I grew up in inner-city Detroit. Detroit’s predominantly African American and has a rich heritage of civil rights leaders and icons. (Can you say Rosa Parks?) So as a young, chubby, shy Asian kid I wasn’t a natural leader in this environment. But as a teenager in high school I learned how to adapt and care for the majority culture around me in order to influence it. Essentially I learned how to be real among my black friends without denying my Asian friends. Even my high school prom date, who was from Canada, was impressed at how popular I was among black folks! I had figured out some way to influence the majority culture around me without abandoning my own culture.
Similarly, I believe ethnic churches are facing a missional shift where they need to deeply care for the majority culture around them in order to better lead and influence in North America.
Here are four and a half (you’ll see what I mean) missional shifts I believe need to happen in ethnic churches for them to have a prophetic voice and to live out God’s purpose for them in North America.
1. BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ISSUES OF NORTH AMERICA TOO
Just as God told Israel to pray and seek the welfare of the Babylonians in Jeremiah 29:7, ethnic people need to do the same in North America. So what if your ancestors didn’t destroy indigenous communities! So what if they weren’t responsible for slavery in America! Your ethnicity may not be white, but your nationality is American or Canadian. Take responsibility for finding solutions. What you do today lays the foundation of the future history of your children and of North America.
If you want to claim Jeremiah 29:11, you have to practice Jeremiah 29:7 first.
2. REIMAGINE WHY YOUR ANCESTORS CAME TO NORTH AMERICA
For many of us whose ancestors came to North America as asylum seekers, we’re the answered promise that God gave to generations before us. The promise isn’t the American Dream. The promise is that God will use a generation to bless nations. It is the extension of the Abrahamic Covenant lived out in the context of different ethnic groups. We are all children of Abraham and our prosperity shouldn’t be hoarded or squandered. We should be a blessing to other nations. God has positioned you in North America to be a blessing to all nations – not just your own.
America is not your Promise Land. Remember, like Abraham, you should be looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
3. DON’T MINDLESSLY COPY THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS WHOLESALE
I have black, Asian, and non-European friends that are more Calvinist, Reformed, and Westernized in their theology than John Calvin, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus put together! (Yes, I’m using hyperbole.) Theological systems are there for us to learn from and to take the best parts each has to offer. But when we import theological systems wholesale (and similarly pragmatic church programs) we short change a beautiful process that God intends for when the Gospel subversively – and sometimes much too slowly for our own liking – redeems and re-creates the best parts of indigenous culture.
The greatest Reformations are still ahead. Don’t just read John Calvin. Be a John Calvin. Or a Calvin Johnson. Or a Yauhaa Khaab. (That’s Hmong for John Khang.)
4. REACH AND DISCIPLE ALL NATIONS IN YOUR CITY…
Ethnic churches spend a lot of energy trying to support missions in their home country. There’s nothing wrong with that and to a certain extent this is a Biblical practice. But what makes it unbiblical is when you support the ends of the earth portion of Acts 1:8 at the expense of the Jerusalem, in all Judaea, and Samaria portion. Some ethnic churches don’t think they’re capable of discipling others outside their own ethnicity. They often cite language and cultural barriers as reasons for not obeying Matthew 28:19-20 in their own city. If you ask me, I’ll give first-generation churches a pass if they’re still in survival mode trying to learn the lay of the land. But as soon as you begin climbing Maslow’s pyramid, language and cultural barriers become excuses for disobedience. When members of an ethnic church understand the Great Commission and they can speak the language of the culture, but they refuse to make disciples of other nations – they are practicing racism in its purist form.
Yep. I said it.
Being a minority does not give you a bye in fulfilling Matthew 28:19-20 in your own community. If you’re reading this blog and you can understand it then you no longer have a legitimate excuse.
4 1/2. …AND THIS INCLUDES REACHING WHITE PEOPLE TOO
I have to go the extra half point to make this point. In the past few centuries God used predominantly white Americans to reach unreached people groups around the world. (Read Mark Knoll on this.) It’s time to return the favour. Could it be that the ethnic church is a preservative agent in North America? In Romans 11 the Apostle Paul warns the Gentiles to not be arrogant towards the Jews. Why? Because God used the Jews to reach the Gentiles. The Gentiles were grafted into the Elect and represented new and fast growth in the New Testament church. But they were to remain humble and hopeful and helpful in regards to re-grafting the Jews back into the Elect people of God. The nations aren’t coming to North America just so North Americans can reach the nations. The nations are coming to North America so that the nations can reach North America.
Ethnic people, you aren’t here just to reach people like you. You’re here to reach people different from you too. And that includes white people.
Yep. I said it.
Ethnic churches must humbly anticipate and participate in what God is doing to preserve and restore faith in Christ among white North Americans.