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Leading a Multicultural Church by Malcolm Patten

18 April 2017

Anna Poulson looks at advice for those with a culturally diverse flock

Leading a Multicultural Church
Malcolm Patten
SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70


AS AN increasing number of communities become more ethnically diverse, church leaders need to adapt. Malcolm Patten’s book sets out to equip those of us who are privileged to lead multicultural churches by providing helpful frameworks and tools.

His remit is ambitious. Alongside exploring biblical and theological principles that might guide the minister of a multicultural church, the first half of the book also describes insights from political philosophy and social psychology, before moving on to apply these principles to four areas of church life in the second half of the book: worship, pastoral care, leadership, and mission.

As always, the danger of such a broad treatment is that it can become thin in places, particularly in the treatment of the New Testament, in which the “cross-cultural encounters in the Gospels” are covered in two pages, as is the significant eschatological prism on this subject offered in the Revelation of St John. Another helpful but unexplored theological foundation for this discussion might have been the implications of eucharistic theology for multicultural churches.

The real treasures of the book are found in the second half, which is scattered with tested practical wisdom from Patten’s years of experience and distilled through his use of personal stories. Patten himself identifies the most important chapter as that on developing diverse leadership teams, with its thought-provoking discussion of Hofstede’s analysis of cultures.

As a Baptist minister, Patten provides helpful insights into leading multicultural gathered congregations. We might wish to develop his work to suit an Anglican ecclesiology of the parish in which ministry is to be both “present and engaged” in communities that are not only multicultural, but also increasingly multi-religious. As well as the significant implications that this has for service and mission in our parishes, the advent of more church members from different faith backgrounds will also make an impact on the strategies that we use within the four areas of church life which Patten explores.

Patten sets out to offer encouragement to those who have the charge of multicultural congregations. He achieves this through his honesty about both the challenges and the joys of this ministry. He acknowledges the discomfort with which a multicultural congregation must grapple, and confronts the prejudice and racism that can prevent genuine flourishing.

But it is the fulfilment found in leading such congregations which pervades the book as a whole. Hence, it will be not only an important tool in equipping leaders, but also a source of inspiration that will reinvigorate them with the wonder of this complex and yet exciting ministry.


The Revd Dr Anna Poulson is Vicar of St John’s, Southall Green, in London.

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