Ministers preaching to Hispanics need to understand cultural norms

Rolando Rodriguez, director of Hispanic ministries at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, leads a seminar on preaching to reach Hispanics. (BGCT Newsroom Photo)

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En Español aqui.

WACO—Ministers who preach to Hispanic audiences need to realize cultural norms—not just language—can be barriers to communication, participants learned at a workshop during the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

The way in which many churches in the United States are accustomed to communicating often is different than the way Hispanics communicate, said Rolando Rodriguez, director of Hispanic ministries at the BGCT.

Understand generational distinctives

“First- and second-generation Hispanics have a very indirect form of communication,” Rodriguez said. “Third and fourth generation Hispanics have assimilated to the culture here, and are very direct.”

When dealing with people accustomed to an indirect form of communication, a minister cannot just invite the congregation to participate or to attend events and realistically expect them to show up.

“These invitations have to be personal, they have to be done face-to-face,” he said. “An open-door policy would not work here.”

For pastors seeking to work with the Hispanic community, this means their ministry will involve more visitations and more personal interactions.

“You are not going to reach Hispanics from behind the pulpit. You are going to reach them at home, personally,” Rodriguez said.

Value of family and community

One quality older and younger Hispanic generations share is the sense of family and community, Rodriguez noted.

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Contrary to the social norms most Anglos tend to have, individualism is less valued in the Hispanic culture, he observed.

“Communal life is played out everywhere,” he said. “Their lives involve the entire family.”

Since Hispanics value relationships more than time, Rodriguez said, ministers will have to “put on cultural antenna,” so they can understand the Hispanic context.

Rodriguez invited pastors at the workshop to share their personal experience in their ministry to reach Hispanics. Context varies from church to church since Hispanics in some churches may want services in Spanish, others seek a bilingual service and others prefer to use only English, some participants noted.

Churches have to adapt constantly, and this is the true both for Hispanic and Anglo churches, some pastors noted. As the communities around them change, they have to change, and sometimes the work the church is doing will also have an effect in the church.

“Young people in our church reached their friends and brought them to church,” Pastor Martin Ortega of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel in Midland said. “Our congregation had to start doing bilingual services.”

Communication must be contextual

Even when churches work in both English and Spanish, the message is contextual, Carlos Alcina, pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Seguin, noted.

“We have to teach ministers how to speak culturally, Alcina said. “Even the translations have to be done contextually.”

Certain terms and are distinctive to specific cultures, Alcina said, ministry among people other cultures demands effort to understand that culture.

The difference between knowing the language and knowing the culture is the difference between successfully communicating and failing to do so, he said.

In whatever language a pastor preaches, the message has to be practical, said Oliver Martinez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Getsemani in Fort Worth.

“You cannot just read a passage to the congregation and expect them to use it. You have to say this is what this means for you,” Martinez said, emphasizing the importance of making sermons personal and practical.

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