The Nourishing of Multi-ethnic Ministry

Friendship

Links to previous posts include: 

How is Multi-ethnic Ministry Nourished?

The commitment and encouragement to risk needs to be continually nourished by new experiences and new challenges to the congregation. At New Song, I regularly recommend books, quoting non-white role models, planning pulpit exchanges, and inter-ethnic cooperation and experiences for our people. We have hosted and served two black churches during building and land purchases and had pulpit swaps with African–American pastors for one to four weeks at a time. In addition, we have intentionally invited guest speakers of color, including ones who needed to be translated. We have swapped worship teams with other churches, and been intentional to both recognize and cultivate non-white leadership. All of these experiences help the congregation to embrace the larger vision of multi-ethnic ministry. And yet we have a long, long way to go. In fact even as I write these words I am aware that some of the intentionality that I just wrote about needs refurbishing. A church that wants to be effective in its multi-ethnic vision can never stop praying and working at the process.

Do Your Illustrations Give a Multi-ethnic Flavor?

Selection of illustration material is important too. If I roll out an illustration that grabs from the black cultural experience to make a point [for the entire congregation], it serves its function, but sails over the head of most white people in the congregation. But my black members’ ears perk up at the mention of a Colin Powell, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Jessie Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Clarence Thomas, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Young. I suspect that often one of the things that passes through my black members’ minds is, “That white boy doesn’t understand our situation, but he’s trying.” And trying to be respectful is important and valued. When the speaker is able to speak about the contemporary situation in Sierra Leone, or the atmosphere surrounding the Jena Six, or the plight of immigrants from Mexico, or the situation of union workers being squeezed by foreign labor it provides an atmosphere that people of color find hospitable and safe.

White pastors need to look for black-cultural heroes for illustrations in messages. Black pastors need to do the same, as do Hispanic and any other group that is seeking to be truly multi-ethnic and inclusive in its approaches. When a person of one culture makes an effort to value and affirm another culture, it is noticed and it is appreciated. May I suggest that churches that have ESL classes (English as a Second Language) need to begin to rethink ministry if they really want to reach Spanish speaking peoples. I am not saying that we should stop offering ESL. But perhaps it would be more effective to start SSL classes (Spanish as a Second Language) for the non-Spanish speakers that we currently have, in addition to ESL.  All immigrants to any country should learn the language of that country whether or not they are seeking to become citizens of that nation. But that is a different issue. We need to think about adaptation to reach those who are on our doorsteps rather than wait for them to develop the language skills to hear the gospel from our lips.

Today’s Takeaways:

  1. A multi-ethnic ministry is nourished by deliberate intention to build bridges across cultures.

  2. A multi-ethnic ministry is nourished by books and experiences that expose people to broader perspectives. 

  3. A multi-ethnic ministry is nourished by the assumption that “I don’t understand” and walking in humility toward that brother or sister.

Tomorrow:  Practical Conversation Starters


2 thoughts on “The Nourishing of Multi-ethnic Ministry

  1. What do you think about people preferring to worship in their native tongue? The language of the heart and soul is deep, and not necessarily translatable into English or another language. I find in my predominantly Latino city that language is the number one reason congregation segregate. I support a seminary prof who is providing seminary level education to Latino pastors in my city, and he has to have a translator for all classes. It is difficult.

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    1. No problem.

      But . . .

      Sometimes these ethnically defined churches begin to truncate not only gospel ministry but the gospel itself. I know Chinese churches that simply don’t share the gospel with anyone who isn’t Chinese, black churches who walk away from witnessing opportunities to anyone who is not black. In addition, as the second generation comes along, these churches will have an inevitable hard transitions. I’m not sure it can be avoided.

      If a community has ethnic diversity, it needs at least one church that will seek to show that we are the same at the foot of the cross.

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