We in the EFCA have accepted the call to become and to plant healthy multiethnic churches. We do so not because it is politically correct. Rather, we have accepted this unavoidable call because of the biblical mandate to “make disciples of all nations [ethne]” 1 (Matthew 28:19).
As we pursue this call, church leaders must identify, recruit and empower those who will serve as “bridge people.” This is my term for members of the body of Christ who are naturally skilled and spiritually gifted to function as bridges between groups that differ in culture, socio-economic status, ethnicity, language or other ways. These individuals will help cross borders both within the church and with the outside community.
A bridge person moves naturally in more than one culture (fluent in the spoken language and cultural “language” of both groups) and has the spiritual gifts of leadership, compassion or evangelism—serving with enthusiasm to accomplish the mission of the local church among all people.
Bridge people in the early church
The church in Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts gives us an example for identifying, recruiting and empowering these individuals: “A complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1, New English Translation).
The Greek-speaking Jews were those who resided in Jerusalem at that time but used to live in countries where Greek was spoken (and probably did not speak other languages). The native Jews of Jerusalem, called Hebrews, were the majority and spoke the Hebrew language2.
The Grecians’ complaint challenged not only the unity of the church body but also the diversity that Jesus had envisioned in His prayer to the Father3. Maybe the logical move would have been to segregate the Grecians from the Hebrews to form two separate congregations because of the cultural, socio-economic and lingual differences.
But the apostles and church members produced a solution guided by the Holy Spirit to overcome the barriers. They appointed seven bridge people to serve both groups equally: “The whole group . . . chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:5).
All of those elected to serve had Greek names, which suggests that they were Greek-speaking Jews able to communicate in the Hebrew language as well4. The apostles empowered them to serve in leadership positions (v.6); and the unity and diversity of the church was strengthened, resulting in ministry growth and the multiplication of disciples (v.7).
It is not surprising that the Lord used some of those elected bridge people in Jerusalem for the advancement of the church’s multiethnic mission in Samaria and beyond (Acts 8).
Bridge people for The Bridge Church
My local church in Bensenville, Ill., has moved to become a multiethnic and multilingual congregation over the past three years. English-speaking believers (Anglos, African-Americans and Filipinos) and Spanish-speaking believers (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Guatemalans) became one body with the goal to present a united testimony of Christ to our multicolor community.
Photo Credit: Alex Mandes“Bridge people” come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Hugo Concha (at left) and Stephen Sammons are EFCA pastors who help other groups to understand each other. In their cases, they primarily bridge between the Hispanic and Anglo cultures.
Our unity has grown because of numerous bridge people among us. One is a group of Hispanic sisters and brothers who move naturally in both cultures. Each grew up in America, speaks both English and Spanish, and possesses evident spiritual gifts of leadership, service or evangelism. They make communication possible between both lingual groups in formal and informal situations.
Other examples of bridge people at our church include an Anglo sister who once worked in Latin America and is fluent in Spanish, and Hispanic immigrants who learned to speak English and eventually married Anglo brothers or sisters. Our youth pastor and his wife are one of those interethnic and bilingual marriages. He leads the most multiethnic and multilingual group of the church: our student ministry.
My local church has moved from the traditional segregated model of Anglo and Hispanic congregations—using the same facilities on different schedules—to the model of a one-body multiethnic and multilingual church. We envision that all members will become bridge people who connect others to God and to each other, no matter their ethnicity, socioeconomic or lingual background.
The bridge people in your church
Bridge people are more than social, cultural or lingual “translators.” Bridge people are key servants who have a clear sense of what the church’s mission is today: “making disciples among all ethnias.”
In many churches they help with translation, yes. But more essential, they are believers full of the Spirit and wisdom who serve in positions of influence and are empowered by the pastoral leadership. In those positions, they are eager to use their relational personalities, natural communication skills and spiritual gifts to build the unity and diversity of church that was revealed by God through Christ in the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-14; 3:4-6; 4:3-6).
Just as the church of the New Testament selected and empowered seven individuals, we need to do the same with members of our congregations who have spiritual qualifications to be bridge people. They will then build bridges between generations, between socio-economic and language groups, and among all people. Their service will contribute to make the multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual church a reality “on earth as it is in heaven”5.