diversity

4 Lessons I Learned in a Multicultural Ministry

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A few years ago, God planted my wife and me down into a neighborhood church was established in the 1800s, but by 2008 the neighborhood had changed from mostly middle-class white to a more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse area. The congregation, for the most part, had not changed with the community.

I was called as the Youth and Education Minister, and we worked to build a youth ministry that reflected the community. I was excited for the opportunity, but I would have no idea what God had in store. I learned many lessons during that fruitful time of ministry, but I want to share four of them with you.

1. The gospel is powerful.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)[1]

In this verse, we see that the gospel is powerful, but you must trust in the gospel and in the God who is behind the gospel and who is the gospel. The gospel has to be central. In his 95 theses, Martin Luther states, “The church’s true treasure is the most holy gospel of God’s glory and grace.”[2] A minister must believe that the gospel is more powerful than any gang, addiction or circumstance.

During our first DiscipleNow weekend, a youth came up to me during one of the invitation times. I will never forget his words: “I choose Jesus over drugs, gangs and girls.” I knew God was up to something. Many of these teenagers had no father at home and were on reduced lunch at school. Some had been tempted (or initiated) by gangs. Some wore dreads and sported tattoos on their arms. Yet these teenagers were baptized in waters that mere decades ago had only had allowed white people to enter.

This church saw that the gospel is for everyone and is powerful enough to change anyone who believes.

These teenagers were baptized in waters that mere decades ago had only had allowed white people to enter.

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

We should bring the gospel to people, but not import non-gospel cultural additions along with it. We should keep the main thing (the gospel) the main thing. In other words, a method of sharing the gospel that works in the suburbs might not necessarily work in the inner city or exurbs (and vice versa). The gospel is the same, but the method of delivering it is not.

True biblical community is not Facebook, country clubs or Holy Huddles, nor is biblical community rooted in our cultural similarities. The redeemed share a common bond, and this commond bond is not a worship style, or clothing style or skin color —it’s the Redeemer. All are invited, but they are not invited to stay the same. The gospel transforms and the Spirit sanctifies all believers from all kinds of backgrounds.

3. All people are made in God’s image.

All people are made in God’s Image (Genesis 1:27, 9:6; James 3:9). This truth is foundational to life and especially ministry. Unfortunately, we are tempted to forget this truth when we see people who are different than us. Yet practicing the “Golden Rule” (“Do to others as you would have them do to you”) can help us navigate difficult circumstances and realize that the person we are interacting with is an Image Bearer, just like us.

Since everyone is made in God’s image, expect to be taught and not just do the teaching. Be open to wisdom from unsuspecting people and places. Regularly seek wisdom from those around you.

4. Develop leaders that reflect your neighborhood.

The apostles “summoned” the other disciples to “pick out from among you” (Acts 6:2-3). Paul exhorted Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9) to establish leadership from local men. So the Bible encourages us to seek out leaders from among the people where we serve.[3] Don’t be diverse for the sake of diversity, but be diverse for the sake of the gospel. Develop leaders that reflect the neighborhood. May the makeup of your church reflects the reality of heaven (Revelation 7:9-10).

To find these leaders, pray and seek the Lord. Plead with Him. Be deliberate about raising up leaders. Don’t just pray and ask God to do something. Go out and work. Meet, invest and disciple potential leaders that God has identified to you. Do the work of a farmer. Build up these leaders and release them for meaningful ministry. This may mean they leave your church to be called somewhere else. You may be the answer to Lecrae’s plea, “See Eric is better used to our truths in his context. Somebody please plant a church in his projects.”[4]

Also, partner with other like-minded gospel-centered churches and organizations. The work is too big for one local church. After all, we work for the Kingdom.

Conclusion

Get out of your comfort zone. After all, God owns everything (Psalm 24:1). Don’t be afraid to learn a new culture or listen to different styles of music. Don’t forget the fact that you do not grow God’s Kingdom, no matter the gifts and talents God has gifted to you. Only He does that (1 Corinthians 3). You stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before you; those who have prayed, shared, led and taught.

A brother in Christ, Daniel Reyes, shared some thoughts on this point. He said,

My family was blessed to be part of a multicultural, multi-ethnic body of believers. We were first drawn to this church by way of a medical/dental outreach hosted by the local church in our community. Together we ministered to this group of white, black and mostly Hispanic kids. We were a church youth group living and loving, and growing and learning together in our faith, regardless of our color. Being a part of something so special gave me a glimpse of what Heaven will be like.

He is Chicano and I am white. Before Christ, he was in the Texas state prison three separate times for violent crime. I have had a few speeding tickets. Yet in the church, God united us both. He worked through us both. And he made us a team that only God could have brought together.

God changed and formed me as a disciple and man during this season at this church. He reminded me that he is the ultimate uniter.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations will be from the English Standard Version.

[2] Martin Luther: The Ninety-Five Theses and Other Writings, trans. by William R Russell (New York: Penguin Books), 9.

[3] It may be necessary, when establishing a ministry, to bring leaders from the outside, such as Paul and Barnabas, etc. However, the goal should always be a church that is led by local, qualified men.

[4] Lecrae, “Beautiful Feet”

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  • diversity
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Matthew Helton

Matthew Helton is a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Seminary (SEBTS). He has been in Student Ministry for nearly 20 years and now serves as the Equipping Pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in Kennesaw, GA. He and his wife, Katie, an attorney and also a student at SEBTS, have four children. He holds an M.Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from SEBTS in Ethics. His relationship with Christ and the Bible have truly transformed his life. He loves books that make you think, strong coffee, and being with family and friends

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