For your reading pleasure. The opening paragraphs of the new book. Available HERE. Enjoy.
A young white man in his twenties stands awkwardly off to the side during the fellowship hour. He knows he should make the effort to talk to his fellow church members but he is intimidated by the clusters of parishioners that have already formed. Most of the groups are divided along national and ethnic lines. Each group seems to be already deeply engaged in conversation among themselves, sometimes in their own native language. He would like to join in but he feels like he would be intruding. He makes eye contact and exchanges polite nods with a number of different church members but he has difficulty making a deeper connection. He ends up sitting at a table with other white members of his church.
An older African-American woman sits by herself in the sanctuary. Her frustration is difficult to put into words. She has been attending her church for over two years. She is one of a handful of African-Americans at the church who were attracted to a church committed to multi-racial ministry and a church committed to serving the needs of her neighborhood. But over the past two years, she has become increasingly frustrated with how little the worship service addressed her spiritual needs. Her fellow church members seemed to be more pre-occupied with making sure the worship service ended on time rather than how the Spirit was moving during the service. They seemed to have a completely different set of expectations about worship. She sits silently as the worship service progresses along without her genuine participation.
A Native American man sits uncomfortably as a group of children make a special announcement for the fall festival at his church. Two of the children are dressed in “native garb”. They are taking what are sacred symbols and displaying them in inappropriate ways. Feathers have been placed in random locations and there is a hodge-podge of different tribal symbols thrown together. There was no sense of appreciation of the myriad of cultures that comprise the Native American community — conflating different tribal symbols simply for the sake of amusement. He is troubled by what he senses to be a lack of concern for the accurate reflection and portrayal of his culture in the church.
A young Asian-American man glances around the circle of church board members seated around the conference table. He is the only non-white member of an otherwise all-white church board. Everyone seems to be talking all at once and seems to know when to speak up and interject their opinions. The young man is listening patiently to all the opinions being expressed but doesn’t know when he should speak up. He waits for someone to ask for his opinion but no one invites him into the conversation. The conversation centers on the topic of leadership diversity at the church, yet the meeting has focused exclusively on the perspective of the dominant group. Why is he even at this meeting if he’s not being invited into the discussion? He feels a growing sense of frustration as the debate moves along without him.
A young Latina mother watches anxiously as her five-year-old son bounces out of the sanctuary. He joins the flow of children leaving the “adult” worship service to attend the children’s church. She doesn’t quite understand why the children are being asked to leave the service. She recognizes that there is some cultural value at work, but it escapes her. She doesn’t understand the need to take the children out for a separate service. It seems like a devaluing of the children and their place in the family. She wonders if her church holds the same values as her family.
All over the United States, many churches are taking more seriously the Biblical call to build and participate in multi-ethnic churches and communities. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s oft-quoted statement that 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America is now being challenged by more and more communities attempting to integrate churches and break down racial, ethnic, and cultural divisions. These attempts are a part of the good work of God bringing His will on earth as it shall be in heaven. The call to build a Biblical community of faith that encompasses the diversity of races, nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities is now being seen as an important part of the Church’s responsibility. There is a burgeoning movement of multi-ethnic congregations in the United States.
The idealism and optimism of developing multi-ethnic congregations, however, is being replaced by frustration and pessimism as the difficult reality of multi-ethnic ministry become more and more apparent. To reverse centuries of negative history between the races and to rectify ignorance and incompetency when it comes to cross-cultural sensitivity is not an easy task. As the church in the United States seeks to fulfill the Biblical mandate for unity, we are coming to the realization that we desperately need the proper motivation, spiritual depth, inter-personal skills, and gracious communication in order to live into God’s hope for the church. In short, the church needs to develop cultural intelligence in order to fully realize the many colored tapestry that God is weaving together.