“We plan on having every kind of music from hymns to hip-hop.” That’s what I told people while we were building the launch team for Imago Dei church in Milwaukee. God had given us a firmly biblical dream of planting a multicultural church. But I did not yet know what I was doing or signing up for. In the years that followed, I learned a few things about this the hard way. Here are three stages to consider for white pastors looking to lead their church to embrace other cultures.
The first stage is cultural appreciation. Most Christians, most people I suppose, are good with this. Cultural appreciation is simply enjoying different aspects of other cultures. Music, dress, food, hospitality. I love me some Taco Bell! (Full disclosure – I know that’s not an accurate representation of Mexican food…. But I still love it ;-) For the most part, these are “values neutral.” They just “are.” There is nothing inherently sinful about polka music and nothing inherently holy about egg rolls. If people from different cultural backgrounds are going to feel embraced, aspects of different cultures must be genuinely appreciated by different people.
In this stage things get trickier. It’s one thing to appreciate hip-hop, it’s another thing for African Spirituals to occupy meaningful portions of your worship service. This will come at the expense of an Elevation Worship song or three. Every week. And should impact the church beyond “church.” The church isn’t just an event to attend on Sunday morning, but rather, a community to belong to. Therefore, the integration of cultural norms into your church must be considered beyond Sunday.
This third stage is perhaps the most challenging. It moves beyond appreciating and integrating forms and customs. It requires more than deferring to other people’s preferences. It demands people to honestly assess how their people group has treated other people groups. There is no way around how much pain European Colonizers caused Africans, Native Americans, and Mexicans. If white leaders desire to be a part of a culturally diverse church, these historical issues and their ongoing ramifications must be addressed, confessed, and repented of. Forgiveness must be sought and restitution must be pursued.
The challenge of reconciliation doesn’t end there, though. Genuine reconciliation requires that the disenfranchised forgive their oppressors. Including those who may only perpetuate oppression through ignorance or negligence. The gospel demands no less – and will empower genuine believers to embrace the freedom of forgiveness.
IT IS WORTH IT?
While all of these stages have different levels of challenge, they all have so much gospel beauty. From His throne in Heaven, Jesus looked down on the earth and saw a completely different culture from His. And not one that He appreciated. It was filled with sin and brokenness. Moved with compassion, He integrated His holiness with our brokenness. More than that, He exchanged His righteousness for our sin so that we could be given access to a better culture from a better country. In order to accomplish this, Jesus didn’t only sacrifice His preferences, He sacrificed Himself. And that, so the world could be reconciled to God through the forgiveness Jesus purchased on the cross.
This is why we moved to Milwaukee. This is why we are pursuing gospel-infused cultural reconciliation. When different people from different cultures come together like this, the gospel is powerfully displayed and the King is rightfully worshipped.