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?