Creating a Multicultural Church

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Jackson Crum, the Lead Pastor of Park Community Church, is not only a dear friend to me but also a great mentor.  One of the things I have appreciated about Jackson since coming under his leadership at Park, is that he makes it a habit to always come into every situation with a teachable spirit, which unfortunately, does not always happen with pastors.  There is a lot we can learn from him, especially in terms of being able to grow a unified, multicultural body of believers in our city.

Fourteen years ago Jackson arrived in Chicago and was greeted with this question:  "When is the church going to become multicultural?" Recognizing the range of ethnicities existing in the neighborhoods surrounding his church, the church decided to try and reflect that same diversity.  Jackson asked the question, "Tell me about your three closest friends and are they multicultural?" It’s then that he realized that this noble goal of creating and growing a healthy body of diverse believers will take more than just wishing it into existence. If their church was going to be a church in the city and for the city, then their staff and leaders needed to “look” like the city too.

Hence, changes first began with the leadership at the church. For years to follow, the mindset when hiring was intentionally set to hire minorities and hose that would be capable of teaching us on how to instill this “new” culture in our church. They would also have to be patient with us, knowing that trying to create a culturally sensitive environment in a church with no real background in diversity would not be easy or quick. How would we attract diverse groups of people if we do not have an understanding of diverse cultures? Jackson knew it would be a steep learning curve. He described it as “it is as if you felt  like you were walking up Mount Everest."

I appreciated Jackson’s honesty and openness about the growing pains during this transitional process. . "It's was hard," he told me. The majority of the church had become accustomed to preaching and teaching that spoke to issues relatable to them. But in the last few years, topics like the international refugee crisis, race relations, and political elections have come to the forefront of the news. Not only were these topics significant nationally, but they became relevant to his church because of the diversity growing amongst the members and surrounding community of the church. No longer could his church steer clear of addressing these uncomfortable topics. Jackson knew that the minorities sitting in the congregation would want to know if we, as leaders, we're going to talk about and address some of these issues. He knew that it was important to share Christian perspectives in the cloud of the worldly views.  Change is never easy, especially when it challenges us to rethink the way we have been accustomed to doing things. It became more evident as time passed, that it would not be easy, even for loyal “church goers,” to be pushed beyond their comfort zone. Sadly, some of the same people who championed the idea of being a multicultural church ended up leaving the church.

A key lesson I learned from Jackson’s experience is that if you want to work within a multicultural environment or any “new” culture, you need to have a teachable and humble heart. There will be things you do not know, and obstacles you cannot predict or prepare for. But, that is how one learns. Unless you put yourself in new situations or take on new challenges, how will you have the opportunity to grow and learn? Pastor's can make it a point to identify or seek out those that may have experiences that he does not or ideas/knowledge in areas that he is not familiar with, especially when trying to change the culture of a church.  

As I reflect on my own experience, being part of a multicultural church is hard.  It’s easy to “do church” with people who you can relate with. I grew up in a Chinese church, pretty much my whole life.  We talked the same language, saw things very similarly and had similar upbringings. But now being part of a a primarily Caucasian church,  it takes more time to understand and more effort to relate to one another. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be as close to members as I was with those in the Chinese church. We know that all things are possible with God. We’ve seen different cultures come together for a common purpose or goal in life and in the Bible. God created us all differently and therefore, each with unique skills and strengths. So, my challenge is for you to see how much more can we do for each other and others if when we came together?