by Matthew Recker
This article first appeared in FrontLine, Jul/Aug 2007
I approached the main entrance of an apartment building in a West Indian community and overheard two girls behind me say to one another, “that guy is in the wrong place.” I turned with a smile and said, “No, I am right where I am supposed to be because I am here to tell others of Jesus Christ!”
On another occasion I asked visitors to stand during our welcome time at church in the heart of an African American community to tell us how they found out about our church. Gladys stood and said, “I would like to know why you are here [in this community]!” A silence fell over our service as I answered, “Jesus entered the city of Samaria, and although the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. She asked why, and Jesus said, ‘If thou knewest the gift of God, … thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.’ (John 4:10). I am here in this neighborhood to share the gift of God, which is eternal life!” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and Gladys stayed in our church and became a strong member of our spiritual family.
Ministering amid Ethnic Change
More and more people will wonder whether we are in the wrong place, or they will question our motives for serving in a particular city. We must be convinced that God Himself in the gospel of Christ has cancelled any ethnic difference and social distinction as a dividing force in our fellowship and worship with one another. In Romans 15:8–13 God crushes the most notable ethnic difference on the planet when He receives Jew and gentile on the same basis. (See also Gal. 3:27–29.) We therefore ought to do likewise. On the surface this may seem obvious, but the reality is that many pastors and churches are struggling with ministry in multicultural settings. Ministries that have long existed in communities with minimal cultural disparity are being inundated with a new generation of immigrants. Previously vanilla neighborhoods are changing in color, culture, creed, and language. We live in dramatically changing times regarding the population and demographics of our nation. Nationwide, population is skyrocketing with new immigrants from every nation. Urban areas in the South and West are transforming before our eyes. The nations are here and are making great noise. They will not go away, and more are coming.
Churches faced with ethnic change in their neighborhoods can become irrelevant and die, move, or adapt to reach the changing culture. Frankly, it makes me sad when I hear of a strong Biblical church moving away from a particular community because it was changing culture and color. Why? I do not believe that we have a gospel that retreats from eternal souls. Should we surrender territory to cults, Charismatics, or the Roman Catholics? If we retreat with the gospel of truth, then who will reach them? These new immigrants must be reached, and we can do it. On the basis of scripture we must be convinced that our message is for the nations of the world, not merely for a certain ethnic or income group. We know this when it comes to sending out missionaries to other nations, but we are more skeptical when the mission field comes to our doorstep. And this is what is happening before our very eyes.
Ministering with Conviction
Romans 15:7–13 gives to us three reasons that we can minister confidently and authoritatively to reach the nations of the world that are moving into America. First of all, this must be our conviction, because of Christ’s work for us. Romans 15:7 states, “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of god.” Paul commands the diverse church in Rome: on the basis of Christ’s work for the glory of god, receive the nations! In Rome there were Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise, and Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:14–16). Cross cultural ministry is inherent in the great Commission, and therefore it ought to be our Biblical conviction. The word “receive” is a command and means to take someone as your companion, to lead by the hand, to receive into one’s home with the idea of kindness, to grant one access to one’s heart, or to take into friendship. Because Christ has received us, we must receive others to the glory of god. When Jesus Christ died, He died for all nations and every ethnic group!
God mandates that we show kindness in receiving others into our churches and homes and to open our heart to people who speak different languages, eat unique foods, and have different cultures. Our conviction must be that the nations of the world are image bearers of God, equal in every way to you or any man, and we must see our calling from God to receive all nations of the world into our assemblies.
Ministering with Passion
To evangelize in a multicultural community must not only be our conviction but it ought to also be our passion because of God’s Word to us. In Romans 15:8–12, Paul explodes with a zeal for the nations based on the promises of God. His soul saturated with scripture, Paul relates a great reason Jesus Christ came to earth: to reveal God’s mercy to the world’s nations so they would glorify God for His mercy. To prove his point, Paul quotes four Hebrew passages in verses 9–12, taking passages from the three sections of the Tanach: the Law (Deut. 32:43), the Prophets (Isa. 11:10), and the Writings (Pss. 18:49; 117:1). God’s goal in missions is that He be glorified by Jew and Gentile and that all the nations experience His mercy. Is this our passion? Mercy is God’s love in action, and God has ordained the church as the place where we are to experience His mercy! The word ethnos, translated as “Gentiles,” is used six times in these few verses. “Gentiles” refers to individual Gentile converts or to any non-Jewish unreached nation or people group.
We can group these Biblical quotations into three points. From the believer’s perspective, we are commissioned to praise god among the nations. Romans 15:9 says, “For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.” (Paul quotes from Psalm 18:49.) We are challenged with this fact: we have a God to worship, a Christ to confess, and a song to sing among the nations of the world. From the nations’ perspective, God commands them to rejoice. There are three imperatives in Romans 15:10, 11: “And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.” In quoting Deuteronomy 32:34 and Psalm 117:1, Paul is convinced that all people groups of the earth are commanded to rejoice and sing together with the people of God in the lord! We must believe that we can worship God in unity within our local churches with other cultures and classes of people. From God’s perspective, He has certified that He will rule over the nations and that the nations will hope in Him. Romans 15:12 says, “And again, Esaias saith, there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust” (from Isa. 11:10). Ultimately, all nations will submit to the rule of the same King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ministering with Expectation
To evangelize in a multicultural community should be our expectationbecause of the Spirit’s power in us. Romans 15:13 declares, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” this verse tells us that we can have blessed assurance in cross-cultural ministry because we have boundless assistance in our task to make disciples of all nations that have moved to our communities. The power is in the Holy Spirit; it is not we who will accomplish this task.
Because evangelizing the nations coming to us is our conviction, our passion, and our expectation, allow me to share the following practical suggestions. First, make the preaching of god’s Word central in our worship. People need to hear the life-giving sound of god’s Word. The scripture ministers to the spirit of man no matter his culture. Preach the whole counsel of God with compassion and without compromise and you will reach the souls of men!
Second, fearlessly invite involvement of different ethnic groups into the work of the ministry (Acts 13:1–3). The leaders of the church of Antioch were of diverse cultural backgrounds. Invite faithful people to pray, to usher, to read the scripture, to open the worship service, to give a testimony, or to put away hymnals or chairs. Raymond is a Hispanic “on fire” Christian who started coming to our church while on a prison work release program. He was a drug dealer known as “Peligro” on the streets of Washington Heights. He has now taken our membership class and joined our church. I have asked him to do the scripture reading and prayer. He puts on a tie and serves as an usher. His vibrant spirit is a breath of fresh air!
Ministering beyond the Nonessentials
Are you convinced that the church of Jesus Christ is to be comprised of all the nations of the world (Rom. 1:14–16)? The church is His and consists of new creations of every gender, class, color, and culture. Evangelize, disciple, and welcome those who are black, Hispanic, or Asian into your church family. Rave about their food. Be sensitive to their needs. Be interested in their culture. Learn their language. Refuse to allow nonessentials to divide you. For example, is someone’s political affiliation going to hinder his fellowship in your church? I decided a long time ago that my goal was not to lead people to agree with my political positions but to make disciples of Jesus Christ!
Encourage others in your congregation to greet new visitors regardless of their background. Follow up their visit with a phone call. Offer to have lunch with them. Suggest having a Bible study in their home to invite their other friends. If your church is not naturally welcoming toward different ethnic groups, “preach the word” to reprove, rebuke, and exhort your church family that God’s grace and God’s gospel do not make divisions.
Thirdly, give away ownership of the church to those God brings in. In our membership class, one of the things I emphasize is that the church is not mine. If I hear anyone call the church “your church, Pastor,” I cringe and then immediately correct them. One man, Jorge, did so while speaking to me one day. I said, “Whose church?” He said, “Your church, Pastor.” I said, “It is not my church, it is ourchurch!” He said, “Oh, you got me on that one!” From there on he would say, “This is our church.” I love it when people take ownership of the local church and feel so connected to it that they see it as theirs because they are in Christ.
Perhaps we need to repent of our unbelief, our apathy, our pride, or our negative attitudes toward differing ethnic groups. Believe God can do this in your ministry! Or do you need to refocus your heart and your prayers to teach, preach, and reach the nations of the world around you? Maybe some need to refocus a portion of your church’s mission dollars to reach the nations of the world who are moving into your neighborhood. Fundamentalism has been a missions-minded movement, and many of our churches give sacrificially to the cause of worldwide missions. But now it is time to transition our thinking to this: the mission fields we have been burdened to raise money for and send missionaries to are now moving next door to us. By the power of the Holy Spirit we must use our creative energy to reach the Hispanics, Asians, and blacks all around us.
American church priorities are often focused on building projects—nicer auditoriums and gymnasiums. this is not all wrong, but when our main concern is to have a bigger auditorium intentionally removed from the ethnic masses that are coming our way, something is skewed with our thinking, our vision, and our expectation of what God can do among the nations of the world.
May God help us to see that we can and must reach the nations of the world moving into our cities and more and more into our suburbs. God can give us grace to successfully evangelize in multicultural communities. May we have a conviction, because of Christ’s work, to reach the nations of the world! May we have a passion, based on god’s Word, to reach the nations of the world! May God give us an expectation, because of the spirit’s power, to reach the nations of the world for His eternal glory!
Matthew Recker has established three urban churches in New York City: City View Baptist Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn; Parkway Baptist Church in Jamaica, Queens; and Heritage Baptist Church in Manhattan, a multicultural church in the heart of America’s largest city. Since 1997 he has hosted The Heritage of Faith, a live radio broadcast that focuses on Biblical exposition. Matthew is the author of a book on urban ministry called Behold the City, published by BJU Press.