Leadership in a multicultural congregation: Rev. R. Potgieter

Rev. Rene Potgieter from delivered a paper on leadership in multicultural congregations at a conference on multicultural congregations in the Cape Provinces earlier this year. What follows is a shortened version of her paper.

A typical definition of leadership suggests leaders to be people with “the capacity to influence the thoughts, behaviours and/or feelings of others to achieve a specific goal”. The term “leaders” refers to those persons who have oversight of the policies and practices that develop and sustain the vision and goals of a local congregation. In a Congregation the term includes both ordained pastoral leaders and the elected and informal leaders who take on this responsibility.

Gardner identifies three kinds of leaders visionary, ordinary, and innovative. Visionary leaders are rare, only occasionally making their mark on a community. They are distinguished by their capacity to envision new possibilities for communities. More common, however, are the ordinary leaders who simply manage the traditional story of their group as effectively as possible. These leaders do not really challenge the status quo of their community, but empower members through communicating the identity, values, and institutional goals in such a way that forward movement continues. Innovative leaders, in contrast to ordinary leaders, take a story that has been latent in the community and give it new attention or a fresh twist. These leaders identify stories and themes in a community’s heritage that have been neglected and bring them to the foreground as a resource for the renewal and transformation of the community’s life together. Leaders of multi-cultural faith communities will draw from all three leadership patterns.

Leaders in multi-cultural congregations will:


Now a very important question for a multi-cultural church is. Whose vision of multi-culturalism do we take? The white/privileged view or the coloured/disempowered view? This question is irrelevant if inter-cultural dialogue take place. Communication between the different groups is very important. By doing this we can learn from each other and construct a new vision that includes all. The new vision must be powerful enough to sustain the congregation through the fears experienced in the midst of often radical changes. And therefore this vision should be bigger than the leaders’ ambition. No “my-vision”. But Our Vision!!! A major responsibility of cross-cultural leadership is to help members coming from different cultural backgrounds have a common vision and to build an environment of trust.


A multicultural congregation or ministry recognizes, embraces, utilizes and celebrates the racial, cultural, generational, gender, and other diversity represented in the community and the church. The leaders in the congregation actually honour and promote diversity within the context of the body of Christ. Individuals and groups who all form part of the diversity in the congregation must be accepted, understood, appreciated and allowed to bring their distinctive or unique gifts and contributions to the bigger body of Christ. Therefore leaders in a multicultural context do not embrace titles; they embrace the person for who he/she is. They see human beings not for the title as managers, factory workers, maids, guards, servants, but for their worth as a person. We are all the same before God.


Leaders empower people to use their skills and talents for the Kingdom of God. Team members and leaders need training in skills that focus on intercultural communication that is effective in building trust, resolving problems, leading effectively and making decisions within the context.


”Shout good-bye to hierarchy”. We as leaders have to learn how to share power. There are so many ways to think about leadership. But I think for the leader in a multi-cultural context it is not about an important position above other people. It is more about walking together hand in hand on the same road.

This will mean that we change from:

  • set roles to more flexible roles;
  • individual responsibility to shared responsibility;
  • autocratic leadership to co-operational leadership and
  • power to empowerment.

Therefore you as a leader must change from boss to team mate, colleague and friend


A Christian leader’s values must be in line with the values of the Kingdom of God. What people will admire of such a leader is their soft skills. Their sense of time for other people, their ability to listen, their courage and honesty and their capacity for empathy. I once red the following: I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but them will never forget how you made them feel.

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