Archives For Multi-Cultural Churches

This past week I had the privilege of taking part in a weekend conference for the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles. Like many Chinese churches, this church consists of three congregations: English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

Though the whole conference was great, perhaps the most impactful moment came on Sunday morning as all three congregations worshiped together. We sang the same songs, and words were displayed on the screen in both English and Chinese. We were told to each sing in our own language, and the worship leaders shifted between singing in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin (or maybe just between English and Cantonese OR Mandarin—I have no idea).

Here’s what this was like from my perspective as a visitor. The tunes were familiar. The instrumentation and setting were familiar. I had sung these songs before and genuinely worshiped God through these words.

But around me: a kind of controlled chaos. It’s almost like being at a concert where everyone’s trying to sing along but doesn’t quite know the words. Or being in a church service when the worship leader introduces a new song: everyone wants to sing, but they don’t quite know when to sing which words. I could hear others singing in English, but I could hear other sounds mixed in as well.

A touch disconcerting? Yes. Initially. But highly moving? Absolutely. The thing is, the slight challenge of continuing to sing when all of the sounds don’t match exactly was quickly drowned out when I considered what was happening.

We all had the same love for God in our hearts. We all had the same basic concepts that we wanted to communicate in song. And when we pushed those words through our vocal chords and out into the room, the sounds didn’t match. But God heard our voices and the cry of our hearts. He was worshiped in three languages simultaneously.

If you think about it, that’s an extremely simplified version of the praise he will receive when people from every nation, tribe, and language praise him in unison (Rev. 7:9). God loves diverse praise, and this was a small taste of the full reality.

That morning, our mismatched words didn’t fight each other as though two people were trying to sing different melodies at the same time. They complemented each other, like a well-sung harmony—not identical, but creating a fuller and more beautiful sound.

For me, it was a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

I don’t understand Cantonese or Mandarin, and I wasn’t the only one. Others could not understand much English. I was very different from many in that room in terms of my national heritage, my cultural assumptions, my communication style, and the overall look and feel of my everyday life.

And yet I stood there with hundreds of people who were more profoundly like me than not. The color of our skin didn’t match exactly, but we had all received matching hearts, compliments of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27). We couldn’t all communicate directly, but the Spirit was producing the same fruit in all of our lives (Gal. 5:22–23). Our lineage stems from different continents, but we are all citizens of the same country—and I’m not talking about America (Philip. 3:20). We walk different paths every day of our lives (aside from this one weekend), yet we are all following the footsteps of the same Man.

This was a powerful reminder that I am inseparably connected and eerily similar to people I have only briefly met (and multitudes I have never and will never meet) and who externally are almost nothing like me.

The Bride of Christ is a multi-cultural and international outworking of God’s salvation work to all people. Revelation 5 tells us that Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So of course there are local churches in every culture where the gospel has gone and done its life-changing work. These local expressions of the Body of Christ often look very different than what we perceive as the norm. Or they may look very similar. Either way, the mysterious church has infiltrated the world, and I consider it a great privilege to visit these other-cultural expressions. We recently had the privilege of visiting a local church in The Netherlands.

It was like walking into a big living room, but with all the furniture turned the same direction. There were couches, bistro tables, pitchers of coffee and water—the necessary elements of family life—all warmly presented. This local body was very much alive, very much in love with Jesus, very much attuned to the Word of God. The Dutch name for the church was Zolder—attic—but it was meeting in a basement! The church had started in the attic of a narrow canal-side Dutch house, but had outgrown that space and was now meeting in a basement.

We sang worship songs—many of the same ones I was familiar with. We heard a report of recent mission activity. We had a greeting time and since we were clearly visitors, we were pounced on with smiling faces and firm handshakes and lots of questions. We gathered in small groups and prayed for some of the needs of the Body as listed on a PowerPoint slide. This was the church, conducted in English, in the heart of Amsterdam.

The sermon was presented by a young man who was interning as a pastor. His text was Philippians 2:1-11. He was visibly humbled to be preaching on a text that teaches humility, and he was clearly an incarnation of the truth of the passage. He was so real, so humble, so gentle. The character of shepherd was evidenced in every word he spoke.

So many of the elements of this worship service were familiar. Yet each culture, each people group, each area of the country or the world, stamps its uniqueness on the timeless Bride. I suppose it is like attending weddings in different cultures: many common themes, but with a unique twist. Europe is seriously devoid of the Truth, having long ago rejected the heritage of the Reformation. The culture is uber-secular, very liberal and godless. So it was thrilling to see a man of God leading the people of God, a bright light in a very dark place.

I love seeing the church in different cultures and expressions. Honestly, church as we know it in America today is the minority expression of the church worldwide. Every believer ought to experience the church in other cultural expressions. If you haven’t done that, put it on your ‘bucket list’ and go worship with another culture somewhere. You will be richer and wiser for having done so!