If you want to read the first part of this post go here.
Here are few practical tips on how to emphasize the centrality of Christ in a multi-ethnic church:
1) Preach on the centrality of Christ and organize Bible studies that teach it.
2) Develop a curriculum for cross-cultural competency, and teach about cultures of the world in Bible studies. Emphasize various ways Christians express one Christ in their cultures. As an example, you can use Ethiopian iconography that describes Christ as black and Russian icons that describe Christ as white.
3) Ask people from different cultures represented in the church to share their faith publicly from the pulpit and emphasize common elements in their stories. Help people to understand that despite differences, a common pattern shared by all is the call of Christ. Help them understand that Christ does not obliterate cultures, but transcends them, redeems them, and uses them for glory of God.
The second principle is to approach cultural practices seen in multi-ethnic churches with grace, love, and caution.
Verse: Gal 2:11-13 (Paul opposes Peter discerning purity laws of Judaism as cultural element unacceptable to Christians)
Verse: Col. 2:16-17 (Our right to discern cultural practices; reality is in Christ and cultural practices are secondary)
Verse: Acts 15:22-32 (Jerusalem Council discussed and discerned the problem of circumcision).
It is impossible and a bit arrogant to pass judgment on a whole culture or civilization. In these matters I defer to God’s unsearchable wisdom. But we do have right to discern identifiable and small-scale cultural practices as apostles’ struggles show. In a multi-ethnic church gathering matters are very delicate because people tend to cling to their cultural identity in a multi-cultural environment. It can be source of freedom and hope, but it can also turn to be source of frustration and bondage. Just remember how cautiously Paul dealt with eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8). So pray, and learn cultural practices diligently and with sympathy before passing judgment.
Here are few practical tips for approaching cultural practices in a multi-ethnic church:
1) Familiarize yourself with cultures represented in the congregation and their basic values, concepts, and history.
2) Talk to members of the congregation to see what kind of cultural baggage and shackles the Lord set them free from, and what kind of positive value they saw in their culture after coming to Christ.
3) Find and give platform to the smaller cultures represented in the congregation so that they are not neglected. (See for, 1 Cor. 12:27. Diversity and variety within body of Christ as a gift in congregation)
The third principle is to create a venue for people to show and share positive elements of their culture with one another.
Verses: John 1:14 (Word made flesh – positive value of cultures recognized)
Verses: Rev. 7:9 (Great Multitude – their languages and nationalities)
Verses: Acts 2:1-8 (Day of Pentecost – many languages were heard praising God and announcing good news).
If you want the multi-ethnic congregation to blossom, then do not neglect cultures represented in your gathering. Diversity of languages, races, and ethnicities is a gift that God put into your ministry, and you dare not waste that. If God’s word can take flesh and become a Jewish rabbi, speak Aramaic, and participate in a synagogue’s work, then that is a sure sign that cultures are vehicles for God’s kingdom. So, let people show and share what they bring to the table as part of their culture. Encourage people to share positive elements from their culture and learn from them. This openness will diffuse unnecessary defensiveness triggered by possible misunderstandings in a culturally diverse group. Never use one group’s culture over or against another group in the congregation, or favor a culture or majority group within multi-ethnic churches; it will sow distrust and will strengthen wholesale loyalty to a culture that may have negative influences.
Here are practical tips to apply this principle:
1) In worship service include elements from the cultures represented in the congregation (music, singing, story-telling etc)
2) Organize events where cultural music and food are shared within the congregation. Sharing food is an age-old way of bonding and is still valid in most cultures around the world.
3) Use relevant examples from these cultures in your preaching. Learn and apply humor, story, and other things from these cultures.
The Fourth principle is to study the cultures you reach out and to contextualize the gospel.
Verse: Phil 3:20-21 (Paul uses image of heavenly citizenship to contextualize his message for settlers of Roman colony)
Verse: 1 Cor. 9:19-23 (Scripture mandate to contextualize — Paul becoming all things to all in order to win some for the Gospel).
Verse: Acts 17:22-34 (example of contextualization: Paul’s speech in Athens’ Forum)
There are many ways of contextualizing the gospel but one thing is clear; all contextualization makes the gospel and Christ understandable to a person. A responsible church planter who reaches out to several cultures studies these cultures and finds ways to contextualize the gospel. Usually, it is done through finding a cultural (spiritual) need and fulfilling it through the gospel. Another way of doing this is to use native concepts and values. However, contextualization requires critical and balanced attitudes so that we don’t buy into harmful cultural practices, mistakenly assuming that we contextualize the gospel. True contextualization avoids syncretism (unscrupulous mixture of various and incompatible elements from different religions).
Here is an easy and relatively clear example. In various cultures people still sacrifice animals to God. Let’s say a group in a multi-ethnic church desires to sacrifice an animal to Christ for forgiveness of their sins. They ask pastor’s opinion and the pastor should make decision whether the group’s deed is a sign of syncretism or attempt to contextualize the gospel. In this case, the group’s plan leads to syncretism; the church planter ought to discourage the group and explain that Christ is the last sacrifice which makes it unnecessary to kill animals for forgiveness of sins.
Here are some practical tips for studying and contextualizing the gospel in multi-cultural church environment:
1) Find and read books or articles to understand the cultures represented in your congregation.
2) Pay attention to how believers in the congregation contextualize the gospel to their own group and situation, and then use it.
3) Be sympathetic to people’s misunderstandings when you discern syncretism.
I trust these principles will help to deepen your understanding of establishing multi-ethnic churches.
If you have questions, comment and let me know. Also, if you find this post valuable please share it on social media. In addition, these related posts can help you to deepen your understanding of culture-gospel-church.