CREATING A CULTURE OF JESUS IN A DIVERSE COMMUNITY
I was sitting on a bench in Homestead talking to Jose. He’d rather you call him “Pepe.” He’s a short, kind grandpa. You might picture him wearing a derby and playing dominoes in a Hialeah park. He’s a first generation Cuban-American and 1 of 5 Olympic weightlifters who defected from Cuba to the USA in the 60’s.
He never visited his island nation again. That’s typical of that era of Cuban refugees who are fiercely American, freedom-loving, and well-educated. He reminded me of an elderly Cuban gentleman who gave me a ride from Key Biscayne back over to Miami after my bike got a flat when I was 15.
Like the man in the van, they both spoke longingly of a free Cuba. They likely cheered at televised news footage of the totalitarian dictator, Fidel Castro falling off his stage and breaking his arm several years ago. People like Pepe spontaneously partied in the middle of Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
Pepe has grown kids, bi-lingual professionals living in Doral and Homestead. His grandchildren only speak English. To them, Cuba is a story their grandfather tells. They’re as Americanized as my three blond-headed, easily sun-burned kids. They have the same bland accents, watch the same cartoons, and live in the same middle class neighborhoods.
Pepe, the man in the van, and their assimilated grandkids represent yesterday and today’s cultural challenge for my city and church.
Today, as economies fluctuate, the world’s people move like a currency-attached weather pattern. America is in a bit of a lurch. Yet, countries like Brazil are booming. With the Brazilian economy surging and the US Dollar & real estate market flagging, we are a ridiculous double bargain. This is the case for Brazilians and Russians. They and others are snapping up swatches of beach, suburbia and pastureland while they can. That is tomorrow’s cultural challenge.
Miami & SE Florida are changing yet again. And, your community is changing too…maybe not with the same blazing speed or drama as mine. But, many of our communities are rapidly becoming a tapestry of diverse cultures.
Church growth experts have contended homogeneous churches grow best. But, for many communities, that’s so 20th Century. Even suburbia and middle America are diversifying due to travel, technology, and economic portability. Perhaps, it’s been accelerated by the foreclosure crisis. People walk away from underwater homes in densely packed population centers seeking escape to mid-sized, affordable, less volatile cities.
Multi-cultural ministry is now a reality for a massive swath of American churches who have a passion for the mission of Jesus and love for His people. Some churches simply fail to respond to the changing dynamics of their community.
If you are one the church leaders who embrace the full scope of your community with the Gospel, here are some thoughts from a pastor and product a neighborhood in America’s most diverse city:
YOU’LL BE MISUNDERSTOOD.
You’ll step on cultural land mines if you reach out as a good missionary would. It’s inevitable. But, if your love is obvious, then “love will cover a multitude of sins.” And, the more you love, the better you will be able to see where the land mines are going forward.
RE-DISCOVER 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. But, if good hospitality is highly valued (which it is in my context) and you don’t value it, you may appear cold and unfriendly.
PARTY LIKE A ROCKSTAR.
For a number of reasons, our tribe, holiness Pentecostal people aren’t the best at this. As a COG child of the 80’s, I never went to a dance growing up. In fact, my hero/Pastor Dad once even lectured me about my on-the-sly purchase of the Petra album, “God Gave Rock-n-Roll to You.” He explained, “God did not give Rock-n-Roll to you.”
Don’t tell anyone. But, he has since taken my mom to a Jimmy Buffet concert…and frequently posts youtube vids of his favorite rock bands on facebook: artists like Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and the Beatles!
The truth is that when you handle the Scriptures honestly, you will see that Jesus knew how to party (Matthew 9:10-13 & John 2:1-12). People didn’t want to hang around Him because of how serious, polished, and stern He looked. Among other reasons, people liked being near Jesus because He was also enjoyable.
When we can relax in other people’s environments, walls of the unknown collapse under the weight of joy, vulnerability, and acceptance.
BE FAITHFUL WITH THE SCRIPTURES.
While we should be human, we should also be faithful to the Scriptures. How sad it is when in an effort to relate to or honor other cultures or sub-cultures, we compromise God’s truth. This is the missionary challenge. It’s here that missional living can cross over into syncretism…where we so badly want to relate that we compromise the Gospel. The good posture of a Gospel faithful, culture engaging church is one of value for culture as a secondary function. It is a ministry that honors culture after it has honored the cross.
PRAY WITH INTENSITY.
Prayer is a powerful language. It rises above differences and connects us to God and one another. The language of prayer in any culture is easily understood.
WEEP WITH THE BROKEN HEARTS.
When the execution of the answer is too expensive or complicated and there’s no fixing what ails us, 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.
RELEASE YOUR HOLD ON FEELINGS OF CULTURAL SUPERIORITY.
Certainly, various cultures must have their finer points. But, pride in the finer points of your culture distances people from one another. Let your supposed finer points speak well of Christ instead of your region, color, or accent.
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 culture of Jesus. Creating a new culture is more about building a church than it is about building a coalition. Create a new language, new norms, and new traditions so various cultures can rally and identify with something greater than their nationality, language, or foods.
GIVE OF YOURSELVES.
Each culture has it’s challenge. And, if you focus on dealing in those cultural challenges as a primary focus of ministry, you’ll fatigue quickly. But, if you posture outwardly and give of yourself, the message of Jesus will resonate deeply within hearts of your people. Generosity always translates well.
Article originally published in “Youth and Discipleship/Leadership” magazine.