On the Problem of Diversity in Modern Worship

Diversity in Worship

I really struggled to attempt to sit out the current discussion of the lack of diversity in modern worship, but here I am. For many of you here know my journey, but for new friends here this was my journey. I was working in the trenches of the multi-cultural and multi-generational worship in the late-90's and most of the 2000's. Many of us in the work, both worship pastors and senior pastors alike, were very hopeful that the trend of racial reconciliation, desegregation, and the breaking down of racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and generational divides could become a reality in our lifetimes, and perhaps within the decade.

The crash happened, and my wife and I emerged out of the wreckage, and realized that the work of reconciliation that we labored in for a decade and a half had not only not caught on, but that entire groups of churches were fully invested into models of church ministry that explicitly proposed that inclusivity was detrimental to their growth strategies...that diversity was a fad, and it was not good for business...that instead of having the biblical values of embracing the “other,” the way forward for a “successful” church was to get more narrow in their vision, to have a brand, to define that brand and to find their niche. Basically in a nutshell, the Church has followed in the footsteps of corporate shareholder strategies of business expansion. You see I understand all this because I am an entrepreneur. But as a Christian who is a first-generation immigrant, these attitudes from the highest offices of Evangelical leadership hurt really deep. The nail in the coffin for me of any hope of true multi-culturalism in the modern church was probably the decision from the Church Multiplication Network to EXPLICITLY state that new church plants need to cater to SINGULAR ethnicities, that blending of ethnicities in new church plants are unwise, and a recipe for failure. Yes, Hispanic pastors, please plant Hispanic churches. Chinese pastors, plant Chinese churches...you get the idea. And the narrower the niche the better. Chinese pastors, do not plant a “Pan-Asian” church serving multiple Asian communities. It is not wise. Plant a Chinese church that caters to your specific niche. You see the problem with all this corporate stuff is that if flies in the face of the bible. It also flies in the face of anyone that has experienced life in this country as a minority.

When I was saved in the early 90's, I knew the church I was saved in was Anglo in its expressions, culture, and customs. But that's where the Lord had saved me, and I loved Jesus so much that I didn't care. I was willing to completely delete my pre-Christ identity: a young Asian-American male, who had inner-city black friends and steeped in that culture, a first-generation Chinese immigrant who was bi-lingual and culturally urban Hong Kong. I laid all of that down, and assimilated fully into the White, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and suburban sub-culture. What's wrong with that you would ask. Well you see, Jesus took me as I was, but the Church did not.

If anyone fails to see this as a problem, then I would suggest going back in history and studying how missionaries denied the cultures of evangelized indigenious peoples all over the world, and in particular the American Indians. You see, what happened to me is exactly the same thing that happened in the 1800's, but just in different skin.

If I can bring this conversation back to today, 2016, the most successful churches in the Twin Cities are the marketplace oriented churches as I described above. It works, and they are reaching a lot of people. However, at what expense? When I attend these churches, it all feels all too familiar. The “American” expression of Evangelicalism is still very one-dimensional, and demands assimilation.

What's the way forward? I know that there are those who truly care about diversity, racial reconciliation, de-segregration of Sunday morning, and generational reconciliation. These people feel they are in the minority, and their voices do not matter. Well let's get together and plant churches that have a totally different DNA. According to the prevailing wisdom, church plants like this would struggle, and probably not get very big and plateau. To this I would wholeheartedly disagree. I have been to multi-cultural mega-churches in the country where they celebrate and embrace each other's ethnic identities, and thrive. It is POSSIBLE. It just has not happened yet in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Wouldn't truly multi-cultural churches that celebrate our God-given identities demonstrate God's love in a totally new way? Would they demonstrate to this generation that the Church of Jesus Christ can in fact rise above our differences and truly love each other, to fully embrace each other's beautiful tapestry of cultures? That old and young can worship the same God together, that we would love to learn and sing each other's songs? That when that church picnic comes, we might even bring and share and love each other's food as well? Would you like to go to a church like that? Are you willing to sacrifice your own need for comfort and be in community with many people who are different than yourself?

UPDATE: I had an online conversation with the new leader of Church Multiplication Network in the fall of 2017, and it was confirmed that it is no longer their policy that new church plants must be mono-cultural. New intentionally multi-cultural church plants are actually in the works. PTL.

Peter Shu

Minneapolis, MN

pshu@GlobalWorshipMovement.org


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