As pastors, we must be intentional in transitioning our mostly monoethnic churches into healthy multiethnic communities of faith. This requires us to make some adjustments in our personal approach to ministry. Change is never easy, but to establish a ministry of reconciliation we need to expand our pastoral sphere of influence in our increasingly diverse communities. Here are some suggestions:
Get Outside of Your Bubble
- Share a meal. Invite someone of a different ethnic or economic background to share a meal with you, to your home for a family function, or to attend an event highlighting his or her culture.
- Spend an hour at Walmart. Write down your perception of the racial diversity, or lack thereof, in close proximity to your church. Then go spend an hour sitting just inside the nearest Walmart to see if the diversity you witness there matches your perception.
- Walk the halls of your church. Walk into the nursery, children’s ministry classrooms, or halls in your church. Observe the dolls in the cribs or other toys depicting people. Look at the pictures of Jesus on the walls. Do such things communicate to diverse others a love for all people or just one kind of person? That everyone is welcome, or only certain ones?
- Visit local schools. The local school system(s) from which your congregants are drawn is one of the easiest and most reliable sources of demographic insight. You will often find that the school system is comprised of students with dozens of birth languages. Many school systems can provide you with demographic forecasts, too. This will help you grasp the current and emerging cultures in your sphere of influence.
- Follow the bread crumbs. At any given time, various people groups within a city are putting on one event or another. The city itself is likely hosting events to bring diverse people together. Research these events and contact organizers to see how you and your church can volunteer, sponsor, or rent a booth. By showing an interest in diverse people of the city and their passions, you will soon develop new friends and a reputation of inclusion. In time you will be invited to help plan other such events, to sit on city boards or planning commissions, and the like, gaining broader understanding and influence. Follow the relational bread crumbs, and a whole new world of diverse relationships and unique possibilities will open up for you.
Invest in Cross-Cultural Friendships
Fundamentally, reconciliation cannot be addressed at a structural level until it has been embraced at a personal level; that is, within your own heart. Only then will you be motivated and excited to pursue this biblical calling with others of a different ethnic or economic background. With this in mind, consider the following questions:
- With whom are you now forging friendships of genuine transparency and trust?
- To whom can you go to begin a conversation and, more important, begin to listen?
- With which diverse friends can you mark culturally historical moments, attend expressive activities and artistic events, or celebrate family traditions?
Multicultural friendships can be easy to initiate but harder to maintain for a variety of reasons. That said, they are nothing to fear. Rather, they are something many people of varying ethnic heritages genuinely want to develop. To begin and maintain these relationships will require intentional effort on your part, namely prayer, patience, and persistence. Among other things, you will have to:
Exercise Humility and Gentleness (Eph 4:2)
Ask diverse others what you need to hear and to learn from them, or what they’ve been reluctant to tell you about yourself or your culture.
Listen Well and Patiently (Jas 1:19)
Be quick to hear and slow to speak. Inquire not only of the individual’s story but also of his or her collective story related to culture. Resist the urge to comment in the moment; you can do so later, once you have more prayerfully processed what you’ve heard.
Be Open and Honest (Phil 2:2-3)
Discuss differences, admit prejudices and stereotypes, and inquire about another’s feeling or sense of cross-cultural injustice and pain.
Express Lament and Extend Apology (Lev 26:40-42)
Majority-culture individuals are often reluctant to express such things when it comes to the past. By definition, though, lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, and apology involves a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. We should not be afraid to express such things collectively for the sake of reconciliation and healing. Where there is privilege or power, it should be acknowledged, used, and shared for the greater good.
Care for Each Other (1 Cor 12:14-26)
This applies not only to individuals but to entire people groups; as the scripture says, “so that there won’t be division in the body [specifically, along Jew and Gentile lines at the time] and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other” (1 Cor 12:25 CEB). Likewise, the apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others” (Phil 2:4 CEB).
Your willingness to initiate and ultimately develop multicultural friendships and relationships is critical to your pursuit and acquisition of cross-cultural competence. You will need both to effectively re:MIX your church and lead it in the years ahead.
Mark DeYmaz is the founding pastor and directional leader of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and cofounder and president of Mosaix Global Network.
Bob Whitesel is the founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University and a sought-after speaker and consultant on changing a church.
This article is excerpted from their book re:MIX: Transitioning Your Church to Living Color, from Abingdon Press.