BR photo/Dianna L. Cagle
David Moore, left, Baptist State Convention senior consultant, leads panelists through questions relating to working with multi-ethnic churches. The panelists were: Glenda Reece, international ministry coordinator at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh; Jairo Contreras, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Cristo Vive and New Hope Baptist Church; and Simon Touprong, pastor of Asian American Outreach in Greensboro.
This year’s Heavenly Banquet Nov. 8 offered a small picture of what heaven might look like.
With 160 participants from various tribes, tongues and nations, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) multicultural ministries offered participants a chance to learn from a multicultural church planter and a panel of experts working with various ethnic groups.
“If Jesus loves everybody, why then does the local church not reflect that,” said Derwin L. Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C.
Gray played professional football with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. His multi-ethnic, multi-generational church was named the second fastest growing church by percentage and the 14th-fastest growing church by number of participants in America in 2010, according to Outreach magazine.
Known as the “evangelist linebacker,” Gray, who grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness home and attended a historically Baptist college in Texas, talked of God’s sense of humor.
Gray said he found his validity in playing football. His greatest fear was not being able to play.
It was through a Christian teammate that Gray began to learn about God’s love for him.
“The NFL would not teach me to love my wife,” Gray said, but God’s Word has opened up many avenues for him to learn how to be a better husband, father and pastor.
Gray said it was important for him to use different musical genres to reach a variety of people at Transformation Church.
“We dropped our preferences for the Prince of Peace,” he said.
“On that blood-soaked cross Jesus gave us His all. There’s only one race … the human race. Are we allowing the gospel … to fully integrate into our life?”
During the banquet, there was a panel of experts: Glenda Reece, international ministry coordinator at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh; Jairo Contreras, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Cristo Vive and New Hope Baptist Church; and Simon Touprong, pastor of Asian American Outreach in Greensboro. David Moore, BSC senior consultant, led the panel through a series of questions about their ministries.
Reece said Forest Hills ministers to at least 11 different people groups through its ministry.
Reece admitted some resistance from the all-white congregation during the late 70s, early 80s, but the church held cross-cultural workshops to try to teach the congregation to love its neighbors.
“Our people have learned and felt good” to be part of this growing ministry, she said. “If God puts them on your doorstep it is a sin to walk blindly [over them].”
Being so close to North Carolina State University offers Forest Hills a front seat to international missions. “God did not call us to plant a perfect church,” she said.
Reece shared a story of a visiting professor from China who “desperately needed English.” The church offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes using the Bible as an English book.
She advised people to make good on their promises. If they say it is an English class, teach English. Within four months, that professor went from not believing in a god to believing in the Almighty God.
When asked what the future church in America will look like, a frustrated look spread across Reece’s face.
“I would like to say the church of the future would look like this room, but we need to reach the people not in this room. Are we just preaching to the choir?”
Contreras ministers to mostly Central American people but his church has African-American and Anglo leaders participating to appeal to a wider audience. “Never give up,” Contreras urged. “Try your best.”
Churches should look at what the people in the community need and work on building a foundation through relationships.
Contreras would like to see fully integrated churches everywhere, but he realizes there are a lot of barriers with language and culture.
Touprong said he resisted God’s call to plant a church at first, but “following God’s will is much more important” than being comfortable. Starting in 2008 with just 12 people, Asian American Outreach didn’t experience much growth for about a year.
Then, God began to bring more people. Touprong advised flexibility to churches. He shared a story of an African-American visitor who started crying during the worship music.
Touprong moved the invitation to accommodate the Holy Spirit working in that man’s life.
In the future, Touprong said he hopes “to have every church a multicultural church.”
After the lunch Gray sold copies of his book – Hero: Unleashing God’s Power in a Man’s Heart. Gray and Ken Tan, BSC multicultural team leader, led a breakout session later that day on becoming a church for all people.