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Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church
mixing diversity into your local church
By Mark DeYmaz, Harry Li
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010Mark DeYmaz
All rights reserved.
I'LL DRINK TO THAT!
Mandate and Commitments of a Diverse Congregation
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
The New Normal
At one time on my nightstand was David T. Olson's book The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008). Olson is the director of the American Research Project and director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Loaded with charts, graphs, and sidebars, Olson's book presents research and conclusions based on his study of a national database of some two hundred thousand churches.
And there is cause for concern.
For instance, despite some optimistic polls that suggest the American church is thriving, Olson writes, "On any given Sunday, the vast majority of Americans are absent from church and if trends continue, by 2050, the percentage of Americans attending church will be half [of what it was in 1990]." To avoid this dismal future, Olson suggests, "the American church must engage with ... three critical transitions ... which have altered the relationship between American culture and the church." He defines these as:
1. The transition from a Christian to a post-Christian society
2. The transition from a modern to a postmodern society
3. The transition from a mono-ethnic to a multi-ethnic society
Of course, the first two transitions have long been foreseen and understood. It's the third transition—"the new kid on the block"—that's getting increased attention from researchers, writers, theologians, and practitioners alike. Yes, growing numbers are now recognizing that the multi-ethnic church is not only a pragmatic response but also, and more important, a biblical response to address these changing times. According to Olson, it's not only what's needed; it's the future!
He writes, "In the mono-ethnic world, Christians, pastors and churches only had to understand their own culture. Ministering in a homogeneous culture is easier, but mono-ethnic Christianity can gradually become culture-bound.... In the multi-ethnic world, pastors, churches and Christians need to operate under the rules of the early church's mission to the Gentiles." And I really loved this statement: "As the power center of [global] Christianity moves south and east, the multi-ethnic church is becoming the normal and natural picture of the new face of Christianity."
Change Has Come to America
Beyond the research, the historic race for the presidency and election results of 2008 now overwhelmingly confirm that demographic shifts throughout the United States have brought change to America. With this in mind, local church planters and pastors can no longer afford to ignore consideration of the implications for their own ministries or the people they seek to influence in the future. Failure on our part to recognize the changing landscape or to adapt in accordance with Scripture may soon render our work, or worse yet our message, irrelevant. For in an increasingly diverse and cynical society, people will no longer find credible the message of God's love for all people when it's proclaimed from segregated churches. In these changing times, those without Christ will respond not to platitudes but rather to practice, not to words but only to an authentic witness of God's love for all people that is daily displayed in life and action. And I believe that this witness is best matured and manifested through healthy multiethnic churches.
The desire to establish multi-ethnic churches, however, must not be rooted in the fact that Tiger Woods is biracial and somehow representative of the changing face of America, or for that matter in Rodney King's emotional appeal, "People ... can we all get along?" Nor should we pursue the dream simply because the neighborhood is changing, because the increasing diversification of certain states has rendered them majority-minority, or because the latest projections indicate that the entire nation will be so declared by 2042. This is all well and good, making conditions now favorable for our attempts. Rather, the pursuit of ethnic blends must be firmly rooted in God's Word.
In other words, it's not about racial reconciliation; it's about reconciling men and women to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and about reconciling a local church to the principles and practices of New Testament congregations of faith, such as existed at Antioch and Ephesus. Yes, these churches were multi-ethnic, in and through which believing Jews and Gentiles gathered as one to tangibly express the peace, hope, and love of Christ before a lost and dying world. In so doing, men and women of various backgrounds—beyond the distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide—came together to obey the Great Commandment, declare a great compassion, and fulfill the Great Commission. Their unity of mind, heart, and purpose resulted in a great expansion of the gospel and in accomplishing God's will on earth as it is in heaven. Indeed, they were one in Christ and in the local church so the world would know God's love and believe!
Likewise, it's the unity of diverse believers walking, working, and worshiping God together as one in and through the local church that will provide for us the most effective means for reaching the world with the gospel in the twenty-first century!
What, though, you may ask, is the basis for such passion and hope? And why am I (and increasing numbers like me) so sure that in reflecting the diversity of heaven, the local church will newly proclaim the Prince of Peace on earth in reformation and power, resulting in the salvation of significant numbers of seekers and skeptics alike to the glory of God? Is this a realistic goal or only the wishful thinking of mystics and mavericks among us? I believe it is not only a realistic goal but also the very prayer and will of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the local church. This, then, should serve to inspire our faith, courage, and sacrificial abandonment to the cause.
We should also recognize that the multi-ethnic church, and on a broader scale, the multi-ethnic church movement, represents nothing new; rather, it is reformative in nature. It was first envisioned by Christ (John 17:20–23), then described by Luke (Acts 11:19–26; 13:1), and ultimately prescribed by the apostle Paul throughout his writings, most notably in his letter to the Ephesians. Therefore we embrace the vision not because it is politically correct but because it is spiritually correct, and while it is not necessarily an easy vision to pursue, it is a sound ecclesiology.
Beyond the theological underpinnings of the movement, it is also important to recognize that certain values are present within, and indicative of, healthy multi-ethnic churches. Early research by George Yancey, published in his book One Body, One Spirit, first identified these as "principles of successful multi-racial churches." Subsequent interaction with practitioners through the Mosaix Global Network, however, led to the further examination of these principles and their refinement. From this process emerged what can now be described as the Seven Core Commitments of a Multi-ethnic Church.
The biblical mandate and the core commitments of a multiethnic church are fully developed in my book Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church. Through the remainder of this chapter, I will provide a short overview of these concepts as a prelude to discussing seven common challenges to mixing diversity into your local church. Before I do, however, let me define my t
Excerpted from Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz, Harry Li. Copyright © 2010 by Mark DeYmaz. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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