A church that reaches the unreached. (Part 2)

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.

 

 

A church that reaches the unreached (Part 1)

posted in: Linda Geevanathan 0

By Linda Geevanathan

There are several questions we need to ask ourselves if we want to be a church that reaches the unreached.

What do unreached people look like in our context/ community?  Are we winning people into churches and then seeking to make them clones of ourselves?

The beauty of the church is that she is made up of diverse people, who are one in Christ. This is part of our witness to a sceptical world.  When we reach out to people from other backgrounds and ethnicities, when we welcome them into fellowship, we want them to bring who they are into the church; we want to learn from their culture, enjoy their food, experience their language, we want to appreciate and honour their culture and background.

The challenge is do we want to do this at a surface or superficial level for those coming into the church from different backgrounds? Or do we want to give space for them to have a voice and influence the shape of the church.  This can make things inconvenient and sometimes even uncomfortable.  It may not be our preference or to our taste, but we need to keep reminding ourselves that following Jesus is about counting the cost, and we may be surprised by the blessing that openness to others brings into our lives.  So, the question is are we ready and willing to compromise and give space to embrace the beauty and diversity of the unreached coming into our churches?

 

Building a multi-cultural church

By Linda Geevanathan – Originally published on the unreached website

https://www.unreached.network/blog/

 

We want to be people and churches that reach the unreached and to be honest, generally, we no longer need to go abroad to find unreached people groups.  If we desire reaching the unreached then we must start where we are.

How good are you at building with people from different backgrounds in your local church?  When my family became Christians back in the mid 90’s in Australia it was a huge culture shock and shift.  We went from being at the heart of the Sri Lankan community to joining a local church of around 200 people, where we were one of two ethnic minority families.  Over the two years we attended that church, we did not receive one invitation for a meal, a cup of tea or anything.  Despite going weekly to church and youth group our relationships never went beyond meetings.

Perhaps the onus was on my family, but as the ones stepping into unknown territory there were so many barriers for us to overcome to know how to build well and deep with people who were so culturally different from us.  The question is are we ready to reach the unreached on our doorstep if we can’t build more than superficially with those from a different culture to ours within the church?

There are many reasons why we may choose not to build cross-culturally.  As we are generally different from one another; it’s not always comfortable, it is not convenient, fear of the unknown can stop us and in some cases, we may not have the opportunity to.  However, there is a calling, on us the church, to build cross- culturally, which may be costly but is enriching.  Building friendships across cultures, be it ethnic or social is part of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.

So although there are many barriers to building cross-culturally there are many reasons to count the cost and be intentional about building with different people groups.

  1. It’s biblical- God himself is three persons in one. His intention was to create us different and diverse and we see this reaching its climax in Revelations where different people groups will worship God for all eternity (Rev 7:9-10)
  2. It is enriching and a blessing. Listening to, learning from and experiencing things from other cultures is a blessing.  It may put us out of our comfort zones but often the experience is well worth the initial discomfort.
  3. It’s an experience that we can learn and grow from
  4. It opens us up to different ways of doing things.

You can choose to make building cross-cultural friendships an area of adventure and joy, and an opportunity to grow in your faith.

 

How do we start?

  1. Begin where you are. Who can you be intentional about building with in your church community?  If it’s not something modelled well in your church, then you can catalyse this change.
  2. Don’t presume that your experience of church is the same as others. Like my family back in Darwin, Australia, there are many who may not always find the church community a welcoming one.
  3. Listen to the stories and experiences of others as well as sharing your own. This helps us to build connection and to grow in understanding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ways that I further the vision of Hope Church

A number of years ago we spent time as leaders articulating our vision as a church, what we felt God wanted Hope Church to look like. We identified the following –

A growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus.

  • A people who believe that God speaks today through the Bible and his Church.
  • A people who worship God, seeing their whole life as worship – serving God.
  • A people who desire to grow in their relationship with God and in serving Him.
  • A people who want to reach out to others to bring God’s hope and His love to individuals and society.
  • A people who want to play their part in the wider Church in Luton, in this nation and in the nations.
  • A people who value humility, servanthood, generosity and authenticity.

http://www.hopechurch.co.uk/vision/

As a leader within the church, I seek to fulfil this vision on behalf of the church, and I thought it would be helpful to describe some of the ways I do this.  I am in a unique position to be involved in playing a part in the wider Church in Luton, in this nation and in the nations; and bringing God’s hope to society. I am using what we are learning at Hope Church to impact wider, doing it on your behalf, alongside what others are doing. Whilst the majority of my time is serving within Hope Church, roughly 15% of my time is working on behalf of the church in these areas.

Within the church in Luton, I am on the Executive of Churches Together in Luton that represents the church in Luton. In that role I bring leadership to organising Pentecost Praise and other town wide events. I jointly lead a racial commission working to bringing reconciliation and understanding between white and black majority churches. I also give time to support and develop friendship with numbers of local church leaders.

Beyond Luton I am involved in the Reconciled church network which is set up to encourage and support multi-cultural churches with a particular focus on encouraging leaders from ethnic minorities. I have also got involved in encouraging multi-cultural church planting and am beginning to develop a training course to train and support multi-cultural church planting. Finally, I am part of a team overseeing Catalyst churches in UK and beyond, within this I am personally involved with two churches in Spain.

The major way that I seek to bring hope to society is being a trustee and co-chair of the charity FACES, faiths against child sexual activity. I was part of the small team that initiated the work. The charity is a joint Muslim / Christian partnership that seeks to proclaim that faith is not the cause of child sexual abuse, despite popular perception, but is part of the solution. The charity is involved in awareness raising activities, safeguarding training, research, and school’s support. https://faces.org.uk/ Helping to lead this charity has helped my understanding of Muslim culture and enabled me to build strong, respectful relationships with Muslim leaders within Luton.

In summary, I personally spend considerable time and energy furthering our vision beyond Hope Church. It is a joy to do so, and I have been privileged to be released to do this on behalf of the church.

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