Building a cross culture church is no easy task in America. When you take a country that has so much racial friction stemming from many different issues, it can be hard to desire unity. But for Christian's we have hope in a God that desires unity for his people through Jesus Christ (John 17: 20-23).
All of the issues pertaining to race and ethnicity have created a culture that says "I will stay with my people and you stay with your people." You could write a whole article on these issues, but the reality is that they have made it difficult to build a cross culture church.
I am a black man but I was born and raised in Toronto and that matters in this context. In Toronto I grew up around many Indians, Chinese, white people and was drenched in Caribbean culture. My mom is from Barbados and my dad is from England. Toronto is also considered to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
My entire upbringing forced me to live a cross cultural experience both in the church and through my entire life. Then when I was 18, I received a scholarship for track and field to Iowa State University which is a predominantly white institution.
All of the cross culture experience I had built almost felt useless because everyone stuck with their kind. The Chinese kids only hung with the Chinese kids, the blacks with the blacks and the whites with the whites and that was ok with everyone. But it was weird for me.
I thought that going to the church would change this fact right? Because of, well, Jesus right? I thought that If any place could break down these walls it would be the church. The problem is that the church has even more issues with race. It's like we skipped right over the book of Ephesians.
Ephesians 3:6 - "This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus."
Understanding The Obstacles to The Cross Culture Church
Division is rampant right now and things are only getting worse.
People don't even consume the same media anymore. Now the customer chooses what they want to watch as they are fed a stream of content via social media that shows only what they want to see.
We are no longer looking to find unity in Jesus Christ. The days of being able to say, "I don't agree with you, but thank God that we have Jesus Christ" are gone!
One of the easiest and most obvious ways to divide people is through race and ethnicity. It can be the first thing you notice about someone.
In the New Testament, Paul was dead set on bringing the Gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph 3:6). The Good News of Jesus Christ is for everyone, but Sunday morning in America remains one of the most divided times in the country.
The focus is so heavily on black and white people, that people forget all about our Asian brothers and sisters, or our Native brothers and sisters. Many other ethnicities get left out of the picture, in the mission to spread the Gospel to both Jew and Gentile, and make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matthew 28).
We have to keep in mind that the devil does not want to see us have unity. His job is to destroy and confuse so that we move further from God's plan.
Lets get into the 10 things you need to get right in order to build a Revelation 7 Cross Culture Church.
10 Things to Consider to Build a Cross Culture Church
1. Comfort is Not The Goal
One of the biggest problems with church here in America is the fact that people want to go to church where they feel comfortable. The experience is about how you feel, and if it does not feel good then people will go elsewhere.
The issue is that The Gospel is not about what makes us comfortable and all warm and cozy. There is so much in the Bible that is not comfortable and as Christians we need to get used to this.
- The first will be last and the last will be first - Matthew 20:16
- Blessed are the lowly in spirit - Matthew 5:3
- We must suffer for Christ's sake - Philippians 1:29
- You must love your enemy - Matthew 5: 43 - 48
- Jesus washing the disciples feet - John 13
The greatest of them all being Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus was obedient to the point of death on the cross. He loved us so much that he was willing to give up his life so that we could have eternal life with the Father.
What Does Being Uncomfortable In The Cross Cultural Church Mean?
- Music will always be different
- Preachers will always be different
- The colors of faces will be different
- You will attract many different ages
- Response to a message will be different
- Connection groups will have to adjust to a variety of people
- Uncomfortable conversations will happen regularly
What ends up happening in a cross culture church is that you have to let go of your preferences. People leave churches over the music all of the time. Some wants hymns, others demand gospel, then some others think you only need a guitar.
The point is that, there is no way to do this cross cultural thing right, unless you're willing to make everyone uncomfortable for the sake of inviting in different people to hear the Gospel.
2. The Default Always Goes Toward The Majority
One of the hardest thing about normative culture is that it becomes what is right a lot of the times, even when its not Biblical. I think this same thing can be said in any part of world towards whoever is the majority culture. I was raised in Caribbean culture, so if churches there wanted to invite white people in, they would need to recognize their default in the same way.
What is hard in America is that the country has been one of the most powerful in the world and a lot of the wealth is held by white people. The way this plays out is that white people tend to have more evidence that they are doing things right through worldly success.
For a church to become a cross culture church people must consistently ask the question, what do I assume is the right way that is not biblical?
Its a hard question to ask and it leads to more uncomfortable conversations. The truth is that the more you do this, the more you create spaces that allow other cultures to shine.
Revelation 7 calls out how people from all nations, tribes and tongues will be represented in heaven. No one culture can fully represent Jesus, in the same way that no member of the body can be the full representation of Christ. You need every member of the body to play their role and we need every culture to bring their best as well.
3. People Have to Move Towards Jesus
Here is one of the tough things about building a diverse body of followers. People have to want to have that change to happen. If you have not noticed, our default is to want to be around people who are like us.
We want to be around people the same:
In the United States for example, there is a large percentage of white Christians who go to mostly white churches and they are totally ok with that. They do not desire to have change because they are comfortable with how things have been.
There are people who go to black churches who don't desire to go to a church with a lot of white people for the same reasons. Whenever you want to bring cultures together, it means that people will need to give a lot of their comforts up.
You begin to desire change because you understand that God's desire is for diversity. When you understand that, you start to realize that no one culture, race, ethnicity group can come close to fully knowing God.
The whole design of the Body of Christ is that we NEED others. We need other cultures and ethnicities to be in the body, and when we don't have that we miss them.
Revelations 7: 9-10
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Revelations 7 forces us to get outside of our comfort zone and move closer to Jesus. Its one thing when we live in a homogenous community, but its another thing when one lives in a city with diversity and yet still attends a church that lacks diversity.
We need to be praying that we have opportunities to move towards Jesus and the vision for his church.
4. Everyone Needs Jesus Just as Much
One thing I learned living in a poor neighborhood vs living in a wealthy one is that wealthy people have enough money to cover their sin. That is the only difference.
We need to stop with the lie that poverty = more brokenness than wealth. Its not true because sin is sin. Maybe in a rough neighborhood you will see more crime, but in wealthy neighborhoods, people will have the ability to hide their crime and if they get caught they can pay a good lawyer to help them.
The point is that we all need Jesus.
1 John 1: 7-10 "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sines, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make a liar, and his word is not in us"
John 15: 5-6 "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Luke 19: 10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
We must always grip with the reality that we all are in need of Jesus. Jesus came for sinners and you and I are both sinners. The more you grapple with this, the easier it is to be loving and see the dignity in all other humans.
If you are NOT a sinner than you don't need a savior.
When you start seeing yourself as being better than you are apart from Christ, you start thinking that you are the one who can save people.
Everyone needs Jesus, no matter your class, race, age, ethnicity or any other factor that can be used to divide humans.
5. We Are Called to Love Our Enemies
Matthew 5: 44-47 "But I say to you, Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward for you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"
Let's get something straight, the call here is not an easy one. Its so easy to hate people who hate us but we are called to something more. No matter how divisive the world is around us, we have to be willing to love those who society has called our enemy.
We have to be willing to love those who we feel justified to hate. Why, because Jesus loves us even though we are far from righteous. Since he loves those who once were fully opposed to God, then we need to extend that same grace to others.
6. Everything About Leadership Needs to Change
The one trend we see a lot within the church and corporate culture in America is white leadership trying to figure out how to become more "diverse". Some are only doing it for show to seem like they care, but there are others who genuinely want to accomplish this.
Here is the problem, a lot of the people who want to see the bottom change, don't want to also see the top change. You need to bring in diverse perspectives to the top of any church to see the congregation change.
How many times do you see a church with an all white staff, all white elder and deacon team trying to figure out what people different then them would want? It does not work!
The same thing applies to poverty. You can't ask what do poor people need to a bunch of wealthy people. You need to go to the people you want to serve and ask them for their perspective.
You need to be willing to put someone who looks different, and lacks the "normal" education and disciple them into being deacons and elders.
Subtle messages are sent when a church has all leaders that are one particular group. That message is that there is no one else who is biblically qualified (1 Timothy 3) around here that could lead in this church.
The church needs to become much more intentional about who leads. Its not about picking for color, but recognizing that you are not going to become a Revelations 7 Church by only affirming one group of people as leaders.
7. The Environment Must Welcome All For The Cross Culture Church to Be Built
Here is the problem, if you have hostility in your church in any way, the environment that flows from that is not going to be inviting. Race has caused so much hostility and it automatically blocks people out.
You will have a black church angry towards white people, you will have a white church that refuses to change anything to be more welcoming towards black people. Then you get Asians who are caught in the cross fire and who don't feel welcome from either side.
The goal should be to create a church that is inviting to anyone. To create a church that is welcoming to any person who decides they want to learn more about Jesus. That means you can be poor, rich, black, white, or any other color.
You have to be intentional about this, or else you end up slowing building a culture that is accepting of one type of people because deep down you believe that the one way is the best.
Ephesians 4: 4-7 "There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, and one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gifts."
8. Lean Into Those With Cross Cultural Experience
One of the toughest obstacles to overcome in building a multi-ethnic church is learning to listen to different people. For so long, leadership structures have looked for the same types of people.
The reality is leaders need to talk with whoever people are following. That is the sign of a strong leader. If someone is leading a gang for example, they have people following them. To say they are not a strong leader because they are doing wrong is not true. If you can convince the leader of a gang to follow Christ, you can likely get some of the people that follow them too.
To build a multi-ethnic church, churches need to lean into people who have experience being in multi-ethnic contexts. You will be able to tell who does this by the fruit you see in their life. The way they live, will always have a focus on diversity because they value what it brings to the table.
Churches should be discipling these people to be:
- Connection Group Leaders
- Ministry Leaders
- Using Their Spiritual Gifts to Build The Kingdom
9. Every Culture Has Strength and Weaknesses
In 1 Corinthians 12 we get a clear picture that the Body of Christ needs everyone to play there role. You can't just have a head and a hand, because they will be useless without organs.
Romans 1: 24-25 - "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever! Amen."
Christians accept that people are broken, but often not cultures. Cultures are often broken in different ways as well. There is not one culture that is perfect and without sin because cultures just consist of groups of people.
That means that cultures need to work together and understand that no one has it all right. The white church is not the right way to do church, there are things that represent the holiness of God that they are missing. But that is also true of every other culture and church.
The only way to fix this is to focus on working together. Too many cultures and countries want to create distance between each other instead of seeking to learn.
Revelations 7 talks about how every nation, tribe, and peoples of all languages will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb. That does not mean one culture. It paints a picture of how every culture will play a role.
10. You Have to Trust in God's Timing When Building a Cross Culture Church
Proverbs 21:3 "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart."
Ecclesiastes 3:1 "For everything there is a season, and time for ever matter under heaven."
One of the biggest pitfalls to building a biblically diverse church is that most people are not patient enough to do it.
We all have our own ways and ideas and we want things to happen on our timing. When that does not happen, people leave!
You have to be ready to be in this for the long haul. This is especially true if you are not starting a church from scratch. If you are trying to take a church that has been dominated by one people group, and you want to make it diverse, you have to trust in God's timing and not your own.
The Hard Reality of The Cross Culture Church
The hard truth is that being a Christian is not easy.
Anything that paints a picture of heaven the devil wants to destroy. He has one job and that is to tear down what God wants to build. Although the victory is already won in Jesus name, until he returns things will still be hard.
1 Peter 5:6-10 - "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
If God desires to have all nations, tribes and tongues praise him together, then he will do everything he can to create division and hate amongst different people groups.
The fact that something is hard, does not mean that it is not worth doing. We are called to pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus was perfect, he did not sin even once and the result was that we killed him. He faced so much hate and conflict even though he was completely righteous amongst unrighteous people.
1 Peter 3:13 - "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something stranger were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."