Category Archives: Multicultural Ministry

Didn’t you promise?

See the source image“Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.”  Our promises use to mean something.  As children, we took our commitment– no matter how trivial or time- sensitive– seriously.  We meant what we said with our little mouths about a rumor we had heard or the score of last night’s game.  It was the difference between life and death for us to break a promise.  Our very life was staked on our fidelity.

But, words don’t mean much now.  We say words and take them back.  We say things that we later claim we didn’t mean.  We don’t think through the impact of our words and later maintain that we misspoke.  But, what of the promises that we have made to Christ?

Certainly, we meant it then but do we mean it now?  And going to church is no indication of our allegiance.  The story of the disciples removes our rose- colored glasses and any doubt that you can follow Christ and still deny him, that Jesus can call you by name and you still betray him.  Proximity is not an indication of one’s ability to keep a promise.  Friends and enemies share the same space.

So how do you or I know how committed you are until a time of testing?  How does God know that you are committed?  Would we know if our commitment changed?  Because betrayal is a slow backing away.  We take long breaks and then Sundays off before we leave the faith altogether.  It simply starts with our fellowship.

Consequently, confessing Christ as our personal Lord and Savior is not a one- time declaration.  Instead, we must confess Christ daily as there are continuous assaults on his position in our lives.  Everyday, the forces of our society, the traditions of our family, the tyranny of our workload threatens to unseat him.

And what of our commitment to Christian community?  What happens to our confession to love when the community does not reflect our culture, when the people “don’t look like us”, when it becomes apparent that we have created a version of Christianity that suits our people group and no one else’s?  Then, we realize that our promise was conditional and the challenge to “renew our minds” so that we become one in Christ is presented (cf. Romans 12.2,5).  Because we crossed our hearts and hoped to die to self and all its carnal desires, too.

Didn’t you promise?


Segregated Sundays: Genuine Community

Cross- cultural, multicultural, multiethnic or intercultural, whichever is your church’s claim to inclusivity, please be sure that your invitation is sincere, that your congregation understands what these words means and what they mean for the congregation.  It’s about relationship and how we relate to persons across cultures not just during Sunday morning worship but throughout the week.  Because Christian community is not a Sunday morning commitment.  It’s a way of life.

It won’t happen in an hour.  It is not a slogan, a stock photo of diversity or a handshake and a close-lipped smile.  After receiving the “right hand of fellowship,” does your church have anything more to give its new members to make them feel like they belong?  More than giving them a church bulletin and pointing them to a Sunday School class, what are you doing to build a relationship outside of weekly church services?  What do you serve after the fellowship hour?  What do you say when the coffee is gone and there’s no more hot water for tea?  Community- building takes time and Christ’s community is more than food and drink (cf. Matthew 6.25).

Some church specialists suggest that it is now “sexy” to say that your church’s membership is diverse.  It is attractive to new believers and those seeking a faith to believe in.  Never mind the fact that Jesus asked his disciples to do share the gospel with all nations more than 2,000 years ago, now it’s popular for our sacred spaces to reflect the diversity of its communities (Matthew 28.16-20).  But, this desire for inclusivity is not true of every church and certainly is not the norm.

And it is quite a turn off when a church presents itself as diverse only to reflect the culture’s affirmations of white privilege and the positioning of socially colored white people in all the positions of church leadership and influence.  This plantation- style of ministry where the socially colored white people are in charge while persons of other social colors do the work of ministry is a sad commentary on the impact of the social construct of race in Christian community.  We simply do not share the gospel’s vision but instead, perpetuate the image of American slavery and its systems of dominance.

It is evidence that persons of different cultures do not share the same faith in Jesus and are not sharing in the same faith, that we are believing in Jesus for culturally- specific things.  We also do not share the gospel outside of our culture– unless, of course, it’s on a missions trip.  While the kingdom of God is not just for “me and mine,” it is hard for us to share our faith and worse still, to share a faith with those of different cultural backgrounds, experiences and expressions.  We would rather worship God separately, segregated on Sunday mornings according to the social construct of race: White Christians go here.  Black Christians go over there.  Red Christians go around the corner.  Yellow Christians go across the tracks.  Beige Christians go over the river and through the woods.

I suppose we believe that Christ is walking with each culture separately, that there are separate discipleship paths, different salvation tracks, that Christ divides his body and his time based on our social categories.

Drawn by Christ’s hands on a cross, we are unable to see him reaching for those whose hands do not “look like” ours.  Assuming that Christ only speaks English, we, perhaps unknowingly assume that Christ doesn’t understand what they are saying either.  Though Jesus is the Savior of the world, we have managed to reduce his salvific power to our area of the world.  And we call this faith.  We call ourselves the body of Christ.

Cognitively, we know that believers of other cultures are our siblings, that we share the same faith.  But, we stop short of accepting that God loves them just the same and offers them the same promises, the same blessed assurance.  Instead, we have to believe that God loves us more and differently.  Because the social construct of race says that human beings are physically different in ways that affect value, worth, treatment and life outcome.  We believe then that God loves us according to the social construct of race.

As a result, we invent cultural and racialized representations of divinity that affirm our practice of faith and ours alone.  This Christ is one of us– and not them.  This Christ is in our circle and understands why we worship without them.  This Christ supports our decisions to exclude and the witness that Christian community is a gated community.  These socially colored idols say that we are worshipping the right way, that we are the right people for the work of the Church, that we are the best hands and feet that Christ has ever seen, that we are the only hands and feet that God has in the world.  This god works for us.  We can accept and appreciate this kind of god.  But, God doesn’t work for us, at least not as a cosmic employee who has a serious commute to work each day.

Consequently, intentional inclusivity requires work and that we be willing to work with others.  This decision to accept and model the Great Commission as well as the Great Commandment is well- informed, personally practiced and a coordinated effort on the part of the entire church– not just the pastor, the worship leader or the outreach committee.  This calling to genuine community will require us to inspect the Christ we are following, to make sure that his path does not conveniently line up with our own.  Does he look like us?  And if so, why?  Who made him this way?  why is this a requirement in order for us to follow him and to remain in fellowship?

Because fellowship goes deeper than looking the same and sharing a password.  This isn’t about matching outfits and hairstyles, sharing a culture or a language.  It is more than sharing a pew or even singing in the choir together.  It is more than what takes place on Sunday morning and if you are not sharing your life during the week, then I would question if there is genuine fellowship at all.  Our community has something much deeper in common.  We share in the life and body of Christ.

So, if you only see each other on Sunday morning, why?  Why do you not live among, play with, work beside, rejoice and mourn with those you share a faith and hymnal with?  “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” still persons come to church and expect a cultural representation of their faith (Ephesians 4.5).  Who told us that this was an option?  That this was a requirement for belief?  That Christianity was to be practiced in cultural silos?

Genuine community requires that we not open the doors of our church until we open our mouths, freeing our tongues of our terms and conditions for acceptance.  We need to be freed of pretense and perfunctory greetings in order to speak to the presence of race in our churches.  We need to have candid conversations about its impact on our fellowship and cultivate a desire to belong to Christ’s body and to each other– not just our own.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “For where the brother (or sister) is, there is the body of Christ, and there is the church.  And there we must be also.”


A Multicultural Bible

Slide1We have all kinds of Bibles that vary in language, size, appearance, focus, audience and even translation.  There is seemingly a Bible for every kind of person.  For some, the King James Version has been dethroned, replaced with Eugene Peterson’s The Message or some other version with less thees and thous.  Still, the Bible is chosen because it speaks to you or me.  Our goal is singular in scope.

But, what if there were a Bible that focused our attention on our togetherness, our oneness, our sameness?  That was devoted to our aimless prejudices and wandering stereotypes?  That redirected us back to love?

What if there was a Bible that highlighted the importance of our commonality as believers and that challenged the notions of separation and segregation in our relationships?   What if we reflected more deeply on the words and ways of Jesus for the purposes of reconciling our differences?  If we took those words written in red and used them to correct our lives? Because it doesn’t matter if we understand the Bible better due to more accessible language if our relationships remain closed off to other cultures.

Not to be confused with inclusive language that acknowledges everyone, this hypothetical multicultural Bible would emphasize the goals of our relational God.  Pointing out again and again the tie that binds us together, this divine Thread that holds us all together, that hands stretched out on a cross that invited us all to love God together.  Of course, we would have to use some color other than red to call attention to these passages of Scripture.  Still, I think it an important contribution to our apprenticeship with Christ.

It has to be more than a Bible study or a Sunday school lesson.  If we believe in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” then we must become one people (Ephesians 4.5).  We start turning to Galatians chapter 3 and reading verses 27 and 28 in our multicultural Bibles.

It’s not a multicultural church if…

613998I 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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


The Gospel and Racial Reconcilation

This year’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit featured author Trillia Newbell.  Her book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity is discussed and she offers practical steps for reconciliation in relationship.