I know that we want to create heaven on earth, that we want to experience the rich diversity of the kingdom of God now. But, do we really know what that looks like? We point to the power of Pentecost and say, “This is who the church is supposed to be.” Still, so often we want the gospel to come in one language: English. Any other tongue is viewed as alien, other and for some people, offensive.
So, what are we really saying? What do we really want? Do we want persons of other cultures to come to church so that we feel better about ourselves? Do we want all believers to worship together, while sitting on the obvious elephant in the sanctuary? Because what is worship without fellowship? We cannot experience true worship with God if we are not able to authentically fellowship with each other.
To be a multicultural church is not a matter of having an American version of other cultures represented but to accept the people, their languages and histories as they are. It is to answer the call to the ministry of reconciliation. Yes, think long and hard before you raise your hand to accept or identify your church as multicultural. There’s a lot that goes into being multicultural and it goes deeper than numbers. You can stop counting the members now.
There must be a change of heart and mind if you or I are going to be apart of a multicultural church. First, we will need to accept the fact that we want control and power over how the service goes and in so doing, we are saying that there is only one way to experience God. Secondly, we will need to name the ways in which we hinder the Spirit of God in others and therefore, acknowledge that we think that we know how God moves and speaks, that we are the experts on God’s body language. Thirdly, we will need to humble ourselves to the spiritual lives and stories of others. Every book of the Bible does not have our name on it because everyone has a story with God. With that being said, here are a few identifiers that you and I still have a long way to go before we can change the name of our church.
It’s not a multicultural church if…
- You say that race is not a problem. Race is a problem and seeing it as such is the best defense. Belief in race means that we accept its hierarchies, stereotypes and prejudices. We can’t simply cut out or ignore the bad parts.
- You believe that we love everyone here. Conflict is as natural and normal as our differences. Love is not to be used as some coverup or a means by which we quiet any stirrings of disagreement. Love calls us to hold others accountable and to challenge us on our convictions. If you love your neighbor, then prove it.
- We see everyone the same. The denial of difference is not an expression of deep love and commitment. It is the avoidance of getting to know your neighbor so that you can truly love them.
- There is not a visible and diverse leadership team. Diversity requires that we share influence and vision because there is no one way of seeing and experiencing Scripture.
- The expressions of faith only speak to one cultural experience. Whether in preaching or in conversation, using anecdotes and interpretations that limit the exchange to one people group can leave some members feeling ignored, a kind of third wheel in the worship service. They might wonder, “Why am I here?” They are not talking to me or about my life experience. Worse still, persons might begin to think that they have to see it your way, in order to see it at all and/or to be seen by the members.
- We ignore the sensitivities that the social construct of race has created. If we are going to be multicultural, then we must talk about our differences. While speaking with an elderly European American Christian woman at her home once, she expressed the horror at realizing what “get your cotton pickin’ hands off of that” really meant. She began to apologize again at the thought of the offense. Accepting that we have been offensive and have the capability of being offensive is important.
- There is only one kind of singing that is acceptable. While I am not advocating that the minister of music, choir or praise team act as a disc jockey, it is important that the sound of praise be reflective of the spiritual lives and expressions of faith of those who sit in the pews. More than contemporary versus traditional, it is essential that we cultivate the sound of worship and a people who worship God freely and without the imposition of someone else’s culture. It can feel like supervised worship.
- There is only one acceptable form of prayer. Some pray silently and in solitude while others would rather pray aloud and with a group. Whatever your preference, all are acceptable. Allowing one culture to take over the conversation and determine how everyone talks to God is just wrong.
- Decisions concerning the ministry and mission, finances and consequently, the future of the church are made by one cultural group. There is nothing more hypocritical than this. It is not enough to have visible representation of the diversity of the church but if persons are not apart of the decisions of the church, then they should not be there. All cultures must have a seat at the table. Pull up a chair.
- There is not visible signs of integration. If there are multiple cultures represented in a congregation but they sit together in different sections and at their own tables, then see number 3.