful questions, listen without interrupting, refrain from offering immediate solutions, develop focus groups” (p. 153). Developing cultural intelligence requires continual work, and Kim acknowledges his efforts represent only the beginning of a conversation. As the conversation continues it will aid preachers to draw from texts that do not appear to raise immediate cultural challenges. Kim chooses sample texts that directly address the highlighted cultural issues. Even the less culturally sensitive will consider issues of location when preaching from Jeremiah’s call to seek the welfare of the city, but cultural intelligence requires such sensitivity when preaching any text of Scripture. Cultural intelligence is required not only when preaching on the inclusion of Gentiles in Acts 15, but also when making applications from other texts that do not directly raise the issue of insiders and outsiders.

Loving our neighbors requires cultural intelligence. Kim offers a clear challenge, maintains an evangelical commitment to the authority of the text, and provides pastoral examples of cultural sensitivity. The conversations, in print but more importantly in pastoral ministry, deserve continued attention. Kim offers a clear, practical, and culturally intelligent introduction to the discussion. Christian discipleship demands such intelligence and this book offers encouragement in this journey.

Kevin D. Koslowsky

Kevin D. Koslowsky
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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