A Fresh Look at a Persistent Challenge in the Church
How can churches cultivate healthy multiethnic cultures that provide a defense of the gospel in a world that’s increasingly polarized?
Below, you’ll find a quick excerpt from my forthcoming book with Jamaal E. Williams In Church as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Multiethnic Kingdom Culture. This book provides a fresh look at the persistent challenge of cultivating churches that are multiethnic, multisocioeconomic, and multigenerational. But this book does more than that: it also articulates a distinct approach to apologetics that’s shaped by the habits of the ancient church.
Before you read the excerpt, however, I have a request …
Would you please consider pre-ordering a copy of this book?
This is one of the most important projects to which I’ve ever contributed, and I believe that it has the capacity to equip churches throughout the United States and beyond for a better and more beautiful future. When a book is pre-ordered, it lets retailers know that there is strong interest in the topic, and that impacts the attention they give to a particular title.
To pre-order the book and guarantee you’ll receive the book on the day it’s released, click here: In Church as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Multiethnic Kingdom Culture.
Now, if you’re interested in a quick glimpse into the contents of the book, here it is:
When we pursue multiethnic kingdom culture, we are persisting in a work that Jesus himself began. Think about how God’s work unfolds throughout the New Testament. When Jesus called his first followers, our Savior brought together a band of Jewish males, but he refused to allow this initial community of disciples to remain homogeneous. He led them into the presence of Syrophoenician and Samaritan women, and he expanded his circle to include both women and men (Matthew 27:55; Mark 7:24-26; 15:41; Luke 23:49; John 4:9, 27). Moments before he left the planet, Jesus commissioned his followers to teach every ethnicity to obey his words (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). This mission produced leadership and local gatherings that practiced diverse fellowship (Acts 13:1; 20:4).
Even in the first century, these patterns weren’t perceived as optional. Once, when Peter and Barnabas backpedaled from their earlier embrace of multiethnic table fellowship, Paul declared that they were “deviating from the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14; see also Acts 10:34). God’s Word makes it clear that believers are called to live here and now as a “fellowship of differents”—as a family in which barriers between us are broken because of what God the Father has accomplished through the broken body of his Son. This will look different in every context, but any habits that stand in the way of faithful kingdom diversity in a church signify a divergence from the implications of the gospel.
And yet, with few exceptions, American Protestants view multiethnic churches as a desirable ideal, but their actual fellowships remain steadfastly monoethnic.
Consider this: More than eight in ten pastors are convinced that churches should work toward greater ethnic diversity, and nearly 80 percent of church members agree. Well over half of these members claim they would feel comfortable worshiping alongside a multiplicity of ethnicities. And yet, people’s actual practices reveal different priorities. Eighty-six percent of these same churchgoers have chosen to attend churches that consist primarily of a single ethnicity. Even though American Christians say they desire diversity, they consistently choose churches filled with members that look like themselves. American churches are not merely segregated; they are—in the words of one sociologist—“hypersegregated.”
What’s worse is that this gap can’t be blamed on a lack of ethnic and racial diversity in neighborhoods and communities. Although American neighborhoods do tend to be separated along ethnic lines, churches in these communities are about ten times more segregated than the neighborhoods themselves. In other words, even when communities are multiethnic, churches in those communities typically aren’t.
The dream of diversity is alive and well. The reality is elusive at best.
Of course, not every neighborhood in North America includes sufficient ethnic diversity for every congregation in that community to be comprehensively multiethnic. If that’s the type of context where God has placed you and your family, don’t give up! In later chapters, we’ll examine how congregations in contexts like yours can still pursue a diverse and redemptive kingdom culture. And yet, there are tens of thousands of churches throughout North America that—despite being in areas that are rich in ethnic and cultural diversity—look less like multiethnic outposts of God’s kingdom and more like homogeneous country clubs.
In 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on Meet the Press and popularized a statement that civil rights activists had already been repeating for years: “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America.” Decades later, these words still ring true. In fact, they may even be truer now due to political divisions that have worsened racial relations. And yet, if our proclamation of Jesus never forms communities of faith where racial and ethnic barriers are broken down, something is missing in the ways that we’re teaching people to live out their faith in Jesus.
But the real problem isn’t a gap in our knowledge. It’s a gap in our love.