Posts tagged multicultural
A Series on Peter

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We started this series with a vision of animals that Peter didn't quite understand. When the vision ends, Peter has a succession of rather uncomfortable situations. He first extends hospitality to Gentiles, and then starts traveling with them! Now in Acts 10:27, we find Peter standing in the middle of a room filled with Gentiles making clear how uncomfortable and unusual this experience is for him, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile (Acts 10:28)." And yet, Peter recognizes that God has already revealed a portion of the vision to him, "But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28)."

So Peter is beginning to get it! But this sounds a lot like tempered tolerance, doesn't it? In the same sentence as declaring how wrong it is for him to hang out with these people, he is also stating that he shouldn't call them unclean or impure! It is tolerance from a distance, right? I promise not to call you unclean, but please don't challenge my practice of treating you like the unclean...   

But Cornelius is not dismayed.  He pushes forward by explaining that he was told to find Peter, and that all his family and friends are eagerly awaiting what God will say through Peter. Something about Cornelius's words strikes a cord within Peter. The first words out of Peters mouth are, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Perhaps it's Cornelius's obedience that moves Peter.  Or perhaps it's their courage to bring the Jews into their home. Or it could be that Peter recognizes the visitation that Cornelius describes. Whatever it is Peter is responding to, in this moment he moves beyond tolerance as he proclaims a paradigm shift, "God has no favorites." 

Suddenly all the dots connect. This is deeper than not calling the Gentiles unclean, this is about not believing the Gentiles are unclean. This is a revelation that Peter's cultural preferences suggest that God only loves one nation, when in fact God "accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right."

This is a common attribute of enthocentrism (I describe my own journey with being ethnocentric here), and truth be told, we all have to be careful not to equate our cultural preferences with God's cultural preferences! For surely He delights in the diversity with which we worship Him. While there is great value in analyzing our interpersonal ways of relating to one another, we can also use Peter's revelation to examine our church communities. If you were to look at the cultural practices of your church, would it suggest that God has favorites? Is there anyone who is being left out? Anyone considered unclean? Particularly the "nations" that are already in your congregation- gender, age, certain races, ethnicities or languages... Is there a population of people that God has invited you to fellowship with who is treated like the unclean or impure? 

Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches galvanized around the revelation that God indeed has no favorites! Imagine the creativity of our music and worship, the depth of our sermons, the voices we would value and all we would learn if only we moved beyond "gracing others with our presence" and instead truly believed that God accepts from every nation. What if we had the courage to challenge our own cultural preferences in order to express the depth and width of God's love for all? 


A Series on Peter


When Peter descends from the rooftop, the Spirit tells him that there is a group of men looking for him. This is probably not strange for Peter until he sees the men, that is! I imagine he was a little surprised to discover that the men weren't Jewish; they were Gentiles! 

Peter's culture was pretty clear about the protocol for spending time with Gentiles- don't do it. But Peter is told not to ignore these men, so he invites them in. He extends to them what might be considered a remarkable amount of hospitality. Perhaps Peter himself washed the feet of the strangers before inviting them into a meal, sitting with them, fellowshipping with them. Perhaps he gave them as much food and drink as he could supply, and offered more even when they were full. Though the Old Testament certainly required Peter to be hospitable to strangers, there is little doubt that this experience was a stretch even for him! 

Similarly to Peter, our churches have become pretty good at extending hospitality. As a result too many churches who have been called to multicultural ministry are actually practicing multicultural hospitality. The difference mostly lies in the maintenance of power. Believe me, I love extending hospitality to my friends. I would rather invite people to my home than meet at a restaurant.  In my home I can better express my love, making sure my friends feel comfortable and special. Hospitality is a beautiful expression of love and concern for others, but we are kidding ourselves if we don't also acknowledge the power dynamics involved in hospitality. I make the decisions. I set the parameters. I determine the extent of graciousness. 

Do you see the similarities with multicultural hospitality? The dominant group considers the church "theirs", and therefore has the right to make decisions, set parameters, and determine the extent of graciousness offered to those who are "just guests" who should be grateful for any amount of hospitality shown. 

But here's the thing, Peter wasn't told to extend hospitality. He was told to go with the men. Hospitality will never get you to multicultural ministry. It can be a great first step, an introduction, a time of learning, but ultimately you will have to walk the road of inconvenience and inquietude to truly experience the revelation of multiculturalism.

What I love next about this story, is that two communities of people- Jews and Gentiles- begin a 30 mile overnight journey together in which neither can claim power over the other. They are forming relationship in the space between their isolated communities, while on their way to immerse themselves in the "other". How many churches can you think of that are more interested in recruitment and hospitality than journeying and immersion?

If we want to follow Peter's example, we must be willing to release power, to journey with others, to risk hostility and experience a little discomfort in our lives. We must be willing to obey the Spirit and go. 


A Series on Peter


For the last 7 months I have been eating, sleeping and breathing the story of Peter's life-changing encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10. I think this passage is filled with crucial insights for church bodies who are interested in multicultural ministry. So this is the first post in my series on Peter!   

In Acts 10 we find Peter on the roof praying, when he suddenly becomes hungry. A meal is in the works, but before its ready Peter falls into a trance. He has three visions, all the same, where a voice tells him to kill and eat unclean animals. But Peter isn't having it! Each time Peter says no, the reply is, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:15)

I love what happens next. Peter doesn't walk away feeling invigorated by a new vision for a multi-ethnic church. He doesn't call all his friends together to discuss how they might change the status quo of separation to bring eternal life to the Gentiles. Nor does he start packing bags so that he can move to the nearest Gentile community and start evangelizing. On the contrary, Peter left the roof wondering what the vision was supposed to mean! (Acts 10:17) Peter doesn't get it! 

This has potential to be vey instructive for us. How many pastors, lay leaders, seminary graduates, entire congregations even, have indeed been given a vision for multi-ethnic ministry, but have no idea what exactly that means? We have a sense, a feeling, perhaps like Peter even a picture- albeit a rather fuzzy one. But we should not assume that because we feel called to multi-ethnic ministry, that we fully understand what God intends. Should we pick up our families and move? Should we start a new church or transform the one we have? Should we change our leadership structures, recruit new members or start a partner church? Is God calling us to this work through our church, or our personal lives? Could He be asking us to get involved in new organizations, new neighborhoods, new countries? Perhaps, we, too, can give ourselves permission to admit that we aren't quite sure what God is calling us to do. I love that Peter must go through a series of experiences before his vision transforms to revelation. In so doing, he allows us to explore through experience, too. Its okay that we don't get it... yet. 

So, if you have been called to multi-ethnic ministry, have been given a vision that doesn't quite make sense, and you're not quite sure where to begin- keep wondering. Multi-ethnic ministry is a journey, and together we will explore how Peter's journey might lend us some insight for our own. 


Just Play More Gospel!

In my experience of working with white churches who are interested in attracting (or retaining) black congregation members, one common solution is to play more gospel music. It is sort of an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. And the logic makes sense. Gospel music is an incredibly important element of most black churches- whether its old school, contemporary, or a mix of both. So, its possible that playing more gospel music will have a significant chance of encouraging black visitors to become black members. 

I am absolutely supportive of churches making changes to worship services in order to make the service feel like home for those who traditionally have had to adapt and assimilate into the structure of white church. But I think there is a slight misunderstanding about the depth and meaning of these changes. If your church has committed to a formula for playing a certain number of Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and William McDowell songs by repeating them as best you can from sheet music, you've taken a great first step, but its time to take the second. 



The second step is to recognize the cultural nuances that make gospel music what it is.  Gospel has a lot less to do with mimicking an artist; in fact, that might be a clear giveaway that you're not really playing gospel music. Gospel music is about freedom. It's about allowing the music to move you, to course through you, to feel it from your head to your toes. It's about allowing the lyrics to wash over you, to repeat them as often as necessary, to highlight different verses or even specific lines spontaneously. It's about movement- waving arms, clapping hands, stomping feet. It is freedom of expression, expression without judgment. It is remixing in the moment. It is never playing a song the same way twice but possibly singing it three times. It is an imperfect but elating partnership between worship leader, musicians and choir. Gospel music is not a "what" it is a "how". 

Figure out the "how" and you might find that there is less of a need to meet a quota of gospel songs per month. The real question is, "Are people free here?"   Do people feel free to explore and express the cultural nuances of their own worship style, or is it suggested they should just be happy that their music is being played at all?  

I use gospel music as my primary example, because of my personal background, but if your church is interested in altering worship to represent the culture of Puerto Ricans, Koreans or First Nations, I believe the questions above still have merit.

1. Do you understand the nuances of cultural worship styles?

2. Do people feel free to worship without judgement?  

Answer, "yes" to both of those questions, and you will have created a clear path for your church to enter into multicultural worship!

Just one more piece of advice for churches who are trying to diversify worship: it helps to genuinely fall in love with the culture! I imagine it can be overwhelming for churches to take on new worship styles, songs, potentially new instruments and vocalists. One way to make the transition a little less intimidating is to sincerely enjoy engaging, learning, and exploring the culture. Love gospel music and it will show, even if you don't sing one "traditional" gospel song- the nuances of singing gospel will begin to leak and your congregation will notice. Fall in love and you might find it impossible not to insert another culture into your standard worship!    

Blessings on your music ministry!