Category Archives: Missional Church

Multiethnic Churches II: Some background facts

Before considering a theological apologetic for multiethnic churches or some solutions, let’s first consider some background: 


Changing Demographics. The racial profile of near suburban communities are changing (those communities just outside of cities). In my community there has been dramatic change. In the last ten years, nearly 2,000 African Americans have moved into my town while some 4,000 have moved into a neighboring town.  Approximately 15,000 people of color live within 15 minutes of my church (not counting those that live just across the city line one mile away). While we have attracted a few interracial couples and African immigrant families, Black families have not shown up in significant numbers, and those that have may not stay long or become members. 

Lest we become too excited about the presence of interracial couples in predominantly white churches, we should consider why they say they attend these churches. Apparently, these couples find white churches an uneasy, but tolerable, fit. It is hard for either spouse to be a minority but it is less hard for the African American spouse, as they are more used to living in a white world. 


Economic Differences? Although census data provide excellent data regarding the change of racial profile of a region, the economic status of new arrivals to a community is a bit less clear. One African American church planter suggested that there are 3 general categories of African Americans in a diversifying suburban community: Upper Class, Blue Collar, Lower Class. The upper class, from his perspective are those who have been in the suburbs for some time and are primarily seeking status in work, house, and church relationships to prove their arrival. He suggested that these folks would be unlikely to attend a White middle-class church, as there would be little status gained in doing so. The middle or blue-collar class folk are those who may also have been in the area for some time and are working hard to maintain their home, and family relationships. The lower class consists of those recently out of poverty and out of the city environment.  He suggested that these individuals would be most inclined to return to church in the city in order to give a sense of familiarity and “déjà vu”. 


Worship Culture Differences. It is sobering to note that 97 percent of African Americans and 99 percent of Whites attend racially segregated churches. Some of the reasons for such a divide have to do with church culture differences. The Barna report, African Americans And Their Faith, sheds light on the multifaceted nature of Black worship and faith. People of color are much more likely to feel connected to their church when they perceive it to be a place of refuge, a place that understands and supports them in their struggle against subtle but very real forms of oppression. Would they find such a refuge in a predominantly white church? Would they hear words that communicate an understanding of what it is like to live in their world? Further, African Americans spend twice as much time at church than whites and are inclined to see the church as their extended family. On the whole, they seem less interested in small group bible studies at private homes and more likely involved in small groups that focus on specific ministries (e.g., music, child care, diaconal, etc.).


Racism, Stereotypes, Prejudice, Ignorance and the Church. Issues of racism remain at the forefront of minority life. While the more obvious and violent forms (e.g., baseball bats to bodies, burning crosses) are rare, the subtler forms of racism (e.g., institutional) and prejudice are alive and well. First, few whites understand the power of white privilege: the ability to move about in the community without being noticed or suspected of crimes, the ability to have one’s identity be based on more than skin color. Organizational prejudice (e.g., glass ceilings, suddenly filled jobs or apartments, etc.) continue. 

It is fair to ask whether Caucasian churches participate in this kind of behavior? The evangelical church, while not supporting racism and even speaking out against it (though maybe rarely), participates in institutional racism when it remains ignorant or silent about the current painful experiences people of color face. It participates in institutional racism when it individually repents of prejudice but ignores the need for corporate social justice so sadly missing in our society.[1]Dominant culture individuals tend to see reconciliation and justice through the lens of individual behaviors. But when the church ignores people of color in its own community while sending ministry teams to needy individuals in the inner city it may send a message that minorities aren’t in this community but only “over there.” The church participates when it treats minorities as strangers when they have attended the church for some time. The church participates when it sends foreign missionaries to training schools to learn how to contextualize the Gospel but seems unaware or unwilling to engage ethnic minorities living next door. Neglect of race issues, whether from ignorance or from seeing it as not pragmatic or important is a sin and minimizes the fact that the church should be a visible testimony to “God’s wisdom of making Jew and Gentile one creature in Christ.”[2]  Prejudice exists in many White churches today because of the inherent power of being in the dominant culture coupled with the sin if complacency and indifference.  In short, we white folk just don’t have to be concerned about race and racism. 

Next week we will look at some theological encouragement to reconsider the value of multiethnic congregations.

[1] For an historical and sociological review of the Evangelical response to racism, see Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America published by Oxford in 2000.

[2] Ware, p. 28.

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Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Civil Rights, Missional Church, Race, Racial Reconciliation

Check out this Biblical event!

Want to meet a number of key missional leaders all in one place for a reasonable price? Wondered what missional was all about? Come to Biblical Seminary on October 10th (THIS FRIDAY) to hear Scot McKnight(, Tim Keel, Darrell Guder, and the ever stimulating, even controversial Brian McLaren (along with some local greats as well) do plenary talks and break-outs on a number of related topics. It costs $75 for the day or $40 for the evening. The size will not be too large so you can expect to have actual conversations with some of the leaders. The event is capped by installing our very own theologian, Dr. John Frankeas the Lester and Kay Clemens Chair of Missional Theology.

Check out this link for more info:

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Do YOU know where you are going on YOUR journey?

This post is prompted by a sermon I heard last Sunday. Duane Davis, student at WTS preached a wonderful sermon on Hebrews 11:8-22 and Abraham’s journey to the promised land. During the sermon I thought of this application to my own Seminary’s quest to teach and train missional church leaders and counselors for the 21st century. A little background: not everyone has been happy with our move to reach the emerging leadership of the emerging church. The emerging church has been willing to criticize sharply the prior evangelical style of church. In their effort to try new things, some emerging leaders, writers, etc. have tried on theological positions that run counter or at least perpendicular to conservative Christian doctrine. Because we at the Seminary haven’t led with our criticisms of emerging church, that has led some to criticize and attack us. One criticism has been the challenge that the emerging church and Biblical Seminary don’t know where they are going. We’re on a journey that can only lead to heresy and rejection of the Gospel–or so it is thought by some. Enter Hebrews 11.

Notice that Abraham travels with much uncertainty. He surely knew that God called him (at least he knew this enough to leave all his family and homeland at an elderly age) and so he went expectantly. I wonder if he grew tired of saying, “Here, Lord? This looks like a good spot. No, you want me to keep going???”. I wonder if he second-guessed himself.  But Hebrews does tell us that Abraham did look expectantly to one thing: heaven (v. 11). In fact, the promise of heirs the number of sand and land was never fully realized in his lifetime. As Duane reminded us, he even had to buy some land to bury his cherished wife. Even at age 100, he had yet to receive the promise of Isaac. Then a few years later he is asked by God to sacrifice Isaac.

We who have the entire canon seem to forget that we too do not know where God is taking us. We have a clearer picture of heaven and clear calls to seek and serve God’s kingdom. And yet we do not know exactly to what God is calling us to. We, like Abraham, may try to bring about God’s promises (these usually lead to bad consequence). God is faithful none-the-less. Unless He returns, we too will not see the full promise delivered.

So, in answer to those who ask whether Biblical Seminary knows where it is going, I say no. We don’t. We do know that God is faithful, the land is foreign, we own nothing, but we trust in his goodness both now and in eternity. We seek to live faithfully in worshipful service to God and in loving our neighbors as ourselves. It would be more comforting to think we had it all figured out. It is tempting to do so since that would make our vision planning much easier. In fact, it is tempting just to say we have it all figured out. That would be more attractive to students and donors. But, we believe a more faithful response is to ask the Lord to send us into the harvest and use as as He can.

One last point. Our lack of knowing just where we are going is not to say we have NO idea nor to say all viewpoints are valid and everyone’s expression of faith is good. Those interested in knowing more what we do seek and believe are welcome to check out our President’s “Missional Journal” at

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, missional, Missional Church

When our attempts to love our neighbor actually increase harm

Christians from time immemorial place great value in bring the “cup of cold water” mercy to those in need. Contrary to the human tendency to care first for self, Christians are called to take up their cross and follow Christ to love their neighbor as theirself.  At this point in the summer, American Christians are going in droves for short and longer missions trips to their near and far neighbors. My own church has groups in Guatemala, London, North Philly, and several other regions in Africa. Sometimes the project is physical and other times the project is relational and spiritual.

But have you thought about some of the potential dangers in going to our far neighbors? Here’s some potential problems:

1. The wrong help. People who go on missions trips have a high desire to serve and help the other. But if the group going does not fully understand the problem, need, and solution to the problem, it could lead the locals to try dangerous solutions or discourage them from trying since previous group activities weren’t helpful. We need to do our homework first rather than assume we know what they need.  

2. Stereotyping. The helper and helpee tend to play particular roles. One active with power, the other passive and waiting. Even when the helpee knows they need to be active they can become passive because they haven’t been allowed to be part of the decision-making process. Or, the helpee can become suspicious that the primary reason for the outsider is for their own benefit. They can add up the massive amounts of money spent on flying folks there and putting them up and imagine that that sum of money might be better spent if it were just sent without people.

Don’t mistake my raising these two problems as my opinion that we shouldn’t go on foreign missions trips. My life was changed on a summer missions trip in 1983. Lord willing, I hope to be going to Rwanda next May to explore the current needs of that country in regards to the genocide trauma. But, if we aren’t careful we do more damage than good. Our good intentions are not enough. We must learn as much as possible about the life and needs of the other (from their point of view!) and recognize that we do not yet know enough to help without that learning. Further, we must find locals who have dreams and desires for healing that can carry it out and can benefit from what we can offer. Otherwise, it may be better not to go than to go and raise hopes or offer superficial help that only serves to harden hearts from needed help.


Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Missional Church

When a good label loses its value, or, should we rethink labels altogether?

Ever found a word, term, idea that had great meaning for you become useless or degraded because it became popular? Well, maybe that only happens to academic and clinical types. As a counselor terms like idols of the heart, Biblical counselor, integration, christian psychology all are meant to help individuals identify themselves and shape a conversation. At Biblical Seminary, we are attempting to train students to think “missionally.” When we started down this path, not many were using the word. But now it seems everywhere and used in so many ways that make you question whether the word really has any meaning.

So, I’ve had these thoughts from time to time but last night I was reading Paul Wachtel’s (professor at CUNY) “Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy” and he had this to say about one of his terms, relational. You could easily replace all the relational words with your own favorite term.

[The relational movement] is a loose coalition that is encouraging a diversity in viewpoint rather than seeking to impose a new orthodoxy. But this diversity of meanings also introduces confusion. Students in particular often are unclear about just what it means to be relational, both theoretically and clinically. Some, for example, (mis)understand being relational as being almost relentlessly self-referentially interpreting everything that transpires as being about the therapist.

In part, the problem lies with the very success of the relational movement. As the term “relational” has come into broader and broader use in recent years, there has been a corresponding decrease in the degree to which it communicates a clear and unambiguous meaning. This is perhaps an inevitable cost of success; relational perspectives have become increasingly prominent in the field of psychotherapy, and we have reached a point where many people want to jump onto the bandwagon. As more and more people use the term, sometimes more as a token of membership in a movement to which they wish to belong than as a substantive reference to a clearly specified set of theoretical premises and practices, the ripple of meanings makes a phrase like relational psychotherapy less than ideally precise.

Labels like relational, object relational, classical, or contemporary Freudian (to use examples from the psychoanalytic realm) often serve less as a medium of illuminating discourse than as a functional activity of boundary making, akin to the way our animal cousins leave their  scent to mark off the boundaries of their territory. “I belong here, you belong there,” may be a sentence; but it is a sentence whose message is not very different from what is conveyed by the glands of our mammalian kin. (pp 7-8)

He goes on to say that words should not merely make boundaries but to “alter and complicate” them through the act of conversation. While there are boundaries, they do move and change and no one human created word will adequately separate the sheep and goats, to mix my metaphors.  

So, what do we do with labels if they lose explanatory power when others find them helpful? Get rid of them? Or, do we use them with greater and greater humility. I like Wachtel’s description of the problem with another set of labels, 1person and 2 person approaches to counseling (1 person refers to analysis where the client monologues and interacts with their own psyche and 2 person approaches tend toward a relational, experiential interaction). Wachtel holds a 2 person theory. But here’s what he says,

To begin with, it is worth noting that the distinction [between the two labels] is almost always employed by putative two-person thinkers, as a critique of one-person modes of thought. There are rather few writers who defiantly proclaim, “I am a one-person theorist and proud of it,” although there are, of course, many writers who declare themselves to be proponents of the models that are called one-person models by two-person theorists. Writing as someone who, if the dichotomy is usable at all, would without question fall on the “two-person” side of the divide, I must say I find it disquieting to be characterizing competing theorists in a way they do not acknowledge as the basis of their own thinking.

This lack of acknowledgment on the part of “one-person” theorists, of course, does not in itself invalidate the critiques. It is certainly possible that critics of one-person models are recognizing something about the theories they are criticizing that their advocates do not. Indeed, in certain respects I myself believe this to be the case. It does, however, raise a question as to whether there might be a way to frame the critique that would be more illuminating and experienced as less of a straw man by more traditional theorists.” (p. 11)

I think Wachtel is helpful here and I have said similar ideas in the past. We need to be willing to come at a situation with differing dividing markers than we may have used in the past. For us Christian counselors, this is especially true. Mark McMinn considers himself to be an integrationist. But, his recent book, reviewed here, shows willingness to describe his model in ways that might make older integrative folks uncomfortable (i.e., giving Scripture trump power). So, we need new ways of looking at the data and less focus on division and more focus on description. Maybe we take a little longer look to see what is shared in our venn diagrams… 


Filed under book reviews, christian psychology, Communication, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Great Quotes, missional, Missional Church, Psychology

Upcoming social networking and conversation spot for Christians

Yesterday, our faculty listened to a presentation by Lance Ford, founder and director of This organization provides opportunities to study and dialog with a number of missional authors (e.g., Reggie McNeal, Ed Stetzer, Leonard Sweet, Alan Hirsch, Sally Morganthaler, etc.) in small groups. Using flash technology and webcams, they have created a site where one can read and/or watch authors discuss their material and then engage in threaded discussion and live video conferencing. They haven’t quite gone public but have been in beta-testing for the last 6 months and are ready to go in just a few weeks.

Lance started us off with a Dallas Willard quote: The failure to make disciples is the elephant in the church. (or something like that) He noted that church leaders sometimes want to build the church, and then make disciples. He thinks this is backwards. If you make disciples, they will evolve into a church. But if you do it in reverse, you create consumers who do not look much different than non-Christians. Transformation may not take place.

Further, preaching doesn’t make disciples. Rather, we need 1:1, or close to it if we are going to build disciples ready to make more disciples.

I can see the value of this sort of site for those isolated and unable to find local connections. Imagine using this technology to connect overworked church planters, missionaries, and lay folk around the world.  

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How much does personality influence views on theology?

My last two posts cover the effect of personal stories on the positions we take in areas of controversy. One particular controversial area for our seminary has to do with “the missional turn” we are taking as an institution. For those not familiar with this idea, you can explore more by going to our president’s Missional Journal. But here’s the controversy in short. Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, theologians disagree about how the church should reach this generation and the next. Some see evangelicalism as highly deficient in its understanding of the Gospel, of community life and our purpose in the world, and our relationship to God. The system is broken and needs complete overall. Others acknowledge that much of the church is “me-driven” but that our theological systems are just fine even if we need to refine their application to everyday life.

Enter personality differences. Continue reading


Filed under Doctrine/Theology, missional, Missional Church, personality

What is the mission of Christ?

Science Monday is still on vacation (sort of like when Cartalk puts the puzzler to bed for the summer…). I’ll trot it back out when I start Ethics next week…

Yesterday, Isaac Shaw of Delhi Bible Institute preached at my church. He asked a question that got me thinking: What is the mission of Christ? Continue reading

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Missional church ministry to sex offenders

I think it fair to say that there are significant similarities between the treatment of lepers 2000 years ago and sex offenders today. Just as there wasn’t much hope for change for those with serious infectious disease so today we have little human hope that sex offenders (especially those guilty of acting on pedophilic desires) can change and be safe around vulnerable people. So what’s a church to do if they have a member or potential member with a history of violating others? Continue reading


Filed under Abuse, Missional Church

Here’s a ministry that needs your support

Last Sunday night I attended a function at Epiphany Fellowship which meets at 16th and Diamond in N. Philly (a very economically depressed area near Temple U.).  FYI, their web-page today was extremely slow in loading. Anyway, the function was a kick-off for the campaign to raise enough money to buy the building they now rent. This is a covenant community seeking to connect with the Hip Hop generation and reclaim every area of life for Christ by focusing on Christo-centrism, Commitment, Community, Communion, and Culturally Relevant Ministry.

Please consider giving your prayers and dollars to help them in their endeavor. Pray for co-pastors Eric Mason and Duce Branch (who is part of Cross Movement). Pray for their protection, courage, and commitment to the glory of God in all things.

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Filed under church and culture, cultural apologetics, Missional Church