The Mission Field at Our Door
The nations have come to us. Ethnic diversity in our communities is a reality. As we step out the front door of our homes or apartments, the world, from a cultural and ethnic perspective, is at our doorsteps. Ministry here is not like ministry in a mono-cultural nation like Japan. (The total number of non-Japanese in the entire island nation does not represent more than 6/10 of 1% of the population.)
According to the 2000 census, Bolingbrook is 62% white, 18% black, 13% Hispanic, 6% Asian and 2% other. Since then, all the “minority” numbers have gone up with most of the percentage increase in the Asian and Hispanic numbers. Within those five broad categories, there is astounding diversity. For example, in our church, we have Ghanaians, Nigerians, Sierra Leonese, and African-Americans. Each of these might be identified as “black” to the eye. But all of these are distinct people groups with different cultures and languages and ways of interpreting the world. In our church, under the category of Asian, would be Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino and Cambodian as well as Taiwanese, Korean American and Chinese American. Unfortunately, New Song Church is the exception. Diversity is everywhere in American culture except in the local church. Thankfully, though still a minority, there are a growing number of notable exceptions.[i]
[This suburban context is getting more diverse with every turn of the calendar. In the 1990 census, Bolingbrook was revealed as having only two streets in the entire town that did not have some ethnic diversity. Over the last seventeen years, that diversity has only accelerated often creating great challenges and opportunities for the body of Christ. Unfortunately, the typical church in the United States is more daunted by the challenges than it is prepared for the opportunities.]
Conclusion: Walk Across the Street
The new urbanized environment of the suburbs depersonalizes humanity, trivializes one’s sense of significance and calls into question one’s most basic beliefs. As a result of the confluence of multiple ethnicities, languages, and cultures, the individual feels small and isolated. [In the midst of a smorgasbord of beliefs and needs, how could it be otherwise?] This is the environment of today’s suburb. Today’s pastoral leadership needs to work through the existing networks of relationships to reach these diverse populations.
Proper training and vision are imperative. How are our mono-culture churches prepared to reach and train the masses of ethnic people’s in our backyards? Do we have any real vision of how to love and incorporate them into our churches? This is not only a “white suburban church” issue. Traditionally, black churches are also significantly behind the curve when it comes to reaching out to other peoples of color. Together, black and white churches who are the majority of the churches in America, need to form an alliance to reach the multitudes that God is placing around us.
We can no longer afford to tolerate disharmony in our expression of our gospel witness. Nor can we remain parochially bound to the “tribe of our background or skin color.” People, red, yellow, black, white and brown people, need us to take the gospel to them and provide opportunities for them in the fellowship and the leadership of our church families. They have gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14; Ephesians 4:7-8). God has placed them in the house or apartment next door (Acts 17:26). Our job is to walk across the street and welcome them into our homes, our lives, and our churches.
- Discuss: “There is no impact without contact.” How does this relate to multi-ethnic ministry?
- Acts 17:26 says that God has established the boundaries and times of the peoples of the earth. What does this mean as it relates to the neighbors on your block?
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 says that we are ambassadors of reconciliation to the people around us. Ambassadors normally work in situations where nations are estranged for some reason. Who are the people in your community who are estranged both from God and from your church?
- In what practical ways can you help your neighbors to find reconciliation with God?
[i] While writing this chapter I learned about a wonderful PCA church that one of our former members has found since leaving us for seminary, New Century Fellowship of St. Louis. (http://www.newcity.org/). This is exciting at a number of levels. Not only has a former member sought a multi-ethnic fellowship after leaving New Song but they have found one that is much further along in its maturity than us.
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