multiethnic churches saying and doing different things

Mark DeYmaz pastors Mosaic Church over in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it’s very ethnically diverse. Goes to show — your church doesn’t have to be in a cosmopolitan top 10 population density center to be diverse. His new book, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church : Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, is being published as we speak, and it’ll be released in October 2007 or so. I was invited to endorse it, and they’re using my quote on the back cover and at too:

This book unpacks theological and practical principles for local churches interested in truly serving their neighboring communities in an increasingly diverse America. It paves the way for the future of the local church and the next generations of its leaders.

And just in time for the book release, Mark DeYmaz is blogging now at . Mark is a part of the Mosaix Global Network, which has 4 regional conferences this October and November chock-full of inspiring speakers and workshops to explain and show how to build a multiethnic church. Details for the Northeast regional conference in Pennsylvania is online at

David Park and the Atlanta Emergent cohort had some very intense conversations about racism that lasted for hours, even past closing time of where they were chatting.

Racism and the church isn’t supposed to be an easy topic. So while I was pleasantly surprised to see 9 Marks Ministries dedicate its entire Sept/Oct 2007 issue of its eJournal to discuss issues related to the problem of racism. The 13 articles and book reviews are organized under 3 headings: Is there a race problem? Reflections on the problem, and Overcoming the problem.

I found most of their articles to barely scratch the surface of the embedded problem of race within the American church. While upholding the imperative to think theologically about all things, and perhaps due to the limited space of addressing such a complex and multi-layered problem, all the energy gets spent on theological abstractions and doctrinal priorities with little consideration for strategic moves to make long overdue systemic and structural changes. So let’s get to the fresh thinking about racism already, rather than concluding with the same song to get more theological and get more thinking about the racism problem. And let’s really dig deeper and recognize how culture shapes theology, and the lens by which theological constructs were put together may need re-examination and itself re-considered in a more multicultural context.

Note the 3 Asian voices in the mix: Sam Lam wrote about 10 lessons he got from reading Frank Wu’s Yellow, and Jeremy Yong & Geoffrey Chang both wrote book reviews on Growing Healthy Asian American Churches.

What I’d like to see: someone from the “gold-standard” Reformed theological camp write a book that does articulate how a Reformed kind of Asian American church would look like and address that cultural milieu. And, why is it that just thinking rightly about theology, the Gospel, and the cross, and supposedly living out of that faith, has not resulted in Reformed churches being any more ethnically-diverse than non-Reformed churches.

[update 8/31] Good grades means less friends for Blacks and Latinos. cf. The Fryer-Torelli paper, An Empirical Analysis of Acting White (PDF), has gained much attention and buzzworthiness among scholars in The Academy as of late, which found an inverse relationship between good grades and popularity among Blacks and Latinos. [ht:]

[update 9/4] The Baptist Standard weighs in race issues in the church too:

And, Ed Stetzer has a good discussion going at his blog post titled Racism and 9 Marks.

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14 Responses

  1. Wow! I don’t know what to say or add except to say thank you for saying what you said! I’m reading your blogs more attentively lately because its easy to forget (especially going to a conservative Seminary in so Cal) about how serious our churches are racially divided and our indifference and apathy at making real consorted efforts at reaching out to the “despised” cultures in the immediate surroundings of our churches, which may vary. It’s like a mental or spiritual “grove” sort of speak. A broken record will keep playing a song up to the point where the scratch, unintentionally, is located, and there is nothing that can change that except replace it with the right song. I think this issue of racism in the Amer Churches is the same. People will listen when its being addressed, most likely listen, but then get back into the same old “grove” when the lesson/sermon/conference what have you is finished. What really needs to be done is to change the whole mission of the church to one that actively incorporates reconciliation and includes a consorted effort by the whole church, not just the pastor. I think sometimes the Pastor/teacher gets tired, even discouraged, of having to bring back this anwareness to the church.

    I’m reviewing some of your articles about the future of Asian American churches a few posts back because I will be sharing at Chinese Baptist Church of Thousand Oaks on the topic of cross cultural evangelism called, How to Evangelize to Latinos under the presupposition that culture shapes theology. Thanks for enlightening me about a different way to share the gospel, one that respects and takes into consideration differences among groups of people, not just individual ones.

  2. Thanks for the observation, and a timely one at that.

    I think sometimes we are so focused on the dialogics of truths that we forget that the truth of the gospel and all it’s comfort-zone shattering implications are supposed to work their way into the deepest crevices of our hearts and lives. After attending predominantly African-American congregations for most of my life, I decided sometime before I went through seminary that I would not want to be a part of a church full of people who only look like me.

  3. David Park says:

    Thanks DJ for the link love and the issues that you’re bringing up.

    From what I’ve seen and heard from the conservative end is somewhat of a linear line of thinking: find our identity in Christ first, then get in the Word, get discipled, get into missions, and then maybe, if we have time for it at the end, we’ll get into all that other stuff. One comment that came out in our conversation that night which I forgot to make note of on the blog, was that with this sequential notion of spiritual maturity, by the time we get to racism and social justice, you’re like 65 years old! In essence, we never get to impacting the reality around us because we’re so busy focused on ourselves. Sam Lam, the guy who comments on Frank Wu’s Yellow (a must-read for AA’s), says as much when he says “Everything else, like race, ethnicity, even gender, comes further down the list”.

    I don’t disregard the notion that discipleship comes with submitting ourselves to the transformative process of the Holy Spirit. However, I find that this “hierarchy of spiritual needs” to be retarding the activity the body of Christ is called to do. That’s like saying I shouldn’t raise children until I learn to be a good husband when the fact of the matter is, that the raising of children can positively impact my ability to be a good husband. Besides, when is ever a good time to have children? We don’t control these passions. I believe God calls us to those things that are on his heart and we should not say, you are skipping steps 5-17 before getting to 18, lest we become Pharisaical in the way we view of God. Love does not have to follow a certain order.

  4. daniel so says:

    DJ — Thanks for facilitating another great discussion. Your last question cuts deep, but is such a vital question if we’re going to move forward.

    I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated/disillusioned with the line of thinking that David @3 describes that suggests spiritual growth happens in the same linear sequence for all people. This primary emphasis on personal sanctification squares neatly with Western perspectives, but misses out on a larger communal/societal understanding of forgiveness, reconciliation, sin and justice.

    Occasionally (and forgive me if I’m reading into things here) I get the vibe from some Asian Americans that they need to prove their “Reformed-ness” to non-Asian folks. Right belief, doctrine and theology are important — but is it a legitimate critique of a book written by multiple authors to suggest that they have “weak” theology or ecclesiology simply because they do not articulate a clear-cut definition of these terms? Is complete unanimity a prerequisite for “sound” theology?

    We, both as the Asian American and broader church, lose out when we insist on promoting one particular theological perspective as being normative for all. Yes, yes, we need to have some sense of orthodoxy — of course — but it’s disconcerting when we fall into the same traps of demonizing people simply because they do not check each box on our theological approval form.

  5. solomon li says:

    i disagree with some of the previous statements in the comment above about theological distinctiveness.

    theology is indeed a necessary component to propel this argument. people need to have an idea in their heads before they can process it in their hearts. this is certainly true of mercy ministries, missions, and other practical outworking imperatives of the gospel message. theological distinctiveness and orthodoxy is what separates us from those who would assume a false gospel (ie. the health and wealth gospel). we need to be absolutely clear about what the gospel teaches and communicate that to our brothers and sisters across the board.

    this would require us to have sound theological ground, for through the indicative flows out the imperative.

    furthermore, there is an inherent problem with cultural distinctiveness when you think about how people just naturally gravitate to others that are alike. for if you live in a neighborhood full of chinese americans, where are you gonna find the black, white, hispanic, and various other peoples to fill the pews of your new improved multi-ethnic church? on some levels it is simply not practical.

    however, with that said we must remember that for many others the issue is not so much where to find them, but when you have a solid core group made up of a high majority of homogeneous types it becomes inherently intimidating for many visitors to come again and ultimately stay in that congregation.

    personally, i agree with the reviews of the book. and i would also like to add that there is a definite slant upon a more liberal theological stance and hobby horse issue in women’s ordination. that completely bothered the heck out of me because it is not merely a cultural issue (as the book wants to make it out to be), but rather a theological issue that is important for the polity of a church and its practical implications on church discipline etc. fine. yes. women have it bad in that they sometimes do not get a certain level of respect… is that a mere authority issue? or a cultural one? does a title implying ordination freely given to anyone who feels hurt or bothered they do not receive respect?

    good entry though dj. i totally agree we need a Reformed book on the gospel and its implications in our church and upon how we view this problem within asian american church communities. frankly though, i believe we are a few years out from that happening considering that asian americans have their numbers dropping in seminaries. however, we could always look to someone like jeff jue at westminster theological seminary in philly to perhaps spearhead something like this. after all, he is a history prof.

  6. daniel so says:

    [email protected] — I’m not sure if you were disagreeing the my comment or someone else’s, but it’s always good to engage in dialogue…

    I don’t think anyone is advocating that we abandon orthodoxy or sound theology — simply that we actually put into practice what we say we believe (which is a truly biblical concept). We waste so much time and effort drawing lines in the sand around “our” team. Do we really want to be known solely by what we’re against? Also, I would suggest reading David’s comment @3 about the nature of spiritual growth (it’s not always a linear proposition).

    I suppose you’ve tipped your hand by expressing your displeasure with women’s ordination. While I must strongly disagree with you (what do you mean by calling women’s ordination a “hobby horse issue”?), I do believe there is room for differing opinions. Unfortunately, I have encountered many believers who have gone out of their way to make it clear that anyone who disagrees with them on these kinds of issues are not really Christians at all.

    I would not ask you to alter your Reformed perspective. However, I think it is healthy for the Asian American church to have a range of theological insight and perspectives. I would much rather engage someone with whom I disagreed in a meaningful conversation than blindly adhere to a doctrine that someone insists I must believe in order to qualify as a “true” believer.

  7. Geoff Chang says:

    Hi DJ,

    I appreciate you starting this dialogue. I think one of the convictions that I’m working from when I wrote the book review is that our beliefs drive our actions… our theology drives our worship. Therefore, when we see the structural and systemic problems of race in our churches, these problems are fundamentally not rooted in our practice, but in our theology, our understanding of who God is, and what He has done.

    Lest you misunderstand, in writing a piece like this, none of us claims to have a perfect understanding of the problem or the solution, let alone to have a perfect implementation of it in our churches. The so-called Reformed camp has many race issues that it must still deal with. But I appreciate their observation that the problem of race (like all sins in our lives) is rooted deep in our hearts, and therefore, requires the truths of God’s Word to expose and bring to Light.



  8. solomon li says:

    [email protected] – i don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. however, in my own experience i have run into my fair share of people who have gone out of their way to make it their life’s sole goal to get rid of theological distinctiveness. to me, that’s a problem. dialogue is always good when it is in a godly manner, but to my dismay that doesn’t happen as often as it should.

    to clarify, what i mean by “hobby-horse” is simply that in reformed circles the polarizing issue of women’s ordination has made careers of some pastors who are adamantly for or against it. my point is simply that if i were to ask someone about the gospel, the last thing i should hear is an argument for or against a particular theological disposition. in all fairness, this issue has not fully settled upon my mind per se in other areas of ministry, but you’re right if you are referring to the pulpit ministry (that i’m settled). certainly you are free to disagree, but i simply find it hard to reason otherwise from the text.

    the book itself promoted women’s ordination outright in certain places. i just think that’s a bad assumption without any good exegetical study to back it up or just done in poor taste for pastors who are seeking to draw in a wider audience among asian americans. if you state something so matter of factly, then it just sounds to me like you’re looking to pick a fight (especially with that particular issue i felt they were trying to convert me). why not just let it alone and just simply talk about the substantive point: women are given the shaft when it comes to serving in teaching capacities in asian american churches. simple, poignant, and something that asian americans can all certainly agree with.

    per the question at hand though, i don’t think the book reviews were demonizing anyone. rather, i believe they were making a clear point about how the book was unclear. to me, that’s a fair comment and not a theological critique. that would only come later if the theology of the book was stated clearly.

    in terms of dialogue within the asian american church, i believe like many other ecumenical movements in the states, this is difficult at best. in my original comment, i was referring to your critique of the book reviews. quite honestly, it’s frustrating if you’re reading a book that is supposedly balanced out in it’s insight into the church but it’s terms are not clear. some may say it’s a preference, but it certainly is necessary to set the backdrop so that your scene is acted out much clearer.

    when i read the book in question i had the same questions running in my head. for the sake of dialogue, you need a prolegomena (what you say before you say what you’re going to say) to set the tone, a sort of wide angle picture of what we’re talking about here and what we mean when we say “this” before going into the subject at hand. otherwise the writing will be unclear, certainly a trademark of a book that still needs work.

    don’t get me wrong, i took away some things in the book that were helpful… but ultimately, i felt it truly lacked.

    per your comment about reading david’s comment @3, i’m not sure what you’re suggesting there. could you clarify? i don’t disagree that life doesn’t go in lining all your ducks in a row (just ask anyone who struggles in life). if you are referring to my comment about the indicative preceding the imperative though, i do stand by what i say. let me know.

  9. djchuang says:

    Geoff, thanks for your comments, and your book review.

    I can accept the notion of beliefs driving actions, and theology can get at the root problems of our hearts and souls. What seems to be a disconnect to me with this church and race issue is, again, that if indeed theology does get at the root problem of church racism, then why has those with strong theological convictions been slower at dealing with church racism than those who have “weak” theology?

  10. Geoff Chang says:

    I think it would be too much of a generalization to say that all churches w/ “strong theological convictions” have been slower at dealing with church racism, than all churches w/ “weak theology”. Not only that, but If you were to point out specific churches for us to compare, there could be a thousand factors why one church might be better at dealing with church racism than others. Moreover, if our beliefs drive our actions, then one of the implications of that is that churches w/ “strong theological convictions” might have a slightly different idea of what Christian racial reconciliation looks like, versus churches w/ “weak theology”. So one church could easily look at another and say, “Oh they’re not doing as much as we’re doing to promote racial reconciliation”, while the other church might have a very different picture of what that looks like.

  11. djchuang says:

    Geoff, while I did use a generality, I did avoid using the word “all”. Having been informally aware of the development of multiethnic churches in the United States, the leading researchers have cited statistics that less than 6 percent of American churches have at least 20% of its congregation of a different racial group than the majority. I haven’t done a theological analysis to assess what percentage of this 6% have a strong ecclesiology or “weak ecclesiology” (to go back to the term that you used in your book review), but this is the trajectory of my question.

    If indeed strong theological convictions and strong ecclesiology would best lead to the right actions to deal with the issues of racism, then why is it not happening more? And while there may well be many other factors, then it’d be helpful to have these factors discussed, rather than reverting to only theological factors. It’d be really good to see what it looks like for churches with strong ecclesiology (and its teaching conferences, and its leadership selection) to deal with racism. Back to my original hope, a book should be written that does articulate how a Reformed (and/or 9 Marks) kind of Asian American / multiethnic church would look like.

  12. daniel so says:

    DJ — Thanks for a lively and necessary discussion here. I don’t mean to hijack the comments, so I’ll just share a bit more and leave it at that 🙂

    Solomon @ 8 — Thanks for the clarification. I agree with your assessment about people on both sides of the women’s ordination discussion who seem to base their entire ministry around that particular divide. It is important to have convictions, but it is a sad waste of time — especially from the pulpit — to promote a theological opinion over the Gospel of Christ. I think it’s important for us to recognize that faithful, biblical, prayerful followers of Christ will come to different conclusions about women’s ordination. As the old saying goes, unity in essential matters, liberty in secondary matters and charity in all matters.

    Regarding the Asian American church book, I think it’s perfectly fine to disagree with a book. I think the particular expectations we bring will affect our reading of a book. I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything the book or its authors say — but, given the serious lack of AA church books out there — I am just glad that there is a resource like this out there. I want to encourage and support this kind of pioneering leadership, even if I’m not 100% on board with everything (but, really, when do we ever agree 100%?).

    In my opinion, your critique of the book makes more sense than the book reviewers because you stated that you disagreed with some of the content (which, again, I think is perfectly legitimate). I took issue with the characterization that the book had “weak” theology/ecclesiology instead of simply stating disagreement.

    To clarify a bit about my comment re: the nature of spiritual growth, I think I was trying to get at what DJ has been saying here. Theology is vital and necessary, but should lead to a transformed life. Too often, it seems like the message people receive is “get all of your theology straightened out, and then deal with living your life.” There are certain foundational beliefs, but we are a constant work-in-progress — in my opinion, part of the Bible being living and active means that our understanding of it will become deeper and deeper and constantly change the way we live our lives. In that sense, it is not static or linear.