Please welcome Juan Sanchez back to the blog. He and his wife, Jeanine, have five daughters, and he serves as a pastor in Austin, TX. I've known and appreciated Juan for several years, and his writing and thinking has always challenged me.
Juan has previously written about how the church is a display of God's manifold wisdom here at the blog.
Juan will be stopping by the blog today to answer questions and interact in the comments, so be sure to leave a comment or question for Juan below.
Multi-ethnic Worship Gatherings
As our English-speaking multi-ethnic congregation has embraced a mission to reach non-English speakers in our community and include them in our body as members upon a credible profession of faith and believer's baptism, one of the principal questions we have faced has been, "How do we gather for worship?" To be honest, we are still answering that question. Presently, we have an Ethiopian pastor on our staff who is reaching the Amaharic-speaking people in our area. Though they have a Sunday gathering in Amaharic for those in the first generation, our trajectory is one of inclusion where we long to unite in one gathering. One of the ways we have begun "practicing" that is on fifth Sundays during our evening gathering.
Rather than for me to suggest how to have a multi-ethnic worship gathering, I think it would be more helpful to provide some questions for you to ask as your ministry contexts become increasingly diverse.
1. Is our desire for multi-ethnic corporate worship rooted in Scripture or driven by culture?
Our pluralistic culture celebrates diversity for the sake of diversity. Recently, my 14-year old daughter auditioned for the part of Louisa in a local production of The Sound of Music. She didn't get the part because the production company was looking for a diverse cast - perhaps my half-Puerto Rican daughter looked too Austrian for the part. You see, when ethnic diversity becomes ultimate, the outcome can be rather silly.
Our approach to multi-ethnic ministry in general and corporate worship in particular must be rooted in Scripture. A biblical view of ethnicity celebrates our unity in diversity, not diversity as the ultimate end. The gospel empowers peoples of multiple ethnicities and cultures in a congregation to function as one family, thereby displaying the wisdom of God. I discussed this point in my previous post.
2. Is our practice of multi-ethnic worship rooted in Scripture or in particular cultures?
When we gather, our corporate worship must be true worship, in spirit and in truth (John 4). True worship is a proper faith response to the truth of the gospel declaration about Jesus by those who are sealed with (Ephesians 1:13) and filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-20). True worship engages both mind and heart. When worship engages only the mind, it breeds sterile intellectualism; when it engages only the heart, it breeds circus-like emotionalism.
Further, when worship is rooted in particular cultures, it appeals to our self-love. As our associate pastor suggested to me, "the forms of multi-ethnic worship (whatever they might be) must not be shaped by what naturally appeals to us, but by what communicates truth about God to one another and stirs our affections for Him."
3. Only after asking the first two questions should we ask, "What should true worship look like in our context?"
Each worship gathering that includes a diversity of peoples will look different depending upon your context. Yet, since true worship is rooted in Christ and His gospel, when we gather, regardless of ethnicity, culture or language, we must pray the gospel, sing the gospel, read the gospel, and preach the gospel. The gospel must be central because Jesus is ultimate.
The most difficult element of any worship gathering is music. How you include diverse peoples in singing the gospel requires careful thought. Let me offer two suggestions. First, since clarity of the gospel is of upmost importance, you should make lyrics available in some format so that all may understand what is being sung. Second, lest you frustrate everyone, it is important to find a "musical center" that provides ongoing stability in your singing. This center will allow you to include music from various cultures at various times, while still communicating that Jesus, who is ultimate, unites us all. This musical center will also allow you to include music from various epochs of church history. After all, Jesus is Lord over all ethnicities, all cultures, and all times.
Once you realize music is only one of many elements in the corporate gathering, you should be encouraged that there are multiple ways to reflect the diversity of the gospel in your gathering. If language is not an issue, peoples of any ethnicity may read Scripture, pray or share a testimony. If language is an issue, any of these elements may be translated into the requisite language(s).
Central to true worship is the preaching of the gospel. What is most important in preaching is not who the preacher is but the faithful proclamation and exaltation of Christ through clear, consistent biblical preaching that is faithful to the text of Scripture and its applications to all of life. Of course, each faithful preacher will be unique in his own way.
Finally, the ordinances paint a beautiful picture of gospel inclusion. Whenever one sinner repents and turns to Christ in faith, regardless of ethnicity, he/she is baptized before the congregation, signaling union with Christ and initiation into the body. When we take part in the Lord's Supper, we are reminded that all who profess faith in Christ are included at the Lord's table on the basis of Jesus' sacrifice. At High Pointe, when we come to the table, we see a diverse people serving a diverse congregation as we celebrate the Christ who has made us one.