The Joy of Pursuing a Multi-ethnic Church

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Earlier this year The Gospel Coalition posted an article titled the "Joyful Pursuit of Multi-ethnic Churches" by Jemar Tisby, an MDiv Student at Reformed Theological Seminary. Mr. Tisby offers six great "joys" in the work of seeking ethnic diversity in your church family. He wisely warns against attempting such an endeavor out of the wrong motivations, for instance, from a sense of "white guilt." Good word. He also affirms, that desiring a diversity of ethnicity in your congregation is a good thing. I whole-heartedly agree. It's a great thing. It's especially great when it happens rather naturally. Of course, it helps to live in a multi-ethnic community. When you do, and when the love of Christ prevails over self-oriented bickering over styles of  music or dress codes, and when your people and leadership are committed to reaching out with the gospel to anybody and everybody they meet in your city, the result is an ethnically diverse congregation. 

We discovered this in Tyre, Lebanon. We discovered there in that Middle Eastern city and the surrounding villages that there was a surprisingly high level of ethnic, religious, and national diversity. The region is a notoriously Shiite Muslim-predominated place but due to the presence of five Palestinian refugee camps there is also a sizable Sunni population. There are several encampments of Syrian (Sunni) Bedouin migrant workers in the area along with a growing number of Syrian refugees. Tyre also has a "Christian" quarter in the old city near the port with many Roman Catholic churches, Orthodox churches, and a tiny Protestant community which is well accepted because of the excellent reputation of its school in the city. The wealthy in the area have "house-help" workers from the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia. In addition to these groups Tyre is also the host to a slew of UN civilian and military personnel from many countries in Africa, Europe, S. Korea, Indonesia, and South Pacific Islands. In the building next door to ours we had neighbors from Fiji and Dearborn, MI! Because our church-plant leadership was committed to sharing the gospel message indiscriminately (rather than focusing on just one of these communities like a marketing niche business plan) we saw people from just about all these ethnic and religious backgrounds in our church gatherings at one time or another and several of them have stayed on and even a few have come to faith and joined the church. Given the "impossibility" of such a dynamic in a place like Lebanon where many of the indigenous religio-political parties have a long history of hatred and war, it was truly a joy to see families sitting next to each other who just fifteen years ago would have been pointing AK-47's at each other. Unity in diversity is indeed very possible - but only through the gospel message of Jesus Christ. 

The gospel teaches, "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:26-29) I've been told by church-planting veterans that trying to achieve unity in ethnic diversity in a church-plant is very difficult and not to be disappointed if it doesn't work out. Difficult work? Yes, indeed. Impossible? No, not at all - not in the church of Jesus Christ that truly upholds the gospel message and walks "in step with the truths of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14). And when such work is pursued there is an unmatchable joy to be shared. It is our deep desire to experience the joy of seeing such gospel truths worked out among a multi-ethnic congregation at Christ Community Church in Dearborn.

Here are Mr. Jemar's six joys of pursuing a multi-ethnic make-up in churches:

1. You become more racially, ethnically, and culturally savvy.

In a healthy multi-ethnic church it becomes acceptable to talk about differences in race, ethnicity, and culture. Continual interactions with people different from you makes you into a person who is more sensitive and aware of culture and ethnicity. You make fewer missteps and feel less awkward when engaging people across racial and cultural gaps.

2. Your church becomes a safe haven for lots of different people.

Regardless of one's ethnicity, everyone wants to worship in a place that feels "safe." As an African American who longs for biblical teaching and preaching I do not feel at home in church that has erroneous theology but is more culturally familiar. Nor do I feel comfortable in a church with sound theology but is culturally distant. A multi-ethnic church becomes a place where I can get both sound doctrine and an accessible cultural experience. What is true along racial lines is also true along economic, linguistic, and other lines. Multi-ethnic churches communicate that it's all right to be different, and then lots of different people start coming.

3. You begin to understand what is primary and what is preference.

In a multi-ethnic church you have to constantly work to address the diverse needs of several ethnic groups. So you start having lots of conversations about what elements of worship are primary and which ones are preference. Churches that do this well begin to hone in on the essential truths of the gospel and communicate them more clearly while at the same time demonstrating flexibility and wisdom regarding culturally conditioned opinions about worship.

4. You want to invite people to church.

How many times have you hesitated to invite a person to church out of concern that the person wouldn't "fit in"? In many churches there is an unspoken expectation that people will wear a certain type of clothes, speak a certain way, know certain songs, have a certain background, and the like. Multi-ethnic churches make it easier for different people---folks with purple hair and earrings in their eyebrows, folks who can't afford a suit and tie, folks who have never been to church and don't know how to pray, folks of a different color---to feel at home. This, in turn, makes you bolder and more confident to invite people to church.

5. Your church becomes an authentic witness in your community.

Ethnically diverse churches authentically witness the gospel's power to reconcile people to God and each other. In a society shredded by sectarian interests---political, ideological, racial, you name it---churches that demonstrate unity in diversity attract attention. Multi-ethnic churches demonstrate that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

6. You get a glimpse of God's kingdom come.

Revelation 7:9 gives a concise depiction of the heavenly kingdom: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands." Scripture teaches that an essential aspect of the heavenly congregation is racial and ethnic diversity---Christ is calling people from all nations to himself. Multi-ethnic churches excite God's people because they truly reflect God's people.

We have seen these joys manifest in a difficult place. This has made us committed to continue to pursue them intentionally for the glory of God and we intend to in all our future endeavors. Be encouraged to pursue such joys in your church.

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