More Than Multiethnic

Is the church the greatest hope for America? It is, but only to the degree that it chooses to make disciples who are committed to transform individuals, churches and communities. And that transformation isn’t deep enough if it doesn’t cross over all the lines that tend to separate us.

I’m talking about ethnic lines, yes. (It was Martin Luther King Jr. who in 1953 pinpointed “eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” as “the most segregated hour in Christian America.”)

But when it comes to lines that separate us and serve as obstacles to transformation, I believe that we have too narrowly defined that separation only along racial lines and only between our black and white brothers and sisters.

Asians and Hispanics add dimensions to the mix (with additional multigenerational and multilingual complexities), but other lines separate us as well. That’s why we, in the EFCA, are taking a concerted look at all the lines that can separate us and serve as obstacles to authentic, deep transformation. Far more than multiethnic issues, we’re addressing multilingual, multinational, multigenerational—multi-everything, even touching on issues tied to gender and ability/disability.

It’s when you are not the majority—in any of these categories—that you realize how hard minorities have to struggle to be heard and valued.

Photo: Guy Magno. Here, Ruth Arnold speaks on “Developing a culture for evangelism and discipleship that multiplies.” She’s joined by Ray Chang and Rollo Casiple.

Several key EFCA leaders have been addressing this for a long time. In June we gathered together as many of them as possible at the EFCA One conference in New Orleans. Our objective was not to “solve” anything but to discuss these issues in their full complexity and use this discussion to surface an agenda for a more in-depth conversation.

We considered several areas where the EFCA must develop proficiency in order to truly see transformation:

1. Understanding cultural obstacles.

On a personal level, our “culture” is so ubiquitous that it is unknown to us until someone points it out. It is like when we go to another part of the country and people ask about our accent. In our mind, they are the ones with the odd accent. We don’t hear ours. Yet what is so familiar and acceptable to us can be an obstacle for others, and we need to have our eyes opened to that potential. We need to not assume that we are the norm and that others will adapt to us.

2. Overcoming linguistic obstacles.

Too often, my monolingual friends (English) assume that a person speaking English poorly is not very bright. Instead, that person you are struggling to understand (and are tempted to dismiss) might well have two master’s degrees and much wisdom to offer. Have you empowered a non-native English speaker to serve on your board or as one of your elders?

3. Empowering all leaders

EFCA churches are starting to address second-language services and, thus, second-language leaders. But we need to make room for younger leaders and female leaders too.

4. Sharing facilities, resources and authority

Many churches in our movement already host an ethnic congregation within their walls, sharing sanctuary and office space. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that we are true partners in ministry, sharing authority and responsibility?

5. Developing a culture for evangelism and disciple-making across all people.

The biblical mandates are clear: Make disciples and love one another. We must develop disciple-making processes that work for all groups or develop different processes (not imbue our current process as if possessing near-biblical authority). Remember, “Love one another” does not mean only people like you. Over the past few years, disciple-making in the EFCA found a strong feminine “accent” (under the leadership of Jackie Redmond and the former EFCA RESOUND). But we need to accommodate age, socioeconomic and relational accents too.

Photo: Guy Magno. Lavinia and Duane Manuel (from the staff of First EFC of St. Louis County) absorb the material.

My goal in the exploration of multi-everything ministry is to ask the right questions, and those questions must move beyond the color of our skin. Stay tuned for 2014, when we hope to gather again to do more than acknowledge complexities and ask good questions but to consider training and next steps.

The call to action right now, though, is to be personally transformed by the way we see “other” people. Then, pray for our churches to be transformed, so that we can be part of transforming our communities. Every woman, every man, every language, every old and young person, every broken one—everyone is a gift of God to the church. And a transformed church is the greatest hope for our country.

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