The New Challenge In Multi-Ethnic Ministry

by Dr. George Yancey

When I first started doing work on multiracial ministries in the 1990s (yes, it has been that long), it was not uncommon for churches to be totally monoracial – meaning that every single person in the church belongs to the same racial group. In fact research (Sociology of Religion 64: 65-85) from Kevin Dougherty indicated that in 1993 about 43 percent of all churches were totally monoracial. The battle back then was to break down the racial barriers so that Christians of different races would worship in the same local church. 

Today, among the students I teach, concerns about worshipping at the same church with people of other races seem irrelevant. The past arguments about the need for cultural maintenance or church growth by concentrating on a single racial or cultural group seem silly to them. They are the “Sixth American” Michael Emerson has talked about in his book People of the Dream because they have lived in a multiracial world their entire lives. My Christian students are just as, or perhaps even more than, disdainful of a monoracial Christian environment as my secular students. They see churches not embracing a multiracial congregation as meaningless and unable to serve them. 

There is a temptation to fight the old wars. But the war of persuading Christians that Sunday morning should not be the most segregated time of the week is all but over. This does not mean we have successfully integrated our churches, but there is little serious assertion among most Christians that monoracial churches are desirable. Sure there are a few holdouts every now and then who try to maintain notions of racial purity but they are dying out. I feel comfortable stating that ten years from now even those holdouts will be so few and far between that they will be relegated to the far reaches of small sects and enclaves in the larger Christian community.

However, having won that particular war does not mean that we are free to stop our fight for true racial reconciliation. Instead it means that we are now in a position to push for deeper gains in our struggle to eradicate the poisonous effects of racism in the United States. It is no longer enough for us to be able to worship the same God in the same building. We must learn how to communicate with each other in meaningful ways so that we are united in our purpose to use the Church reform this society into one that honors God. We can do this if we have the type of unity required of those who seek to honor Christ.

Of course a blog is too short to fully document what it will take to produce the kind of unity the Church needs. So let me leave you with one dimension of what our new challenges will be. We have the challenge of authentic communication. We are going to have to learn how to listen to those of different races. It is not enough merely to tell others about what we want, but we also have to get to know what others want as well. This means everybody – white, black, Hispanic, Asian etc. – has to work to understand the views of people of other races. No exceptions!!! Most of us who have been in a romantic relationship can attest that sometimes we are so eager to have our own viewpoint heard that sometimes we fail to work hard enough to understand the viewpoint of our romantic partner. That usually makes for a very bad relationship because there is poor communication between you and your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. You cannot have a healthy relationship where one person simply dictates to the other person and there is no reciprocal communication. Likewise we cannot hope for healthy race relations with one group dictates to the other group or groups, but makes no effort to listen to those groups. 

The days of being content simply to have someone of a different race next to you in church are over. Today we must focus on putting aside our own perspectives and listen to that person worshipping beside you. Let me be clear. It is not your responsibility to make sure those of other races listen to you. It is your responsibility to learn how to listen to those of other races. Too often we focus on what others are doing wrong and if that is all we do then we will stay in the estranged racial relationships even in churches where people of different races worship together.

Consider what you know about perspectives of Christians of other races and how well you understand them. If you are not confident you understand them then go and really listen for a while. Be in a position so that you can reiterate their ideas so well that they would agree exactly with the ideas you are stating. This means that you have to listen to what they actually say and not what you want them to say. Only when we take this, and other important, steps will we be able to move further down that road to racial reconciliation and start to exhibit the oneness that should be part of the body of Christ. If you are interested in other future steps then check out my work in my books Beyond Racial Gridlock (Intervarsity Press) or Transcending Racial Barriers (Oxford University Press). 

God bless.

For more on Dr. George Yancey check out our his speakers page, and follow him on Twitter @profyancey

Posted by Kainos Ministry at 10:48 AM
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The purpose of the Kainos 2015 is to gather leaders who either seek to start multi-ethnic ministries or churches, or who aspire to transition their current homogenous ministries into a multi-ethnic trajectory.

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