In a previous post, we looked at historical examples of denominations that have fractured along ethnic lines, and considered some of the ways in which cross-cultural communication, or lack of diverse relationships, may have contributed to internal misunderstandings and ultimately division. It is important to mention that in many cases churches that are formed around ethnic affinity have traditionally served as places of belonging and are characterized by deep, family-like relationships. While churches will continue to form and exist by ethnic affinity, many more churches today are being planted or transitioned to reflect the diversity of the community just outside their doors. Certainly changing demographics are contributing to the rise of multiethnic churches today.
More significantly, it is important to understand that the multiethnic church is rooted in New Testament ecclesiology (having existed in such cities as Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome). At the end of the day, we are destined for a multiethnic future in heaven (Revelations 7:9). With all this being said, we are hoping and planning to learn to walk, work, and worship God together as one by:
Worldview causes communication to get complex when we add cross-cultural dimension. This is true because a person acts according to the values and norms of her culture, and the person receiving the message interprets it through the grid of his own values and culture.
Here are some insights to consider in communicating cross-culturally:
Recently I was reading a book about cross-cultural competency and when it comes down to communication they use an iceberg analogy that I would try to explain. They suggest that the top of the iceberg is what we see, hear and touch (those external factors that are explicitly learned, conscience, objective knowledge and that can be easily change). Then, the bottom of the iceberg (which is usually 3-4 times the size of the top) is those beliefs, values, thought patterns and myths (those internal factors that are implicitly learned, unconscious, subjective knowledge and that that can be difficult to change).
In that illustration they were trying to point out that all that we can see is external. In communication, this would include someone’s words, tone and body language. But what we perceive is based on our own beliefs, values, and thought patterns, beneath the surface; that is, those things that form our worldview. In cross-cultural communication, it’s often the items that lie below the surface that differ dramatically enough to cause misunderstandings. Without taking the time to explore what’s below the surface in a person’s life, we will find ourselves confused or frustrated at points. Confusion and frustration, if left unchecked, will lead to further misunderstandings and a breakdown of trust. Once this occurs, it’s very hard to rebuild it.
Questions to reflect:
The phrase "worldview" is often used to describe the lens through which we evaluate everything from today’s news to a friend’s new haircut.
When we embrace Christ, we are given new life. Eternal life, yes, but not necessarily a new worldview. This is an important truth to understand. As believers, the Apostle Paul describes us as new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). In terms of worldview, however, this does not mean that our past experiences or understanding of reality is without merit or value.
What is new, is how God uses our perspective and experience for spiritual and social good when we humbly allow him to do so. Paul writes about this in his letter to the church in Rome. "All things work together for good for those who love God and are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) This includes our past pain, personal experiences, and preferences. Therefore, in seeking development of cross-cultural relationships, it is important to keep in mind that your way of seeing things is not necessarily the correct way of seeing things.
Of course personal relationships are important to the health and well-being of any church. In a multi-ethnic church, however, they are of exponentially greater importance. Relationships form the very fabric of a multi-ethnic church because trust is not a commodity so easily assumed in an environment where people must interact with others different from themselves. And get this: cross-cultural relationships take much more time to form and develop. They cannot be agenda driven.
Questions to reflect: Take a moment to consider your own past; where you were born, how your were raised, and where you were educated. When did you receive Christ? And what else has shaped your "worldview" as a person?
Admittedly racism is a charged, tough-to-talk-about, subject in American life and culture. However, I believe the Church cannot ignore it. Nor can we talk about building healthy churches without addressing it on some level. The fact is racism has contributed to the systematic segregation of local churches throughout the United States for well over one hundred years.
It is commonly believed that racism, or racial separation is an innate part of human nature; but this is not the case. In fact, in addressing this topic, it’s worth noting that racism is a relatively new phenomenon.
Consider the following quote by Dr. Perkins: “Social oppression based on human groupings has always been part of our societies. But until recently, this oppression has not generally been linked to notions of physical distinctions. If we define racism as creating or maintaining racial group inequality and justifying that inequality, then racism may not have begun to develop until the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade”.
It’s unsettling to understand how modern racism developed from the Atlantic slaves trade. Nevertheless, such understanding can be helpful to us in learning how racism can be overcome through the power of Christ that works with us.
These are some practical truths:
While some denominations claim to have been multi-ethnic from the start (or at some point in their history) most have fractured through the years. Bowing to personalities, personal preferences, and shifting societal norms, ethnic and economic segregation in these denominations, and the churches they spawned, became the standard.
Look at this data:
Questions to reflect:
1. What do you imagine were some of the obstacles faced by these denominations in attempting to remain multiethnic?
2. Do you believe these denominations could have survived or thrived if they had remained multiethnic? Why or why not?
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his disciples “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”. But have you ever wondered why we must read eight chapters into the book of Acts before finding anyone who leaves Jerusalem for the sake of the Gospel?
Like many of us today, it seems the early disciples found it difficult to leave the environment with which they were most familiar. From Abram’s wanderings in a land far from his home, to Joseph in the land of Egypt; from Esther in Persia to Christ himself, it’s hard to find anyone of significant influence in the Bible who was not first called to leave someone or someplace behind in order to become all that God intended them to be, or to do all that God intended them to do.
If Jesus commands us to go, why do we stay?
Did you know that the first church to take up a collection for those in need beyond its walls was the church in Antioch (Acts 11:28-30)?
It was not the homogenous church in Jerusalem, but the multi-ethnic church at Antioch that first mobilized its own and sent missionaries to the world in response to the Great Commission (Acts 13:2-3). In the church at Antioch, there were people of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds; converted Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 11:19-20). Presumably, many of them would have been drawn to the busting city from all over the known world. Having then received Christ, these diverse believers would have soon considered their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, extended family members and friends, alike, still living in the lands from which they came. They would have desired for their loved ones to receive the gift of eternal life.
So why did the church in Antioch care about the world? Because the church at Antioch reflected the world! They where a multi-ethnic people who considered it essential to send their money, their peopl, and the message of hope abroad to family, friends, and countrymen in obedience to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
As important as it is to listen to one another, it is equally important to understand the difference between what is being said and what is being heard, this is a reality when speaking with and listening to someone cross-culturally. To be effective communicators, we must commit ourselves to the pursuit of cross-cultural competence. An absence of genuine relationships of transparency and trust between different groups of people can be a disaster. Even these naïve lines can be more harmful than what you think.
Your black friend will not likely want to hear:
During the past several years much has been made of divisions in America. We have talked Red States vs. Blue States, Wall St. vs. Main St., and every other generation vs. millennials, in an effort to measure the divides. Those divisions have also overwhelmed the church through out the years. Think about it: have you ever heard an evening newscast describing a united Christian viewpoint on any subject or issue? In all probably, you have not. So, is the church providing a credible witness to the world of what Jesus did and hoped for the church to do?
Ask yourself: Could a more united and persuasive Christian point of view be presented to the world if groups of different ethnic groups were walking, working and worshiping God together as one, living Sunday to Sunday as part of one local church, sitting side by side in the same pews, listening to the same sermon, learning from and communicating well with one another in a spirit of brotherly love and mutual respect?
In all reality, as Christians we are meant to provide a more reasoned peace in the midst of contentious debate, and show the world a more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). In all reality we will think different than many people, but we can focus on those points of connection rather in those details that divide us. It is vital to remember that our primary point of connection is the Gospel.
Questions to reflect:
As a preacher I found this information very insightful.
“In a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers had test subjects listen to a ten-minute talk. Moments after the talk, only 50% could describe what they had just heard. Within 48 hours, only 25% could even recall the subject matter! This is because the human brain has the capacity to digest as many as 400 words per minute of information. But even the fastest speakers use about 125 words per minute. What this means is that 75% of our brain is probably elsewhere when others are speaking.”
So by consequence, we could easily say that most adults are terrible listeners. Now, the challenge for us as a church is how to become good listeners in a community of faith when we need to listen to others. Developing cross-cultural relationships means taking the time to understand the cultural perspectives, history, and struggles of peoples groups beyond our own.
In short, we must become good listeners.
The goal of cross-cultural interaction is not to get others to think, feel, or become like us; it is to listen and learn from them. One of the most insightful things that Jesus taught his disciples before they were able to “talk” to others, was to be able to “listen” to others.
Questions to reflect:
Here are some numbers for you to consider. David Olson in his book “The American Church in Crisis” writes that “On any given Sunday, the vast majority of Americans are absent from church and if trends continue, by 2050, the percentage of Americans attending church will be half (of what it was in 1990)”.
He gave these statistics: