Tag: soong chan rah

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.

Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches

 

MSNBC reports this morning that “For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.”  

But not only will this demographic change to a “majority of minorities” impact government policies, it will also impact small churches.  The article points out what we already knew:  minority populations are growing at a faster pace than the aging white population.  The previously reported American Community Survey had pegged white children under 2 as 51% of that demographic, but larger than estimated rates of minority births have moved the needle.  White children under 2 are now just below 50% of that group.

What does this mean for small churches?  First, small churches, especially rural or small town churches, tend to be segregated by race.  Obviously with a declining white population the handwriting is on the wall.  Small, predominantly white churches will either broaden their outreach or eventually die as their members age and die.

But, white churches cannot just say “We need minorities to survive” because that demonstrates a self-serving attitude that is not biblical.  Attitudes change slowly among older church members, but even older members can be led to broaden their vision, and begin to take intentional steps to reach out.

Most small churches will need to develop what Wendell Griffen calls “cultural competency.”   This involves an understanding and appreciation for the ethnic diversity of God’s creation.  And, it involves understanding that to meaningfully reach out to others means more that “signing them up.”  It also involves sharing decision-making, leadership, and authority.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah, who wrote The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, has excellent insights to offer in his book, and on his blog.  If you haven’t read his book, it is one of the must-reads for this decade, and will give you (if you are white) an entirely different perspective on how other ethnic groups view evangelicalism as a whole.

Add to this new perspective, the additional insight that now married couples comprise less than 50% of US households for the first time; that same-sex couples are now 1-in-10 of unmarried couples living together; and, that several states, my own Virginia included, will flip to “minority-majority” status in the next 10 years, and we have the ingredients for major sociological shifts.

What we do not need are shrill voices of doom using these figures and trends to forecast the end of society as we know it.  Social patterns, including family patterns, in the US and world are changing.  These changes present challenges to churches in communicating the gospel, and in reaching out to include a diverse representation of our communities within our congregations.

Zondervan Models Repentance, Humility By Pulling Controversial Book

Zondervan Publishing announced yesterday that it is pulling all the copies and support material for its controversial Deadly Viper Character Assassins book.   Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and others in the Asian-American Christian community pointed out the culturally offensive title and content of the book to the authors and to Zondervan Publishing. The company listened, and then did the right thing by withdrawing the book from distribution permanently.

You can follow this story as it has developed on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog by starting here and working your way back through his updates on this incident.  Professor Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity.  Rah has challenged other Christian publishing house gaffes — one in 2004 from LifeWay’s VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, in which Asian culture is co-opted for a cutesy but stereotypical depiction.  Zondervan had another faux pas regarding Asian-Americans in a skit book published in 2006 in Skits That Teach.

While LifeWay did not recall the offensive VBS Rickshaw Rally, and actually was rather hostile to the objections of Dr. Rah and others, Zondervan did recall the skit book and deleted the skit that stereotyped Asian speech patterns in offensive ways.  Seems Zondervan is batting 2-for-2 in doing the right thing.

To avoid future mistakes of this nature, Zondervan’s president, Moe Girkins issued this comment, which I have excerpted from the full Zondervan statement:

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is to be commended for the courage, humility, and sacrifice they have made in righting an inadvertent wrong so quickly and completely.  Their stock just went up in my estimation.

Soong-Chan Rah has acted as prophet to the white-dominant Christian culture.  Like many prophets, not everyone has appreciated Rah’s position and some have responded with insensitivity themselves, further compounding and confirming racial and ethnic insensitivity by our largely Eurocentric culture.

Futurists predict that by 2050 there will be no majority ethnicities in the United States.  That’s only 40-years from now, and the cultural landscape will look much different.  The United States has elected its first biracial, African-American president.  The national Republican party chairman is also African-American, and the Republican governor of Louisiana is of Asian Indian descent.  The lone Republican vote cast for healthcare reform in the U. S. House of Representatives was cast by a Anh “Joseph” Cao, Vietnamese born congressman from Louisiana.  My point is that the seeds of ethnic diversity and change are already apparent in our culture.

Churches and Christian organizations, such as Zondervan, are awakening to the new reality that their congregations and audiences are no longer just white, but consist of a rainbow coalition of ethnicities.  This is the future of the United States, the world, and of our Christian communities.  I am reminded of John’s description of the multitude which occupied the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation — “from every kindred, tongue, and nation.”  We might add to the “one anothers” in the New Testament “be sensitive to one another” as we follow Zondervan’s lead of repentance and humility.

A Non-Conference Worth Noting

The Deeper Church Non-Conference sponsored by missonalcommons.org is worth noting.  As a rule I do not promote conferences and seminars on my blog — except the ones I speak at, of course, which is shameless self-promotion I admit.   There are just too many conferences and most of them cost a small fortune.  But these guys are doing something different — a non-conference for FREE!

That’s right, kiddies!  Free.  FREE!  No charge, no fancy promo, no sign-up now and get a big discount.  They do have a Facebook page where you can tell them you’re coming, but that’s it.   Also, no paid speakers, no book signings, no celebrity guru stuff.  Here’s what David Fitch (The Great Giveaway) says:

Amazing! We’re doing it again. A bunch of us missional pastors/leaders/church planters are gathering in Ft Wayne, Indiana to encourage each other and discuss the stuff of doing missional church as communities. We call it a Non/Conference because there are no fees, no paid speakers and big sponsors selling stuff. –  IT’S FREE!!!! – It’s just a bunch of people gathering to pray, talk Missional church and encourage one another in the Spirit. This year, on the Friday night, we’re gathering to discuss the questions of racism and diversity in missional church. We’re reading Soong-Chan Rah’s book The Next Evangelicalism. If you come to this, be sure to have read the book, and be prepared for some serious theological/cultural engagement. On Saturday, the day is wide open for conversations led by various pastor/leaders. NO PREPARATION NEEDED – JUST COME AND JOIN IN!! The theme is “Deeper Church: Churches as Whole Communities.”

I sat in on David’s seminar at NOC09, and he had some really good stuff to say about what his small missional church is doing in the Chicago area.  So, he’s doing the ministry he talks, teaches, and writes about.  Anyway, click on over to his blog, and read the rest for yourself.  I may just show up there in Ft. Wayne for this one.

Let’s add value to the Kingdom, rather than milking it for all we can get

Over at Harvard Business’s online blog, Umair Haque launches a blistering attack on Wonga, a UK payday lender that charges 2,689% annual interest!  In other words, a $100 loan paid back a year later will cost the borrower $2,689.  Incredibly, Haque points out that three venture capital firms have invested in Wonga because they think they’ll get a great return.  Haque disagrees, and contends that Wonga is part of what got us into this financial crisis in the first place — greed.

Haque says that Wonga has the worst business plan in the world because it is based on extracting value from others rather than creating value for others.  Creating value is the new business model, Haque argues.  Which brings me to the spate of requests, solicitations, and “check out my site” invitations that I get every day.  From Facebook to Twitter to email to snail mail, I am bombarded everyday with Christian ministries trying to sell me something.   Half my “friends” on Facebook and more than half my followers on Twitter are pushing something they want me to buy — trying to extract value from me rather than create value for me.

I have often thought that if you have a better way to win people to Jesus, or a better way to do church, or a tried-and-true method of discipleship, shouldn’t you give it away?  Shouldn’t we all be trying to add value to the Kingdom, rather than extract all we can from it?

And, if we all did that — pooled our collective gifts, talents, and abilities — wouldn’t we all be better off? Wouldn’t the Kingdom cause advance more quickly and effectively?  Instead, we’re all trying to sell stuff to each other.

The whole “Christian-industrial complex” reminds me of an well-known multi-level marketing event I went to several years ago.  Turns out the speakers made more money from selling how-to tapes, books, CDs, and trinkets than they did actually running their businesses.  The same thing is true of those real estate infomercials, or other pitches offering you the tried-and-proven secrets to making a million dollars.  But first they have to sell you their system for $299 or $29 or whatever.

Of course, I want to write books, too.  I want to speak at conferences, too.  But, first I want to create some value for you and others like you who pastor small churches like I do.  I try to do that, and I try to give away the best that I do — sermons, ideas, methods, outreach programs, links to articles — so you can get value from them.

I realize that goods and services cost real dollars to produce.  But it seems like we have more folks trying to extract value from us, rather than add value to us.  Soong Chan Rah, in his new book The Next Evangelicalism,  laments the fact that while there are only about 150 “emerging” churches in the US, over 50 books have been published about the “emerging church.”  Where, he asks, are books about minority pastors who drive a taxi during the day, attend seminary at night, and pastor their churches on the weekend?

Les Puryear at Joining God In His Work has had little success trying to get a book about small church ministry published.  Why?   Book agents say publishers see it as a small niche market — in other words, they can’t make any money.

But, what if we in small churches created our own network of individuals, ideas, books, resources, and encouragement.   And what if we gave it all away for free because we are the ones creating it?  An “unconference” of small church leaders could develop its own agenda, collaborate to produce its own content, and present it to any and all who wanted it for free.  Same for resources, videos, outreach methods, sermons, Bible studies, mission projects, and so on.

What do you think?  Am I just crazy, or are you tired of all the promotion and hucksterism today?  Let’s do something about it.  Let’s start our own small church resource conversation and figure out how we can add value to the Kingdom.  Let me know what you think.  Our church is available as a host site, we can cook our own meals, plan our own agenda, and I’ll find homes to stay in for anyone who’s interested.  Any takers?

Evangelical leaders overlook minorities in expected US church decline

In a National Association of Evangelicals survey from May, NAE board members polled were pessimistic about the growth of churches in the U.S.. However, according to the NAE website, there was overall optimism that Christianity would grow worldwide, but that growth would primarily occur Africa, South America, Asia, and even China.  The NAE site stated:

“Evangelical leaders are very bullish on the future growth of Christianity, except in America,” according to Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The group surveyed, all NAE board members, is made up of CEOs of 60 denominations, plus other evangelical organizations from publishing to education.

But, are these NAE leaders overlooking minority ethnic groups and churches in their pessimism?  According to Soong-Chan Rah’s new book, The Next Evangelicalism, they might be.  The book is subtitled, Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, and Rah pulls back the curtain to reveal a burgeoning ethnic church that is alive, well, and growing in the United States.  These ethnic minorities, many of them immigrants from majority world countries, are often overlooked in the count of congregations and in leadership conferences.

Soong-Chan Rah, a Korean-American who teaches church growth and evangelism at North Park Seminary, contends that these ethnic churches and their leaders are often invisible to the white evangelical community.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States.”  p. 14

Rah cites three areas which he contends form the “western, white cultural captivity of the church” in the US:  individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism.  These he calls the heartbeat (individualism); soul (consumerism); and residue (racism) of the white church culture.

My online friend Shaun King, a young African-America pastor in Atlanta, recently decried in no uncertain terms the closed circle of white church experts who are featured in conference after conference.  Rah echoes King’s frustration:

“While the demographics of Christianity are changing both globally and locally, the leadership of American evangelicalism continues to be dominated by white Americans.”

The message a sea of white faces sends, according to Rah, is that “the real experts in ministry are whites.  Nonwhites may offer some expertise in specialized areas of ministry (such as urban ministry or racial reconciliation), but the theologians, the general experts, the real shapers and movers of ministry, are whites.”

When you couple Rah’s book with Mark Noll’s new book, The New Shape of World Christianity, you begin to sense that the ground has shifted under an aging, and perhaps ethnically insensitive evangelical church.

Noll recognizes the growing church in the majority world with these words:

But today — when active Christian adherence has become stronger in Africa than in Europe, when the number of practicing Christians in China may be approaching the number in the United States, when live bodies in church are far more numerous in Kenya than in Canada, when more believers worship together in church Sunday by Sunday in Nagaland than in Norway, when India is now home to the world’s largest chapter of the Roman Catholic Jesuit order, and when Catholic mass is being said in more languages each Sunday in the United States than ever before in church history — with such realities defining the present situation, there is a pressing need for  new historical perspectives that explore the new world situation.” p. 10

The question I have about the NAE board is how many are white?  If the answer is what I think it is — probably 95% — then no wonder they are pessimistic about the future of Christianity in the US.  The next question is this — When will we open our eyes to see the diversity of the followers of Christ who may not look like the old face of evangelicalism, but are certainly its new face.

Frankly, I am encouraged by both books by Rah and Noll, which are different perspectives on the same subject — the rise of multi-ethnic Christians around the world.  Maybe if the current crop of evangelical leadership looked up from their reams of reports indicating the decline of their churches, they might see the next wave of new believers ready and eager to step on the stage of Christian history worldwide.  What do you think?

(As is my policy, I purchased both books referenced in this post and received no incentive from anyone to mention these books.)