6 Actions to Take When Leading from the Dominant Culture in a Multi-Ethnic Church

In a follow-up to my post, “I’m a racist. That’s why I need people of colour in my church”, here are 6 steps to take with a few comments/questions for those of us who are from the dominant (white) culture when leading in a multi-ethnic church.

Do you put yourself in a place to learn from brothers and sisters who are different from you?  Do you read authors who are black, Asian or from a different social class? Are all your favourite preachers & teachers white middle-class men? Time to change that.

Do you have any friends from a different ethnic background?  Do you take the time to ask questions about their story?  Have you wondered why certain ethnic groups act in certain ways? Politely ask!

The tendency for those of us who come from the dominant culture is to move quickly into “fix-it” mode when our eyes are opened to historic cultural sins.  Don’t let the first question out of your mouth be “What can I do now to make things better?” Take the time to lament.

The word “lament” is rooted in scripture but doesn’t get enough traction in Protestant circles.  There have been a few books recently on the subject – check out Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith and Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times

My wife, Josephine, has said again and again over the years that people will put up with a lot if they know that you love them.  Yes, there will be cultural mistakes when people from various ethnic backgrounds worship in the same church. I know cause I’ve made many of them!!  But love covers a multitude of sins!

How are you using your privilege, your connections and your advantages for the Kingdom of God? Get out there and do something!

There may be a time when you need to leave and it may come earlier than you expect.   The goal for every leader should be to raise up the next generation.  Hopefully, minority leaders have emerged over the years making it possible to move on to the next challenge.



The church is part of the gospel!

As I’ve grown older and a bit wiser, my love for the local church as grown. The people of God gathered are together a witness to the truth of the gospel.  Instrumental in my growing love and understanding of the church has been Bob Heppe.  Here are a few of his thoughts about the church: 

“The church is part of the gospel.” (John Stott) The kingdom of God is most fully and clearly expressed in the people He has redeemed, the community of the kingdom, who have been forgiven, cleansed, delivered from the powers of the kingdom of darkness and come under the liberating power of Christ.

We believe the church, as God’s new community, is the primary and best expression of the gospel, and so the locus and agent of God’s missionary purposes. It is the sign, instrument and foretaste of the gospel. 

We, therefore, should be seeking corporately to incarnate in our body the vision, values, and characteristics of the redeemed community of the King. These include:

  • encouraging one another in making Christ the centre of our devotion,
  • deep and intimate fellowship,
  • the radical sharing of our lives both spiritually and practically,
  • acceptance of others who are unlike us,
  • and sacrificial Christ-like love, both for the church community,
  • and for those outside our community.

The way we live together and enjoy and love one another is a first fruit of the new age of the Kingdom which we have entered, and a dynamic power that reaches into a world of fractured relationships and broken lives. The church should be the ideal extended family, and more.

The transformation we long for is intimately connected to the church. Created in the image of the triune community, humans can be restored only in community.

Thus God’s gospel purpose of restoration necessarily includes and requires the church, the only place in the world where Biblically functioning community can properly exist. It follows that discipleship and sanctification (the process of restoring the image of God in man) is inherently corporate and communal. 

Marinate in God’s love!

Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. ~ Jude 21

This summer, we grilled out in our back garden with friends.  And the meat was delicious because Josephine makes a special marinade for the meat.

But you know how marinade works don’t you?  You don’t just dip the meat in and pull it out and immediately to put the meat on the grill.  NO!

Josephine made the marinade the night before.  She mixed all the spices and sauces.  She poured it over the meat to let it soak in those fabulous juices for over 12 hours.

THEN you put the meat on the grill.  THEN you get some good tasting meat!!

This reminds me of how we relate to the love of God expressed in the finished work of Jesus.

You can’t just hear the good news once.  You need to marinate in God’s love.  Why?

Cause we know we don’t deserve God’s love. We question, “Can this good news really be true?”  We know the mess we make of our lives.

So we need hear the good news of the gospel again and again and again.  On Sundays with our brothers and sisters in worship. And during the week in books.  And in recorded teaching. And in personal conversations and in bible studies and in….

You’ve accepted the good news.  Great!

Now you need to marinate in the love of God.

I’m a racist. That’s why I need people of colour in my church.

This is an edited portion of a talk I gave at the New City Conference on 6 October 2017

I have a confession.  I am a racist.

In response, you could say, “But your wife is black and your kids are mixed-race.  You’ve been living multi-ethnic neighbourhoods and working in multi-ethnic churches for over 25 years. What are you talking about?”

What I’m talking about is that I am a sinful man who thinks my way is the right way.  Now, I didn’t say the “white way is the right way.”  I would never say something so blatant as “ White is right.”

But the reality is that it’s pretty easy for me to think that my understanding of the world and my understanding of the church is right and yours is wrong.  It’s even “natural” for me to question someone’s opinion just because they differ ethnically from me.

And our society reinforces my tendency to be a prideful man.  I’m an American man.  My skin is white because my ancestors came from Europe.  In so many ways – often subtle ways – this gives me an advantage day to day.

I’m reminded me of Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he writes about his lineage in chapter  3: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

Paul’s society would recognize his credentials.  And when Paul tells his story, he doesn’t omit his heritage or his ethnic background.  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers.”  (Acts 22:3)

I’m thankful for my ethnic background and my personal story. But I know there are challenges with being a white American man. Those of us from the majority culture might even think that God’s goal is a colourblind world.  “Don’t think of race or ethnicity! We should all just be one, worship Jesus and not worry about that stuff.”  But that’s a statement which can only be made from someone like me, who comes from the dominant culture.

Ethnic minorities must think about it! Maybe not all the time, but it does come up in the course of daily life.  If your ancestors come to the UK from Russia or Spain, you’ll slide right into British culture after a few generations.

But if you’re grandparents came from Jamaica or Korea or India, there will be times when you will be considered part of the other “ethnic” groups in our society.  Race and ethnicity can’t be completely disregarded by non-white people in the UK.

Theologically, we know that we serve a God who both recognizes and honours our ethnic background because He created us!  We look forward to the day with every tribe and tongue praises Jesus around the throne of grace. This means there’s going to be ethnic groups in heaven!

By recognizing and engaging with my brothers and sisters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, my understanding of God and his desires for us as his people is enhanced. When I “do church” with people who are different from me, together we encourage each other up to grow in Christ in ways that just can’t happen when we worship apart.

I need to be challenged by my brothers and sisters of colour at times when my pride shows itself in ugly ways.  I need help opening my eyes to the fact that our society privileges my white skin.  I need my application of the scriptures enhanced by theologians from Africa and Asia.

And it’s not just that I need to bring my power and my education and my privilege to help “those people”!  No!  I am deficient without the full body of Christ.  We come into the church as mutually dependent brothers and sisters unity by the Spirit.

But because of my personal history and the way our society has developed, white men like me, need to take serious care when we come together in church. The benefits are glorious but the dangers are real.

May God have mercy on us all as He builds his multi-ethnic church.

(A helpful book on this subject is Daniel Hill’s White Awake: An Honest Look at What it Means to be White)

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