Culturally Relevant Mission in a Multiethnic Society
Michael Palandro is the Southwest Regional Diversity Task Force Leader and Senior Pastor of the Houston Vineyard.
In the article, "Exploring Core Vineyard Values," Vineyard USA Online, Winter 2008, Ken Wilson explained that, "We are called to bring the gospel of the kingdom to every nook and cranny of creation, faithfully translating the message of Jesus in language and forms that are relevant to diverse peoples and cultures."
A significant part of our effectiveness as the Vineyard has been our ability to recognize cultural trends and then shape our articulation of the gospel as well as our church forms to make the Kingdom life and message understandable and accessible to people in Postmodern United States.
This same disposition has also contributed to our rapid expansion through church planting in other countries - activity we know as "missions"
We have recently become aware of a significant cultural reality in the United States - that we are not a "melting pot" but a "stew pot." We are transitioning away from a dominant European background population and culture that could more easily shed its distinctives and become "American." And we are moving toward a much more diverse population, whose very color and culture defy "melting" and now coexist in a multiethnic and multicultural stew. In this new reality we still stand together as Americans in one society but we retain much more of our ethnic and cultural distinctives.
This shift has been fueled in part by a dramatic change in immigration. According to Rice University sociologist, Stephen Kleinberg, from 1492 until 1960 85% of all immigrants to America were from Europe. But starting in the 1990's 88% of all immigrants to America are coming from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.
Peter Drucker, widely considered to be the "Father of Modern Management" said that a successful entrepreneur is one who "identifies that future that has already happened." The future America is one of diverse cultures and ethnicities with a shrinking population of Euro-Anglos. Houston Texas is a good example where, since the year 2000, 75% of those under the age of 30 are non-Anglo. The future that has already happened is a nation of diverse cultures, races and ethnicities where each maintains aspects of its unique identity while at the same time creating something new that is a blend of each.
In order to have a serious opportunity to reach and disciple a significant segment of our society, and especially younger generations, we must take into account the multiethnic nature of our nation. This means giving more consideration to planting and developing multiethnic churches.
As we consider growing healthy multiethnic churches in this new cultural climate some things that might have been peripheral to us begin to come into sharper focus. Here are a few examples.
- The nature of the gospel as "reconciliation" and the Vineyard value of being a reconciling community where, "(we) actively work to break down barriers of race, culture, gender, social class, and ethnicity." (See Ken Wilson, Vineyard USA Online, Winter 2008)
- The Biblical message in a passage like Ephesians 2:14-16 where the apostle Paul declares, "For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies
in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God.
What a pertinent message in a racialized society often divided by its differences and a pointer to the need for multiethnic and multicultural churches.
- God's missional call to reach people "from every race, tribe, nation, and language (Revelation 7:9) within our own country that is becoming more and more ethnically diverse. As a movement and as local churches none of us wants to be marginalized to the point that we are relevant only to a shrinking population of Anglo non-Hispanics. This reality also stands as a reminder that as people of the Kingdom we can't afford to be identified with those primarily concerned to preserve the America that "was" but instead we want to be identified with God's agenda to love and reach the America that "is" and "will be." We are challenged to see the "sea that we swim in" as Americans not through the eyes of our US citizenship but our heavenly citizenship.
- Our concern for the credibility of the gospel to new generations who are more and more culturally diverse. This highlights the need for multiethnic churches which show that life in Christ actually creates peaceful communities where people with significant differences can be reconciled to one another without losing valuable distinctives. It's possible that churches separated on the basis of color, class or culture will discredit the church and bring into greater question the relevance and power of the gospel.
We need to think missionally in this new cultural reality and consider how to contextualize the Gospel in a multicultural and multiethnic society. Part of the answer is multiethnic churches that take seriously the differences in culture and language and are willing to learn and adapt in order to make the Gospel understandable, credible and accessible to a greater number of people.
This is undoubtedly part of the challenge of engaging in "culturally relevant mission."