Multicultural churches offer lessons in discipleship
3/19/2003 News media contact: Linda Green ∑ (615) 742-5470 ∑ Nashville, Tenn
NOTE: Two sidebars, UMNS stories #150 and #151, are available.
Tenn. (UMNS) - Christian disciples are made, not born, and becoming one
is a lifelong process of discipline and spiritual formation.
Rev. Bryan Stone, professor of evangelism at United Methodist-related
Boston University, discussed the politics of discipleship and growing
multicultural congregations during the March 12-15 meeting of the United
Methodist Board of Discipleship.
"The politics that discipleship
embodies does not come naturally," he said. The shape of this politics
is "revealed" in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. "To be made into a
disciple is to be formed into disciplines and practices that provide us
the resources to resist rival powers and heretical forms of social
imagination, such as the nation-state or the market that would rule our
lives and render us incapable of truly worshipping God."
Politics also impacts the birth, growth and sustainability of multicultural congregations, he said.
said the church is both for and against culture. "Just because a
congregation contains a gathering of diverse cultures, doing a lot of
diverse things and singing diverse songs and eating diverse food, is no
guarantee that what is happening there should be thought of as
Baptism, he said, is the central tenet of making
disciples. The theology of baptism was not born in a seminary but in the
living context of multicultural congregational life, as missionaries
and church leaders sought to determine how Christians are "called to
pull off interethnic inclusion before a watching world."
politics of baptism shapes several callings, all working toward the
ministry of reconciliation, Stone said. The apostle Paul focused on
religious and ethnic diversity, while today's Christians talk about
culture, a word used as a "catch-all place-holder for just about every
imaginable difference in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and
age." The use of the term "culture" muddles the distinction of
"multicultural" and "multiculturalism," he said, making it unclear what
is being talked about.
People have been operating for some time
with a neutral understanding of culture as a diverse, but universal
feature of human existence, he said. In reality, the thought of culture
as a self-contained way of life is being challenged, and the lines
between cultures are increasingly being blurred so that the meaning of
culture is becoming less absolute and cohesive, he said.
ethnic patterns, technology and mobility have affected culture
tremendously in the last 50 years, producing changes in sources of
diversity. "Probably the biggest cultural change for the United States
in the last 30 years is the extent of diversity," Stone said.
congregations are those that noticed changes in the community around
the church and adapted - instead of dying. "Necessity is not only the
mother of invention; it can be the mother of mission," he said. He added
that some congregations become multicultural by accident.
congregations vary, and Stone said they are worth examining and
learning from. One congregation calls itself multicultural but worships
in separate cultural or language groups, coming together monthly for a
multicultural worship service. Another congregation is multicultural
because the members are of different races, ethnicities and cultures. In
most cases, the worship services are traditional euro-American and the
multicultural representation adapts to that style. In other cases, the
church attempts to blend styles to embrace the diversity in the
"Issues of reconciliation are more likely to be confronted and dealt with in these types of congregations," Stone said.
fastest-growing multicultural congregations are "neo-Pentecostal in
style" and something about that style has been successful in uniting
people from across cultures. Pentecostal and charismatic churches have
been the most multicultural, Stone said.
He provided 10 of the
most important practices he has discovered about multicultural
congregations that take Christian disciple-making seriously today. These
¬∑ Practice inclusion. This goes beyond having a
mission statement that touts inclusiveness but engages in inclusive
worship, cross-cultural understanding - the ability to speak, work,
play, and interact across cultures - and inclusive preaching.
proactive in practicing inclusion. They have adopted a mindset where
"their very existence is not only to serve the diverse group of people
who make up the congregation, but to be a church (that) exists for those
who are not even there yet."
¬∑ Tolerate ambiguity. The leaders
work in the margins where there are cultural blunders and
misunderstanding, racism, few established rules for how things are done
and little denominational guidance. They employ hope as a strategy.
"Work rhythmically" with unity and diversity in establishing and
constantly renegotiating the identity of the church. Such a congregation
successfully moves back and forth between the particular stories of its
groups and the story of the church as a whole.
¬∑ Are unambiguous
in the way they affirm the centrality of cultural diversity to their
identity and mission. They do more than assimilate minority or immigrant
cultures into the dominant culture. They understand their mission and
work toward interethnic and intercultural reconciliation - the mission
at the heart of the gospel.
¬∑ See education as an event, take
seriously the voices from the margins, and educate in and through a
restructure of power dynamics. "In other words, education is not
imagined as transmission but processes of reconciliation. Education is
what happens in the encounter between two groups who have been included
into one social reality. Both groups have to learn new rhythms."
¬∑ Know that faith formation happens in encounters with the other.
Employ and develop leaders who have a distinctive set of multicultural
skills. The leadership is shared and is intergenerational, the leaders
practice hospitality and have the ability to embrace strangers and are
gifted at practices of "gathering" the church.
¬∑ Practice a diversity of giftedness within a common ministry of reconciliation. The congregations emphasize forgiveness.
Eat together. "This practice is one of the most interesting features of
multicultural congregations." The centrality of food is not just about
fellowship but about inclusion and reconciliation.
One of the
greatest challenges facing the church today is to find ways of
practicing evangelism and making disciples without playing by the rules
of the "post-Christendom culture," Stone said.
During the meeting, the Board of Discipleship also:
¬∑ Awarded grants for ethnic local church projects and programs focused on youth and young adults. (See sidebars.)
Received an update from the Holy Communion Study Committee about its
continuing work in preparing "This Holy Mystery," an understanding of
the theology and practice of Holy Communion, for the 2004 General
Conference for adoption. The work of the 19-member committee is
available at www.gbod.org/worship. The final version of the study will
be considered at the board's August meeting.
¬∑ Approved a July
26-29, 2005, Focus Event, a gathering of children's ministry leaders, at
Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church.
¬∑ Approved a Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2005, National Camp/Retreat Leaders Training Event.
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