In the last few posts, I’ve tried to show that the Bible highly values ethnic diversity in the church. Ethnic inclusivity is Spirit wrought (Acts 2) and blood bought (Eph 2); it’s not just icing on the cake.

But several questions can be raised and I’ve heard many good ones over the years. I definitely don’t have all the answers, and I in no way claim to be living this stuff out the way I should. (My first two posts were largely directed at kicking my own tail for failing to live this out.) In any case, here’s some questions I’ve been asked whenever I bring up this topic.

 

What do we do if we live and congregate where there’s little ethnic diversity?

To answer this, I’d say that a local church should reflect the measure of diversity around it. So for instance, if you live in an all-Hutu village in Rwanda, then you’re church will probably consist mostly of Hutus. Likewise, house churches in China will inevitably be dominated by Chinese. In these situations, I’d still love to see diversity in terms of gender, age, and social class, even if ethnic diversity will be lacking.

But I really think that most (not all) Americans live in much more diverse areas than we think. I live in what seems like a largely Caucasian city of Simi Valley, but it probably seems this way because I’m Caucasian. Statistically, Simi is only 68% Caucasian, which means that churches in Simi should be 30% non-Caucasian; a church of 1,000 should have at least 300 non-Caucasian members. Either the Spirit has a huge bent toward regenerating white people, or there are more regenerated “minorities” than we care to allow and we aren’t making a solid effort to worship together.

I can only speak of my own context, but I suspect that this is true in many cities in America.

 

What do we do to foster ethnic diversity in our churches?

This would be a great question to ask the minorities in your church. You may get some interesting responses, better than the ones I can come up with. In any case, here are a few things to my mind that might help build a multicultural church.

First, integrate diversity in the style of worship. You who are musically inclined, chime in here. I’m not, but it seems that the most worship music that pop-Christianity puts out reflects a style that is predominately white. White worship will attract white worshipers; diverse styles will better enable other ethnicities to worship more genuinely.

Second, diversify leadership. I remember hearing John Piper a while back talk about how important it was for him to have ethnic diversity on positions of leadership at his church. When asked if others at his church felt the same way, he say: “Well, they are ok with it, but they don’t believe that it’s essential.” This makes all the difference in the world. Either it’s allowed, or it should be promoted. And I think promoting diverse leadership (if at all possible) will forge other avenues to form an ethnically diverse church.

Third, if a diverse leadership is not possible, then having guest speakers of different ethnicities can be a good substitute. Expose your congregation to God’s heart exemplified in Acts 2, Eph 2, and Rev 7.

Fourth, many churches have “sister” churches, those that are like-minded to some extent. I would love to see some intentionally-built bridges with other ethnic churches in the area. I remember hearing about a church in the burbs of Kansas City that intentionally came alongside and resourced a poor church in the inner city doing some amazing things for the gospel. “We can’t do what you do,” they said, “but we support what you’re doing and want to come alongside.” And the embers of Eph 2 started to glow.

Do Spanish (or Korean, or Portuguese, or…) services reflect the full potential of Eph 2:11-18?

This is a tough one, and in no way do I claim to have all the answers. Whenever I meet a pastor of a Spanish-speaking ministry within a predominately white church, I like to pick their brain on this issue. On the one hand, I love it. It’s at the very least a great start and shows some awareness for the need to be ethnically inclusive.

On the other hand, I would love to explore avenues to do more. How can we move beyond just housing a ministry to Spanish speakers to actually calling them brothers and sisters in Christ? I’ve been to too many foreign countries and engaged in rich fellowship to believe that the language barrier is a huge hindrance. I attended a church in Jerusalem, where the pastor preached in Hebrew and in English (he said a few lines in Hebrew, then said the same thing in English), and as he was speaking, a dude in the front row translated it into Russian for the immigrants up front. Three languages all going at the same time! And in that particular church, love transcended language barriers, fueled by the blood of Christ and power of the Spirit.

So I don’t know. Even though a foreign language service is a good start, I wonder if we could do better. Maybe it’s a once a month BBQ at the park, where English speakers cook the food the first time, and then Spanish speakers cook it the next. Maybe the Spanish pastor preaches in Spanish once every month or two in Spanish, through translation, to the English speakers, while an English speaker preaches to the Spanish congregation. This would at least raise awareness that there are sojourners in our midst and God loves it.

I could go on, but I’d really love to hear your thoughts, especially those who are engaged in this sort of ministry. Yes, that means I’m calling out Brit and Nydia, Mark Baluyut, Josh Buck and his gang, Joey Dodson, whom we’ll hear from in the next post, Jose Luis, Jonnathan Mendendez, and any others engaged in multicultural ministries. What can you tell us about your experience?

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9 COMMENTS

  1. You lost me when you said churches in Simi Valley SHOULD be 30% non-Caucasian. I wish we spent more time getting people saved, like Jesus told us to do than to worry about how many people of color are in the rock band that entertains us on Sunday mornings, like Satan tells us to do.

  2. Well, I am not one of those named, but I have thought much in this area, so here goes.

    If we continue to view “church” as going somewhere to hear a preached message, and then return to our homes, then I can see how the language barrier can be seen as insurmountable. (Although I love and have even suggested the idea of joining the Anglo and Latino members for services where the message is translated.)

    If we can agree that church includes serving the larger community, then a multitude of options present themselves that can unify the church and demonstrate that unity to the world. I am thinking along the line of service projects– community cleanup, building projects, serving the poor or elderly– where sometimes the only communication necessary is hand gestures and a smile. I imagine most of us have experienced this.

    Recognize the riches available in the people of each community. If one is more economically advantaged, do not think (or act) as if that community has more to offer. Invite missionaries from the less advantaged congregation to come bless the other with their riches of wisdom. Whites often have difficulty understanding what community looks like, and are very poor in relational living, whereas in other cultures, community is the norm. We don’t need them to frame a house, we need them to frame our worldview.

    Finally, as one in Christian education, I suggest making provision for economically disadvantaged minorities to obtain a Bible education, so they can become leaders in the church. If that education is in English and they are ESL, begin by offering a theological vocabulary course taught in a bi-lingual environment. I also think it is important to encourage students to go on to seminary and post graduate education. The only way we can diversify our faculty is by having those professors available.

    • Great thoughts, Yvonne! And sorry I left you off the list. It wasn’t meant to be exhaustive 😉 Very helpful suggestions Yvonne. You’re thoughts on community are spot on. Most cultures outside America do community much more naturally; we have a wealth of wisdom we could tap into.

  3. Preston, I appreciate your posting on this and other subjects. As an old, white-guy believer I have heard many arguments against diversifying congregations, all of which I find extremely offensive. I also know that the line of thinking against diversity is not confined to any one race against another particular race. It cuts all ways.

    You are right that to ignore the diversity factor is not an option. Colossians 3:10-11 is strong in its language: “And have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto full knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all.” The new man here is not individualistic but corporate, the church, and in this new man all the divisions in the old humanity “cannot be,” they have no place.

    I have enjoyed almost 40 years of meeting in this new man and very much appreciate what the Lord has accomplished through His cross and through His resurrection life. I think your position that our meetings should reflect the diversity of the community is a good ideal as long as it is not an end in itself. If we are healthy in Christ, such a reality should be spontaneously approximated among us.

    • John, I very much appreciate your “old white guy” response, and Col 3:10-11 is hugely important (cf. Gal 3:28). Thanks for your helpful comments! You’re last lines are so good that I’ll affirmatively quote them again:

      “…our meetings should reflect the diversity of the community is a good ideal as long as it is not an end in itself. If we are healthy in Christ, such a reality should be spontaneously approximated among us.”

      Not an end in itself. Great observation. I hope I was clear on that, but if I wasn’t then I want to make it clear now. I’m not pushing for some baptized affirmative action policy, but a theologically robust multicultural community, since the Bible seems to consistently advocate for it.

      Thanks for dropping in John! Very helpful.

  4. My experience?

    20 things pop into my mind when you ask that question. I am in process about all this stuff. I made sure to read about 15 books on the multi-ethnic churches, cross-cultural missions work, and racial reconciliation as I prepared to move to the city. I tried and am trying to prayerfully do the sociological (figure out the history, trends, and data for the city) and anthropology (live with and amongst the people of the city) work a good missionary should be doing.

    But to be honest, floating through the vast amount of literature isn’t that helpful. Becoming more “aware” of what people think on the subject hasn’t been that helpful. Three experiences have helped me more than anything else—being married to my incredible wife Sarswatie, watching closely how Jesus interacted with different people in the gospels, and becoming more aware of the sickness in my heart that causes me to be racist and prejudiced on many different levels.

  5. I don’t have much to say. Maybe Britt, Nydia or Mark could respond with a more theologically deep response about their experiences. But I’m in love with our multi-ethnic body and I can’t imagine God having Renae and I anywhere else. I’d love to invite you, Preston and anyone else to come visit us out here in Canoga Park to join us for bi-lingual fellowship, worship and teaching… food and probably some more fellowship, then more food! 😉

    http://www.livingstonesla.org/

  6. I thought I chime in as a “Latino” beliver. First I wanted to say I read your book on hell. I learned many biblical truths, so thank you and Chan for writing it. Now back to what I was going to say.

    When it comes to diversity in our local churches, I think you said it best when reffering to your experience with a church in Jerusalem. You wrote, “love transcended language barriers.” In America, we have so much diversity and also so many bilingual and even trilingual people.

    Language should not divide us, we should use translators and maybe even try to help each learn eqch others lagauge. But mire importantly, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. The same Spirit which searches the mind of God. The same Spirit which guides every beliver into truth. The same Spirit which binds every beliver together for the sake of God’s glory.

    It doesn’t make sense to seperate or divide Mexican, Korean or any other non-English group into another location. Yes, language may be an initial barrier but that’s the great part of being with another beliver that is completely different than you. We not only show the world unity under Christ, but we also practice loving our neighbor by bearing each others’ burdens and encouraging each other.

    In general, I feel like there’s a lackluster atitiude towards diversity in the church. We don’t feel like we need to make diversity a priority. Sadly, I feel like we diversity is an added bonus to our already awesome church. However, I believe diversity and unity are at the heart of the gospel.

    Unfortunately, if the church admits they have a diversity problem then they might run the risk of being label a cult or a social club. Nonetheless, I think when it comes to this issue the American churches need to be honest and get back to being saturated in the gospel.

    Oh final thought. I would love to see more Latino and Mexican-American pastors. What I would love the most is seeing more unity in our churches. I once thought it would shock me to hear a Latino pastor in my local church, but in my recent experience I think it would be more shocking to see two completely different believers loving each other. I may be wrong, but it almost seems like our churches are tailor-fitted for the middle to upper-income white American family. Just think if we allowed the Spirit to take charge.

    Just think if the whole church was united in love. Just think if we focused on brothers ring our brothers and sisters in Christ together instead of separating them. Just think if we all came together in one place and loved each other regardless of age, race or language. This seems more biblical, don’t you think?

    Thanks for letting me share.