Archive for September, 2008

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What Programs Are Necessary to Become Ethnically-Diverse?

Friday, September 19, 2008

I had the privilege of participating on a panel discussion at the Ethnic America Network Conference in St. Louis.  One of the questions asked of us was, “Share a brief story how your church intentionally reached out to ethnic minorities and included them in your fellowship.”

 Sunrise Church, Rialto, CA 2000

          Like so many first time visitors I was awed by the ethnic diversity of Sunrise Church in Rialto, CA. My first question to our Senior Pastor Dr. Jay Pankratz was “What programs have you initiated to become so ethnically diverse?”  His answer was, “None”.  The obvious follow up question was, “How then did you accomplish this degree of diversity?” I will never forget his response. He said it so matter-of-fact, “by being relentlessly Biblical.”  He went on to say, “I had no vision for ethnic diversity; but, when I began to study God’s Word, the Lord’s mandates, and I looked at the ethnic diversity of our community I came to the conclusion that we could not be anything less. The key text in the vision of Sunrise Church is Luke 10:25-37.  A man asked Jesus, ‘What do I have to do to have eternal life?’  He responds, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.’  

          There were no books or networks to provide guidance on how to transition a church.  Pastor Jay and other pioneers like him across the country learned by trial and error.  It began by embracing the demographical change of their communities. As the White population of Rialto continued to decrease while the ethnically diverse population increased, Rialto Community Baptist Church had one choice continue to reach a declining population that would result in a declining church congregation or reach out to the entire demographic of the community and increase the potential for the church to grow.

          What began with a vision took six years to become a reality.  Here is what Pastor Jay has said about the process.

I have learned three things about multi-cultural ministry

· It’s Biblical   · It Works    · It’s Hard

  • My first year, we drafted a church vision statement which said, “We will seek to reach all ethnic groups without distinction or separation.”
  • In the next few years, we were surprised to see some from other ethnicities coming and joining our church.
  • As the numbers from other ethnicities increased and some moved into leadership, the criticism increased from all sides.
  • After six years of difficult struggles and limited success, I nearly left the church.
  • We turned the corner during my seventh year when our people began to accept the multi-cultural mix, criticism began to diminish somewhat and the number of minorities grew significantly.
  • During my ninth year, we started being more intentional about including more minorities in all levels of leadership and utilizing more multi-cultural music and promotion.
  • By my eleventh year, half of our Elder Board were minorities.
  • In my twelfth year, we reached a point where we had no ethnic majority in our church or on our pastoral staff.
  • We continue to work on new ways to touch the hurts of our community that we might teach their hearts about the love of Jesus.

         It’s Purpose not Programs that guide a church through the discomfort and criticism leaders face when transitioning their church. It’s a commitment to carrying out the mandates of Christ in an ethnically diverse community. In the words of Pastor Jay Pankratz its being, “relentlessly biblical.”

That’s my opinion, I welcome yours.

Art Lucero

 

 

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To Reach A Changing Community the Church Must Change

Friday, September 12, 2008

This post is in response to a question raised by John based on “Diversity is Not Just About Intentionality”

If the point of the article is that every congregation must focus more on the needs of others than on the needs of its own members, then shouldn’t “the church down the street” (presumably a Spanish-speaking church with Hispanic worship styles, Hispanic music, etc.) ALSO be urged to *change* in such a way that “people like John” would be made to feel “comfortable” there? What about the English-speaking church out in the suburbs that is totally devoted to new, “contemporary” worship? Must they *change*, too, in order to be able to reach the “traditionalist” folks? Or are the “traditionalist” folks the only ones who must do all the changing? If so, is that because they’ve had their turn, and now it’s time for them to move over so other people can have one? If that’s the case, then don’t THEY become the downtrodden “minority” group in whose needs no one takes any interest? In that case, wouldn’t it become everyone’s responsibility to *change* in order to accommodate them?

If “diversity” means that ALL viewpoints are welcomed, what happens if all the viewpoints EXCEPT JOHN’s are welcomed? Does that negate the commitment to diversity, or does it mean that John is just a “bad” person who needs to repent of his sinful desire to have his viewpoint counted (in a world in which everyone else’s desire to have their viewpoint counted is NOT sinful)?

Truett Cathy the founder of Chik-fil-A Restaurants and inventor of the boneless breast of chicken sandwich was asked why he was expanding his menu when it was his chicken sandwich that made his restaurants famous.  His replied, “If external change is greater than internal change disaster is imminent.” Bottom line, organizations that fail to change to meet the changing needs of their communities will become obsolete.  Chick-fil-A has annual sales of over 2 billion dollars I believe that by expanding his menu he was reaching a clientele  and generating sales he could not have done had he only relied upon his chicken sandwich.

A local church that fails to initiate the necessary changes to reach a new generation with the Gospel will eventually die.  People don’t like change even when death is staring them in the face and they are not happy with change agents. President Woodrow Wilson, said, “If you want to make enemies change something.”

People don’t like it when their pastors make changes in the church to attract their changing community, be it relaxing the traditional dress and grooming codes, shifting from traditional to contemporary music, dropping the denominational label in a name change, allowing more expressiveness in worship, changing the form of government or seeking to reach ethnics.

People have very strong feelings and attachments to their traditions. Just like John.  Is it sin if they don’t want to change? You decide.   A local church can continue to do business as usual while ignoring the demographical changes in their communities. But in doing so they put the preservation of their preferences over the mandates of Christ, essentially putting an end to their outreach and ensuring the death of their church.

You ask, “shouldn’t the church down the street presumably a Spanish speaking church with Hispanic worship styles ALSO be urged to change in such a way that people like John would be made to feel comfortable there?”

First of all people like John wouldn’t attend any church that doesn’t meet their standards much less an immigrant church.  However, I believe that every church red, brown, yellow, black and white whether American-Born or Foreign-Born has the same mandate, “make disciples of all nations.”

Realistically, not all churches will.  Those who attempt it will loose members who won’t handle the change.  The question every Pastor and church leader must ask themselves is “Do I base me decisions on the preferences of church members or the absolute mandates of Christ?”

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.

Art

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Diversity Is Not Just About Intentionality

Monday, September 1, 2008

I had just finished speaking at a church that was looking into the possibility of starting a Spanish-speaking ministry.  Excitement filled the air as church members visited among themselves and with a few members of the Spanish-speaking community that would be the core group of this new ministry.  As I finished speaking to one individual I noticed a gentleman waiting patiently for me.

“Art, may I speak with you in private?”

“Certainly,” I said as we stepped off to one side of the auditorium away from others.

“How can I help you?”

“Art, I want you to know that I resent your coming. Personally, I don’t want these people here.  I think they should go to the church down the street where they belong.”

“Tell me John, what is your concern?”

“I’ll tell you what my concern is, I don’t want to see my church changed.  I have been coming here for years.  I like my church just the way it is and I don’t want to make any changes just to make them feel comfortable.”

The pastor of this congregation had taken a number of intentional steps in preparing his church for diversity.  My speaking to his congregation was one of those steps. Unfortunately as our title states, diversity is not just about intentionality. It really isn’t!

Diversity refers to a broadness of range. In reference to a local congregation it encompasses age, gender, socio-economic status, educational achievement, employment, ethnic and cultural breadth.

Intentionality provides the building blocks that move a church toward diversity. Some of these building blocks are organizational structure, methodologies, models, developing an ethnically diverse staff and leadership, and including diverse musical genres in our worship services to name just a few. As critical as these building blocks are for us to move toward diversity, there is yet a more foundational factor upon which intentionality itself must be built.

That foundation is “mindset” the attitudes that reflect our preferences, biases, and prejudices.  In Philippians 2:1-8 Paul writes about the fundamental attitude all God’s children should possess and that is to be “other-centered,” to place the needs of others above our own.  He uses the attitude of Christ as the model for us to strive toward. Regrettably, John, a former pastor, was more concerned about satisfying his own needs than seeing to the needs of others.

The primary purpose of the church is not to be diverse, but to honor God, obey his Word, and make disciples.  As we focus on fulfilling the mandates of Christ, in an ethnically diverse community, our churches will naturally become diverse. It is the task of the pastor to lay a solid foundation of the mindset of Christ. Once that foundation has been laid intentional diversity can begin.

That’s my opinion.  I welcome yours.

Art