4 Requirements for Planting a Healthy Multi-Generational and Multi-Ethnic Church
My wife and I began dreaming about planting a multi-generational and multi-ethnic church in a mid-sized city almost ten years ago. Last May, Freedom Church (where I served as the Lead Pastor for four wonderful years) sent my family with two other families to Greensboro, NC, to make that dream a reality. We held our first service as King’s Cross Church on November 12th. We still have a long way to go to be what we believe God has called us to be, but here are four observations about what it takes to plant a healthy multi-generational and multi-ethnic church (MGME).
1. Healthy MGME Church Planting requires Gospel-Centrality. It is relatively easy to stir up excitement about planting a multi-ethnic church in theory. However, it is much more complex to accomplish it in practice. One of the first observations we made is that it is necessary to keep the gospel central in every strategic conversation. It can be very tempting to let extremely important secondary and tertiary matters slowly take precedence over primary matters. This is a very serious threat to the church. D.A. Carson warns of this temptation saying, “…I fear the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.” Healthy gospel ministry in diverse contexts should normally produce MGME churches. However, we must be careful to not prioritize the results of faithful gospel ministry over faithfulness to the gospel in ministry.
2. Healthy MGME Church Planting requires Cultural Intelligence. Paul is crystal clear: the cross of Christ kills racism and God has designed the church to be racism’s funeral home (Eph. 2:11-22). Christ has accomplished this. However, we must be aware of the cultural realities and challenges that will arise as we seek to be the place where racism comes to be buried. When different ethnicities and different generations come together there is a clash of cultures – often cultures that participants are totally unaware of being a part of. Therefore, we need to have what Soong-Chan Rah calls, ‘cultural intelligence.’ Though I do not agree with everything Rah argues in Many Colors, this book, and specifically the ‘cultural intelligence’ concept, has been helpful for me as a majority culture pastor seeking to plant a multi-ethnic and multi-generational church. We must understand that we have a culture that is experienced by other cultures and in need of being shaped and changed by other cultures (generationally and ethnically).
3. Healthy MGME Church Planting requires Discomfort. I recently sat in a coffee shop having a conversation with a key leader in our church plant about the music. We talked about the direction we needed to go if we were to be a healthy MGME church. He looked at me with a bit of a smirk and said, “Most conversations I’ve had about music orient around giving a particular group of people what they are comfortable with, but you are wanting everybody to be at least a little bit uncomfortable.” I smiled and agreed. In many ways this is what makes the church so beautiful. Jesus says that it is our love for one another that shows the watching world that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35). It does not take a crucified and resurrected Messiah to love people who enjoy the same culture, music, hobbies, products, and activities we enjoy. Instead, the supernatural beauty of the church is displayed when we begin to love people we wouldn’t naturally get close enough to like, let alone love. This requires that all of us commit to being comfortable with discomfort for the sake of Christ and His church. That is the kind of love that reveals that we are disciples of The Groom who died for His multi-ethnic and multi-generational bride.
4. Healthy MGME Church Planting requires Prayer. Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” At the end of the day, Christ will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18). We are to faithfully declare the Good News and display good deeds that commend our Good News. We must sow, and we must water, but it is God who gives the growth (I Co. 3:6-7). Therefore, if we are to plant healthy multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches we must beg our God to do His work in and through us.
It is an incredibly unifying joy to watch different generations of different ethnicities call upon the One True God to work in their midst. May we consistently cry out to God asking that He build His house for the sake of His name among all ethnicities throughout all generations!