Archive for the ‘Immigrant Ministry’ Category

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Seven Fatal Errors in Multi-cultural Ministry: Error #3 Incompatible Doctrinal Views

Friday, April 10, 2009

“All in favor say ‘Aye’, opposed? Motion carried.  I’ll speak to pastor Hernandez about our decision” said Ralph Baker – Board Chairman

 “Ralph if you don’t mind I’d like to go along with you” stated Pastor Johnson.  “This is an exciting time in the life of our church and I don’t want to miss it.”

Pastor Johnson and Ralph Baker met with Pastor Hernandez in his home.

“Pastor Hernandez” said Ralph Baker, “when you came to us three years ago requesting the use of our facility to start a Spanish speaking church, well quite honestly, we were very suspicious.”

“Yes, but since then” said pastor Johnson, “we have seen the Lord bless your work. And the Board has unanimously agreed to invite you to join our church and denomination.”

Pastor Hernandez could sense the joy and hopeful expectation in the voice of his guests.  This made it more difficult for him to express his concerns.

“I am honored by your invitation, but I cannot accept it.”

Taken completely off guard, Pastor Johnson asked, “Why not?”

“Because some of our beliefs are not the same.  In fact I have been meaning to speak to you about our youth. We are grateful that you allow them to participate in your youth ministry.  But our leadership has decided to begin our own youth ministry.  It seems that your teaching on assurance of salvation has our young people confused and their parents are upset.”

Regardless of what many may think about the divisiveness of denominational lines to the unity of the body of Christ, the fact remains that people have been brought up to believe certain theological teachings we call doctrine.

Some local churches recognizing the need for an immigrant church in their community and wanting to launch such a ministry, will, out of expediency, accept the first immigrant pastor that seeks the use of their facilities without ever discussing the subject of doctrine or minimizing the doctrinal differences.

As long as there is no cross over in ministry between these two independent congregations, such as the youth of the immigrant church participating in the youth ministry or Sunday school of the English speaking church, doctrinal differences will be minimal.  But once the cross over begins, whether planned or spontaneous, doctrinal difference can be the source of major contention.

To avoid this pitfall carefully screen ethnic pastors regarding their doctrinal beliefs.  Where language is an issue consider:

  • Having a member of your congregation that is bi-lingual translate for you as you screen candidates.
  • Contacting an immigrant pastor with your doctrinal beliefs to help you screen prospective candidates.
  • Contacting the Director of Church Planting for your fellowship or denomination to provide you with an ethnic pastor or to help you screen prospective candidates.

In the case of a multi-ethnic English speaking church, as with any homogenous church, some families with different doctrinal views will attend and maybe even join the church.  This situation is different from that mentioned above.  In this case families have willingly, knowing the doctrinal differences, joined the church for a personal or family benefit or blessing that they were not receiving in the church they left.

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 3 The Seven Fatal Errors of Ethnic Ministry: Error #2: Ethnocentrism

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ethnocentrism is defined by the Random House Dictionary as, “The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own group and culture, accompanied by a feeling of contempt for other groups and cultures.”

Unlike racism which blatantly spews hatred toward other groups, ethnocentrism is much more subtle and its practices are more acceptable in the church. Whether red, brown, yellow, black, or white, ethno-centric churches resist transitioning to a multi-ethnic multi-cultural church for three basic reasons.

The Heritage of the Church.  The national origin of main line denominations in America originated in Europe and served a particular national group (see, Is Multi-ethnic Ministry Biblically Prescriptive or Descriptive) Immigrants brought these denominations to America and they worshipped God in their language and cultural context. Over time with the decline of foreign-born members in their congregations and the increase of American-born these non-English speak Churches were forced to conducted their services in English. Immigrant Churches from Latin American and Pacific Rim nations are encountering the same issue today.

The Culture of the Church. We all have a church culture that is reflected in what we believe to be acceptable grooming, attire, genre of worship music, expression of worship, pastors delivery style, the theological credentials of our staff, and even the language in which we want our services conducted. The increase in age diversity through birth and marriage increases the generational tension over the culture of the church (see Understanding the Differences Between 1st & 2nd Generation Immigrants).  Churches that are unwilling to change will fall into decline as older members die and younger members move on to churches that offer a church culture that is more in line with their preferences without compromising their theological beliefs.

The Prejudices of the Church. Every ethnic group has some prejudices. Let’s be honest we all have at least one reason for feeling some sense of superiority to others at best or verbally expressing our disapproval at worst.  If we listen carefully we will hear derogatory terms used by church members of other ethnicities, socio—economic or educational levels.  If we watch closely we can see the facial expressions and body language that reflects this disapproval.  It is this ethnocentric socialization, when left unchallenged that perpetuates segregation and these unloving attitudes.

Is it any wonder that homogenous ethnocentric churches are not interested in multi-ethnic multi-cultural ministry?  The Homogeneous Unit Principle is used by these churches as an excuse whether they realize it or not to preserve their isolation from those who are not like them.  The HUP was never intended to preserve Christian biases but to evangelize unbelievers.

Becoming a multi-ethnic multi-cultural church is a process. Everyone regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status must work to overcome his or her personal biases and church culture preferences.  Like Paul we must become all things to all men to save some. Here are some things you can do to help you break down some prejudices you might have against other ethnic groups.  If you know of other resources please send those in.

Movies

Amazing Grace

Flower Drum Song

Books

Strangers Among Us by Roberto Suro

Pursuing the Pearl by Ken Fong

Letters Across the Divide by David Anderson and Brent Zuercher

Friends

This is your greatest resource of all. Spend time with your ethnic friends and ask them questions about their culture, church liturgy, family, church leadership, and attitudes toward Americans.  Ask them about anything you want to know. If you don’t have any its time to make some.

 

Ethnocentrism is perpetuated by ignorance, believing what we have been told about others and observing them through our cultural grid. To overcome ethnocentrism we must seek to understand other cultures while befriending them.

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.

 

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 3 The Seven Fatal Errors of Ethnic Ministry: Error #1 – Lack of Unity

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Many conflicts between a host and immigrant church are the result of unfulfilled expectations. Unfulfilled because they were not expressed and written down prior to launching the immigrant ministry.

Here is a three step process I use to create a spirit of unity.  It takes me an average of eight months to walk a church through the first two steps.

1.  SOW the Vision. Helping people take ownership of a vision cannot be done in one 45-minute presentation. People need time to process the vision. 

·      The Pastor. The pastor is the key person. Nothing will be accomplished without the pastor’s full support.

·      The Leadership.  The leadership needs to work through the issues and ask all of the questions necessary before moving ahead. Only then can they confidently respond to questions from the congregation.

·      The Congregation. The congregation should receive the same information that the pastor and the leadership received. They are the ones that will have to give up exclusive use of facilities, worship styles, and leadership positions to reach all levels of assimilation within an immigrant group.

2.  SURVEY the Body.

·      Determine your acceptable losses. The leadership should determine the number of families or individuals they are willing to loose in order to implement an ethnic ministry. Whether you change your style of worship music, name, or drop Sunday school for small groups, there are always some who will leave the church.  It’s no different with starting an immigrant ministry.

·      Conduct an informal survey.  Following the Vision Casting to the congregation (I recommend a series of messages) divide the families of the church among the leadership and ask them what they think about the possibility of starting an ethnic ministry.  This casual survey will help you get some idea if you are within the range of acceptable losses.  If not, go back to casting the vision.  Consider some of the negative feedback received from the casual survey.  Address these concerns from a biblical perspective. Remember we are not asking for permission, we are preparing the hearts of our people for transition.

·      Conduct a formal survey.  Proceed with this step if the informal survey is positive. The purpose is to solicit the opinions, concerns and fears of the people so they can be addressed at an announced congregational meeting for this purpose. 

3.  SECURE a Covenant.

 A covenant outlines the commitments the church is wiling to make to launch an immigrant ministry.

·      Facility Use. The usage of rooms, days, and times for regular services and a process for requesting usage for special events and activities.  Rooms are no longer for the exclusive use of any one person or ministry.

·      Equipment Use.  The usage of audio/visual equipment for regular services and a process for requesting usage for special events and activities.

·      Chain of Command.

                   o     Ministry Leaders: Children’s, Youth, Audio-Video, Greeters, Ushers, etc… should provide training for counter parts in the immigrant church for continuity across language ministries regarding church policies, practices, and care of facilities and equipment.

                   o     The Immigrant Pastor and congregation must be aware of the church’s process and protocol for dealing with issues.

·      Finances. Since the immigrant ministry is part of the local church then all offerings go into the church treasury.  The church should create a line item(s) to cover the expenses of the immigrant ministry.  This should include, as soon as possible, the immigrant pastor’s compensation package.

That’s my opinion.  I welcome yours.

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 2 Understanding the Difference Between 1st & 2nd Generation Immigrants.

Friday, February 27, 2009

“Beto, ven aqui.” (Bobby, come here.) Grandma and Grandpa Lucero had just arrived from Ciudad Juarez and were eager to greet, hug, and kiss the family. My brother Bobby understood grandma was calling him, he just couldn’t understand what else she was saying as she bent over to shower him with hugs and kisses.

Like so many second-generation descendents of immigrants they have some knowledge of what I call ‘House Spanish.”  House Spanish refers to the simple commands and everyday terms used in the immigrant household and in their social networks among other 1.5 and 2.0 immigrants. But their primary language is English.

Among some Hispanics “Spanglish,” the intermingling of Spanish and English is the official language.  Ilan Stavans in his book, Spanglish, The making of a new American language, writes that ­Spanglish is often described as “the trap, la trampa Hispanics fall into on the road to assimilation…”  used predominately by the growing lower class, it hinders their ability for a better future.  He goes on to say, “English is the door to the American Dream.  Not until one masters el inglés are the fruits of that dream attainable.”

When grandma visited from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the most commonly used phrase in our home was “Que dice?” or  What did she say?” 

My brothers, unlike me, didn’t have the opportunity of spending their summers in Mexico.  Consequently, they never really learned Spanish. Although my parents would speak in Spanish to one another, they would speak in English to us. So, whenever my grandparents visited us from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico either my mom or I would have to translate my brother’s comments to grandma and her comments to them. Left unattended they would just smile, shrug their shoulders and walk away not knowing what had been said.

Here is my point; a single immigrant household can have family members at various levels of English language proficiency and cultural assimilation. This assimilation diversity in a single household presents a challenge to the immigrant church.  Some challenges that lead to 2.0’s either attending an English speaking church or dropping out of church all together are:

  • The Problem of Generations. The preservation of a cultural heritage is dependent on it being passed on from one generation to the next. This process is broken when the second generation due to assimilation prefers their newly adopted culture to that of their ethnic heritage. The second generation leaves the ethnic church for the very reasons their parents joined it, to preserve language, culture, traditions, and customs.
  • English language proficiency. As 2.0’s become more proficient in English the language of their cultural heritage goes by the wayside simply because they have not been educated in it.  The words, idioms, and illustrations used by their immigrant pastors do not connect with them the way they do in English.  2.0’s have their own heart language and it’s not the language of their immigrant parents.
  • Marriage. 2.0’s that marry someone of his or her ethnic background that does not understand the language of his/her cultural heritage finds it hard to stay in the immigrant church.
  • Inter-cultural marriage.  1.0’s, 1.5’s and 2.0’s who marry outside of their ethnic groups soon wrestle with being accepted as a couple in the immigrant or non-immigrant church for that matter.  Their spouse feels out of place for lack of knowledge of the immigrant language and culture.  Not to mention the lack of acceptance experienced by  some inter-cultural couples in homogenous churches.

What is needed is a church model that will minister to families at all levels of assimilation 1.0’s, 1.5’s, and 2.0’s.  Such a model will minister to 2.0’s in English while ministering to 1.0’s  and  1.5’s in their language and cultural context.  Homogenous, ethnic specific immigrant churches serve the first generation well but often times at the expense of the second generation. 

What is a ministry dilemma for immigrant churches becomes a ministry opportunity for English speaking churches. In our next installment of Reaching the Nations Among Us we will address the Seven Fatal Errors of Ethnic Ministry.

That’s my opinion.  I welcome yours.

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Assimilation is Spiritually in the Best Interest of Our Immigrant Children.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

“Arturo”

It was Mr. Sanchez, a deacon of the Spanish congregation that rented the fellowship hall of our church for their services. I had just pulled into the church parking lot when he called out to me. 

As I gathered my Bible and Sunday school class notes from the passenger seat, he said to me in Spanish…

“Arturo, I’ve been meaning to ask you, why are you worshiping over there with the Anglos instead of here with your people?”

I was taken back by his question.  The only word’s that came to my mind as I got out of my car and started walking away were, “Because I like it.”

As I crossed the street from the parking lot to the worship building I felt anger swelling up inside of me.  I was upset that someone would use my ethnic heritage as a stick to manipulate me into changing churches. I also objected to the effort made to make me feel disloyal to my Latino roots because I was not worshipping in a Spanish-speaking congregation. And I especially did not appreciate the obvious attempt at proselytizing.

As I entered the worship center I was greeted by a number of other young bi-lingual Latino men like myself who preferred to worship in an English speaking service.

My experience is not uncommon for the 1.5 and 2.0 children of immigrants. When their English language skills increase while their ancestral language skills decrease, they will prefer to attend English-speaking services. 

I’m reminded of a story told by a Pastor of a Spanish speaking congregation who said that his own children and several other high school students from his congregation would sit in the last two pews of the auditorium during the praise time. But they would all get up and leave the service once he got up to preach to sit under the teaching ministry of the English speaking pastor.  The students commented that they preferred the livelier Spanish ministry praise time to the boring English praise time. But they better understood the teaching of the Word in English than in Spanish.

Christians at all levels of assimilation into a host country have the liberty in Christ to attend services in their language and cultural preference.  For the immigrant believer (1.0) to deny his children (1.5 and 2.0) and grandchildren (3.0) the freedom to attend a worship service in the language that best teaches and equips them in their walk with Christ, for the sake of preserving a cultural heritage can hinder their children’s spiritual growth. Believers need to hear the Word taught in their heart language and cultural context, which is not always the same as the language and culture of their ethnic heritage (Acts 2:5-11).

The reality is that you can’t fight assimilation. The immersion of immigrant youth into the educational system, culture and language of the host country will eventually draw 1.5’s and 2.0’s further away from the language and culture of their ethnic heritage.

In the days to come, I will be writing a series of blogs entitled, “Reaching the Nations Among Us,” to discuss how a local church can reach the immigrants in her community at all levels of assimilation. I would like to hear your stories of the issues you faced as a 1.5 or 2.0 descendent of immigrants.

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.