As I look back over the last fifteen years of leading a multi-ethnic congregation I am more committed than ever to this beautiful expression of the gospel. It is a joy to worship in a community that celebrates our God-given differences.
In the 1994 movie Corrina, Corrina, there’s a wonderful scene with two little girls that gives hope for what can be in multi-ethnic community.
Molly (a little white girl) says to Lizzie (a little black girl), “Do you taste like chocolate?” Lizzie responds, “I don’t know, do you taste like vanilla?”
For the next few moments they proceed to lick each others cheeks!
Inquisitiveness is innate to children. It’s normal for a child to wonder and ask probing questions of discovery. Inquiry about skin tone and hair texture flows without inhibition. Then we grow up. As adults we sense the barriers that society has set up and fear keeps us from getting close to them and each other. Instead we rely on our self-made fig leaves and our shame keeps us from far from each other. However, when we come to Christ together his grace clothes and opens up new realities.
Multi-ethnic community is about growing young in an environment where curiosity is cultivated as the norm for christian relationships.
“A” Value Not “The” Value
I believe we set ourselves up for failure when we make diversity “the” value instead of “a” value in a church. When it is “the” value it is front and center and all we see. When it is “a” value it is always on our radar screen but not the dominant priority.
For us at Colorado Community Church becoming multi-ethnic was not the primary goal. Our focus was our call to transform our city and beyond by connecting people to Christ, community and calling. That is what is front and center for us.
As we live this out there are many convictions that guide us (nine to be exact). One of these is that we are inter-cultural thus we celebrate our God given differences in all aspects of ministry. Diversity is “a” value for us but not “the” value that is given precedence above all others.
First and foremost the mission of the Church is to grow the saved, reach the lost and care for the downtrodden. It is a gathering where Christ is worshipped; His Word is proclaimed; people are inspired, equipped and mobilized to serve Him; and where care, prayer and family are available to all. Not being multi-ethnic can hinder this mission but we mustn’t think that it is the mission.
Horst and Greer say that there is an unspoken crisis facing leaders: Mission Drift. They write, “Without careful attention, [churches] will inevitably drift from their founding purpose and mission. It’s that simple. It will happen.” Mission Drift is prevalent but not inevitable. “Mission True organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all costs.”
As a Christian, the pursuit of a multi-ethnic worshipping community is a response to what we read and see in the scriptures.
We want to be the answer to Jesus’ prayer: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn. 17.23)
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream but we serve the King who prayed for and paid for the dream to become a reality.
Jesus taught us to pray for life on earth to be “as it is” in heaven. When John glimpsed eternity he saw, “every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the lamb.” (Rev. 7.9) That is so beautiful. When heaven arrives and we receive our glorified bodies our ethnicity and nationality will still be distinguishable.
A multicultural church wants a taste of heaven now. As followers of Christ we seek “as it is” moments. Worshipping and serving as a multi-ethnic congregation is a preview of heaven. It is one of those rare times that heaven and earth meet.
Efrem Smith in his book, The Post-Black & Post-White Church, reminds us that this was the goal of the civil rights movement. Smith wrote, “The multi-ethnic and missional church as a Christ-centered community becomes the beloved community that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of.” The church remaining segregated was ultimately the source of King’s nightmare and the King of Kings heartache.
Join the conversation: What do you think about the concept that your view of eternity should inform the kind of church you choose today?
Colorado Community Church is known for its’ diversity.
When we started fifteen years ago our hope was to reflect our local community of Aurora, Colorado. At the time, our part of the city was 82% White; 11% Black; 5% Latino; 2% Asian and 1%other. Today this suburb of Denver is even more diverse with 127 languages spoken in the Aurora Public Schools District!
When you take into account the diversity of our city and the fact that multicultural churches “tend to be more diverse than the neighborhoods in which they reside.” One would think that multi-ethnic congregations would have been commonplace in our community. However, that wasn’t the case. Martin Luther King Jr.’s old adage about Sunday morning being the most segregated time of the week rang true in our city as well.
Today, Colorado Community Church is a vibrant multicultural, international, inter-denominational gathering of 3000+ followers of Christ committed to washing the feet of our city. Demographically we are 57% white; 32% black; 8% Latino; 1% Asian, 2% other with over 20 different nations of origin.
As Lead Pastor I’m often asked about what went in to the making of this multiethnic church. I thought I’d take the time to write a series of posts chronicling what we did with the hopes of accelerating what the Spirit of God is doing in our nation. There are a growing number of churches recognizing and living out the truth that Jesus on the cross broke down the barriers that divide us. We need more.
This will be a seven part series with new posts every 2-3 days. Let me know if there are any specific questions that you want me to address? Join the conversation…
Why do you think multi-ethnic churches are still the minority in American Christianity?
It was my privilege to speak at Taylor University’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this past January.
We all know about King’s dream, but what about his nightmare?
The whole program was wonderful and is worth watching. My message begins at the 22 minute mark.
This week, at The Sankofa Institute, I’m interviewing a living legend–Carlotta Walls LaNier.
Mrs. LaNier will forever be remembered as one of The Little Rock Nine. She chronicles her painful journey in her powerful memoir, “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.”
Sept. 25th 1957 a young Carlotta Walls integrated Little Rock Central H.S. under the presidential protection of 1200 members of the 101st Airborne. Hear that again, it took 1200 men to escort 9 black teens into a school of 2000 white students. The Little Rock Nine went to school under war-like conditions and, sadly, Carlotta became the first integrating student in the nation to have her home bombed. She was inside along with her mother and two sisters.
Why? Mrs. Walls-LaNier says, “We were not interested in making history. We simply wanted to attend the best high school and get the best education possible.”
If you were doing this interview, what question would you ask this magnificent person?