I sat in service a few months ago and listened as one one of the pastors addressed the importance of “cross culture” ministry, i.e., reaching beyond the white church status quo to be welcoming and accommodating to people who aren’t like us.
He prefaced his sermon with this:
“If you look around this morning, you’ll see that we’re predominately white, and that’s OK because our city is predominately white. If it wasn’t, it’d be a bad thing because we’re supposed to represent the color of our community.”
I went home and did some quick demographic research on the city this pastor referred to in his sermon. He was right, his city was mostly white, except for one area where most of the non-white people lived, the neighborhood where his church resided.
A Bridge Too Far
Sunday morning is “our” time. We want to show up, hob-nob with our friends, catch up, connect, feel good, and be comfortable.
If there’s one thing we do well in the American church, it’s catering to the whims/preferences of her congregants.
Churches that offer compelling sermons, inspiring music, modern decor, and a nice snack bar are typically bigger than those lacking in these areas.
Because of this focus on entertainment, we’ve come to believe that Sunday morning should offer something – a good feeling, a deep thought, good friends. The idea that we should experience some discomfort here is anathema.
And rest assured that connecting with people of an entirely different culture is uncomfortable. It makes us feel inadequate. We don’t know what to say, how to connect.
My non-white friends have stories to tell about well-meaning whites who end up saying something insensitive, clueless, or downright offensive as they try to make a connection.
And people of color often speak of how white services are tailored to white culture. It’s something we could never understand.
We don’t mean to be this way. Our world is 99% caucasian. Our clueless perpetrations aren’t born from something bad, they’re simply a product of our segregated lives.
Ultimately, because crossing the culture bridge is uncomfortable, and because comfort seems to trump everything else on Sunday morning, most churches will never be able to make the journey, despite how much we want to be integrated.
Is that a bad thing?
Culture, White Christianity, and the Will of God
In my Evangelical camp, we’re talking about integration now more than ever before. I don’t know many pastors who believe that a multi ethnic church is a bad thing. Most believe that we should at least become more welcoming to people who aren’t like us, and that integration would be a “win.”
Why is this on everyone’s mind? Is it guilt? Social pressure?
Could it be God?
Is God moving His people into multi ethnic places of worship? Is this something that’s going to ultimately happen whether we want it to or not? This is question #1 as we consider being part of or leading a church that can cross culture.
As more pastors wrestle with this, more white thinkers and theologians are declaring the need for and benefits of multi ethnicity.
Should we get on board regardless of what it costs us?
But if you’ve ever been part of a white Evangelical church that’s sincerely tried to become more integrated, you’ve experienced first hand how many barriers are in place. We don’t just feel uncomfortable around non-whites, we’re threatened by them.
For many of us, this kind of exposure can be problematic, digging up racially prejudicial attitudes that are easy to live with when everything’s white. Our racism might be what’s holding us back.
Conservative white Christianity has never done well when it comes to integration, racial equity/equality, or dealing with its demons.
For example, we gave strong opposition to the Civil Rights movement. Freedom for Blacks threatened the status quo and we decided, somehow, that God almighty would never threaten any status quo, especially ours, despite the reams of Biblical stories devoted to the end of status quo’s.
This resistance has been part of conservative Christianity for a long time, and it’s still with us.
Our church once did a sermon on racism in America – it didn’t go over well.
White, Christian resistance to multi ethnic worship services is further evidence that God’s behind all of this. His people can frequently be found in opposition to His campaigns, especially when it costs them something, or flies in the face of the status quo.
Taking Things Personal
We should get on board. It’ll be difficult, and fraught with personal risk, personal cost, and, God forbid, discomfort.
But nothing good is easy. History tells us that God’s movements are always costly, which is why history also tells us that God’s people typically resist His movements.
If you’re thinking “No way – there’s nothing wrong with an all-white church,” you may want to reconsider what God is up to these days. We know that He’s always working to bring people to Himself, and our culture seems to be constantly pulling away from His values and that worries us.
But the Bible’s focus isn’t limited to evangelism and the importance of morality.
Neither is God’s.
He’s always working, moving, driving, healing – and calling His people to join Him in His work. But that’s always a risky, uncomfortable, status-quo annihilating proposition, so we, understandably, cherry pick the easy stuff.
But it’s the risky, uncomfortable, God-breathed campaigns that bring the most beauty, healing, and redemption into our world. Imagine if conservative Evangelicals would have gotten on board with the Civil rights movement. We’d have much more harmony and equity than we do now.
And far less anger and hatred.
Having crossed such a bridge, we’d be stronger, freer, and much more likely to follow God into more craziness.
Moving from our comfortable culture into a multi-ethnic expression of our faith is fraught with such craziness.
But before we talk multi-ethnicity at the corporate level, we need to think about how we’re going approach this problem on a personal level.
How do we become more culturally sensitive? How do we gain a deeper understanding of what our non-white visitors are going through on Sunday morning and beyond? How do we develop a sincere desire to connect with them?
Don’t be ashamed if you don’t have answers to these questions. Culture is a strong thing, and in some ways we’re victims of it.
Fortunately, because this is most likely a movement from God, strong Christian leaders who’ve navigated these treacherous waters have provided multiple resources to help kick start our journey.
Following are a Few (some of these are paid resources for which I get 0 kickbacks):
Rich Nathan led his large vineyard church in Columbus, Ohio through a painful transition into one of the largest multi-ethnic churches in the country. Access to his video series costs $49.00 but I promise you that you won’t regret it.
Below is an excerpt from Redeemer Presbyterian’s “Grace and Race” resources page. Redeemer is another large, very successful church that’s done some difficult, heroic work.
When considering the will of God, it’s important for us to consider the words, thoughts, and perspectives of influential Christian leaders in the areas they feel are most important.
If you’re not sure where to start, I can’t more highly recommend the above resources. You might not land where these leaders have landed, but you can consider their words prayerfully as you ask God, “Are you in this?” and, “If so, what’s my role?”