By Linda Geevanathan
There are certain characteristics a church should demonstrate to successfully grow in a way that welcomes and honours people from all backgrounds and cultures into it’s heart and not just on the margins. Here are some of the characteristics:
- Be Intentional – As Zig Ziglar famously says ‘You get what you aim for.’ Reaching the unreached is an area that is hard to break ground in and for this reason it is vital that as a church you are intentional about wanting to reach the unreached. Intentional about building friendships and getting to know someone from a different culture to you. This is especially important if you are a leader and looking to release people from different backgrounds into leadership. Build relationships of trust if you want to see beyond the superficial, yet important differences and to see the potential in others. A challenging question to ask yourself and your leadership team is – would you be comfortable being led by someone from a different ethnicity to you?
- Humility – consider others better than yourself – styles of worship, readings in different languages, different speaker styles and accents, these are just a few ways we would have to choose to give space to and appreciate what others bring to a meeting and to the church family.
A few years ago, I remember having a discussion with another leader in the church. She felt that the ethnic minority families in our church were not committing to life groups in the same way other families were and was questioning their commitment to church. I explained that many Asian and African families do not use babysitters, so, evening, child free meetings would not necessarily work for them. Those cultures usually prefer to bring their children with them to occasions rather than use a babysitter. So, I challenged her that perhaps we as a church should look to hold life/home groups at different times and also have a few groups where children could come as well. The presumption is that others should fit in with our culture, humility on the other hand, calls us to lay aside our preferences and convenience to think of the comfort of others. Why can’t we of the majority culture look at how we could make a few simple changes and learn from people of other cultures? I am thankful that now, a few years on, our church runs daytime groups and early evening family groups which many of our elderly, working class and ethnic minority members with children come along to, as well as our previous evening meetings.
- Courage – Studies have shown that it is a fact that we prefer to be with people like us, a great book to read on this is ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed. It is the way we are naturally conditioned. Most of my close friendship groups are with people who are generally like me, from middleclass backgrounds. Over the years I have had to consciously choose to build friendships with people from working class and poorer backgrounds. They are not always well presented; they can be very straight forward sometimes very blunt to the point of being rude. I felt intimidated and scared when I first set out to intentionally build with them but by overcoming my fear and reluctance, I have a life enriched by what they bring into it. A perspective I would possibly have never considered.
Another area I had to re-evaluate and repent of was my own prejudice and fears about building with people from the Muslim community (in Luton many are from poor or working class backgrounds). It was all subconscious until the Holy Spirit used people in my life to open my eyes to my own prejudice. It then took courage to start to change my thinking and behaviour. Now it is not unusual to attend iftars and other social gathering with my Muslim friends.
- Listening – often as a culture we are about solutions and answers and our listening is about trying to solve what we think is the other person’s problem. For true belonging there needs to be real friendships built. This is made possible when people are given space to share their experiences, their perspective, their story. To share how they may do something and why. We listen and we honour. Will we let the stories of others shape us and our churches rather than look to be saviours? Let’s seek to be peacemakers, learning from each other.
- Distinguish our culture (often this is a white, middle class culture) from Biblical principles. Like I mentioned before some cultures don’t use babysitters. Is that wrong? No, it’s different. Some cultures don’t have bedtimes for their children, I observed this when I was in Valencia Spain and saw lots of young children playing together late at night. Is this wrong? No, it’s just different. Some cultures wear their best to church. Is this wrong? No, it’s a preference. Casual clothing is not more biblical than smart clothing. They are different and both valid. Be aware of what is ‘church’ culture, doing things the same way because we always have done, and which are Biblical principles. Sometimes because we have been so immersed in our culture, we are unaware that it is not a Biblical principle and simply a preferred style.
For the church comfort is not our primary goal; reaching and raising up people who are passionate about Jesus is. Making disciples who make disciples. Breaking ground in our nation to see unreached people coming to know the goodness of God for themselves.