For 10 years, I worked at an incredibly diverse church in one of the most diverse zip codes in the world in Queens, NY. New Life Fellowship is a church of over 70 nationalities, and its commitment to bridging racial, social, and cultural barriers was something I witnessed first-hand at every level of leadership in the church.
I learned so much from New Life about intentionally cultivating and leading a multiethnic church.
A few months after my departure from New Life, I was candidating for a Pastoral position at an equally diverse church in the Bay Area of California. I was a finalist for the position at this large church with Pentecostal roots, and in my last interview I discussed the issue of race with the elder board. Much to my surprise, when I asked about efforts toward racial reconciliation the head elder remarked “diversity found us – we didn’t go looking for it”.
In other words, cultivating and leading a multiethnic church was something that simply happened in this community, more than something that took dogged commitment.
The two churches I’ve described above are surprisingly two kinds of multi-ethnic churches I’ve come across. One type of church is intentional and extremely race-conscious. The other is not.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve been part of planting and leading a family of diverse church plants that have over 50 nationalities represented across our four churches.
What are the Common Threads I’ve Observed Amongst Different Kinds of Multiethnic Churches?
- Character & Competence (Anointing/Gifting) are Paramount for Leadership
This is almost too simple a point to make about churches, but it reveals a primary feature of diverse faith communities.
If I truly believe that all men and women are created equal, then it makes sense that people of great character and competence would come from every race.
Character and competence do not depend on a seminary degree, or on connections to people of power, or other factors that systemically cause us to gravitate toward a certain racial profile in leadership.
Instead, character and competence override any kind of systemic barriers that often prevent church leadership teams from being diverse.
In non-diverse settings, positions of power are more often determined by someone’s relational connections or on certain ideals of qualifications that usually have hidden elements of systemic racism (this is worth another blog post).
However, if I truly make leadership about character and competence, then I’ll find and empower diverse leaders.
If I find myself thinking, “I’d love to be more diverse, but I just can’t find a quality candidate of another race/gender…”, then I’m probably 1) in a system where more intentional steps toward diversity must be taken for cross-cultural opportunities, or 2) there’s probably some hidden beliefs that some particular races/genders need more than (or possess less) character/competence when it comes to ministry, which is a dangerously biased perspective to have.
- Expressive Worship Style
I’ve wrestled with listing this because I realize that this is more a feature of style than substance, which certainly causes me to pause.
However, I can’t get away from this consistent observation of multi-ethnic churches, especially in an urban context.
Almost all multiethnic churches I’ve been to have expressive worship styles in their Sunday Gatherings.
Of course there are exceptions to this as there are churches that are both multiethnic and more subdued in worship music, but in my experience, diverse churches without expressive worship often seems to reach a certain monocultural class of people.
- Churches that are Committed to a Global Faith
Again, this point goes without saying, but it makes sense that if a church views itself as part of a Global movement, rather than simply an American or Regional movement, then it will appreciate the contributions and Christ-likeness found in any culture.
Even if a church does not talk about race/social issues as much, these churches care deeply about what God is doing globally.
This global perspective allows a church to equally value what God is doing in nations all around the world – even beyond my provincial lens.
To reiterate, these are three observations about multi-ethnic churches I’ve made as an Urban Pastor and church planter in NYC.
As someone committed to racial reconciliation, I find the two “types” of multiethnic churches fascinating in how much (or how little) they actually talk about race/social issues.
But beyond that, I’m more fascinated by what these churches have in common.
Published November 28, 2015