unity of the faith: an authentic congregation

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NRSV)

If I agree and I do that the gifts described in Ephesians 4:11 emphasize living outside the church’s internal life.  I must accept responsibility for my gifting. If gifted as an apostle I acknowledge that God sends me. If gifted as a prophet I boldly and unapologetically proclaim the will of God. As an Evangelist, I spread the good news, as a pastor I minister to and protect the congregation, or as a teacher, I serve as an instructor of the Christian life. And with that acceptance, I must be sure that I carry out my work in such a way that I am equipping other followers of Christ for the work of the ministry. Responsible for building up the global church, until all of us, come to the unity of the faith. These gifts whichever I possess open up the opportunity to move the body of Christ to a place of united-ness, emphasizing a continual, dynamic relatedness of diverse peoples – to work toward moving the whole congregation toward intercultural life.

There are verbal and written desires for the worship on Sunday to reflect the residents of countless communities. For our communities of faith to become more culturally diverse. Does the average faith community understand the implications of such a racial shift? Does average faith community know that this move is about becoming an agent of racial reconciliation and authentic diversity? Are whole congregations willing to move toward intercultural life? And how would this cross-cultural life be authentic not just visible in the community?

Such a shift requires an ongoing commitment to diversity in worship and understanding that other people’s experience and response to Spirit in worship may be different and uncomfortable. Congregations must be willing to discuss openly the pain of racism that persists in America. There must be acknowledgment that the ever-changing nature of the church, relationships and contexts; calls for real engagement and mutuality; and pays attention to narratives of large and small similarities and differences (Branson & Martinez, 2011), and ultimately takes action steps to bridge the divide, which will prayerful propel us to authentic community.

If intercultural life is to be authentic whether apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher each must perform responsibilities in such a way that the congregation understands these implications and benefits. As a congregation, people of faith must hear and validate the narratives of every individual’s ethnic heritage and those of the surrounding cultures in our community to understand better our identity and our responsibility in the world (Branson & Martinez, 2011).

While leading the migration toward social reconciliation across cultural barriers the focus is not solely on demographic data but encompasses discerning and moving toward unique ways of unity and diversity. Congregations should look at the diversity that exists, while not evident at first glance. Cultural diversity within a community of faith can first be found within the unique heritage of those that gather together. Many Anglo-congregations have members, regular attendees, and casual seekers from Europe, Asia, South American, Africa, and the Caribbean. However, these influences play silently in the background to a Euro/Caucasian American experience. The challenge that we face and are working overcome is to allow these influences to be a visible part of our experiences together.

While there is no clear map toward goals of intercultural life, attitudes and convictions must continue drive the congregation toward completing the work necessary to understand our uniqueness, celebrate our diversity and stay the course toward becoming a multiethnic church, allowing our various ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together to form an authentic congregation (Branson & Martinez, 2011).

Bibliography
Branson, M. L., & Martinez, J. F. (2011). Churches Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

fellowship or rent?

Unposted thoughts from 2015: ahead of a webinar I will be “attending” today I thought I would share.

I have noticed a trend for pastors desiring to help other pastors get their ministries started. This pattern involves two congregations usually one predominantly Anglo/Caucasian and the other predominantly Black/African American (or other ethnic minority) “sharing” a facility or campus. In my area, it is mainly Anglo and Black/African American.  And I am not necessarily for or against this model.

The reasons I like this model are:

  • It offers opportunities for cross-cultural conversations, relationship building, and reconciliation.
  • Provides greater opportunity to serve and reach the broader community.
  • Keeps the doors of the church open longer.
  • There is potential to birth a multi-ethnic, diverse congregation.

The reasons I struggle with this model are:

  • Often cross-cultural conversations, relationship building or reconciliation never take place. A point of clarification getting together one time when there is protest in the community or inviting one another to a respective fundraiser is not what I am referring too. I am talking about genuine, authentic fellowship with one another.
  • In some cases (not all) both congregations are struggling, and the host is charging the guest a fee for the use of the facility. The fee inevitably helps them in some small way service debt from an expansion or remodeling project and otherwise make-up funds from dwindling membership. The guest congregation may continue to struggle to make their budget in addition to paying the rental fee for the “blessing” of space. This one stings the most for me, and I silently wonder if the host did not “need” the income however small would the ethnic minority guest be in the building or on the campus. I could be off base, but I wonder if some (not all) of these partnerships may be disingenuous.
  • While the leaders may be onboard with this new opportunity, the membership may sometimes feel displaced which leads to unspoken hostility and resentment. From limited access to facilities, inadequate parking plans, and any number of unknowns, many congregants are simply silently uneasy about these types of arrangements on both sides.

I have had the opportunity to worship on both sides of this equation, as a member of the host and committed visitor of as guest congregation. My personal experience makes me somewhat not a fan. Why? What I perceive as poor planning. Leaders that enter these types of agreements are usually well intentioned, but what is the end game?  Are these forever arrangements? When do the two faith communities begin to cultivate community? What and where is the strategic plan?

My personal point of it all is cultivating community. Jesus as our example, Heaven as our goal. If we are doing all this building and campus sharing and only speaking casually in the parking lot, we are missing opportunities. Yes, I count myself as guilty. I know novel concept someone admitting they have a part to play in the problem. Yes, I have had deeper conversations with the Black/African American guest than most of my Anglo brothers and sisters but they look like me, and I look like them. I am also a social extrovert and let us just be honest they were trying to figure out why I choose to worship in an Anglo context. I will say this; it is not where I worship that should be of concern. The question is, Am I following Jesus? I prefer to worship in mixed company; usually, that means my family may be in the less than 2% of a congregation group, but we must start somewhere. As a Black/African American married to a Filipino, we instantly improve diversity for many congregations (family joke), and we are okay with that if we are following Jesus.

For most my life, I have made it a point both personally and professionally to have friendships across the lines. What does that look like. I have friends with disabilities (obvious and not so obvious), friends across ethnic and economic lines, churched, unchurched, de-churched, friendships that cross generations, liberals, ultra-conservatives and so on. My circle is so eclectic I am cautious about putting some of them in the same room together. I once even had a dear friend tell me that another dear friend was beneath me. I am still friends with them both, this is my tribe, I love them equally even if I do not agree with them. Why? Because it makes me a more evolved and understanding person.

These relationships all began with conversations. The apparently dirty word conversation. I wish that before leaders entered these arrangements genuine conversation took place and relationships began to form. What would it look like if members of both congregations committed to doing community together once or twice a month either through life groups or service to the greater community or something casual like supper groups on the front-end of these agreements? It is difficult to get to know someone with a casual hello in the parking lot, spending time in service, study and breaking bread are legitimate ways to get to know the other.

Or is it just a rental agreement?