I remember a joke I heard during a missions conference in Guatemala. The speaker said something like this: “For where two or three ethnic groups have gathered together, there will be conflict.”
When you get down to it, this joke contains a lot of truth. Differences will exist in all churches, but this especially holds true in multi-ethnic churches.
Here are 3 challenges that multi-ethnic church leaders face:
1) The Identity of a Multi-Ethnic Church
When you diversify the cultural background of your people, a lot of issues, cultural issues, will arise. Every church needs to have a strong identity in Christ. There is no question about that; however, when everybody understands Christianity using different cultural lenses they will have different assumptions about how things should or shouldn’t be done.Every church needs to have a strong identity in Christ. Click To Tweet
I used the word challenge intentionally in the title of this blog. I don’t think this is a problem but rather a challenge multi-ethnic church leaders face — especially if handled in a Biblically correct manner. In fact, perhaps cultural diversity is the cure for a very common problem many churches do face: the cultural Christians.
When my culture is questioned by a person with a different world view, we have the opportunity to look to the Scriptures, evaluate the situation, and find a Biblical answer to the question at hand.
As you integrate a variety of cultures, you must maintain and emphasize an identity in Christ as a Christ-follower, as that is the common identity that will unite the multi-cultural church.As you integrate a variety of cultures, you must maintain and emphasize an identity in Christ. Click To Tweet
2) The Target of a Multi-Ethnic Church
Some churches ignore this concept, but a strategy should be created to reach the kind of people we are called to serve. This is particularly true when it comes to a multi-ethnic church. When I was a part of a multi-cultural leadership team outside of the United States, we faced questions like: “Are we going to celebrate Thanksgiving? Or not?” “What time should we have dinner at our outreach dinner?” (some groups normally at dinner at 6pm and others at 9pm or later).
Look at who you are trying to reach. It should guide your answers to these types of questions.
Who do you think would be interested in coming to church for a Super Bowl party? People from South America? India? the Philippines? If noone is interested in the Super Bowl, you may not want to have this event. (Please don’t misunderstand me. I love football. And we actually did have a Super Bowl party when we were part of a multi-ethnic church in South America; however, we decided that those we were serving would like to be a part of this American tradition, and it proved to be a great opportunity to deepen relationships.)
We also held events with German food, played games revolving around National Anthems and flags, watched the World Cup games, and commemorated national events of Uruguay (where we all resided at the time). If we are serving diverse ethnic groups, then our strategy should be aligned with reaching the population within our target group.
3) Differences in Cultural Background
Most conflicts I have seen as I serve within multi-ethnic church leadership teams stem from differences in cultural background.
Within my native home culture, thousands of assumptions lay under a simple sentence or even a word. In other words, we usually don’t say what we mean and assume that you can read between the lines. In other cultures, you mean what you say and you say what you mean; you don’t beat around the bush. When these two approaches come together, conflict is bound to ensue at some point. Working within multi-cultural teams highlighted these differences, and I wish someone introduced me to this 10 years ago as it could have helped me to avoid several different conflicts.
As different cultures interact, every subject (lifestyle, parenthood, clothing, food, etc) can easily become either 1) a conflict or 2) an opportunity to analyze our cultural background and change what might not be “godly” in our own culture. Take time appreciate the differences within the cultures in your church. Celebrate the richness it brings to your ministry, as it reflects the creativity of our God.
What other challenges have you experienced as part of multi-ethnic church leadership teams? How have you dealt with the challenges multi-ethnic church leaders face?
Augusto Aniano is a professional musician, pastor, and cross-cultural servant in Mexico (originally from Uruguay). He is married to Vale (who is also a professional singer) and they have two kids: Zeke and Matt. || @ || http://www.augustoandvale.com ||