A few years ago I accompanied my wife and a few of our congregation’s members to the women’s conference sponsored by our local IPHC conference. The majority of the attendees were Caucasian women, with only a few Latinos and African-Americans. The leadership, music, worship and speakers were all white. We felt welcomed. There were no racial overtones, nor was there any hint of exclusivity. Yet we felt like invited guests rather than proprietary participants. Then a cultural metamorphosis was initiated that would transform the dynamics of the conference. My wife was invited to serve on the women’s ministry board and was surprisingly elected to serve as the director. Over the years, the annual conference has evolved into a celebration of diversity, as women from various nations, races and culture come together to worship Jesus and fellowship with each other. A team comprising of women from various cultural backgrounds lead a diverse group in praise and worship, singing in English and Spanish, accompanied by musical styles ranging from African to traditional American. The atmosphere and sentiments suggest that everyone is an integral part of the conference. The transition did not isolate anyone. It simply gave birth to a new experience for everyone. And it gave each woman, regardless of her race or culture, a sense of ownership.
As the church faces a society increasingly characterized by diversity and equality, we must attempt to be at the forefront of that evolution. In fact, we must give life and legitimacy to it! Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once lamented the reality of racial barriers in the church. “It is appalling,” he said, “that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” King’s words still apply today in many parts of our country. While we cannot ignore the progress that has been made, we must be willing to admit that the church needs to intensify its effort to reflect the diversity that is progressively defining our contemporary culture. We have many more barriers to break. Diversity is a reflection of God’s creativity. As believers, we have been called to declare and display His glory. We can do so by introducing the world to a symphonic display of collaboration in which God is celebrated through cultural diversity. Here are some important guidelines to consider in seeking to break cultural barriers in your church.
1. BE INTENTIONAL. We must be willing to embrace change as a prerequisite to maintaining relevance. One cannot deny that contemporary culture represents a dynamic merger of our unique differences. If winning people to Christ and discipling them is our mission, then we must seek to adapt the gospel to the new cultural evolution. The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). If your church is still focused on maintaining a particular culture, it will eventually become lifeless and irrelevant. There are almost 75 million millennials in America, and none of them are interested in preserving any particular culture. They are committed to diversity, and they view exclusivity as insensitive and repulsive. Being intentional about breaking cultural barriers is not optional; it is an absolute necessity.
2. BE SENSITIVE. Breaking down cultural barriers will not be accomplished without some level of resistance. Many churches make the mistake of implementing drastic changes without considering the feelings and opinions of those who have worked hard to help sustain the ministry. It is not necessary to disregard or rewrite history but rather, we must seek to create a fresh perspective by introducing a new narrative governed by God’s love for humanity. Consider what Jesus said in an effort to calm the fears of the religious people of his day. He said: “Do not think I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). In attempting to break the cultural barriers in your church, consider being a bridge builder rather than a revolutionary. Seek to integrate every one into the vision rather than accomplishing your objective at the expense of others. Regardless of how gentle and compassionate you approach this subject, some may still reject it. But you will have done it God’s way!
3. BE TRANSPARENT. When transparency is at the foundation of any relationship, the resulting benefit is understanding and oneness. Human beings have a tendency to fear what they do not know, therefore when change is initiated without a proper conversation, resistance is an inevitable outcome. Most people would embrace a cultural shift if we simply engaged in transparent dialogue. We must get to know each other and allow our uniqueness to unify us rather than pull us apart. In the last twenty years, I have been fortunate to lead multicultural congregations. My current congregation is a mixture of various cultures. Our worship style is a reflection of our diversity, and our conversations are guarded by cultural sensitivity. The members of my church come from the United States, Africa, various parts of the Caribbean and Central America. We have become one body, integrating our unique cultures into a dynamic worship experience. Earlier, I mentioned the transition that occurred among the women of our conference. It was not that racism or indifference existed in our conference. We just did not know each other. We needed to talk! Once we did, a new narrative was born and a declining conference was reenergized for future generations. If you have a desire to break down the cultural barriers, I urge you to start a transparent conversation. It could lead to a transformational experience in your church.
4. BE INCLUSIVE. Jesus said, “By this shall men know you are my disciples if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). A significant barometer of love is the value that we place on each other. Inviting people to share in our worship and church experiences while marginalizing their cultural background forces them to suppress a significant facet of their lives. Create opportunities for the people in your church to express their culture. If you are a pastor seeking to break the cultural barriers in your church, you can begin by organizing special services to recognize and celebrate the various cultures represented in your congregation and community. It will help to sensitize your congregation and initiate the process of cultural integration. It is important to note that diversity must be celebrated within the context of kingdom principles. Several centuries ago, as Christianity was introduced to the Caribbean, the Catholic Church sought to make it more palatable by retaining many of the demonic practices of the former slaves. They attached religious connotations to these practices, hence creating a culture of spiritual compromise. That is not the way to break cultural barriers! So often, in its efforts to become relevant, the church dilutes its values. Our primary purpose for breaking the cultural barriers should be to win people to Christ, not to simply add to our church membership. We should not be guided by fear, but we must be cautious as we embrace a platform of diversity.
This article was published in the Nov/Dec 2018 Issue of Encourage Magazine
Written By: Dr. Paul Carrette