Sunday morning is the most….
Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Now I’m almost positive you’ve heard that one before. In fact it’s been said so often and so long that it’s almost reached the mythical position reserved for ‘death and taxes’. Who knows pretty soon folks might say something like ‘you know there are only three things for certain in life, death, taxes and segregated churches. I’ve written before that in my view Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour of the week. Instead it’s only a reflection of the kind of society in which we’ve chosen to construct and live. America for all its diversity is not an integrated society. Though we live amongst each other we don’t actually live with one another (in the sense that we believe that those who are different from us are actually an asset and that we’ll accomplish more together than apart). True we are a diverse people but that doesn’t mean we’re in any way unified in within that diversity. Thus for most of us church attendance on Sunday morning isn’t exactly an aberration from the norm, but merely a clearer picture of what our lives are really like.
Despite that most all of us would agree that in one way or another this country and the church called to witness to it (and that’s a much bigger deal than I think most of us realize) has problems, challenges, struggles and opportunities with respect to race/ethnicity. We keep hearing of the need to have a ‘national conversation’ on race, the problem is that so few of us really know and trust another soul of a different ethnicity that such a conversation is almost impossible to begin. And should the world look to the church for answers what will they see? You guessed it, a people who claim to worship and serve one Lord and one faith and yet have persisted in doing so along the same convenient ethnic lines established and maintained by the world. In fact it seems that whenever issues of race/ethnicity hit the national scene (as it does with increasing frequency) we just shrug our shoulders and along with the world weakly recite the ‘Sunday is the most segregated day of the week’ mantra as if that’s the only real and tangible answer we can offer.
But does that have to remain true? Can the bible believing church in America actually begin steps to literally change the complexion of the church? I believe we can and for the sake of the gospel we must. Over the past year I’ve written and helped to coordinate a series of articles on the issue of race/ethnicity as it impacts the PCA which appeared in the byfaith online webzine. For the most part each article (five were published) generated a number of comments many of which offered the view quoted below.
“Why not embrace that a) there are different subcultures within the US, and b) as much as we love each other, those subcultures involve worship styles that other subcultures may not be comfortable with, and that is okay? Is it necessary to make white people more exuberant, or make black people tone it down, to accommodate each other in worship together?”
Quotes like this raised the issue of worship style as the main (and perhaps only) barrier toward the pursuit of genuine ethnic unity within God’s church. Before moving forward let me say that style of worship is a valid point when considering integrated churches. It’s a valid point because the spectrum of expression within biblical Christian worship is quite wide. I experienced this first hand over twenty years ago upon leaving my rather conservative Pentecostal church for Tenth Presbyterian Church. I can tell you that even apart from the obvious theological differences it would have been nearly impossible for these two faithful, bible believing congregations to worship together on a regular basis. Even though they sang some of the same hymns there was a noticeable and pronounced difference in the way they sang and responded to them. But let’s remember the spectrum of expression within biblical worship is just that, a spectrum. Within their tradition and heritage both West Oak Lane Church of God and Tenth Presbyterian Church lie along that spectrum. WOLCOG’s worship was not as expressive of many other Pentecostal churches and Tenth’s worship was not as restrained as other Presbyterian churches. Let me add to this point that I certainly do not believe that every existing church should change their worship style so as to remove cultural barriers that might hinder its outreach towards other people groups (that’s not to say they should never consider it). Moreover, there are probably a great many churches located in areas where the population is over 90% of one ethnicity or another so as to make effective integration virtually impossible. Consequently, I do not suggest that we aim for wholesale church conversions. The fact is that most of our churches are so far entrenched in their cultural style whatever it is that change is just not going to happen.
How then can we hope to set upon a path to change the complexion of God’s church in America? We can do so by pursuing a church planting strategy that will feature at least the following characteristics:
1) They incorporate two of the more prevalent current worship expressions of the American church which are the black and white contemporary style.
2) They begin with joint multi-ethnic leadership.
3) They target the suburban areas of our large and medium sized cities.
4) They make full use of existing churches to form active mission teams.
Look, more than likely the evangelical church and black bible-believing church will start a number of congregations during the next twenty years or so. And if we can make just a few adjustments the majority of these congregations can actually grow to become multi-ethnic churches that feature more than just token minority membership. How can all this work you ask? That’s for the next post.
To Him Who Loves Us…