Oil & Water: Developing a Multi-Racial Church

First appeared on The Malphurs Group

Growing up in the south, you learn quickly how racism impacts every facet of life.

One story that sticks in my mind is one about two teenagers. (I have heard this story told many times from two different perspectives, but the outcome is still the same.) There are two sets of parents, from two different racial groups (black and white) with their respective sons/daughters who are in an interracial relationship. The parents take some oil and water, then place them in a clear jug and tell them to look intensely – the oil and water do not mix.

It is possible that this very concept has latched onto the church and replaced the very essence of fellowship. There is a lot of talk about multi-racial churches, but the actual completion of that appears to be a task that many leaders refuse to engage.

I have shared 5 thoughts that I feel are valuable to developing a multi-racial church:

1.  Indigenous Representation
There is always a need to “resemble what you are trying to assemble.” If you are trying to develop a multi-racial church, then your leadership should have that very same element represented within its ranks. There should be leaders that have a familiarity with the context that your church represents.

Dr. Aubrey Malphurs writes in Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: “The church will not reach everybody but will initially attract those who are culturally similar to the people who make up the core group.”

2. Dedicated Dialogue within a Safe Space
Leaders must be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations that get at the crux of the issue. They must be willing to live on the edge of being insulted without taking it personal. A concerted effort to exegete truth within a safe space about racial and cultural differences is an impetus for change. Once “safe space” is identified, it becomes the door for real conversation about real topics. The importance of dialogue unpacks the very things that have the potential to hinder growth and progress.

3. The Mirror Complex
Leadership must be willing to be the first people to examine their own perspectives about racial and cultural differences. They must be willing to own up to their own biases and be ready to deal with it in a very open manner. They must live their lives in a state of constant personal reflection and formation-being serious, intentional and honest about what they think as it relates to racial and cultural differences.

4. Adaptability
The need to adapt to new styles must always be at the forefront of churches. As new people connect with the church, their perspectives must be taken seriously as integral parts of the fellowship. It may necessitate making a difference in worship and preaching styles. It may cause the church to get outside of its four walls for effective change. Leaders must be willing to wrestle through scriptural differences without causing too much conflict. (This may not be a doctrinal issue, but one of cultural perspectives. See Ephesians 6:5.)

5. Fresh Perspectives of Koinonia
Pastor Doug Logan synonymously connects koinonia with investment. This connection symbolizes a companionship that at any time can become one-sided. When building a multi-racial church, the importance of trust looms large with all parties involved. At times, it may appear and could possibly be true that one group gives more than the other; therein beholds the beauty of kiononia (fellowship). If there is a true investment in the lives of others, then clarity of purpose (providing a service) will supersede personal recognition/repayment. The ultimate goal is to find some common ground upon which to connect.

Oil and water may never mix but they are extremely capable of adapting to any container (situation) they are placed within. The church can learn a lot from such a concept…

What have you found helpful in developing a multi-cultural church?

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