Multi-cultural Ministry: Unity in Diversity

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. 

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