Category: Cultural Competency

The Promising Future of Small Churches Powerpoint

I have posted the PowerPoint presentation titled, “The Promising Future of Small Churches.” I gave this presentation at the BGAV’s most recent Small Church conference at Grace Hills Baptist Church in Appomattox, Virginia on August 25, 2018. I’ll be posting additional info on this in the future.

In addition, I have also created a new page on this blog titled, “Engaged Church Info.” I posted the slideshow on this page as well, and I’ll add other resources about churches engaging their communities in the future.

I really believe that the most promising future for small church vitality is community engagement. I’ll be describing, resourcing, and encouraging small churches to engage their communities in a variety of ways. A future conference on “engaged churches” is in the preliminary planning stages. I’ll keep you posted as that develops!

The Ethics of Outreach

‘No Muslim Parking’ Sign Angers US MuslimsI have read lots of articles on church outreach in my thirty years of ministry. I’ve even written a few myself. However, I have never read an article on the ethics of outreach. Maybe it’s time for a look at the ethics of outreach. Here’s why.

In Hibbing, Minnesota, according to the KSMP-TV, the local Fox affiliate, a Muslim woman who had registered for a September 28 conference was asked to leave when she showed up for the meeting wearing a hijab. Previously the women’s conference advertising had stated, “All women are invited,” according to the station.

Ironically, the event organizers were People of the Book Ministries, a Christian outreach ministry to Muslims. Cynthia Khan, presenter for the conference, said that videos and material “offensive” to Muslims would be distributed. For that reason Khan asked that Rania Elsweisy, the hijab-wearing Muslim woman, be escorted from the conference.

As a result of Ms. Elsweisy’s ejection, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a discrimination lawsuit against People of the Book Ministries.

“The only reason I was kicked out of the event was because of my religion, Islam,” said Elsweisy. “It is truly hurtful to be treated like you are lesser than somebody or that you don’t qualify to be talked to and treated equally as others,” according to the station’s website.

While the public discrimination suit will be worked out in civil courts, there is something ironic about a Christian ministry ejecting a member of the very group they claim to be trying to reach.

While I do not question the intentions of People of the Book, I do take issue with the ethics, or lack of ethics, involved here. Add to this incident a Texas megachurch that offered cars, flat-screen TVs, bikes, and other prizes for attending church on Easter, and my conclusion is that Christians do have an ethical problem with some forms of outreach.

All of this brings up the question, “Is there an ethical standard for Christian outreach programs and ministries?” Let me suggest five ethical standards that Christian outreach programs should adhere to:

1. Outreach must be open and transparent to all, including those being reached. In the Minnesota example, presenters knew that their material was offensive to Muslims, and probably for self-evident reasons, did not want Muslims present. However, Christians must ask themselves if our attitudes, strategies, and materials aimed toward those we are trying to reach are hostile, demeaning, or degrading, should we use them at all. Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lobbied to have the label “heathen” dropped when referring to the Chinese people she ministered to.

2. Outreach must exhibit a genuine love and respect for individuals and their cultures. Demonizing the “other,” especially in the fraught relationships between the Muslim and Western worlds, may be an effective fundraising technique but is a poor strategy for loving neighbors who may not be like us. Jesus used the “other” — a Samaritan — as example of neighborliness in his parable we call the Good Samaritan. That’s quite a difference from presenting material that is known to be offensive to another culture.

3. Outreach must be grounded in the Deuteronomic command to “love God” and to “love your neighbor.” Jesus taught that these two commandments summarized all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all we need to know and practice as followers of Jesus is love for God and love for others.

4. Outreach ends do not justify unscrupulous means. Evangelism methodologies continue to struggle with the idea that Christians must do “whatever it takes” to reach the world for Christ. However, the means we use to reach the world must be consistent with the message we present to the world. Christians cannot trick, deceive, misrepresent or mislead others into the Kingdom of God. Neither can we buy the attention of non-Christians through games of chance, lucky numbers, or attendance incentives. Jesus fed people, but he fed them after they listened all day, not to get them to listen.

5. Finally, although this is the first ethical principle, outreach must be modeled on the Trinitarian action of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The theology of the Triune God must inform our purpose, our practice, and our presence to those who do not know the good news of God. Trinitarian outreach is characterized by love, self-giving, incarnation, sacrifice, humility, patience, winsomeness, and hospitality.

Pastors and church leaders are assailed weekly with the news that church attendance is declining, baptisms are at all-time lows, and young adults are leaving the church in droves. That news, distressing as it may be, cannot become the pretext for desperate and unethical outreach strategies that discredit the Gospel and further damage the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Why We Still Need (Some) Monocultural Churches

Immigrant-children-ellis-island
Immigrant children at Ellis Island. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Multicultural churches are all the rage these days. Conferences are packed with pastors learning how to start multicultural churches, or how to turn the churches they pastor into one. That long-overdue trend is welcomed because God is the God of diversity. In light of God’s call to reconciliation, churches ought to reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods.

But, we still need monocultural churches, particularly among newly-arrived immigrant populations. Here are six reasons why.

1. Monocultural churches can provide a safe haven for minorities within a dominant majority culture. After the Civil War ended in 1865, emancipated African Americans left their former white masters’ churches to form black congregations. The rich history of the American black church is one not only of worship, but as the hub of the African American community. For minority populations, especially newly-arrived immigrant populations, monocultural churches can provide this same safe haven today.

2. Monocultural churches allow for minority perspectives to develop and be heard. On a national scale, American Christianity was shocked into reality with the publication of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. The subtitle should have been Freeing the Church from White Cultural Captivity, because Professor Rah writes compellingly of the “white captivity of the church.” Dr. Rah’s advocacy for other voices — voices of minorities — to be heard and respected could be realized if white churches and leaders recognize and listen to the voices from Korean, Laotian, West African, African American, and other churches whose members are in the minority in American cultural life.

3. Monocultural churches can provide a connection to home, customs, language, ritual and power structures that generations of immigrants wish to retain. The myth of the American melting pot has been debunked as Americans of all ethnicities have attempted to connect with their ancestral roots. For those in the minority, the identity fostered by language, dress, ritual, and customs is difficult to retain, but important to remember.

4. Monocultural churches can become points of transition, assisting newcomers to America as they navigate their new culture. When I traveled in China, I was always interested in talking to Americans who had lived and worked in China to find out what restaurants they frequented, where they shopped, and how they learned the Chinese language. The same need exists in new immigrants to this country. Those from their own countries can help new immigrants negotiate the meaning and pace of American life.

5. Monocultural churches help resist the marginalization of minority groups. The danger any minority faces is not only being assimilated into their new culture, but being absorbed and marginalized by it. Monocultural churches, like the black church, have given rise to a unique expression of the Christian faith, and established a unique place for its people in American church life. White churches and denominations must reject outreach to minority populations because they are the answer to white church or denominational decline.

6. Finally, monocultural churches do not confirm the notorious church growth teaching called the “homogeneous unit principle.” Church growth studies advocated that because people (usually white) found it easier to be with people like them, it followed that homogeneous churches would grow more quickly and easily. However, monocultural churches are not excluders, but incubators that allow potentially fragile populations to establish themselves, grow, develop a unique witness, and thrive in the rich diversity of American church life.

Of course, none of these reasons is intended to sanction prejudice, discrimination, or exclusion in any church. In the Book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem cared for its Jewish widows and its Greek widows as well.

However, before you jump on the bandwagon of exclusive multiculturalism, remember that historically monocultural churches like German Lutherans, English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterian, British Anglican, and others established themselves in colonial America. These monocultural churches became incubators for those who came to these shores seeking freedom, which included the freedom to add their past to a new American future.

What Paula Deen Should Have Learned

booksBy now the story that Paula Deen casually admitted she had used racial epithets is old news. Further revelations that she also considered a “plantation-themed” wedding complete with white-jacketed African American men waiters contributed to the narrative of Deen as racially-insensitive at best, and racist at worst.

The admission by Deen that she has used the n-word sparked a social media debate about whether or not she is being treated fairly by the mainstream media. The New York Times reported over the weekend fans still waited in line at Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, while Deen’s defenders rallied online to her cause.

On the other side of the argument, Food Network revealed it will not renew her contract, which means her Emmy-winning cooking show will disappear taking with it her TV audience. Cable TV shopping channel QVC said it is monitoring the situation but it has no plans for Deen to appear to hawk her cookware anytime soon. USA Today quoted public relations pundits who said “Deen is done.”

Why do fans defend Deen while cable TV shows drop her faster than you can say buttered biscuits? Because Food Network and QVC understand what Deen and her fans don’t — in the US market, commercial brands cannot appear to be racist.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Brands like the Aunt Jemima brand and logo have been revised over the years, transforming Aunt Jemima from the bandana-wearing “mammy” of an idealized Southern plantation life, to a contemporary portrait of an attractive African American woman.

For their own economic survival, US corporations have made conscious efforts to change logos and narratives that were tied to a racist past. Paula Deen built a cooking empire on the idea of Southern charm and eccentricity embodied in over-the-top recipes and her Southern drawl. What Deen never learned was that her brand had to steer clear of the darkside of Southern history and life.

Deen’s casual “of course” admission revealed her obliviousness to the changing world around her. Gone with more than the wind is the fantasy of the South that Deen parlayed into a personal fortune. While US consumers may not mind the extra calories in her dishes, she can’t serve them with a side helping of racism.

The Possibility of Church-led Reconciliation

Almost fifty years ago, a Baptist minister stood before a sea of hopeful people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to share the dream God had given him. On that day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”[1]

Regrettably, Dr. King’s dream remains unrealized in many communities across America. Rather than diminishing with the gains of the civil rights movement, alienation and inequality between races and classes is more prevalent in American society today than it was in 1975.[2] Black and white, rich and poor, educated and unskilled – these represent some of the groups at odds in today’s American communities.

Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that churches have a role to play[3] in tearing down barriers and in building bridges to that vision he called “the beloved community.”

“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community,” according to King. In the beloved community persons and groups are reconciled to one another by God’s “divine love in lived social relation.”[4]

The Apostle Paul affirmed the church’s mission as one of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). While many churches understand reconciliation primarily as a “private affair between God and the individual,”[5] less emphasis has been placed on reconciliation between persons and groups within local communities.[6]

Reconciliation, according to the Ubuntu theology[7] of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is “bringing together that which is separated, alienated, ruptured, sick, or broken.”[8] Reconciliation, Tutu argues, is the ministry of the Church and the “center of our life and work as Christians.”[9]

In communities throughout the United States, there is much that needs to be reconciled. In my state, Virginia’s history boasts both the grand and glorious, and the dark and ignominious. From the colonial era through the Civil War, Virginia’s slave trade was robust. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson – did not apply to Africans brought in chains involuntarily to the South.[10] The lingering effects of slavery, and the living descendants of slaves and slave-owners, make it impossible for those in our community to escape easily the injustices of the past.

Reconciliation has also been defined as “a journey from the past into the future, a journey from estrangement to communion, or from what was patently unjust in search of a future that is just.”[11] Given Virginia’s colonial history, its role in the Civil War, and its resistance to desegregation, reconciliation must revisit the past with honesty, and then forge a new way forward.

In December 2005, our small, historic white congregation opened its doors to host a Boys and Girls Club, the first after-school club in our county. As a result of that decision dozens of children, black and white, descended on the church fellowship hall each weekday afternoon. This was the church’s first experience hosting a racially-integrated program.

Because of the church’s involvement with the Boys and Girls Club, Chatham Baptist Church was asked to host the 2008 Martin Luther King Day celebration in Chatham. At the conclusion of the program that day, the African American pastor who moderated the meeting asked everyone in the congregation to stand, join hands, and sing “We Shall Overcome.” Before we began to sing, he looked at me as I stood at the front of the sanctuary. He said, “Pastor, people notice what you’re doing here.” His words of encouragement confirmed what I had hoped for: reconciliation was possible in our community.

Some might argue that the alienation brought about by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation is a forgotten chapter in a long dead past. Douglas Massey, however, argues against that notion:

‘History aside, there are also good social scientific reasons to expect that categorical mechanisms of racial stratification will prove resistant to change. We know, for example, that once learned, cognitive structures do not simply disappear. Racial schemas honed over generations tend to persist in the minds of adults and get passed on to children in conscious and unconscious ways.”[12]

The story that is passed on to the children of any community is important. For too long the children of our nation in both the South and the North have been bequeathed the cultural legacy of prejudice and privilege, or difference and discrimination. For that to change, churches like mine must imagine and bequeath a new legacy through a ministry of reconciliation. That would be a new story for this community, and one worth passing on to future generations everywhere.


[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed The World, 104.

[2] Douglas S. Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, xvi.

[3] King, I Have a Dream, 95-98.

[4] Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, 1-2.

[5] John W. de Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, 34.

[6] Ibid., 19.

[7] Michael Battle, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu, 5.

[8] Ibid.,180.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Putnam, American Grace, Location 588.

[11] de Gruchy, Reconciliation, 28.

[12] Massey, Categorically Unequal, 52.

Reconciliation and the Ministry of the Local Church

I’ve been busy writing my Fuller DMin dissertation on the church as a reconciling community. Two things are becoming more apparent to me each day that I research and write on this topic. First, the church’s primary ministry is reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:

 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV/1984)

I believe that as part of the two great commandments that Jesus taught — love God, love others — reconciliation is between God and us, and between persons and groups. Reconciliation covers a lot of territory including forgiveness, repentance, apology, mediation, peace-making, restorative justice, race relations, class and gender issues, and so on.  Reconciliation is a big tent that needs further exploration by local churches.

Secondly, the Church is getting left behind in the search for the methods and means to reconciliation between persons and groups. We’re pretty good at proclaiming and teaching about the reconciliation God offers us as God’s creation, but we’re not so good at extending that reconciliation to others, both as individuals and as groups. For example, a recent study (which I’ll write about tomorrow) indicated that “marrying out is in.” In other words, interracial or cross-cultural marriages are increasing in our society. I have yet to see anyone address constructively this developing trend. I know in our community interracial couples (meaning black and white) are rarely part of anybody’s congregation.

I intend to write more about reconciliation, and how churches can develop an intentional and thoughtful ministry of reconciliation including consideration of multiculturalism, race relations, social and economic class, and gender issues.  Marriage is a hot topic right now, and part of the reason for the high level of both interest and hysteria is unreconciled differences between persons and groups of persons within our communities.

Finally, although I’ve used my two points, reconciliation practices open the door to masses of unreached people who are not like us in at least one way — color, country, faith, or class being four of the biggest categories that divide people. Of course, I realize that there are “irreconcilable differences” sometimes, but most of our differences are caused by a lack of understanding and intentionality about reconciliation and all its attendant corollaries. I hope you’ll stick around and comment on some of my thoughts in this area. Peace.