God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review 2: Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz

For my second book, I decided to read Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark  DeYmaz. DeYmaz is the minister for the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, a multi-ethnic and multi-economic church he began in 2001. This group has grown to include Christians from over 30 countries spanning the globe. He is also a cofounder of Mosaix Global Network, a group dedicated to planting diverse congregations all over the USA.
Most discussions of integrating churches devolve into arguments about whether racism is prevalent in the USA or not. Surprisingly, this book avoids the taint of racism to the point of eschewing this word all together in favor of ‘ethnicity’ since people are of one race. The major thesis for this book is that churches should become multi-ethnic not for racial reconciliation, to conform to some cultural quota or to reflect the neighborhood. Churches should become multi-ethnic so that the church may fulfill Christ’s prayer in John 17 that we may all be one (p. xxviii). This philosophy is one I can respect greatly because it does not demonize one group or victimizes another. Instead, DeYmaz posits that “separate but equal” does not always mean “separate but unified.”
Part one focused on the Biblical model of multi-ethnic churches. It begins with John 17 and Jesus’ prayer that as God is one the apostles and the church may be one (ch. 1). The reason for this is so the world will see God through it. Next, he studies the first multi-cultural church of the Bible, Antioch (ch. 2). Here both Jews and Gentiles worked together in leadership roles. Since the church in Antioch was a multi-cultural church in a multi-cultural city, it grew in leaps and bounds. Chapter three describes Paul’s use of the word ‘mystery’ to describe the gospel. As one of the few apostles which understood the true nature of the gospel for both Jew and Gentile, Paul uses this word not only to describe Jesus’ resurrection but also that his resurrection meant all people of the world can be his people. This ‘mystery’ eluded even the apostle Peter (see Gal. 2).
The next seven chapters focus on individual characteristics of multi-ethnic churches. Chapter four (Embrace Dependence) encourages church planters to rely on the Holy Spirit and fellow Christians to begin the major transformation to or creation of a multi-ethnic church. This advice is important to all Christians, especially change agents.
The second principle, take intentional steps (ch. 5), provides an interesting observation that most people wish for other ethnicities to join their church but are unwilling to do what it takes to see it through. This is a very strong critique and he gives a great challenge that a church must intentionally become open to other cultures and ethnicities.
Empowering diverse leadership (ch. 6) is a difficult task which is handled well by DeYmaz. Leaders from every ethnicity of the church should not be chosen on the basis of affirmative action. Leaders should be chosen because they are the best ones for the job; however, coupled with the previous principle, including other ethnicities must be intentional, that is, there must be a very good reason not to appoint a minority. This is not to discriminate against the majority culture but is to make sure that all qualified and gifted persons are used where they are gifted.
When separated from evil influences, all people crave relationships from those around them. Cross-cultural relationships (ch. 7) have double meaning for they add a new perspective to people’s lives. By developing these types of relationships people from other ethnicities will feel comfortable around the members of the church.
Each church, each church leader and each church member should develop cultural competence, that is, the ability to adapt and feel comfortable in uncomfortable settings (ch. 8). Simply wishing to understand a different culture is not the same as being comfortable alongside them.
In the chapter on promoting a spirit of inclusion (9) DeYmaz begins to show his church-centric limitation. The entire chapter is focused on making Sunday worship more culturally-sensitive for other cultures. Although this is important, the spirit of inclusion begins the moment Christians meet non-Christians and the worship setting is only a small part of feeling included.
Mobilize for Impact (ch. 10) shows this bias directly. The focus is on the church as a collective going out and doing good things to bless the city, teach the gospel and encourage each other. This should be done by all Christians and not simply churches attempting to be multi-ethnic.
Part three ends with three different settings and how becoming a multi-ethnic church will be different in each: new church plants (ch. 11 by DeYmaz), revitalizing an existing church (ch. 12 by Rodney Woo of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston) and transforming a homogenous church (ch. 13 by Kim Greenwood of Village Baptist Church in Beaverton, OR). All three include the same principles stated in different words as the setting dictates. It adds very little to the overall scope of the book except to present two new case studies of the same nature as Mosaic.
Overall I found this book to be refreshing (though not perfect) in its discussion of why churches often become homogenous groups though it remains trapped in a denomination-first model. DeYmaz’s entire experience is within established churches and Mosaic began with the hope of becoming an established church with a different flavor. This limits his outreach to ‘churched’ American citizens or immigrants interested in American culture. Because of this limitation, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church spends much of its focus on making Sunday worship multi-culturally relevant. Because of this, his critique of McGavran’s People Movements misses the point entirely. McGavran wanted homogenous churches to create a groundswell of people wishing to become disciples of Christ, not comfortable churches. Although Christians should take DeYmaz’s principles to heart for the collective group, he should have focused more on how individual members of churches can reach out to people of different ethnicities. DeYmaz’s multi-ethnic church idea is very important for established churches in immigrant nations, but in the end falls somewhat flat in its inability to think outside the church (building) model.

DeYmaz, Mark, and Network Leadership. 2007. Building a healthy multi-ethnic church : mandate, commitments, and practices of a diverse congregation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.