Northeastern Seminary Blog

Multi-cultural Ministry: Unity in Diversity

Posted on Mon, Jun 09, 2014 @ 04:57 PM

The Native American sits next to the Congolese man to discuss the Pan-African/Swahili group. The Nigerian man greets the Anglo woman while the Myanmar-Burmese man speaks with the  African American woman. The Rwandan and Eritean men take their seats and prepare to meet. This is not the opening of a United Nations session. This is the leadership team at my church in Buffalo N.Y. sitting down together to ask the questions that will guide and shape their ministries.

Some have fodescribe the imageund it curious and even disorienting to sit in a service punctuated by shouts of “Amen” and excited warbles (or ululations) of African women in worship. What illuminates understanding is that many have lived their entire lives with racial disadvantage and/or in poverty or have come to America and Inner-city Buffalo as refugees—having survived extended and bloody civil wars, imprisonment, ethnic, tribal and interreligious conflicts, genocide, or other atrocities. To say their praise is heartfelt is an understatement.

Prayer time at RiverRock Church includes a chorus of languages spoken by congregants who pray in their native language for the person sitting next to them, while the Lord’s Supper affords the diverse body the opportunity to review its common redemption through and in Christ—and in many ways models and announces the future.

As lead pastor at RiverRock, I have found that the climate engenders such diversity. Today we are facing epoch-like changes in terms of worldwide and multidirectional globalization. Culture and their peoples are interfacing and becoming interconnected geographically and relationally at a level never experienced before. At RiverRock 17 different people groups are represented among the 200 who attend. But unity in diversity demands more than a mere aggregate experience since this does not automatically produce authentic community. Diversity must be openly acknowledged and addressed and it must be celebrated as an intrinsic and explicit part of the very Gospel if authentic biblical community is hoped for.

So how does a church build true community and meaningful communication across racial, cultural, linguistic, socio-cultural and gender lines? How do they approach worship, spirituality and outreach? What concrete ways can it address conflict and reconciliation? 

It’s an ongoing process that permeates all aspects of the church:

  • Develop meaningful relationships across leadership and members in ways that “flesh out authentically the DNA of Ephesians and the rest of the New Testament”

  • Lead others in the ministry of inclusion at the church wide level—modeling genuine multicultural relationships

  • Intentionally work at cross-cultural musicality: combining instruments indigenous to different cultures, and assembling teams from across the spectrum of stylistic orientation (tempo, beat, rhythm)

  • Make the effort to find a distinctive music style above and beyond the individual components of the cultures in a sort of synergy through combination

  • Experiment with singing songs whose melodies may be familiar, yet sung in various native languages

  • Pair an English-speaking believer with someone who is learning English and read, reflect, and share about a Bible passage; then read the passage in the language of the person learning English

  • Record and circulate interviews that capture the astounding stories of the refugees and other church members

  • Offer both corporate worship experiences alongside services for specific language groups

  • Coordinate youth events (including sports teams) that bring together diverse races and peoples, including those who have been in historic conflict with each other

  • Sponsor a summer concert that includes a unique “fusion” sound as well as the cultural styles and languages of African nations who have experienced inter-tribal conflicts and violence

  • Partner with a medical practice engaged in the ministry of social compassion, advocacy and justice and extend that medical practice back into the communities of origin in native countries

 By taking a “gift-driven” approach that esteems every believer as highly valued in their calling to share in the mission of God, RiverRock is positioned to embrace the challenges of pursuing unity in diversity.

Join Northeastern Seminary and Christian community leaders Tuesday, June 17, 2014 as we continue the discussion of cultural intelligence in the changing American religious landscape.  Conference information or to register

  Robert Tice (D. Min. ‘13) is the founding and senior pastor of RiverRock, a multicultural church in the west side of Buffalo, N.Y. As an assembly of the nations in the city, RiverRock ministers among and with many international refugees and is in a close partnership with Jericho Road Family Practice, a holistic and faith-based medical practice that serves the under-served and thousands of international refugees. Dr. Tice is also serves as an adjunct instructor at Houghton College and Northeastern Seminary. 

Tags: D.Min., cultural literacy, community, church, church growth, biblical worldview, church development, Conference on Ministry, Cultural Intelligence

The Role of the Church When Faced With Victims of Violence?

Posted on Mon, Nov 05, 2012 @ 09:18 AM

A guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary


shattering photoThe statistics are overwhelming.  One in four girls is sexually abused before they reach adulthood. One of four women has been abused by a partner. In the United States domestic violence accounts for more injuries than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.  The stories behind the statistics are even more disturbing. Women’s testimonies of being choked, thrown down staircases, punched, stalked, raped, and verbally and psychologically abused are common.  Girls who are sexually abused are abused by someone familiar to them, usually a family member, ninety percent of the time. This betrayal of trust is more egregious when these incidents of abuse go unreported by other adults, including pastoral leaders.

We live in a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls. The pornography industry is a multi-billion dollar business in our country. Advertisements, popular magazines, videos, and music often reduce girls’ value to shallow descriptions of what is defined as “beautiful.”  Women continue to make less than eighty cents to every dollar men earn. Women are underrepresented in government, high positions in corporate America, and in leadership roles in our churches. This culture of violence supports the ongoing misuse of power in all areas of American life including in the educational, recreational, athletic, and religious arenas. Penn State, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic priest scandals all bring up images of victims of violence, and the silence and collusion that “covered up” the abuse of so many innocent children.

The church also participates in this culture of violence when we fail to speak out against all forms of domestic violence. We, the church, participate when we emphasize abstinence to our teen groups, and yet never address the fact that twenty-five percent of the girls listening have been sexually abused. We offer no information and support and they often report feeling alone and isolated. We, the church, participate when we do not hold perpetrators accountable. Some pastors fail to report child abuse because they are fearful it will “break apart” the family. This loyalty to the family is a false loyalty, and becomes an idol when we put children at risk for more harm. Pastors support a culture of violence when they minimize or blame the victim for the abuse she is suffering from her husband or boyfriend. I heard a pastor once tell his congregation that if there is abuse in the home then they should come to him and not call the police. “We keep these things in our house,” he declared.  Other pastors may not be so bold as to articulate this “church rule” but indeed, by their failure to report child abuse and sexual abuse, they reduce the criminal behavior to a “family problem” and participate in the culture of violence. 

What is the role of the church when living within a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls? What is the role of the church when faced with victims of violence within their own congregations? First, it is important to break the silence surrounding violence. We need to “bring to light” that which lives and survives in darkness and secrecy. There are opportunities in teen and adult education groups to talk about different types of violence and let everyone know that victims will always be supported. Education is essential to breaking through the myths and supports of violence. When pastoral leaders hear about child abuse they should not hesitate to call the authorities who are the local experts and by doing so they hold the perpetrators accountable. We need to create a culture of love and acceptance in our churches that promotes the strength and resilience of our girls and empowers them to grow and use all of their gifts that God has granted. Our churches need to be “safe sacred spaces” where children grow up seeing both men and women in leadership and they experience a no tolerance for any types of abuse or denigration. Cultures of non-violence, education on these issues of violence, support and referrals for victims, criminal accountability and referrals for perpetrators can create a place where violence is not tolerated, and peace and safety is promoted both in our homes and churches. We are all equal in Christ, and the church is called to live out that reality within our communities. Church leaders have a particular responsibility to protect and ensure that violence is never tolerated and that healthy, love filled relationships are always promoted.


Conf on Min web banner 912Learn more about the church's response to child sexual abuse and domestic violence within the faith community—what it is and what it could be—on November 13 at "Shattering the Silence," part of the Conference on Ministry Series at Northeastern Seminary. Details and registration information can be found here.

Tags: church, domestic violence, church's response to violence