I sat on a bench in Homestead, Florida, talking to José. He’d rather you call him “Pepe.” He’s a short, kind grandpa – a first-generation Cuban-American, and one of the five Olympic weight lifters who defected from Cuba to America in the 1960s.
Pepe never visited his island nation again. That’s typical of that generation of Cuban refugees who are fiercely American, freedom-loving, and well-educated. He reminded me of the elderly Cuban gentlemen who gave me a ride in his van after my bike got a flat when I was 15 years old. Like the man in the van, Pepe spoke longingly of a free Cuba.
A World in Flux
Pepe, the man in the van, and their assimilated grandkids represent today’s cultural challenge for my city and church. As economies fluctuate, the world’s people move like weather patterns. America is in a bit of an economic lurch, yet countries like Brazil are booming. With the Brazilian economy surging and the U.S. dollar and real estate market flagging, we are a double bargain for many people around the world. Brazilians, Russians, and others are snapping up swatches of beach, suburbia, and pastureland while they can.
Miami and southeast Florida are changing yet again. And your community is changing too. Job portability, disaster relocation, affordable home prices, smaller neighborhoods, and less volatility have all contributed to the growth of suburbia and Middle America. Many communities are rapidly becoming a tapestry of diverse cultures.
Adapting to the Change
Multicultural ministry is now a reality for a massive swath of American churches that have a passion for the mission of Jesus and love for His people. Churches must respond to the changing dynamics of their community.
Following are some thoughts for church leaders who want to embrace the full scope of your community with the gospel:
1. You’ll be misunderstood.
As with any missionary, you’ll step on some cultural landmines. It’s inevitable. But if your love in genuine and obvious, “love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NKJV). The more integrated you become, the better you will be able to detect and avoid future landmines.
2. Rediscover New Testament hospitality.
Some cultures are more hospitable than others. As a result, if you don’t extend hospitality first, it may. not be extended to you. Hospitality is not merely a practice, it is a way of life. If you don’t value it, you may appear cold and unfriendly.
3. Party like a rock star.
OK, well … maybe not like a rock star, but lighten up. Pentecostals aren’t the best at this. When you handle that Scriptures honestly, you will see that Jesus Knew how to socialize (Matt. 9:10-13; John 2:1-12). He went to the people. When we can relax in another’s environment, walls collapse under that weight of joy, vulnerability, and acceptance.
4. Be faithful with the Scriptures.
How sad it is when, in an effort to relate to other culture or subcultures, we compromise God’s truth. Missional living can cross over into syncretism – when we so badly want to relate that we jeopardize the gospel. The goal is to. be a gospel-faithful, culture-engaging church with value for the culture as a secondary function. Ours is to be a ministry that honors culture after is had honored the Cross.
5. Pray with intensity.
Prayer is a power language. It rises above differences and connects us to God and one another. The language of prayer in any culture is easily understood.
6. Weep with the broken hearts.
When the answer is too expensive or complicated and there’s no fixing the problem, stopping to weep with broken hearts heals wounds. Shared pain binds us together with bonds of compassion and a primal understanding of one another’s humanity. This easily trumps cultural differences.
7. Release your hold on feelings of cultural superiority.
Every culture has its finer points, but pride distances peoples from one another. Let your finer points speak well of Christ instead of your region, color, or accent.
8. Create a new culture.
If you gather diverse cultures together and allow them to balkanize, you’ll have massive conflict. Instead, create a new culture – a Jesus culture. Create a new language, new norms, and new traditions so various cultures can rally and identify with something greater than their nationality, dialect, or foods.
9. Give of yourselves.
Each culture has its challenges. If your primary focus is on the difficulties of ministry, you’ll fatigue quickly. But if you focus outwardly and give of yourselves, the message of Jesus will resonate deeply within the hearts of your people. Generosity always translates well.