Beyond accomplishing “Multi-ethnic church”

10 11 2013

My point: It is not enough to accomplish a multi-ethnic church. We must mature toward intercultural community.

Diversity_Hands.250w.tnI am encouraged with the increasing discussion about the “multi-ethnic church.”  But what does it mean–not the phrase, but the importance. Is it merely the degree of diversity in participating nationalities (“We’re a multi-ethnic church; we have 70% of this, 20% of that, and 10% of the others”)? Is it taking recommended steps which succeed in increasing diversity, such as having ethnic diversity visible on the platform and leadership team, multi-lingual signs, and culturally-diverse worship styles?

Accomplishing a multi-ethnic church can be little more than “clanging symbols” which miss the real meaning: Love which builds bridges in the power of Christ where walls once divided. Whatever the nature of the walls, whether gender, class, nationality or age, the meaning of loving fellowship is that the Spirit of Jesus releases His grace among His people for God’s glory.

That is why I am compelled to write about maturing in this journey. It is not enough to accomplish a certain level of variety in ethnic diversity. This can be achieved in some locations without even trying. Love must increase if the deeper meaning of “multi-ethnic church” is to be realized. Every body of believers must progress in mutual understanding of each other, and recognition of mutual need for each other as complementary parts of the body.

The graces of the Lord Jesus are increasingly released as we journey deeper as “one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:16). I recently heard this kind of mutuality illustrated this way. You know the Spirit of God is at work when a 20-something says to the pastor, “We should have more organ music.” “Why,” asks the pastor, “Do you like organ music?” “No, but the older folks in our church do, and this is their body too.”  Or again, you know Jesus’ prayer for deep unity is being answered when the Anglo gal who prefers the choruses by Hillsong says, “We need some rap and hip-hop in our worship because the younger blacks in our body feel God’s presence through that kind of music.”

No one should ever claim that these truths do not apply to them just because they do not have ethnic diversity in their town. All separating walls which exist must be taken down with humility, mutual understanding, confession of offenses, and restoring of healthy fellowship. That includes divides between the religious rich and the economically poor, the powerful men and the under-resourced women, the historic landowners and the new arrivals. Love is always needed because pride is always lurking.

Its true that “birds of a feather flock together.” This principle is built into nature through creation. The “homogenous unity principle” exists, despite the accusation by some churchmen that it is nearly evil. Fact is, we are hard-wired with the yearning to seek out and stay with those like us. It helps us survive. But the Church universal, and local churches, are called to be more than a flock of birds. We are also a body with many parts. We must work to overcome flocking which prompts us to hive off with those like us (something we need, at regular times, to do). But such particularity (the valuable contribution and benefit of each part) must be balanced and ultimately outweighed by our mutuality. As one pastor said, a local church should be “islands of particularity in a sea of inclusion.” Love must overcome a multitude of divisions.

It is not enough to accomplish a multi-ethnic church. We must mature toward intercultural community.

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