Ending Racism: Rethinking the Suburban Church

Part 3

Racism 1Third in a series of posts on multi-ethnic ministry and its contribution to ending racism. Each day this week. I am excerpting portions of an essay I wrote in 2009 for the John Fuder and Noel Castellanos book A HEART FOR THE COMMUNITY (Moody Press, 2009). Dr. Fuder had been approached by Moody Press with the idea of doing a 10-year anniversary edition of his groundbreaking and surprise best-seller, A HEART FOR THE CITY. His response was that he didn’t think the book needed to be updated but that he was interested in doing a sequel that would explore new ministries and approaches to ministry that the first book had influenced.

A HEART FOR THE COMMUNITY has over thirty contributors with exciting perspectives on ministry in both the urban and suburban contexts. The following excerpt is from chapter 22. (Here are the links to the introduction, part 1, and part 2)

Rethinking the Suburban Church

How can a church in the vast and traditionally white suburban expanses of America begin to affirm the value of diversity in its congregation and better reflect the changing demography of its community? If a church displayed the power of the gospel to overcome racial, social, linguistic, and economic barriers, would its evangelistic efforts find listening ears? Is not a multi-ethnic ministry, with all of its attendant complexities and problems, a powerful display of the “manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10, NASB)? Wouldn’t such a display shake the foundations of those who deny the gospel and its power? Isn’t that partly what happened in the first century? (Acts 17; Galatians 3:24-29)

Heart for the Community 2
Great Resource for Thinking Through Wholistic Ministry

Out of those questions, a decidedly non-homogeneous unit principle ministry philosophy began to emerge for a new church in the town of Bolingbrook, Illinois. Thirty-five minutes from downtown Chicago, within forty minutes of both regional airports, Bolingbrook is a town without a downtown. A slowdown in the economy in the 1970’s caused this bedroom community to take a nosedive economically. Houses were boarded up, home prices were depressed, and the reputation of the town was trashed. But then things began to turn. An aggressive and savvy mayor took the reigns and pursued the dual track of making Bolingbrook both business and family friendly. By the time I started driving through the town in the late 1980’s it was becoming one of the hottest real estate markets in Chicagoland, and one of the most culturally diverse.

In 1988, I drove through Bolingbrook on the way to the adjoining town of Naperville. As I passed through Bolingbrook, the thought hit me, This is the kind of town that needs a church like I have been thinking about. It has the ethnic diversity and the social and economic mix for a church that would work to bring people together around the gospel.

I was naïve. But God seemed to be moving my heart toward the the most challenging experiment of my life. In the summer of 1990, I, my wife, and two children moved from Southern California to Illinois. For the next year, we prayed, planned, got to know our neighbors, served in the community, had another child, and began to understand the rhythms of our new mission field.

We arrived just ahead of what was going to become a significant influx of Hispanics, mostly from Mexico, and right alongside a large collection of peoples from Muslim dominated countries. There were a sizeable number of families, (now more than five hundred), from the Philippines. From Asia, China, Japan, and Korea, populations were all growing in number. Then there were the “invisible ethnics”—those first generation Europeans who brought a different culture and set of values but melted into the white landscape. In addition, Haitians, blended in with refugees from Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. All these and more were finding their way to Bolingbrook and creating the test tube for the approach to ministry we would take. One night twenty-two émigrés from Sierra Leone and Ghana showed up at our English as a Second Language classes! We quickly found that the ministry of proclamation that we could not abandon had to be supplemented by significant ministry to the whole person.

(Tomorrow: “Six Core Values of Multi-Ethnic Ministry”)

 Today’s Take-Aways:

  1. Ministry that is hard and complex displays the glory of God and the power of the gospel better than ministry that is comfortable and secure.
  2. Multi-ethnic ministry reflects the first-century church that conquered the world with the gospel.

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