The church is called to be both an instrument and sign of the kingdom of God. As an instrument, the church is God's agent in the world, showing and sharing the love of Jesus to a broken and hurting world.
And as a sign, the church points to the kingdom of God, acting as a credible witness to its reality and power. People are supposed to look at the church and say, "That's what the kingdom of God looks like."
In this sense, it's a window into the kingdom encouraging others to join the fellowship of faith, bound together in Christ.
Revelation 7 says men and women will gather around the throne of God for eternity, and they will come from every tribe, tongue and nation. But when we look across the landscape of North American churches, most are far too monocultural.
There's a lot of talk in our churches and among pastors, leaders and scholars about the need for our churches to be more multiethnic and multicultural. But it's not often accomplished.
Multiethnic vs. multicultural. Pursuing diversity is a good thing. But we must be clear what we are talking about. A church can be multiethnic if it has persons of different ethnic backgrounds who attend.
But if people of various ethnic groups listen to the same music, eat the same foods, hang out at the same entertainment venues and go to church together, that's not multicultural. They have assimilated to a common culture. It may be multiethnic, but it's still monocultural.
Don't get me wrong; both multiethnic and multicultural ministries are good and worth pursuing. But being multicultural is much harder than simply being multiethnic.
A multicultural church will not simply have people who are African-American, but will engage to some degree in African-American cultural contexts.
People from Latin America will not only attend, but the church will intentionally engage Latino cultures and contexts.
The church will have people who are second-generation Asian immigrants, and will to some degree engage Asian cultural norms. And so on.
The multicultural church will seek to celebrate, encourage, accommodate and even engage those cultures.
The Difficult but Necessary Work Ahead
For those hoping for more diversity in their church, allow me to make some suggestions:
- Start simple. Be intentional about getting to know at least one other group in your community.
- Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. If you are white and long for a multicultural church, imagine a black person coming to your white church. Would you consider joining a predominately African-American church? Are you that committed to being part of a church that looks more like the kingdom of God?
- Be prepared to grow slowly. The reality is a multicultural church will grow more slowly than a monocultural church. It takes time to develop transparency and trust across cultures.
- Be aware of the challenges and be sober-minded about the barriers to multicultural ministry. It requires humility and Christlikeness to pursue unity among diverse ethnicities and cultures.
Are you willing to do what it takes to move your church in a more multiethnic and multicultural direction? Are you willing to cross barriers and start a multicultural shift by joining a church of a different ethnicity and culture than your own? Are willing to lay aside your own preferences to be on mission in your community?
These are hard questions without easy answers. But we need to ask them and pursue that which looks more like the kingdom of God.
Scripture clearly reveals diversity around the throne. That's where things are headed. That's what God wants.
So if the church, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural society, is to be a true instrument and sign of the coming kingdom, it should intentionally pursue such diversity.
I am encouraged by the efforts I see, and challenged to move forward in my own life and church for the sake of the gospel.
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