WINSTON-SALEM — So much time has been invested in fighting for the existence of church and proving the need for church that the question of what the church should actually look like has been largely ignored.
“The goal in the multicultural church is not to make immigrants more like us,” said Larry Phillips, Hispanic coaching consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and former International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, “but rather to share the gospel in a context which they can understand it.”
The BSC recently hosted the Kingdom-Focused Perspective conference at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem to discuss developing multicultural churches in North Carolina.
Phillips does not think it makes much sense to send an International Mission Board missionary to evangelize a people group in a foreign country only to have believers in North Carolina ignore immigrants from that same people group who live in the state.
Consider that in 2008, 7.4 percent of the population in North Carolina was Hispanic, 21 percent African-American. Every week 3,000 Muslims attend services at a mosque in the Raleigh area and 5,000 Asian Indians attend services at two Hindu temples in the Charlotte area. About 180 language groups are represented in this state.
Rodney Woo, a keynote speaker at the Aug. 14-15 event, talked about the challenges of creating a kingdom-focused impact from a biblical perspective. The conference was all about helping church leaders be intentional in multicultural ministry; which, as Woo and every conference speaker emphasized, is indeed a biblical mandate.
Woo pastors the multicultural congregation of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He showed conference participants how the Bible points to a church that looks like heaven, something like “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” (Rev 7:9-11). “We should aim for heaven here on earth,” Woo said.
Woo still has a hard time getting over the fact that evangelical churches in America are more segregated than mainline denominations. “Too many of us are going to have culture shock in heaven,” he said.
Woo, who is half Anglo-American and half Chinese, grew up in a predominately black neighborhood with black friends and attended a predominately black school. He married Sasha, a Latino. With a laugh he told attendees he calls his kids confused — but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing up Woo spent every day, except Sunday when his family attended an all white church, with his black friends. Once Woo felt God calling him into ministry he determined he would not fall into the same pattern of segregation he experienced as a child.
Today, 43 different countries are represented in the Wilcrest congregation. The church really began to grow when the congregation dropped below 50 percent Anglo-American and a majority ethnic group no longer existed. The church has been featured on PBS, CNN and the Dallas Morning News.
Most churches in America look nothing like Wilcrest.
In fact, church leaders have probably heard it said that Sunday at 11 a.m. is the most segregated hour in American culture. Churches do not need to, and they cannot, model exactly the Wilcrest multicultural outreach because not every community is as diverse. The question is not how to model a church after another church, but rather, does the membership of a church represent the local community in which God has placed it? Are people from every skin color, tribe, culture and language within a certain community represented in the church’s attendance and membership?
John Houze of Peoples Baptist Church in Kings Mountain asked participants to think of the body and bride of Christ as being divided and incomplete when not diverse.
People get a mixed message when they hear the church quote the Great Commission and say the gospel is for all people, only to turn around and then segregate the bride of Christ. The light of the church shines brightest and has its greatest evangelistic and missionary element when it is multi-ethnic. Houze said churches going by the “birds of a feather flock together” model have no biblical precedent and actually encourage segregation, deny the power of the gospel and cultivate a consumer Christianity.