“We want our church to look more like heaven” is a well-intended sentiment that I hear many white Christians and church leaders make regarding their desire to have ethnically diverse churches. Unfortunately, however, in the ears of some ethnic minorities, this statement often serves as code for “we want ethnic minorities to attend our churches and assimilate within our predominately white culture and sit under our predominately white leadership and instruction, instead of staying in their mono-ethnic predominately minority churches.”
As I write and speak in many different ethnic contexts on matters related to gospel reconciliation, I sense from many good-hearted, white Christians that instead of gospel reconciliation, they simply want the fruit of reconciliation (a multi-ethnic church) without the problems and pain that come when one walks the path of reconciliation with someone from a different ethnic, racial, educational, social, cultural, or economic posture. Often I find that some white Christians who deeply desire multi-ethnic churches neither live multi-ethnic lives in association with ethnic minorities nor have ever served under the leadership of a non-white person, which makes their desire for gospel-healthy multi-ethnic churches appear to be superficial.
White Christians without multi-ethnic experiences often have a white cultural vision for what it means to be a multi-ethnic church. Their mono-ethnic, predominately white, and non-multi ethnic experiences will inevitably force them to see multi-ethnic church through the lens of their socially constructed whiteness.
Consequently, it will be easy for these Christians, lacking the necessary multi-ethnic and multi-cultural competence, to import their limited cultural vision onto ethnic minorities in the name of a multi-ethnic church, while genuinely thinking they’re pursuing racial reconciliation with their ethnic minority brothers and sisters in Christ.
The result will be multi-ethnic church plantations (predominately white churches with predominately white leadership seeking to conform ethnic minorities into the cultural idea of ethnic/cultural whiteness) instead of Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic, gospel-centered churches whose members are seeking to pursue reconciliation with one another regardless of ethnic, racial, and economic differences, as the members put one another’s needs before their own and as they seek to listen to, learn from, and serve one another in love.
In this piece, I list 10 ways churches can avoid becoming multi-ethnic church plantations.
- Don’t Lead Your Churches to become Multi-Ethnic until You First Live Multi-Ethnic Lives!
I’ve spoken with certain white Christians who are passionate about multi-ethnic churches, but they don’t live multi-ethnic lives. Apart from brief interactions with minorities in their workplace or communities, certain white Christians have no real relationships or interactions with minorities. I want to emphasize white Christians will not build healthy, multi-ethnic, gospel-centered churches committed to gospel reconciliation if they are not living multi-ethnic lives.
At worst, mono-ethnic white churches with members who do not live multi-ethnic lives will be predominately white churches in predominately ethnic minority contexts—the kind of churches that are ethnically out of touch with their ethnically diverse communities. At best, mono-ethnic white Christians without multi-ethnic competence will confuse racial reconciliation with ethnic diversity and build churches filled with diverse people who meet together once a week, but who do not share life with one another as the body of Christ. A racist multi-ethnic church is not a racially reconciled, gospel-centered church.
- Don’t Lead Your Churches to become Multi-Ethnic unless You’re Willing to Understand the Complexities of Race!
White Christians need to understand that their cultural posture and the lens through which they see the world is only one of many different cultural, ethnic, and racial postures and lenses. I’m astonished by the conversations I have with ethnically white and minority Christians who still think that race is biological instead of ideological.
Regardless of the arguments and science to the contrary, too many Christians think a person is born black or white, instead of race being a social construct. God created the human race (Gen. 1-2; 11), but the human race constructed races for the purpose of racial hierarchy and white domination. White Christians eager to lead their churches to become multi-ethnic must labor to understand the complexity of race in this country. Otherwise, they will fail to understand the historical and sociological reasons that churches are segregated in the U.S. in the first place, which will impede reconciliation.
- Don’t Pursue Multi-Ethnic Ministry Until You First Understand the Ethnic Demographics of Your Communities!
White Christians who desire to lead their churches to become multi-ethnic must know the ethnic demographics in their communities. If their communities are 100% white, then they will not be multi-ethnic. The church should represent the ethnic, economic, educational, etc. diversity represented in the community.
However, if there is no ethnic diversity in the community, the church should look for other ways to live out the gospel of reconciliation with other kinds of diverse people in their communities and in their cities. On the other hand, white churches that live in diverse communities and yet lack any representation of the diversity in those communities are failing to complete the Great Commission that Jesus left his disciples in Matt. 28:16-20: to make disciples of “all the nations.” White churches in diverse communities should work hard to understand the ethnic demographic in their communities and seek to pursue that diversity with gospel intentionality.
- Don’t Believe in Colorblindness!
Christians must reject the idea of colorblindness if they want to build healthy, gospel-centered multi-ethnic churches. Colorblindness basically says that humans should look beyond color, because we live in a post-racial society. The only ones who can say this with a straight face are those who generally don’t suffer because of the color of their skin or those who benefit from those who’ve always been the ethnic majority.
Colorblindness does not build healthy, multi-ethnic churches. Rather, this false belief allows the ethnic majority group within the church to maintain their position of privilege and power over ethnic minority groups without making any personal sacrifices to live in community with those in the congregation from a different ethnic posture. Instead of helping churches become racially reconciled with different people, colorblindness will enable the white majority in predominately white churches to view their experiences as normal and to view non-white or ethnic minority experiences as “raced,” “abnormal,” or “cultural.”
If colorblindness is the guiding principle for predominately white churches, then the predominately white members of those churches will not be able to love their ethnic minority brothers and sisters well, who have suffered precisely because of their race, for they will likely turn a blind eye to the real, systemic suffering that some minorities experience because of their race.
- Don’t Do Offensive or Racist Things to Reach Ethnic Minorities
Ethnic minorities can sense disingenuous efforts of racial reconciliation — ask ethnic minorities who have visited predominately white churches at any point in their lives. Predominately white churches that engage in culturally insensitive efforts or subconsciously make racist statements in their efforts to reach ethnic minorities will drive ethnic minorities away from their congregations.
- Publically Talk about Race and Listen to and Learn the Narratives of Your Minority Brothers and Sisters!
Predominately white churches wanting to become multi-ethnic should forget about becoming multi-ethnic if they are unwilling to talk about race openly, honestly, and publically in the church. Multi-ethnic churches have multi-ethnic problems. Whenever diverse people get together, they will inevitably experience tension. This is true for mono-ethnic churches, but especially true for multi-ethnic churches. Sometimes the tension emerges from issues related to one’s ethnic posture.
Predominately white brothers and sisters must be eager and willing to listen to and learn from their ethnic minority brothers and sisters if they want their churches to be gospel-healthy, multi-ethnic churches. They must place themselves in awkward, uncomfortable, and emotionally vulnerable postures of learning how non-white people view reality. And they must be willing to engage in conversing about these issues. If they do not, as soon as the country becomes divided again over race, multi-ethnic church plantations will experience much division.
- Hire Qualified, Ethnically Diverse Leadership as Pastoral Staff and Appoint Qualified, Ethnically Diverse Leadership!
In my view, predominately white churches with predominately white leaders but with a little ethnic diversity sprinkled throughout the congregation do not qualify as multi-ethnic churches. One of the first things many ethnic minorities see when they visit predominately white churches is the absence of ethnic minorities participating in leadership.
Before I visit a congregation, the first thing I do is thoroughly search the church’s website. If I see that all of the leadership is white, that tells me that it’s a white church. But if I visit the church and there is a little diversity with no ethnic minorities in leadership, I begin to ask myself why not. In my view, predominately white churches that claim to desire multi-ethnic ministry, on the one hand, but refuse to appoint qualified ethnic minorities in leadership, on the other hand, are multi-ethnic church plantations. Qualified, ethnic diversity in leadership is a key element to becoming a healthy, multi-ethnic church.
- Don’t Mismatch Ethnic Minorities with Positions for Which They’re Unqualified to have Diversity in Leadership!
Predominately white churches wanting to become healthy, multi-ethnic, gospel-centered churches should not want diversity for the sake of diversity. White churches that appoint unqualified and ungodly minority leaders in church leadership will actually hurt the cause of gospel reconciliation. Churches should only appoint biblically, qualified leaders in the church regardless of the races or ethnicities or economics of those leaders.
- Don’t Prioritize Whiteness!
Predominately white churches aspiring to become healthy, multi-ethnic churches must not seek to prioritize whiteness. By prioritizing whiteness, I mean that predominately white churches must be willing to make the appropriate ethnic negotiations with ethnic minorities for the sake of gospel unity and reconciliation. Multi-ethnic negotiations in multi-ethnic churches expose the blind spots of those within both the majority and the minority groups. And the Spirit uses this exposure to create the kind of reconciliation necessary within a healthy, multi-ethnic church.
- Ask the Spirit to Have His Way!
Finally, and certainly not least, predominately white churches aspiring to become multi-ethnic must ask the Spirit to have his way. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If God by his Spirit will breathe on the efforts of those in pursuit of gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches, he can transform the most racist and segregated churches on earth into the most beautiful display of the multi-ethnic and racially reconciled people of God in Revelation 7. Therefore, these churches must corporately plead with God to create and reconcile some from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation into one new man.