A missionary multi-cultural church

There's been some great conversations recently on the ability of the church in the UK to cross cultural boundaries. Or perhaps more accurately: to work effectively within a truly multi-cultural context, bound together and centred by the gospel and person of Jesus Christ.

Culture can be defined as the norms of attitude, behaviours and beliefs. As humans, we gravitate towards relationships with those who have similar behaviours and beliefs and attitudes to us. It's easier. It's safer. But all too often, that subconscious choice reflects an external appearance rather than any internal factors.

 A very loose graphical representation of multi-cultural identity and its factors

A very loose graphical representation of multi-cultural identity and its factors

We make instant judgements based on appearance and the language people use. That usually tells us something about likely commonalities to ourselves. But it may not tell us anything about someone's attitudes or beliefs - in particular, from a gospel-centred perspective. The underlying core of the person is rarely made clear in that first 30 seconds, so forming judgements can be dangerous.

Ethnicity does not always equal culture. For example, a multi-ethnic group from ten nations working on floor 27 of a city bank in Canary Wharf would probably be mono-cultural by most definitions.

Crossing cultural boundaries suggests that we are bringing some of our cultural norms with us in the "new arena". This may be true practically - it's almost impossible not to be shaped by our habits and norms, even when trying not to be! But it's not the goal.

It seems to me that our objective should be to work within our common "culture" in Christ, adopted as brothers and sisters, bound by the gospel. From this starting point, we intentionally aim for a humble posture of awareness in recognising and accepting cultural differences, whether race, class, nationality, age or education.

How does this fit a missionary multi-cultural church? Well, missionary teams working to cross barriers already act as (imperfect) exemplars. Multi-cultural teams are a "thing" in the missionary world. Bound together by Christ and a common purpose, the teams seek to support, exhort and encourage each other, whilst intentionally looking out to the non-Christian world around them, seeking to show Christ to others. Various nationalities contribute unique perspective and approaches.

It's not without its difficulties. There's a reason that for some mission agencies (eg SIM), multi-cultural team training takes almost as much of a priority as cross-cultural evangelistic training. Misunderstandings, hurt and conflict can arise as a result of the mix of cultures working together in difficult contexts. Control issues crop up, sometimes paternalistic, sometimes personality.

But it would seem that if we are to reflect our identity in Christ first and foremost, a foretaste of every nation, tribe, people and language coming together before the Throne, then we had better be intentional about addressing this. As we do, perhaps we will become all things to all men in our church communities, so by all means some (more) might be saved. For the gospel and the name of Christ.