As an angsty 20 year old, perhaps frustrated by being old enough to vote or even enlist, but not old enough to drink a beer, I went through a stage of asking everyone around me what they thought heaven was like. The answers ranged from “I’ve never thought of that” and “that’s pretty deep, I don’t know” to “man, you’re so emo”. Later that year, I had the honor and privilege of leading a “Praise Night” of over a thousand students with a band assembled from all of the major campus fellowships.1 I stopped asking the question, because I got a little glimpse of what the answer was.
Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, I came to my Christian faith and was baptized in a Southern Baptist Anglo-American church. (So Southern Baptist that our Senior Pastor went on to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention.) When I moved to California, that radically shifted to serving at more than a few Asian-American churches over the years. But I think some of my most formative years of faith came while attending multi-ethnic, though admittedly anglo-cultured, churches.
Ever the idealist, a few years ago when it came time for our family to find a new church we went on the hunt for a “multi-cultural” church. And so we visited. And we googled. And we visited. And we yelped. And by the time we were checking out our 6th or 7th church, much to our dismay2, we found ourselves settled in to an Asian-American church.
Today I attended our church’s all day roadmapping session for the year. There was a good deal of church business talked about, a clear vision set, but the thing that stood out to me was a specific point in our closing prayer time. Our church meets in the historically black, Fillmore Jazz District. The staff at our meeting space today was all black. Our congregation is 97% Asian-American. As we sang songs, out of the corner of my eye I could see the staff was 100% in it, basking in the presence of worshiping with other brothers and sisters. And at one point in our structured prayer, the staff was asked to gather in so that we could pray for them. It was a thing of beauty that took me back to that little feeling of heaven.
Dear pastors and church leaders, I believe that valuing God’s people from all walks of life starts first and foremost with you. Starting with the community in which you take roots in, to the organizations you partner with, and the leaders at other churches that you choose to be in fellowship with, be an example to your own congregations in breaking down ethnic and socio-economic walls. Be in communion with other churches that might not look or act like yours.
To all of us, especially in the corporate world, every waking moment is an opportunity to delight in the diversity of God’s creation. If you, like me, tend to hang out with people of the same ethnic and socio-economic background, volunteering with community organizations is a fantastic way to reach outside of your bubble. Furthermore, you may have co-workers that share the same faith that are just waiting to find that you exist.
I write here today to tell you that I think most of us will not experience a truly multicultural church until we get to heaven, but each of us can take steps to not only get glimpses of this here on earth, but also to bring the American church closer to resembling the Kingdom of God.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I hosted one of our practices on a weekday afternoon in the living room of our townhome, with the drummer bringing his full set and everyone bringing practice amps. While none of my roommates were home, the “cranky lady” across the street was and came banging on the door after about half an hour. This quickly ended our practice. A couple of days later I brought brownies to her door and apologized, and from then on the “cranky lady” smiled and waved at me whenever she saw me, which was a lot since I washed my car out front every week and was often found tinkering in the garage. ↩
I am by no means in opposition to the ethnic and/or cultural-centric church. Racial diversity and cultural diversity are different and this topic is way too big for this space, but I believe the ethnic-centric and/or cultural-centric church still holds tremendous value. It’s pretty complicated. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ↩