Theology Christian Living Relationships/Family Identity

Joyful Burdens in Mono-Ethnic Churches

Jarvis Williams

I speak in many different contexts on issues related to reconciliation and multi-ethnic churches. I’ve observed one reason that reconciliation and multi-ethnic churches are difficult to achieve for some churches is because few of them are willing to make the necessary multi-ethnic negotiations for the purpose of pursuing healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches. But God, in his sweet providence, has also afforded me opportunities to meet dear brothers and sisters throughout the country who have voluntarily made the necessary multi-ethnic negotiations by partnering with majority congregations outside of their ethnic posture. These are brothers and sisters and churches serious about multi-ethnic churches and gospel-centered reconciliation.

There are many red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, national and international Christians in many churches who have chosen to become ethnic minorities in predominately mono-ethnic churches in order to help these churches build healthy, multi-ethnic churches. In this piece, I don’t use the term minority in the standard way to refer to non-white people. Rather, I use it to refer to any race or ethnicity that willingly partners with a predominately mono-ethnic church, but yet is not part of the predominate race or ethnicity of that church.

This kind of partnership, in my view, is one of the many steps that Christians must be willing to take if we want to see the racist and segregated landscape of our churches change. Christians who stand on the sidelines screaming about reconciliation and the multi-ethnic church, but are unwilling to humble themselves and partner with a congregation outside of their ethnic posture, will have a difficult time actually engaging in the work of reconciliation.

With this partnership, there will be great sacrifices both from those who are minorities in mono-ethnic churches and from those churches with whom they will partner. There will also be many joyful burdens. I want to highlight 5.

  1. Ethnic Loneliness

Those serving as minorities in mono-ethnic churches might experience ethnic loneliness as they will be one of few people who share their ethnic posture. This loneliness might be realized in different tastes of music, worship styles, conversations, and basic life experiences. Ethnic loneliness might lead to discouragement, which might in turn lead to giving up on the cause of reconciliation and the multi-ethnic church in that context.

But these minority brothers and sisters in majority churches working to build healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches should seek to fill their ethnic loneliness with deep communion with Jesus both privately and publicly with his people in the corporate gatherings of the church, group bible studies, and in community groups where life on life living takes place. Even if one experiences ethnic loneliness in mono-ethnic churches working to become multi-ethnic, one should be able to have deep Christian fellowship with brothers and sisters with whom they share the bond of Christ and the Spirit. This fellowship between minorities and majorities may serve as a means to help the majority group press forward in reconciliation and in the work of building a healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic church.

  1. Ethnic Assimilation

Minorities in mono-ethnic churches will be expected to assimilate within the majority culture. Black churches with non-black members generally expect those members to assimilate, and white churches with non-white members will also generally expect those members to assimilate. Some degree of assimilation is inevitable in any church as long as there is a majority culture in that church, which there will likely be—even in a multi-ethnic church. But the ethnic minority member of mono-ethnic churches wanting to become multi-ethnic should model biblical assimilation for these congregations and help these churches understand that both minority and majority Christians need to be willing to assimilate to a certain degree within minority cultures in mono-ethnic majority cultural contexts. That is, all Christians must be willing to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34)

Those in pursuit of building healthy, multi-ethnic churches must mutually deny self for the sake of the other. There needs to be reciprocal assimilation. Minorities and majorities must be willing to negotiate ethnically if these congregations truly desire healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches. And those minority brothers and sisters can teach majority brothers and sisters in mono-ethnic churches much about how to become culturally competent about an ethnic or racial posture besides one’s own.

Minority cultures in churches have no choice but to become culturally competent, because they are minorities in majority cultures. But majorities must intentionally force themselves to be culturally competent in the minority cultures represented in their congregations since they are always the majority culture and are virtually never forced to view their culture or cultural expressions as abnormal. Minorities can teach majorities in mono-ethnic churches how to make the necessary ethnic negotiations for the sake of the gospel, which might lead these mono-ethnic churches closer to reconciliation and to multi-ethnic living. These things could likewise result in healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches.

  1. Exhaustion

Those who become ethnic minorities by partnering with mono-ethnic majority churches suffer from racial reconciliation exhaustion and multi-ethnic church exhaustion. This is so for at least the following reasons. First, mono-ethnic churches that genuinely want to become multi-ethnic might unintentionally wear out the few minorities in the congregation in order to reach more people outside of the majority culture. Second, those within the minority culture will likely be more zealous, conscious, and intentional about reconciliation and the multi-ethnic church in order to see the one new man for which Jesus died since they are regularly aware in their churches that not many people share their ethnic posture.

These realities result in exhaustion for minorities in mono-ethnic churches because of working relentlessly hard in trying to build relationships with those within the majority culture in the church, while also working to ensure that those within the minority culture in mono-ethnic churches become part of the church’s community. This is truly a great joy, but could also become a burden. Thus, minorities in mono-ethnic churches need to be intentional about constantly helping the majority culture understand that reconciliation and working to build multi-ethnic churches are the responsibilities of all members within the body of Christ, not only the responsibilities of the minority members. Jesus died and resurrected to create Jews and Gentiles into one new man (Eph. 2:11-22). Those in Christ must, therefore, pursue the other with the gospel regardless of ethnicity or race.

  1. Multi-Ethnic Churches Don’t Happen Quickly

Mono-ethnic churches do not become multi-ethnic as quickly as we would like. It has taken churches from different races a long time to be segregated and racist. And it might take them a long time to be reconciled to God, to different races, and to become multi-ethnic.

Minorities in mono-ethnic churches working to become multi-ethnic must earnestly pray for the body to become multi-ethnic and racially reconciled, fervently and patiently love those with whom we are alienated, teach by our lives and words how to pursue reconciliation, and engage the body in gospel conversations.

Minorities in mono-ethnic churches must be willing to commit for the long-haul, because reconciliation and multi-ethnic churches will not happen if all of the minorities in these churches leave because the work is too difficult. But by God’s grace, if minorities patiently persevere, the Lord might use us to be a means by which once racist and segregated churches would be a beautiful display of gospel-centered reconciliation and kingdom multi-ethnicity.

  1. We Might Die Before We See the Fruit of Our Labors

Many people benefit from the hard work and sacrifices of others. Many of those who fought, worked, or died for the privileges that I have never saw the fruit of their labors. I think, for example, of those dear people who risked their lives to overturn segregation and discrimination. Many of them did not live to see the day when people of color and women would be in many prominent positions of leadership.

Likewise, minorities in majority mono-ethnic churches and working with these churches to help them become multi-ethnic might not live to see the fruit of our labors. But we should take great courage in the fact that we serve a great and sovereign God who cares more about glorifying himself than giving us the privilege of seeing the fruit of our labors. He builds his church for the praise of his glory in his time (Eph. 1:3-14). He, instead, might now be using us to plant the seeds of reconciliation and the multi-ethnic church in some very hard places. But maybe he will water this seed with his Holy Spirit and bring about a massive multi-ethnic, reconciliation revival that will overwhelm our congregations after we’ve gone to be with Jesus.

Those of us committed to the labor of building multi-ethnic churches as minorities share joyful burdens. This work is important, but difficult. However, as long as the gospel is faithfully preached, the scriptures are faithfully taught, a clear multi-ethnic vision is consistently shared with the congregation from the leadership, as long as God in Christ is exalted above all in these churches, and as long as God is using us to build up these congregations with our gifts and leadership skills both corporately and in smaller community settings within these churches, minorities in mono-ethnic churches working to build multi-ethnic churches should keep laboring to live out the one new man in Christ in pursuit of healthy, gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches.

May we continue in the great work of pursuing reconciliation and multi-ethnic churches, for the glory of God, for the exaltation of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, and for the good of the churches—even though this work is difficult. And may God in his goodness and in his mercy breathe on this work now, and let us see the fruit of our labor in the present age before he takes us to be with Jesus. Amen!

1 Comment

  1. Micah Kelley

    Thank you so much for this article.

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