This article is Part 2 in a series on the multicultural church.
Practice Hospitality in the Church, then Move Toward Unity in Christ
A model for hospitality in the Christian church is found in the biblical text of Acts 2:42-47. In this passage, the reader finds that the early church opened up their homes, finances, and resources to support and sustain all believers in Christ. There is evidence in Acts 2:47 that these actions gained the favor of all people and helped the early church grow larger.
The context of this passage makes it clear that hospitality has less to do with entertaining guests that are most like us and rather welcoming those who are culturally, economically, and spiritually different from us (Smith, 2002). The author contends that this biblical concept of hospitality is very contrary to the current cultural zeitgeist of our times. Reciprocity of favors is a fact of life in our business- and consumer-orientated culture.
Act 2:42-47 talks about a serving culture. Reciprocity is only one factor when it comes to a “serving” culture, which is defined as looking out for the interests of others while providing aid to others. Believers in Christ are to accept others who are different because we are about serving the needs of others, sincerely, and this stops us from imposing our own cultural traditions on others.
Christian hospitality is about being Christ to those who are foreign to us. Hospitality that is other-centered requires that believers in Christ do not expect anything in return for their service.
The Acts 2:42-47 model for a pastor means encouraging the congregation to open up homes, finances, and resources to help those who are different. Even in multi-ethnic churches there is a tendency to fellowship with the people that we perceive are the most like us.
How does a church grow if it does not practice the biblical model of hospitality? How will the church have influence beyond its walls to impact the community if it does not welcome those who are different? The pastor of a multicultural church needs to build the church from within and model a Christ-centered path for those outside the church.
Acts 2:42 emphasizes that Christians are not to be separated from the world but exist to benefit the world (Vazakas, 1918). The multiethnic church pastor’s distinct advantage is having an excellent model of hospitality to many diverse cultures within the church. These culturally diverse congregants already feel a sense of belonging in a multicultural church because they are accepted for who they are culturally, and this adds richness to the combined form of spiritual practice.
An excellent example of the concept of a combined form of spiritual practice is when the church enjoys worship styles and spiritual practices of cultures different than one’s own and incorporates it into their own worship style. One Sunday could have worship songs that are influenced by African American traditions and on the same Sunday there might be songs that are English transliterations of Spanish songs. The variety and mix of worship songs must include the diversity of the congregation, but certainly does not need to be limited to it.
Embrace Unity within Diversity in the Church
Diversity and inclusion are part and parcel of the multi-cultural church. The church does not neglect its identity and core doctrines because of diversity and inclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evangelism and racial reconciliation are basically two sides of the same coin (Garces-Foley, 2008).
Preaching the gospel is not limited to one’s own culture, and racial reconciliation creates a pathway to understand Christ’s love for humanity at a deeper level. Therefore, diversity becomes part and parcel of Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine has increasingly become more unified because of increased tensions due to differing interpretations of the separation of church and state in the U.S.
Increasingly, Christians look at the government as being anti-Christian (Wilcox & Goldberg, 2002). A significant number of Christians feel discriminated against when the state interferes in religious practice. These tensions may increase, holding core Christian truths dear in an outside environment that can be hostile to the Christian faith.
Evangelical multi-cultural churches have not entertained pluralistic theologies but have embraced a diversity of perspective and cultural nuances. The expressions of those core truths do not deviate in terms of theology but are merely expressed in the full diversity of cultural backgrounds.
For example, the truth of the doctrine of Jesus as Lord and Savior is held by all cultures within the church, but perhaps the worship of God in a multi-ethnic church would include African American theology of a Christ that delivers people out of bondage and the European American theology of individualistic personal salvation. These slightly differing theological slants are held together and create a theology that is more inclusive than perhaps a church whose theology is informed primarily by one culture.
In many multi-cultural churches, integration of cultures stems from a globally progressive faith. Even here, core doctrines of a church are upheld, where a conservative church would restrict the role of women in church leadership and a liberal church would promote women’s roles in leadership more strongly (Yancy & Kim, 2008). Multicultural churches, thus, preserve traditional theologies, yet are certainly more racially diverse than non-multicultural churches.
What can leaders do with competing doctrinal viewpoints in a church? Research by Yancy and Kim (2008) supports the idea that pastors do indeed hold to the core denominational doctrines while upholding diversity of cultural background in their churches. If a person who is new age, a person who believes in the prosperity gospel, and person who is a theologically conservative Latin American entered a church, then what would that pastor hold as core doctrine or truth? This question can be answered by examining the core theologies of that particular denomination and that pastor in question.
If the church was theologically conservative, the pastor would probably only hold agreement with the Latin American conservative Christian. That leader would welcome the new age person as a seeker of truth but would preach the uniqueness of belief in Jesus as opposed to a belief in the energy of the universe and connecting to this energy to achieve peace.
The person who believes in the prosperity gospel, possibly derived from popular American TV evangelists, would be hard to categorize by cultural background because any ethnicity in the United States could believe in the prosperity gospel. The pastor would have to examine her core theological beliefs and whether this aligns with a gospel of prosperity.
Church and Rotolo (2013) argue that diversity and inclusion is a values-driven change process. Therefore, whether a pastor aligns with a person who believes in the prosperity gospel really depends on the pastor’s values. Most evangelical pastors would find it hard to defend a gospel of prosperity from a holistic biblical interpretation of Scripture.
Leaders develop skills by creating unity within diversity. Multicultural leaders encourage skills in cross-cultural negotiation, and this may translate into having more tolerance and understanding of other religions (Garces-Foley, 2007). These skills do not mean abandoning core convictions, but rather making those core convictions more applicable to different contexts. Leaders are evangelists. Evangelism has, to some extent, been about translating God’s truth into the context of daily existence.
Leaders also have to create true unity in a multi-ethnic American church. Churches with minority majorities do not necessarily guarantee that every ethnic group in the church will be treated equally.
Edwards (2008) contends that social status is another important variable to evaluate. The author argues that even when European Americans are the minority in a multicultural church, they have social status power because the majority of people in the wider culture are European American. Therefore, European Americans may leave a congregation if they feel things are not being done in a European American way just as in the national culture of the United States.
A leader must teach European Americans about the privilege they have and help them understand that they are an ethnic group just as much as any other group. European Americans tend to be blind to this because the general systems in the United States favor them, and minorities have learned to play by the rules of the European American majority.
True unity in diversity comes when European Americans (whether majority or minority) in a church let go of some of the power and privilege that they have to create a more egalitarian church body. Creating equality across the church body may reduce marginalization of less politically powerful ethnic/racial groups in a multicultural church.
This article has explored the unique role of leaders in a Christian church organization. The world of multicultural pastors is complex, diverse, difficult, yet extremely meaningful and rewarding. Pastors who are breaking down the walls of historic segregation in the Christian church are to be commended and admired. This impetus stems from a biblical faith in Christ.
Race and identity are intertwined and breaking down barriers helps minorities in American society gain access to greater opportunities (Marti, 2009). In many ways, not only are multicultural leaders managing diversity within their congregation, but they are also fighting for social justice outside of their church.
As Christians, we do not blindly adhere to the principle of “birds of a feather flock together.” Ethnic fluidity is a difficult process, but pastors can certainly navigate the ship for the goal of greater unity in Christ among people groups. One of the defining characteristics of the Christian faith is that all people are equal and are to be treated equally no matter what their socio-economic status. These are important battles.
This article has discussed the most recent issues facing multicultural church leaders and given five research-based strategies to manage diversity within the church. These were to seek God’s will in building racial/cultural diversity, develop cultural competence in the leadership self/leadership team/church, honor all cultures by developing a third cultural consciousness, practicing hospitality, and embracing the concept of unity within diversity.
This article has outlined some practical tips in how a pastor may do some of those things. Often, leaders of multicultural churches have to hold many ideas in tension, but this article contends that this is an asset rather than a liability. Christ, our redeemer, is intimately involved in the process of breaking walls in the development of more multicultural churches in the United States.
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“Osaka, Japan,” courtesy of Louis Lo, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Piano in black and white,” courtesy of Darius Soodmand, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fontana di Trevi,” courtesy of Ivan Bertona, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “London conference room,” courtesy of Breather, unsplash.com, CC0 License