Multicultural ministry doesn’t happen by accident.
A multicolored ministry might, but a ministry that wants every culture to feel at home, like they belong, takes Intentionality.
Few significant things in ministry happen without intentionality. When God moves on your heart you have to choose, do I respond (intentionality) or do I let it happen (unintentionality). You lay out steps that you have to take and goals you want to achieve. You determine where you want to lead your students and volunteers and move them that direction. That is intentionality.
Intentionality is important beyond our ministry context. Being intentional in friendships can deepen the relationship. Being intentional in our marriage can strengthen our bond with our spouse. Intentionality in our parenting can have a life time impact on our children. The bottom line is intentionality is vital to so much in life and ministry, and yet when we apply the principle of intentionality to cultural diversity it becomes awkward.
Moving through the awkward
We in Youth Ministry know all about helping students move through their awkward stages to get to that next step of maturity. We’ve struggled through the conversations where we get one word answers. We’ve helped those middle school kids understand that telling a bathroom joke to a girl you like won’t woo her the way you expect. We’ve even carried extra deodorant for those kids that seemed to have grown accustomed to their own funk. We’ve seen these awkward kids grow into our most prized student leaders.
Well, I want to give you permission to move through our own awkwardness with multicultural ministry as well. I get it. We’re not used to being the awkward one. We don’t want to offend. We don’t know how someone of another culture may react to us intentionally building a bridge between cultures. We may even fear how people from our own culture may react. Being intentional about building bridges to different cultures in our community and our ministry will require risk and change. What am I saying? I am saying it is ok to start off awkward. It’s ok to step out and try. It’s ok to reach out with a heart full of grace and love to intentionally connect across cultural lines. I am not saying that it is ok to be reckless or to treat people as pawns in your plan to become a multicultural ministry. I am not even saying that you won’t make mistakes or even offend someone. As you humbly try, ask for forgiveness, learn from you mistakes and fail forward.
Being intentional shows value
We are all attracted to communities where we feel valued; places where we feel known and understood. We seek to set this atmosphere for the students that attend our ministry events. The problem is that I am in desperate need of help in understanding cultures that don’t involve Blake Shelton, Syracuse basketball, and golf shirts. Leading a youth ministry at a church of over 50 nations I knew I would need help in drawing out the perspectives of others.
Before I could make sure my ministry valued other perspectives, I had to start with my personal life. I do value others perspectives even if they are different than my own. However, my view on life is limited to my cultural lense. When I widen my circle of friends it widens my lense, and see the world differently. I have many friends that have brought value to my life by helping me see God, ministry, and life through a different cultural lense. How much my friends have built in to me and the impact they have had on my life is immeasurable. I hope that I have brought some value to their lives as well. A significant part of what my friends have contributed to my life is a different cultural perspective. I don’t know how else I would have gained that perspective without the relationship that we have. In that relational environment I have that freedom and grace to ask risky questions knowing that my friends will see my heart and receive my curiosity with grace knowing that I am still in process.
Being intentional about diversity in our ministry should show value to other cultures by saying, “we need your perspective.” The old school youth ministry outreach philosophy use to be how can we reach this particular segment of kids. We could target our efforts toward a specific demographic and attract a certain audience. I think we need intentionally flip that philosophy on it’s head and ask the question, who isn’t here? Whose perspective are we missing? How can we make those in our community at home in our ministry?
Great Commission intentionality
For many of our ministries the Great Commission is at the center of our intentional approach to discipling students. It’s reflected in our mission, vision, and values. We have laid out a strategy to help us go make disciples, baptizing and teaching to obey. You may have noticed that I intentionally left out a key part of that passage. The NLT puts it this way, “make disciples of all the nations”. This phrase can be easily overlooked, yet is vital to what Jesus is saying. It can be easy for our ministries to be intentional about making disciples and even about going, baptizing, and teaching and yet fail to be intentional about the “all nations” part. Some ministries are intentionally reaching “all nations” through their missions program. But few are intentional in about making disciples of “all nations” in their own community. My challenge to you is to be as intentional about the “all nations” part of the great commission as you are about the “make disciples” part. Jesus spoke that sentence as one thought with one command, “make disciples of all nations”. He gave us the what, “make disciples”, and the who, “all nations.” He didn’t emphasize the what over the who and neither should we.
As with anything in life often times getting started is the hardest part. So where do we start with being intentional about multicultural ministry and building bridges into our community? Here are ideas to get you started.
1) Seek out God’s Heart for multicultural ministry.
Throughout the scriptures we see God’s heart for unity and people finding common ground in Christ. Jesus modeled cross cultural ministry and prayed for unity. The early church modeled multicultural ministry and revelation gives us a glimpse of heaven and the diversity that will be on display there. Allow your study of God’s heart for multicultural ministry shape your heart. Pray David’s prayer found in Psalm 139 (NLT), “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Racism is a sin, not a skin problem. It is our natural tendency as sinful human beings to put down anything that is different from us. We do this our of pride and a desire to elevate ourselves. It’s that sinful, selfish nature that we are born with. Being real before God about your heart is vital to being a cultural bridge builder.
2) Build intentional relationships with people of other cultures.
Don’t be that creepy stalker. But do, pick up the phone and call that church of a different culture that is down the road and ask the youth leader if you can buy him coffee and ask him some questions about ministry. Come with a genuine heart to learn. Ask good questions about ministry. Seek to bring value to the conversation and new relationship.
3) Go places where you are the minority.
Now if you are reading this and you are not white and are living in the US, this is your life. You have grown up having to learn and adjust for white culture throughout your life. Odds are that you are fairly proficient at this. There are still opportunities for you to visit a church of a different culture than your own or spend time in a neighborhood where you stand out culturally. For those of you who are white, cross that cultural divide. Experience what it is like to be a minority. Learn about the culture that you visit. Through this experience you will grow in your understanding and ability to relate to that culture. If you want to take it to the next level don’t just visit, have this experience become a part of you life. Allow your learnings to shape your view of life and how you do ministry.
Go for it!
Intentionally do something today to move you and your ministry forward as you seek to build bridges and unite cultures.
Jared Sorber is the Family Ministry Pastor at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, MD. He has served youth and families at Bridgeway for over 16 years. He enjoys developing young leaders and desires to helping other ministries reach all the cultures in their community. He loves being the father to two energetic boys and a husband to Amie. You can find Jared via Instagram and Twitter: @JaredSorber