Urban Ministry 5
There are practical and scriptural answers to that question. Briefly, lets address the practical first. You should build a multi-ethnic church because otherwise you will have to leave out large chunks of the population in your urban community. I do not mind that my church draws from a wide radius. The average independent Baptist church does so because our belief system is relatively unique. But I do not want my church to draw all of its people from somewhere other than my own neighborhood. Such would indicate we were completely failing to influence our community. I do not see the sense in driving past thousands of homes to target one particular demographic three miles away. I want to target everybody, and especially those who are already in our church's neighborhood.
Additionally, there is mathematically statistical certainty that white people will become a minority in the United States of America, and the date is not as far away as you might think. If independent Baptist churches do not change to reflect these facts they will eventually die.
|One of my friends who does it right; Pastor Justin Soto and the|
River City Baptist Church in Sacramento, California.
Scripturally, however, the reasons to build a multi-ethnic ministry must begin with the example and words of Jesus Christ.
The Jews of Jesus' day were among the most ethnically prejudiced groups I have ever encountered in history. This was largely driven by the Pharisees massive misapplication of the Torah's emphasis on being clean. I blogged about this extensively in my series on the life of Christ. For example, the rabbis taught that if you touched something that had been previously touched by a Gentile you must immediately return home and bathe completely. One particular rabbi of Jesus' era boasted that he never walked down the same side of the street as a Gentile. Another refused to purchase anything on a particular street where a Gentile lived. The Sadducees loved to skewer the ridiculousness of the Pharisees, and they used to mock them by saying that soon the Pharisees would need to wash the rays of the sun since it also shone on Gentiles.
Jesus fought against this prejudice vehemently. Just after His birth Simeon prophesied that He would be a light to the Gentiles. (Luke 2.32) This in itself simply echoed the prophets of the the Old Testament who regularly stated that the Messiah would reach out to the Gentiles. (Isaiah 11.10, 42.1, 42.6, 49.6) All of these speak of His first coming; the prophecies in relation to the Gentiles coming to Christ at the Second Coming are even more numerous. Early in His earthly career He took the time to heal a Roman centurion's servant. (Matthew 8.5) He then took advantage of that act to explicitly teach those around Him that the Jewish patriarchs themselves would mingle with Gentiles in the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 8.11) He gladly led the Samaritan woman to Himself (John 4), healed a Caananitish woman's daughter (Matthew 15), and ministered to the Greeks that came across His path (John 12.20-22). His final admonition that rings through the ages as the Great Commission tells us to go to the entire world. (Matthew 28.19-20)
Christ's teachings and example in relation to reaching the Gentiles was a difficult thing for the early church to swallow, but swallow it they did. Eventually. They had to for God made it crystal clear that the church was not an ethnically pure religious based institution but an ethnically neutral religious based institution. (Acts 10.45, 11.18, 14.27) Indeed, Paul and Peter nearly had a falling out over this very point, and much of the interplay of the book of Acts is the church learning to come to grips with this.
In the epistles to come, as the Lord used the Apostles to be the earthly foundation of the church, Paul dealt with this repeatedly and at length. His writings overflow with admonitions for the mainly Jewish early church to embrace the Gentiles on an equal base throughout the entire Roman Empire. (Romans 2.10, 3.29, 15.11-18, I Corinthians 12.13, Galatians 3.14, Ephesians 3, Colossians 1, I Timothy 2, I Timothy 3).
Perhaps the clearest passage in Scripture on this is Paul's almost rant in Ephesians 2:
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
It is accurate to say that ethnic prejudice has no place in the church, but it is not enough. The tenor of Jesus' life and commands as well as clear New Testament apostolic admonition is that the church is to be composed of all kinds of people, and that all those people meet together before the Lord on an equal footing. If you are in an urban area, and your church is almost exclusively one ethnicity you need to rethink your approach. I urge you to make a conscious effort to reach all of the ethnicities that are within range of your church's influence.
Next week I am going to give you some pointers on how to do that.