NOTE: This post was written right before COVID-19 shut most things down and we had to bank it in order to cover pandemic related content. With the backdrop of racial turmoil currently sweeping our nation, it serves to highlight the critical importance of tackling this challenging area of the church’s mission.
Have you ever wanted your church to become more multicultural? It’s what some churches – maybe even yours – aspire to be. It’s kind of a fad right now. Some would even say it was the dominant model of the earliest churches outside of Jerusalem. But it’s not without challenges.
The church I pastor is located in the most diverse small city in the country. That’s awesome in so many ways and it’s a reminder for us that we are uniquely called to be a multicultural community of faith. Over the years we’ve learned some of the highs and lows of becoming this kind of church. Two unique challenges stand out from our experience. These challenges are often not mentioned, so I’m going to name them.
1. EMBRACING OTHER CULTURES IN A TRULY MULTICULTURAL CHURCH IS UNCOMFORTABLE.
For everyone. My comfort zone is my culture. Unless my church embraces only my culture, I’m going to experience discomfort. When we use multiple styles of music, dress, language, leadership and more – it’s uncomfortable. Africans and Asians and Europeans and LatinX think differently and worship differently, to say nothing of Boomers, Xers, Millennials and Gen-Z. To make room for these differences requires that I surrender part of my comfort zone.
When we address social, political, and organizational issues from the standpoint of other cultures, it’s uncomfortable. Nobody gets a pass on this. I regularly find myself repeating the mantra, “We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
A church community needs to be a safe community, but safe and comfortable are not the same. Issues like immigration, racism, education, healthcare, and law enforcement look different thru the eyes of different cultures. For example, a uniformed police officer in the church lobby may communicate safety and order to one culture, and simultaneously communicate fear of deportation to another. Similarly, conversations about protecting the unborn can rally one culture while reminding another that they’ve had people dictate what they can do with their own bodies for 400 plus years.
So, the first challenge is the journey out of your comfort zone and into the uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s not filled with delight and discovery. But it will include making everyone uncomfortable at points.
2. IT’S A SLOW WAY TO GROW A CHURCH.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable is not the most appealing slogan for many people. If someone attends a church because it makes them feel comfortable, then embracing other cultures is a reason to hit the exit. We have certainly experienced that. The fastest way to grow a church is to attract people who are like each other. Once you start asking people to surrender their comfort zone, some will decline the offer. Good, godly people will walk out the door in search of a church that feels more like home. They’ll look for some place where their culture and beliefs are not challenged.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s one of the most exhilarating aspects of ministry in my own experience. I’ve been enriched and humbled and enlightened and delighted. I’ve seen the “multi-faceted wisdom of God made known” (Ephesians 3:10) thru his multicultural church. But it’s often uncomfortable. And it’s slow progress.
It’s our unique calling as a church in our city. If it’s your calling, too, then know the challenges involved, but also know that it’s more than worth it.