My friend and fellow multi-ethnic church pioneer, David Swanson, recently interviewed me for Out of Ur, the online blog published by Leadership Journal. The interview focused specifically on my recently released book, Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity Into Your Local Church that addresses some of the unique challenges faced by multi-ethnic churches and their leaders.
I have reproduced the interview here for your convenience and with appreciation and credit to David Swanson.
In the book you argue that the New Testament paradigm for the local church is one that exhibits ethnic and socio-economic diversity. In your years pastoring a multi-ethnic church, what has been the theology that most compels people to embrace this ideal for the local church?
While God's heart for the nations is evident from Genesis through Revelation, such a broad understanding is not enough to inform pastors concerning their approach to ministry. A closer examination of the New Testament, however, reveals a very precise theology upon which the multi-ethnic/economically diverse local church should be built, a biblical mandate that cannot be ignored. Namely,
Christ envisions the multi-ethnic church on the night before he dies (John 17:20-23), so that the world will know God's love and believe.
Luke describes the model at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff.), the first mega, missional and multi-ethnic community of faith and the most influential church in the New Testament.
Paul prescribes unity and diversity for the local church in his letter to the Ephesians, where his theme is "the unity of the church for the sake of the Gospel."
You make it clear that while all pastors and church planters face significant challenges in ministry, those who pastor multi-ethnic churches can expect these challenges at another level. Why is this?
Two examples illustrate the unique challenges any time race and class are part of the equation: When an Executive Pastor admonishes a Youth Pastor to step up his game, both being white in an otherwise all-white church, the young man or woman may walk away challenged, discouraged, or even frustrated, but he or she will not wonder if race had something to do with it. In a multi-ethnic church, when an upwardly mobile African American member of your staff informs working class Hispanic members that they cannot set up tables in a specific area of the church for a Quinceañera celebration, you will not only have to navigate the natural human frustrations but subtle racial or social ones as well.
One of the specific challenges you write about are the differing theological perspectives that often exist within a multi-ethnic church. Are there times when you feel the tension between your theological convictions and the unity of the church?
Church leadership should not compromise theological conviction for the sake of increasing ethnic or economic diversity within their church. At Mosaic there have been points at which we were tempted to do so in pursuit of diversity. In the early days of our church plant we were so thankful to have anyone show up that the last thing we wanted to do was alienate anyone over a theological technicality!
Over the years we’ve been forced to consider whether or not to serve communion to a Muslim seeker, to rethink our position on the assurance of salvation for those claiming to be believers, to address if/when/where it is appropriate for a believer to pray in tongues and the role of women in ministry. Such issues are raised in every church; seeking to bring diverse people together in one church for the sake of the gospel only magnifies such concerns and consequences.
As a student of the multi-ethnic church in America you have noted different stages in the movement’s development. At this point you see the multi-ethnic church movement in the “Pioneer Stage.” By 2020 you envision 20% of churches being at least 20% diverse and by 2050, you hope that 50% of churches will be at least 50% diverse. As you talk with pastors and visit churches, what are you seeing that gives you hope that these next stages will become the new reality for the American Church?
First, let me be clear that such percentages provide just one measurement to help determine where a particular church is along a perceived continuum in pursuit of New Testament unity for the sake of the gospel. Additional factors that should be taken into account include diverse composition of vocational and volunteer leaders, acceptance of various styles of worship and cross-cultural transferability of forms and practices of ministry within the congregation. All of these further define the reality and credibility of a church that describes itself as integrated. Pastors should be careful not to rely upon numbers alone in declaring their churches to be multi-ethnic.
Having said this, I do promote a measurable goal of 20% diversity in 20% of churches throughout the U.S. by 2020, knowing that this goal represents a tipping point that will largely inform local church ministry for the rest of the century. The latest statistics show that Protestant churches were three times more likely to have 20% diversity in 2007 than they were in 1998, and evangelical Protestant churches of 1,000 or more were five times more likely to exhibit this diversity. There are also more books being published on the subject, and multi-ethnic churches (and their leaders) are increasingly the subject of magazine and newspaper articles. A growing number of churches are now describing themselves as “multi-ethnic,” “multiracial,” or “multicultural” on their websites, and conferences are including sessions devoted to multi-ethnic ministry.
Look for part two of David Swanson's interview later this summer at Out of Ur.