Five reasons churches should not embrace reaching a multiethnic culture

As a writer, there are some stories that I cannot believe I get to lend my voice to the narrative. However, over the years, I have learned to be honest with myself when it comes to the issue of race and culture.

If you were to look at my friend base, you would discover that I love having a diverse circle of friends; in fact, this diversity has shaped everything about me throughout the years. I have chosen to live out the principle of diverse church ministry, I have had the privilege of serving in both majority Black and white church contexts and even worship at a multiethnic church in my hometown, outside Atlanta.

Maina Mwaura

I love diverse ministry and believe it is something God has called for us to do; however, I am having a Nathaniel moment in my life and ministry. Nathaniel was one of the 12 disciples, and although we don’t know a lot about him, we do know from the words of Jesus that he was an honest man in assessing Jesus and his culture.

The Nathaniel moment originated in John 1:45. In this Gospel, John writes a beautiful passage in which Jesus gathers the greatest team the world has ever witnessed, the 12 disciples. In this passage, Nathaniel poses to Jesus an honest question that perhaps the best of us should be asking ourselves if we, like Nathaniel, desire to live authentically in a multiethnic world.

With that in mind, here are five reasons to avoid multiethnic ministry:

First, the numbers are against us. Barna Research, along with Lifeway Research, have concluded that still two generations after the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, American churchgoers do not want to talk about race.

Many pastors have decided that it is not even important enough to teach. The numbers just are not on our side if we are going to bring about multiculturalism within our churches. As leaders, we have to know that talking about it will step on toes.

If you are someone who considers the way the wind is blowing before you make a decision, you should avoid this area. I am thankful that Jesus decided to avoid this stance; in fact, he does everything in his ministry to challenge the cultural norms of his day. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the numbers weren’t on his side either when it came to popular opinion on culture and race, but he decided public opinion wasn’t going to stop him in showing what heaven is going to look like.

“If you are someone who considers the way the wind is blowing before you make a decision, you should avoid this area.”

Second, it is uncomfortable. This past week I received a phone call from a friend who has decided to live in the multiethnic lane. He strives to live out his ministry challenging the majority culture that he is part of to embrace diversity. The structure he is part of has pushed back and asked him to stop talking about race. In the Christian school where he serves, many of the parents have felt uncomfortable about his conversations and the public stance he has made.

As I listened to my friend share his heart, I could not help but think about the interaction Nathaniel had with Jesus: “Does anything good come from Nazareth?” Most of us would admit that is an uncomfortable question. It is even offensive.

If we are going to embrace multiethnic ministry, there will be uncomfortable times. If we are not willing to be uncomfortable, it may not be best for our churches to embrace multiculturalism.

Third, new people may want to join in. Before you start thinking I have gone off the deep end, let me say I love welcoming new people into the local church, even more so if they are people who want to start a relationship with Jesus.

“The goal of the local church should not be making people from diverse cultures assimilate to the majority culture, which may rob them of their own cultural identity.”

However, anytime new people join any organization, change inevitably will happen, especially if people are coming from other cultures. The goal of the local church should not be making people from diverse cultures assimilate to the majority culture, which may rob them of their own cultural identity.

I have heard a million times that God does not see culture and we are all one race, which is true. Yet God is an artist. God celebrates each beautiful skin tone and culture because God is the one who has made man in God’s own image.

If a church is going to embrace multiculturalism, they are going to need to embrace a cultural identity as a complement to their churches, not a threat.

Fourth, how are you with money? Now, before you think this is a Dave Ramsey seminar, it is not. However, financial issues may arise, in fact they will arise.

It is widely known that anytime new races and cultures join an organization, finances will change. It also is widely known that people of color in America generally don’t have the same income levels Caucasians do, so their giving levels may not be the same — even if non-white members give higher percentages of income.

It is also reality in churches that those who give the most money often assume — even if not saying so out loud — that their opinions should matter more than others when key decisions are made. That is a barrier to multiculturalism.

My friend Mark Hearns, pastor at First Baptist Church of Duluth, Ga., recently shared with me that when he decided to move his majority-culture church toward diversity, he knew he would have to tackle financial issues first. He knew some people would inevitably leave the church over this change, which is what they did — and took their money with them.

“Being debt-free meant there would not be financial pressure to oppose diversity by withholding giving.”

In being a good steward, this pastor decided he would meet with the top-tier givers first to offer a heads-up about what was coming and to ask them to buy into change. He also decided the church would pay off any lingering debt it carried so the congregation would be freely capable in moving toward diversity.

Being debt-free meant there would not be financial pressure to oppose diversity by withholding giving. How we steward God’s resources always matters. This is why leaders should know what they are up against financially before embracing multiculturalism.

Fifth, you will make mistakes. In a culture where cameras are everywhere, let us be honest. Sometimes there is a genuine fear of not wanting to say or do the wrong thing. Anytime we take a risk, we have to know there is a possibility we may not get it right.

This is why we have to establish relationships with people outside of our own race who will hold us accountable and call us out when we fail. If you are not willing to be accountable to people outside your race, you should not do multicultural ministry.

Leaders are human. Mistakes will — not may— be made. God values people. God wants us to live in accountability to people from all walks of the cultural spectrum.

I love the interaction between Jesus and Nathaniel. When confronted by Nathaniel, Jesus is clear that he values honesty even when it comes to cultural issues. And I believe within the body of Christ we have to be honest with one another if we are going to tackle cultural issues while the world is watching the church closer than ever before.

Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Related articles:

Contrary to what you’ve heard, study finds churches thrive with racial diversity

More churches defined as racially diverse but that doesn’t lead to racial justice work

Study: church diversity does not guarantee diverse thinking, beliefs

Pastors say worship makes difference in multiethnic congregations




Inside the spiritual life of Anne Lamott

I recently sat down with Anne Lamott, beloved and debated American novelist and non-fiction writer, to discuss her new release, Dusk Night Dawn.

This book has all the trademarks that make Lamott a household name and New York Times best-selling author: Empathy, provocative thought and inspired soul searching. In this new release, she reflects on the need for courage. Courage is something she fully embraces and asks her readers to do the same — all in her down-to-earth folksy style.

As our conversation began, Lamott was on a tight schedule to connect with a friend she hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. However, she made it clear that if we didn’t get enough time today, we could connect in the future. She’s so human in that regard.

“I decided to think of the pandemic as COVID college, and what are some of the greatest teachings that I needed to learn from it,” she explained.

Learning is what Lamott seems to like to do best. And her learning comes with a posture of welcoming change and being open to what God brings her way.

“I’ve watched kids in my Sunday school class that I lead become free of addiction along with watching my son stay sober for the last nine years,” she said. “I’ve learned in my life that God always makes a way out of no way.”

Lamott speaks from an understanding that God has a way of making the best out of things no matter the situation. This understanding inspires her writing and mission in life — to point people to God.

It may surprise some to learn that this well-known author teaches a Sunday school class at an interracial church with fewer than 50 attendees. She invited me to attend her virtual class. I’m glad I accepted her invitation.

Lamott has a manner of speaking and writing that makes people sit up, listen and react. Within her virtual class, she seems pretty normal like the rest of us. She sits and takes notes and chats in the comment section. Having had the privilege of attending her class twice, it’s an amazing sight to see this best-selling author at church and singing, at times, old Negro spiritual songs.

“I’m a passionate, devout Christian. It’s just that I’m not a fundamentalist.”

She explained: “I’m a passionate, devout Christian. It’s just that I’m not a fundamentalist. The political Christians tend to be very, very much more fundamentalists, let’s say.”

Lamott believes God has called her to an existence that is hardly that of a fundamentalist Christian. Her joy seems to come through carrying out the work of Christ on earth — with people.

“Jesus’ message for me is that you give thirsty people water,” she said. “Being a servant of Christ is serving others.”

It is ‘serving others’ that moves Lamott to action. “During COVID, we saw lines two and three miles long of people in cars trying to get a box of food for their kids. I believe Jesus weeps over these types of things.”

Carrying out her Christian calling not only moves her personally, it also gives her strength for her writing and telling stories that matter to many.

In her latest book, Lamott writes about the interactions she has with her students. Many of the kids in her class come from families that live in dysfunctional, under-resourced communities. She seems to have a passion for those who live within that type of lifestyle.

“I try to keep my mission in living out the gospel simple.”

“I try to keep my mission in living out the gospel simple,” she said. “Kids have always loved and trusted me for some reason. It’s just how the Lord made me in relating to kids; they can tell me anything, and I won’t judge them.”

Lamott comes across more like a youth pastor than a best-selling author.

“I won’t tell them what I think they should do,” she explained. “I will listen, and my heart will be open to their struggle.”

Having wrestled with addiction herself, Lamott has an infectious degree of empathy and understanding. “Some of my Sunday school girls have been cutters. You know, their wrists are slit with razor lines, and some of my kids have ended their life.”

She laments the struggle she has seen in her class members’ lives. It is not merely “a moment” for her. She digs into the humanity of the members of her class. She pauses to make sure we don’t quickly pass over what she’s just shared.

“I look at the lost. We have a youth group in heaven.”

“I look at the lost. We have a youth group in heaven,” she added. And from this lament, she understands the realness and truth of the circumstances some of the kids face. From there, she dives into her calling and mission to be a solution-solver, which is how she lives out her faith.

In living out that faith, Lamott knows one of the things she does best is writing for the masses, but the time with those in her Sunday school class seems to allow her to connect intimately with people and help them understand their calling and mission.

“I try to help my kids be really curious about faith,” she said, and yet these young friends also give her insight and material to weave into her writing.

“If you read the chapter in Dusk Night Dawn about what a soul is, the answers that my students gave me are the most beautiful definitions,” she said. “Putting aside C.S. Lewis or any of them. I’ve heard from my class (that a soul is) a silvery snow globe. The deepest part of you. A little peek at you. Love is in the very heart of you. It’s a little person. A little kitty-bunny person looking out into the world with love and curiosity.”

As Lamott recounts this portion of the book, it is obvious this mission of being a Sunday school teacher ignites her passion for storytelling to people who may never attend one of her classes, but perhaps they are by reading one of her books.

“I am doing my very best to transform my stories, my very ordinary stories, into medicine for whoever my readers might be.”

When asked if she is surprised to be a successful writer, she said: “This is my 19th book. I’ve been doing this professionally for 45-years, and when I sit down to write, I’m never in the mood. I don’t wait for inspiration. My dad was a writer. He taught me that you sit down at the same time every day. You do it as a habit. You do it by prearrangement with yourself as a debt of honor. Because no one cares if you write, no one cares. I’m never in the mood to write, to tell you the truth, but you know what? If I’ve gotten a couple of hours of work done, I’m going to have a much, much better day because I’m going to know that I met something that was a gift that was given to me. I am doing my very best to transform my stories, my very ordinary stories, into medicine for whoever my readers might be.”

It’s this medicine — the missional ministry of Lamott’s writing — that is working for many.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many influential leaders. Most of them have been great. But none of them have prayed for me the way that Anne Lamott did.

As our conversation closed, she prayed. “Thank you for my new friend. I pray courage for him to step into the shape that awaits both of us, always, always in your precious name, Lord; I pray that you make us ever mindful of the needs of the poor. Amen”

Amen indeed, Anne.

Maina Mwaura is a freelance religion writer and communications consultant based in Atlanta.




CeCe Winans is experiencing a season of firsts

Award-winning Gospel artist CeCe Winans is living a life of many firsts.

As a first-time grandparent and first-time co-pastor of the church she leads with her husband, she also recently recorded the first live album of her solo career.

CeCe, who is just as down to earth and friendly off stage as on stage, knows that life for her in this season is all about giving God her best.

“When we do what glorifies God, it blesses us,” she said, as she referenced her new album, Believe For It, which debuted late last month at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Gospel album charts.

As much as CeCe loves to sing, what she enjoys most is the opportunity to minister to and be in the presence of people, she said. “I love people. It’s not about singing and being out front for me.”

She expresses sincere conviction about this. “I believe the garment of praise will lift a heavy heart.”

That sentiment is what she hopes the new album will do, by lifting the hearts of her audience in the difficult times of the present moment.

Believe For It isn’t her first album to achieve major success, which might explain why she remains content in knowing that her place is to carry out the ministry assignment to which God has called her — even when obstacles occur.

She was not deterred by the setbacks of having the album postponed due to COVID-19. “I’ve always said, ‘I sing to an audience of One.’”

CeCe Winans

She laughs in recalling the challenges of recording a live album in Nashville in a socially distanced room in the middle of a global pandemic. Although she would much rather be singing to a full room, she is confident in knowing that if God called her to the assignment, it’s going to be alright.

CeCe is clear that she wants to be a person who says yes to any God-given assignment, including being a pastor, which neither she nor her husband foresaw. “My husband thought there was a greater chance in going to the moon first before pastoring a church,” she explained. They lead Nashville Life Church.

Now, however, she enjoys the role. “I’ve learned in co-pastoring that it’s not about me. I’m a professional, private person.”

CeCe grew up in Detroit in a family full of Gospel legends and recalls being suddenly showcased in front of an audience when she appeared on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL Club.

“I can remember singing on the PTL Club, and the next day, being in the grocery store and realizing the power of television,” she said.

When people worship God and experience joy in doing so, obstacles begin to move, she said.

Her upbringing in a Black American family in Detroit grounded her, she believes.

“I can’t take credit for it,” she said. When she looks back at her past and those early PTL Club days, she believes God was doing something in her life then and is continuing to work in her life now.

CeCe has a special something about her that she identifies as God’s presence. That was a needed ingredient for this pandemic-era project that is a live worship concert experience with audience participation.

“I wanted to capture God’s presence,” she said.

Believe For It is her first non-holiday project in four years. She is aware not only that quite a lot has changed for her in the last four years but also for the audience to which she sings. She is very much aware that the audience now listening and singing along has endured a lot during the COVID season.

“The answer is worship for me, in seeing myself out of any situation,” she said, explaining her belief that worship can guide people through difficult situations.

When people worship God and experience joy in doing so, obstacles begin to move, she said. “Your faith has got to stay up. God is sovereign. He’s going to pull us through this.”

Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.




Chip Gaines writes about building a network of support and not being constrained by conventional wisdom

Chip and Joanna Gaines have become household names in American reality TV and fixer-upper culture. In Chip’s new book, No Pain, No Gaines: The Good Stuff Doesn’t Come Easy, he makes it clear that the life that he and Joanna have carved out together has been anything but easy. Although this isn’t his first book, it is the first book he has written explaining the importance of finding and keeping a community of people around you that will help you achieve your life goals.

He recently gave an exclusive interview to BNG to talk about the book.

How does this book differ from your first book, ​Capital Gaines​?

I didn’t write this book as a sequel to ​Capital Gaines​, but I can’t help but see how they’re related. ​Capital Gaines ​was my life in hindsight — a playbook of sorts of all the ways I’d chosen to do things differently, both in business and in my personal life, and how it paid off for better or worse.

And in a lot of ways, this book is about doing things differently too. Because yes, it’s a book about networks. But it’s not a book about networking. Not in the traditional sense anyway. It’s not about how to leverage your interactions with everyone you meet in an all-out sprint to get ahead.

It’s about how to find a group of real people who come through for you in good times and bad. People who remind you who you are and what you value and don’t let you settle for anything less. People who bet on each other instead of the status quo.

Building that kind of network, one that will pull you into a life of rich, authentic connection, requires doing things differently than the world tells us to. And it doesn’t come easy — the good stuff never does.

Not unlike your first book, the title of this one includes a play-on-words with your last name. What does the book titling process look like for you? What inspired this title?

It’s funny, I can’t even remember how we landed on the title for ​Capital Gaines​. With this book though, it was actually the title that came to me first. At the time, Jo and I were launching into what might be the hardest work of our lives — building an actual television network — and one morning I had this realization that none of it would be possible without the network of people who have poured their lives into both of us and the work we’re doing. I told Jo, “I think I want to write a book about how we’ve built our network.”

I wanted to call it “​Building a Network”​ — mainly because I’m a sucker for wordplay. But every time I started thinking about my own network of people and about the circumstance that bonded us, it certainly wasn’t any kind of “networking” event — you know, the type where you show up in your best suit and leave with a few new business cards and a couple more followers on your LinkedIn account.

“It requires faith in people. It requires hope and a willingness to grow even when it hurts.”

I knew from experience that the road to building connections that are strong and reliable, that have the potential to change the world, would require more effort than that. In fact, it requires a lot of very hard work. It requires faith in people. It requires hope and a willingness to grow even when it hurts. So, it wasn’t until the manuscript was nearly finished that I realized this book wasn’t just about “building a network.” It’s about what it takes to build a life of meaning, including relationships that run deep. And sure, building it will be ​painful​, but what you’ll ​gain​ in the end is worth every bit of it.

“Doing things differently” is a consistent theme readers will find woven throughout the pages of this book. Do you think that approach to business has been one of the keys to your success? What do you think inspired that “do things differently” mentality of yours?

I always had the feeling that I was cut from a different cloth. Even at a young age my mom used to tell people I was going to be a preacher when I grew up and my dad would always add, “If he doesn’t end up in jail first!” I just had this feeling that there was something off when I looked around and saw everyone doing the same thing.

But then I grew to realize that’s what our culture teaches us — that conformity is our highest probability of success. Or, at the very least, the path of least resistance. And I probably would have grown to accept that the well-worn road was the only road after all if it hadn’t been for a handful of people in my life who showed me what it looked like to live life on their own terms, who weren’t interested in doing things the ordinary way. To me, those people were living an extraordinary life, and I always knew that’s what I wanted for myself.

“That’s what our culture teaches us — that conformity is our highest probability of success.”

What has experience taught you?

Now that I have a little more life under my belt, I can tell you that this approach has been the key to me failing at least as often as it has been the key to my success. Jo and I have certainly found ourselves on both ends of the spectrum. But it’s the way we’ve chosen to live our lives. It’s who we are, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

At one point in the book, you write that you and Joanna have built your entire lives around the notion that “hard work yields great results, even when there’s little evidence of it.” Can you talk about some of the times in your life (with or without Joanna) where your hard work yielded great results despite having little to show for it?

When Jo and I were trying to get our renovation business off the ground, we were in this cycle of killing ourselves to fix up something that at times was uninhabitable, sell it for a little profit, and then have to start over again.

By no means were we bringing in large amounts of money, but we didn’t give up. We got better. Every day was on-the-job training. I was learning how to properly assess properties and what it meant to make a smart investment while Jo was figuring out her own way to make each place unique.

“All the grit and sweat equity we put in during those early years didn’t necessarily show up in our bank accounts, but none of it was without purpose.”

All the grit and sweat equity we put in during those early years didn’t necessarily show up in our bank accounts, but none of it was without purpose. Those years gave us our footing — the knowledge and experience that we’ve been putting to use for a couple decades now.

One of the most prominent parts of the book comes alive when discussing the difference between “network” the verb and “network” the noun. Can you tell us about your “network” and why that delineation (verb versus a noun) is so important to you? 

When I had the idea to write a book about building a network, I shared the concept with a few people who assumed it would be about ​how ​to network, “network” the verb. How to go out into the world and meet powerful people who can turbocharge your career. But that’s not at all what I was after and not at all what you’ll find in this book.

How has having a network/community of people shaped you?

I’ve been building my network my whole life, and the people who are part of it wouldn’t tell you it’s because of what they could do for me or what I could do for them. They are folks who have simply had my back at least as often as I have had theirs, even when it looked inevitable that we were going to lose. People who, in moments when either one of us could have brushed the other off because it wasn’t convenient, chose not to. People who have leaned in instead of pulling apart and who have a sincere belief that relationships are more than transactions.

And what it has yielded over a lifetime is a network of people I trust and who trust me. ​Call it a community, a home team. By my definition, that’s your “network,” the​ ​noun​, the group of people with beating hearts and passions who live and love and try and fail, and who are there beside you as you do the same.

​”Too often we suppress our own inner voice because maybe what we want isn’t ‘wise,’ or ‘you can’t make a living at it.’”

If there’s one thing you hope readers take away from this book, what would it be?

We’ve all got something to offer this world, a purpose that’s ours alone. But ​too often we suppress our own inner voice because maybe what we want isn’t “wise,” or “you can’t make a living at it.” Or we get hung up on figuring out what our passions or purposes are in the first place and forget to ever get started. ​

I think society would have us believe that we have to be cutthroat to excel in business and in life, but I’ve learned to place my bets on a different theory: we’re stronger together. ​And ​what I hope this book does is remind us all that if we​ can surround ourselves with people who will amplify our purpose instead of muffling it, we can turn that inner whisper into a roar.

If you could give your 25-year-old-self one piece of entrepreneurial advice, what would it be?

When you focus only on “status,” you end up with the status quo.

Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in Atlanta.