A Word from the BCC Team: As part of Black History Month, we’ll have several posts this week on Black Church History, the Black Church, and Multiethnic Ministry. Rick Horne of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) begins our mini-series by talking about What’s a White Guy Know About Multiethnic Ministry?
Very Little and a Whole Lot!
“You guys must be part of a Black church,” two different members of an all-White church congregation said to us at different times after the service. I had been invited to speak about The Urban Ministry Institute, our international urban church seminary program.
“Why do you ask?” I responded. “Well, you were swaying during the hymns before you got up to preach.” It was true. We weren’t conscious of it, but after being part of an African American church for a number of years we were affected in ways we didn’t even think about.
We Knew Very Little!
My wife and I had had four girls and then adopted two African American boys in infancy, three years apart. When the oldest boy was a young teen, we thought for both their sakes we needed to be part of a Black congregation. Our reasoning was pretty simple: “What do we know about raising Black boys in a dominantly White culture? We need help.”
We found a small African American church plant in West Philadelphia and were quickly and warmly loved and included in the fellowship. We had the privileges of teaching, preaching, counseling, serving, and celebrating among the brothers and sisters for the 12 years of the church’s life. Little did we know initially that our church family was really going to be more for our immediate blessing than that of our boys.
Our oldest son became our prodigal as he moved through his early teen years. We’d never experienced anything like this with our girls or with our second adopted Black son. At times we would be confused, intimidated, angered, fearful, insecure, distracted, and divided. “Terrorized” is not really too strong a term to express some of the late night trauma we felt because of his angry outbursts, threats, and violence. The police, the courts, a local psychiatric aid and hospital unit, a Christian residential ministry, educators, close friends, biblical counselors, and local Black pastors were all part of the mix of people who became unintentionally or intentionally involved in trying to help our son—and us.
We Didn’t Know Our Son’s World
It became apparent that we knew very little about how to help our son. Similarly, it didn’t take us long to realize that we knew very little about living life in Black skin. We didn’t know first-hand the hurt of being slighted, marginalized, made fun of, or insulted because of looking different from the majority culture student body in which he was being educated (a private Christian school). We didn’t know the inferiority he felt among other Black youth in our neighborhood because he went to a predominantly White school and had a White family. We didn’t know the hurt and anger he felt when a teacher judgmentally described minority teens giving birth out of wedlock (our son’s 17 year-old birth mom had done this) as loose, degenerate “hoes.”
God, by His grace, gave us patient Black brothers and sisters. They became our most important counselors, helpers, supporters, and aids in our ministry to our son and in our need to weather the storms in our home with godly wisdom. They were clearly those who were “born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
We didn’t know much about the world that swirled around our family and even within our family. We also didn’t know the depths of spiritual riches that our Black brothers and sisters had and were willing to spend on us. But by God’s grace, we knew we knew very little. That was very much to know!
We Knew Very Much!
What we knew was that we didn’t know much about ministry to our African American son. We knew that we also didn’t know a lot of things about our African American brothers and sisters. That was a lot to know!
By God’s gracious Spirit, we were open to begin to learn about the dynamics of being Black. Minorities are usually conscious that they are a minority—every day. White people don’t even think about being White. We are the majority culture. We are surrounded by majority culture institutions, neighbors, workers, students, shopping malls, food stores, and churches. We drive majority culture cars, live in majority culture neighborhoods, have responsive majority culture police departments, thrive with majority culture jobs, investments, retirement plans, and health care, and attend our kids’ majority culture athletic and other school events. Many of our Black brothers and sisters only knew these things…from a distance or maybe from TV.
We Knew That We Needed Our Brothers and Sisters of Color
Most importantly, we needed our brothers and sisters of color not just for our son, but for our own balance and spiritual health in Christ. It was our multiethnic church, Black pastor, and elders whom we found to be most helpful as they befriended our son and encouraged us. They were in my son’s face when he needed confrontation! They were helping us, encouraging us, and guiding us when we needed support.
Our son was never able to use the “race-card” in his outbursts of anger toward us. Our involved brothers and sisters of color made that unreasonable, even from his perspective. Similarly, they were there for us when we had to make the excruciating decision to place him in a Christian ministry outside our home for a year. They loved us and cared for us. They didn’t discredit us or distance themselves from us because of our troubles.
Our door into multiethnic thinking is probably different from yours. But there is a door the Head of the Church wants us all to go through regardless of where we live.
What do you know and not know? Do you know that you don’t know what it’s like to live and walk in the shoes of the other ethnicities in your church family? More profoundly, do you know that you don’t fully grasp “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18)—especially the ones who aren’t like you? That’s the way, it seems to me, for any of us to position ourselves for multiethnic ministry for Christ’s sake. Paul makes it clear that Jesus modeled this kind of identity with us (Philippians 2:4-8) and “learned” (Hebrews 5:8). We can learn too, but we must want to!
Leaders in Jesus’ Day Knew They Knew What They Needed to Know
So many of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day made ignorant and destructive decisions which were traceable to their self-assured attitudes about who Jesus was and what they thought He said and did. They were sure they knew where Jesus was from—Nazareth. They knew His parents—Mary and Joseph. They knew He said that He’d destroy the Temple and in three days raise it up again. They knew He was repeatedly breaking the Sabbath. They knew He was blaspheming by calling Himself the Son of Man. They knew His miracles were empowered by Beelzebub. They knew they could “see” and were not “blind.”
They knew the Scriptures, yet missed the point of them altogether—Him.
We Still Sway When We Sing Hymns
We’ve all been affected by our dominant cultural context. “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both” (Proverbs 20:12). Bruce Waltke says these two receptive organs are there to correct our human disabilities and to inform the wise heart for good. Such an awareness and teachability will help us guard against any prevailing and divisive distorted voices and tainted lenses that our hearts and our culture commonly raise—outside and inside of the church.
The multitude with whom we’ll worship in glory will be “…from every tribe and language and people and nation (ethnos)” (Revelation 5:9b). May the Lord of the church give us eyes to see and ears to hear so that our love, fellowships, and ministries look like heaven’s multiethnic symphony of worshippers!
Join the Conversation
What do you know that you don’t know about ethnically different people in your congregation?
What doors of opportunity does your knowledge open up for you among different ethnicities?
What do you have to do to move yourself and your church toward ministry to different ethnicities in the community where you live and where your church meets?
Is God pleased with the display of His grace, power, and glory that your church exhibits by “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) to ethnic minorities in your community?