Conference Voices: Planting and Pastoring a Multicultural Church
Editor’s note: The China Partnership recently held its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This year’s topic was “The Church in a Global-Local World” and we were greatly blessed and challenged by many excellent speakers. We are excited to make their ideas available through our blog to those unable to attend in person. Check back next week for more posts from our conference speakers on topics including the house church in China, the China Partnership’s ministry strategies, the meaning of global-local missions, and what ministering to the international world present in America might look like for you and your church.
Nineteen nations are now represented at Trinity Park Church, and we are poised to add a twentieth as we welcome a new Afghani visitor from our Good Neighbor Team with World Relief. There are five things I've learned from planting and pastoring a multicultural church and I hope to share them with you here.
1. Make the gospel the drawing card, not multiculturalism.
This is the question you have to answer at the very beginning: will multiculturalism be your drawing card or will your drawing card be the gospel of Jesus Christ? It's a subtle, but fundamentally different way of approaching the subject.
Early on, we noted that other organizations outside the church such as my kids basketball league, or the Wake County public school system, or our homeowners association all have multiculturalism as a top value. This means that as a church, you can have multiculturalism as a value, but really be no different substantively than your local school, Kiwanis club, or youth sports league.
So you need to check yourself. Are you pursuing multiculturalism simply because it is cool or PC? There are plenty of mainstream cultural reasons to reach out to a diverse people. But those reasons are not the same as the reasons we find in scripture.
What should be the main drawing card of any church? What should especially be the main drawing card of a church whose heart is to see the diverse people of their community reached with the gospel? It is always the gospel. In fact, only the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the scriptures can produce the kind of vibrant, multicultural churches we want to see. Colossians 1:6 states, “…All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.”
There are four key things we need to remember as we make the gospel our drawing card.
First, proclaim the gospel of grace. Grace from God is the good news for all people of every culture. For example, I recently asked a Chinese member of Trinity Park why he joined our church and he explained that our teaching on the gospel and parenting was the main reason they joined us. I had preached a sermon stating that our goal is not to have kids who know how to sit quietly in church, but rather we hope to see our kids profoundly understand the grace of Jesus. He and his family were impacted by this gospel of grace.
Second, preach Jesus Christ as Lord of all the nations. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Christ is drawing people to himself, so proclaim payment for sin by his death and new life for all who believe through his resurrection!
Third, preach the scriptures. God's revelation to us in the scriptures is necessary for salvation and for Christian growth. It roots truth not in an idea in my head, but in truths God has revealed to us. So trust in the power of the Holy Spirit working in concert with the word of God preached.
Fourth, preach a living gospel. You must unpack the gospel very practically, breaking it down into our daily lives. A living gospel is what all people, the broken from the nations, are searching for. Who is Jesus? And how can he restore every aspect of my life?
The gospel of Jesus from the scriptures is the only true catalyst for planting a diverse church. But you may be thinking, wait, those elements of preaching grace through Jesus according to the Bible should be the same elements of any healthy church or church plant. So what is the difference between what you have done at Trinity Park and what others are doing? There are four more things I have found essential in planting and now pastoring a multicultural church.
2. Call your church to first see and then love their neighbors. All of them.
Once you plant a church in a diverse area, you must make the demographics of your target community an undeniable reality for your core group to consider. But even if the demographics of your area are diverse off the charts, we as majority-culture people have a way of seeing what we want to see in a community. Make sure your congregants know it is a gospel imperative to love all of your neighbors. It is not just a “gospel suggestion.”
As you make this gospel imperative clear, some will be drawn to get on the bus of church planting with you. Some will also decide to get off the bus - and that, too, is a blessing. Upon learning about your heart to see the gospel reach all peoples, there should be people who will say, “I'm in!” And there must be others who say, “I think we're going to visit other churches.”
So we cast vision all the time for reaching neighbors and nations. But it is not enough to say, “Hey, look at the diverse demographics of our community.” You have to pastor people in loving neighbors from diverse cultures.
Help your church recognize its tendency to not even see our foreign-born or minority-culture neighbors. The cultural inertia in the majority of any society is to see and spend time with the many people who are like them. The same principle holds true for people from minority cultures, as well. We all naturally want to be around people who are like us or who share common interests with us.
But the gospel changes all that. It calls the majority culture to take a posture of cultural humility. And it calls those from minority cultures to not just find other people who share their language and values, but to engage the greater church with hope and faith.
3. Use the worship service to reinforce the vision.
At Trinity Park we say, “Every Sunday we want to work hard to ensure that Jesus is exalted, but we want to work equally hard to ensure our doors are kept wide open to our diverse community around us.” That means the goal of the worship service is not one-fold, but two-fold. Our first goal is to exalt Jesus Christ. Our second goal is to encourage everyone to come in, and see and worship the Lord.
From the beginning we used this question to frame our thinking: “How can we lower or remove cultural barriers, removing anything that is non-essential to the gospel message?”
This plays out in a number of ways. We do sing the classic hymns of the faith - not because they are part of western church culture, but because we believe the theology represented in some of those songs needs to be learned and perpetuated. We also don't sing wordy, Christian, “insider” songs. We make sure that songs are singable because people are singing in second languages. We also sing some songs in multiple languages. We incorporate diverse instruments when we can to create a larger feel than your typical southern, American, Presbyterian service.
We also see this question impacting our liturgy. You may be interested to know we follow a liturgical order of worship like you may find in many Reformed, PCA churches. We frame worship this way not because we Europeans have done it this way for thousands of years, but because we believe it actually makes worship more transferrable, predictable, and understandable.
But we make sure the various elements of worship often contain themes like “the nations worshipping God” or “learning to love people who are different than we are in the church and in the world.” The focus is always making sure the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed clearly and boldly.
Learning from Randy Pope’s weekly pastoral moment, we include a vision moment in almost every one of our services and this is an opportunity to communicate the vision of the church every single week. During the vision moment, we talk about missions locally and globally, children's ministry, hiring an assistant pastor - anything that is a manifestation of the vision of our church.
I also carefully think through my prayers. John Stott said, “The Christian should live with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” and I try to model this to my people. So we pray through the world news. Syria, ISIS, Turkey, Philippines, Egypt, France, North Korea, Iran – these are all countries I've prayed for by name in the past years. But of course, I include praying for broken arms, for parents, for marriages, and all of the common things broken people in the church struggle with.
Concerning preaching, I intentionally do not use big theological words, unless I feel like I really need to teach people that word in English. If I do, I always define what that big word means. We probably have twenty PhDs in our small congregation (our community is the most educated community by percentage of population in the world); yet, I intentionally try to convey the gospel message in simple terms. I do not dumb it down or lower the intellectual bar, I just always assume people are listening to me in a second language or are not believers.
Finally, I try to apply the gospel to a global culture. For example, our church has discussed both Muslim fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism and what we as church hold to be most fundamental. As a church, we hold the cross, love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice to be most fundamental. In the light of these conversations, we encourage our church to find and befriend people within the Muslim community. This is a community that is very afraid right now in the light of recent events and we want our church to show them the grace of Jesus.
4. Make sure your vision for reaching diverse people goes beyond seeing them as a “mission field.” Have a plan for integrating cultural minorities into the core life of the church.
Let me tell you how even the best PCA churches or other majority-culture churches view foreign-born people in America most of the time: “What an incredible mission field! Let's get out there and reach the nations among us.” But let me ask you this - what happens when those people from the nations respond to the gospel and become members of your church? What is your vision for them then? You need to see them as a mission, but you also need to envision from the beginning how they will become part of the life-blood of your church.
For Trinity Park this means practically that we do not self-segregate along cultural lines in any major ministry area of the church - in worship, community, or mission. Of course, there are times when the Koreans, the Chinese, or the Spanish speaking people get together, but not in the context of any of our core ministries.
The common model today in the United States is to self-segregate the local church by language and culture. But I encourage also planting churches where we find a gospel unity that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. What we have found is that having Christ in common with one another means we have much more in common with each other than we would if we were all Latino or Russian or Korean or Chinese.
How do we practically integrate people from minority cultures into the life of our church? We encourage them to do everything in the church a person of equivalent giftedness from the cultural majority would be encouraged to do. This means people from cultural minorities are asked to greet, to read Scripture before the sermon, to speak during vision moments, to lead worship, and to pray the pastoral prayer (if they are an elder). We have minority-culture people leading community groups, leading local mission projects, and preaching. We make it a goal to break down any and all distinctions that can be made in the church merely on the basis of cultural background.
5. Aggressively seek to raise up church officers and other leaders from minority cultures.
The church at Antioch in Acts 13:1 is our paradigm for raising up officers and other leaders at Trinity Park. “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” Let me briefly unpack this. We find massive diversity here on this first session. You have a new church and you have four or five cultural backgrounds represented on their small session - Barnabas (Jewish), Simeon (black African), Lucius of Cyrene (White North African), Manaen (Roman Aristocracy) and Saul (Jewish/Roman). All of these men, whether they are operating either in their first or second language, are called to be elders of the church.
We are not where Antioch was at Trinity Park, but we are making some progress in their direction. We have one first generation Korean elder and are about to ordain a first generation Chinese deacon. We have several other minority culture men in the leadership pipeline, too. Men from Moldova and China may lead community groups in the not too distant future.
We are also in a hiring process where we are seeking to hire a second pastor who is either from a cultural minority or who owns our vision for a gospel-centered church reaching out to neighbors and nations as part of their core DNA.
In conclusion, we need to repent and believe the gospel all the time. To plant any church, but certainly a multicultural church, you have to learn to live in the gospel. 2 Corinthians 12:9 must be your song if you are going to travel this road. “But God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” God's strength to build his church through weakness has become the underlying song of my heart as a planter and pastor of a multicultural church.
Stay rooted in the gospel - preach it, believe it, apply it. If you minister in a diverse community then expect to see a foretaste of what we find in Revelation 7:9-10. You will get to worship Christ with diverse people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
Corey Jackson is the Pastor at Trinity Park Church in Morrisville, North Carolina. He attended Auburn University and graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of America and spent many years in China working in campus ministry and church planting. You can follow Trinity Park’s blog here.