Choosing Multi-Ethnic Over Mega
Is having an ethnically diverse church a biblical mandate?

I recently returned to my native Arkansas - a world much less ablaze with all the conversations about emergent, missional, monastic, anti-institutional, and ancient-future Christianity. As much as I appreciate those dialogues, a heavy dose of them can obscure the fact that there are many local congregations nationwide that are not clinging to a sinking institution, are not confronted with a thoroughly postmodern youth culture, and are not terribly concerned with relevance (as such). They are, nevertheless, participating in great advances for the kingdom of God.

Take Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, for example. Located in the University District of Little Rock's south midtown, the church enjoys a prime location - for burglary, murder, and carjacking. It's in that part of town you wouldn't loiter in on Saturday night (I suppose all the evildoers sleep late on Sunday morning). But its location is strategic. In neither inner city nor suburb, and just across the street from the Little Rock campus of the University of Arkansas(UALR), the church's neighbors represent a diversity of ethnic and economic backgrounds. More importantly, the church's membership faithfully reflects the district's demographics.

As a lifelong Arkansan, I can testify that the joyful multi-ethnic and economically diverse fellowship that takes place at Mosaic is a monumental accomplishment.

The small town I lived in nearby not long ago was home to a white First Baptist Church and a black First Baptist Church, each of which was located appropriately on its own side of town. Keep in mind it was only 50 years ago that Little Rock's Central High School defied a federal order to integrate. And while laws have changed in that half century, many - perhaps most - hearts have not.

That's why I was so surprised during my experience in worship at Mosaic to discover that, while it is a healthily intergenerational bunch, the congregation is not led by young, inclusive postmoderns, but by middle-aged, working class black, white, and Latino men and women. According to the latest buzz, these folks are supposed to be dying for lack of vision.

Teaching pastors Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li are quick to attribute Mosaic's growth and vibrancy to God's blessing. In fact, in a generation when traditional churches are dying, they are doing nearly everything wrong - they meet in a building, they hand out bulletins, they have a mission statement, and they run programs. But they leave success in the Lord's hands. DeYmaz, who spent nearly a decade on staff at a large, homogeneous church in town, explained, "The hardest thing about this ministry is that we know how to grow a church big and fast, but we refuse to do it. We don't use church-growth strategies; we don't market ourselves. We could grow the ministry fast. But we'd rather grow it biblically."

April 04, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 24 comments

Greg

April 11, 2008  8:53pm

I want to jump in as a member of Mosaic Church here in Little Rock. Most everyone seems to be focusing on the ethnic part of the post. We are that but also economically diverse. We have some very well to do folks along with homeless people that come in to worship. And when they come they are welcomed and loved on just the same as anyone else. Our staff reflects the congregation as well as the other leadership. I have been a member of this body of belivers for less than a year after coming from a all white church in the same city. We are here to know God and to make Him known. To reconcile man to God thru the saving grace of Jesus Christ. No, there are areas that the demographics do not allow for this type of church as far as ethnicity but the economic part can happen. An wealthy white, black or whatever race in an area can welcome the less economically advantaged of the same. It's not rocket science just following God's commands. To know more about our heart for the people check out the web site at www.mosaicchurch.net I did not move to Mosaic to make me feel good. When you walk in the door you feel the love of Christ and the people are genuine. We have a passion for all people. one last thing is that not everyone lives in the area. There are some that drive an hour or so one way to come and worship the Lord of Lords.

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Mark DeYmaz

April 09, 2008  11:57pm

It's late in St. Louis where I find myself tonight just prior to this year's Ethnic America Summit (c. http://www.ethnic-america.net/) at which I will be speaking with colleagues from the Mosaic Global Network later this week on the multi-ethnic church (c. http:www/mosaix.info). Please know that I have just read (with interest) all of the posts associated with Brandon's reflections and greatly appreciate the dialogue and concerns. Indeed, they represent discussions taking place increasingly throughout North America and beyond. In one way or another, much of this ground has been plowed in the following books that we most often recommend to those truly interested in the roots and future of the coming integration of the local church. We recommend you read them in this order: 1) Divided By Faith (Emerson); 2) United By FaithEmerson, Yancey, et al; 3) One Body, One Spirit (Yancey); 4) Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church (DeYmaz). Of course, I am more than willing to have any of you interact with me personally after you have read my book. In so doing, you will more thoroughly understand my heart and passion for the multi-ethnic church. Once you have done so, please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to speak further. If you are heading to the Exponential Conference in Orlando later this month (at which we will also be presenting), please stop by and say hello at one of our workshops or at the MGN booth. Thanks again for your observations and interest,

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Eric Lewis

April 08, 2008  11:26am

Why am I referred to by the color of my skin? Why is my only choice(in most cases, anyway) "white" when filling out forms? Why is most every other ethnic group described in such a way as to have culture (traditions, celebrations, rituals and the like) attributed to it, ie: african-american, asian american, Hispanic, native-american)? Non of these are described by color. Save one: white! This whole conversation, westernized to the core, even allows for the sweeping statment, "Because a church led by a white pastor will likely only reach white people..." ONLY REACH WHITE PEOPLE...?? Now that has got to be the worst thing a church could possibly do: reach white people. I mean all of us know that when a group of white people are together without any "minorities" accounted for, they have to be close-minded, self-focused, the "world can go to hell" kind of people. Of course, the word "likely" softens the blow some. But isn't it true that a church led by an african-american will "likely only reach african-americans." "And what does all this mean for your church if, like mine, it's full of white folks who welcome worshipers of other ethnic backgrounds, but only (as DeYmaz observes) they agree to worship the way we do and not cause a fuss?" Well, I would say that it might not have anyting to do with color, as much as it does with selfishness and cultural preferences. And every ethnic group struggles with these. Why? Because we are all human made in the image of God. And the kicker? None of us will be judged by the color of our skin or by where we were born. We will be judged by one thing: whether we are known by God.

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Amy

April 08, 2008  10:42am

Richard Dennis Miller, Your two points are well-taken, particularly your second one. Whether or not racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity will be a part of your church mission will have a lot to do with geography as anything else. For example, living in rural Missouri, these would be futile objectives. But I live in St. Louis, Missouri, a very ethnically diverse city, yet one that is also very segregated and suffering from tremendous racial and social strife. We recently had an black man open fire on a city council, killing 6 white people, in a municipality where racial division has long been a problem (not that I am in anyway blaming the community for the reprehensible act of one man). Too many churches in this city - segreagated into black, hispanic, asian, white - are all doing God's work parallel to one another, when perhaps we could be better salt and light to the community if we worked and worshiped together. And I don't see how our biblical mandates to be peacemakers can allow us to just let racial reconciliation "take care of itself." The day I was justified, I did not cease to be a sinner. I still need daily exhortation and guidance as to how to live out the Gospel. And it seems to me that racial reconciliation is, at this time in our history, one of the ways we need to live out the Gospel.

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sheerahkahn

April 07, 2008  6:40pm

I realized that I have not addressed the questions, so here are my thoughts: "Is inter-ethnic ministry a biblical mandate?" I dunno, Paul, in his epistles, certainly seems to be into "inter-ethnic ministry." "And what does all this mean for your church if, like mine, it's full of white folks who welcome worshipers of other ethnic backgrounds, but only (as DeYmaz observes) they agree to worship the way we do and not cause a fuss?" Ah, now we come to it…conform or be cast out? Yield to the tyranny of the majority and their self-entitled ways, or bow to the maker of all that is seen and unseen and hope for a change in the hearts of fellow congregants? What is the individual to do? We recognize the problem, and yet nothing is said? The answer you are seeking islove…love is a choice, not an emotion, it is something we choose to do, and to love someone who doesn't dress like us, coif their hair like us, attain the same financial station as us requires more than platitudes and well-wishes. Love takes more than a "here's a twenty" or "hey, here's a card with a phone number on it." Love is dirty, messy, and foul-smelling. It intrudes on our space, it calls to us when we would rather ignore it, and it dies just as easily when ignored. Paul wrote all the glowly things about what love is like, but it was Y'shua who pointed out whom we are to love… "love your neighbor as yourself." Would we and our churches deny a man of poor descent, of poor means, with not a lick of understanding of English, or knowledge of our cultural ways the message of G-d because his culture offends our American sensibilities? I hope not, and yet…the question lingers…like an accusation of infidelity…sure we can deny the charge all we want, but could we convince G-d of our innocence?

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Sara

April 07, 2008  4:30pm

Being one who works in marketing professionally, and one who makes up the "younger generation", a lot of this stems from the PC stuff that was crammed down our throats growing up. Look at any advertisement involving people. You have to have one white person – and it usually will be female – one male, one handicapable individual, one black/African American, one additional non-white, one 65+, and one youth. Mix these up in any combination, and you should reach your target audience. There is truth that what you see is what you will get. Perception creates reality. And if you only have white people around to make up your church, then that is what you will have. However, many of the megachurches are made up of middle-to-upper-class white Protestants due to the location out in the suburbs. Simple fact. And many in my generation are tired of seeing it and seeing congregants sitting back and doing nothing. Those my age and younger are getting more and more mixed racially – through blood, through neighborhood, and through friendships. Just how it is. We are moving back to the cities where races are more mixed and because 'social justice' is a bit more prevalent in those areas – because it's something we feel strongly about. We don't like being isolated. That and many of us can't afford the lifestyles of our parents. Whether or not this is 'biblical' over another type of ministry should be irrelevant. We have been called to Go and Make Disciples wherever we are planted, wherever we put our feet. If we decide to go the Affirmative Action route – black, white, green, brown, purple, I don't care – and put someone in a post because we need to fill a quota, then it is racist and it has no place. If we do it for the advancement of the Kingdom and that more shall be welcome, then I pray that our motives be found pure.

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Shlomo

April 07, 2008  4:06pm

The distinction between integration and reconciliation is vast and seldom understood in most churches today. Unfortunately, the word integration was mostly misused in the past and now has fallen out of vogue with most Afro-Americans. As a concept, I have seldom heard of it being rightly practiced. When most people use the word integration what they really mean is race or ethnic mixing. If you merely look at the externals of a given group all you can easily determine is the percentages of each group that are represented. Such a mixture or gathering is not what integration would entail. A mixed group is the prerequisite for diversity, but unless there is a sharing of power and influence, then there will be no integration. The root of the word integration is integer from which we get the concept of integrity. A mixed or diversified group may or may not show respect for all of the subgroups of which it is composed. Integration, on the other hand, presupposes the integrity of its parts. The subtle, but deadly, patronizing attitude which Brandon describes in the final question of his post, clearly displays one of the major obstacles to establishing and building healthy multi-ethnic/multi-cultural congregations today. Here's my question, for those who desire to pursue this integrated vision: "Are we willing to accept Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles, or in other terms, we will rightly receive all ethnic groups as equal with the one condition being that we all must submit to the precepts of the Kingdom?" Shlomo

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Nate

April 07, 2008  1:34pm

Nate #1 writing to Nate #2, Maybe I came across a little more critical of postmoderns than I intended. I apologize for my lack of clarity. I was hoping to increase awarness that postmodern's are not the only ones trying to reach people. And we need to remember our more traditional brothers and the work they are doing for the kingdom. I complement the emerging church movement in it's passion for reaching a demographic that is frankly (in my eyes), probably the hardest to reach! Your more traditionally minded brother in Christ, nate

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sheerahkahn

April 07, 2008  11:19am

"There are also places where there are higher than average and lower than average percentages of African Americans and Hispanics. So the pool of ethnic minoroties available to attend church in say, Wyoming is minimal. Your so called Biblical mandate, in most of the nation, is a victim of statistical impossibility. Simple math." I think an accurate statement is that the mandate is a victim of a concentration of racial population demographics, and that is the unfortunate reality. I think if we serve G-d as we're suppose too (what a novel concept there!), whether the people in the church next to us, or the Indonesian neighbors next door to our house we won't see "gaijin" everywhere we look, we'll see what we're suppose to see...the reflection of the divine in their faces.

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preacherman

April 07, 2008  10:17am

Wonderful post brother. I hope that we will be a diverse community of believers striving to do His will in our lives. I hope that we will all understand the urgancey of being missional. I hope we will get out of our pews, and church walls and reach those who need Jesus Christ. I pray that we will understand we are now living in a post-Christian society that desprately needs Jesus Christ. I pray we will make disciples. I want you to know that you and this ministry is always in my prayers. In Him, Kinney Mabry

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