In a recent message to his congregation (the downtown campus of Willow Creek), pastor Jon Klinepeter addressed "The Future of Willow Creek," It caught my attention because of the following remarks:
" ... we will declare that this church is defined as a multi-cultural church. Not simply a multi-ethnic church where we want you to bring your ethnicity, but leave your culture at the door. We will not be a community that wants the color of your skin, but won’t acknowledge the cultural realities that accompany that color."
Now, I certainly appreciate the heart and passion of this pastor, as well as the direction in which he is seeking to lead his community of Christ-centered faith. Nevertheless his words beg the question, "What term best describes the diverse churches we are seeking to establish in these days for the sake of the gospel?"
Over the past ten years of planting, pastoring, writing and speaking about the growing movement toward what I call "multi-ethnic" churches, I have found this to be true: the terms we use are not as important as are the definitions. In other words, the issue is not so much trying to get everyone to agree on a single term as it is expecting everyone to clearly define the terms they use. More than that, we should speak with humility and avoid the presumption that our term is the "right" term for everyone, and will be understood as we intend it in every situation.
For example when I use the term "multi-ethnic church," I mean exactly what Jon means when he speaks of his church as "multi-cultural church" - at Mosaic, we ask no one to check their culture at the door and practice the principle of accommodation (not assimilation) as I have written about on many occasions. In addition, my use of the term "multi-ethnic church" implies the intentional pursuit of economic diversity as well, as (again) I frequently make clear. Personally, I do not describe such churches as "multi-cultural" so as to avoid any confusion with the tenets of multiculturalism (the doctrine of religious or social tolerance, etc.) espoused on most college and universtity campuses today. Nor do I employ the term "multi-racial church;" for as a theologian, I recognize that there is only one race - the human race - comprised, as the Bible says, of many ethnicities (Gr. ethnos, ethne; see Acts 17:26).
On the other hand, my friends in Christ-centered, sociological circles typically use the term "multi-racial church" when addressing the subject in order to address perceptions and, more specifically, the historic division of Black and White in the United States. And in Canada the term "multi-cultural church" means exactly what it does for Pastor Jon whereas, in both instances, the term "multi-ethnic church" implies color in the pew but does not "acknowledge the cultural realities that accompany color." Still others will speak of a "transethnic church," or even an "ethnically-reflective church." Once the terms are defined, however, I have found that in almost every case the vision is the same. Like our churches, then, even our terminology is unified and diverse!
With such things in mind, let us continue to speak boldly and with clarity of local churches on earth that reflect the love of God for all people as it is in heaven. And let us speak with one mind, one spirit and one purpose ... even if one term does not adequately serve us all.