Saturday, August 30, 2008

Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Churches: A Review

Here's a review I wrote for the 9Marks E-Journal on Mark DeYmaz' Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Churches.

As I noted in the review, I would have some reservations with some of the methodologies DeYmaz describes. He also goes looking a bit too hard for a biblical rationale for pursuing ethnic diversity in a local church—harder than is necessary to make his case, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, it's worth reading if for no other reason than the fact that so many conservative evangelical-fundamentalist churches are so lily-white and never think much at all about how to cross entrenched ethnic divides. It was relatively easy to sift through the ideas I disagreed with on biblical bounds, while still profiting substantially from the exercise of thinking outside my comfortable position of the ethnic majority. On top of that, DeYmaz was clear on the priority of the gospel and the fact that pursuing ethnic diversity or harmony is not in any way the sum of the gospel message.

So here's my conclusion:
If you're pastoring or church planting in a context in which your church is less ethnically diverse than your community, or if you hope that God will raise within your congregation people who will pursue ministry in a multi-ethnic setting, DeYmaz' book is a worthwhile read. But absorb its biblical-theological argumentation with a discerning eye. That is, read DeYmaz' Scripture citations in their biblical context to confirm that the emphasis of the text is consistent with his argument. Consider the ecclesiological implications of prioritizing multi-ethnicity. The church is a body. It shouldn't be surprising if increased attention to one aspect of the body's life has effects, whether positive or negative, on the rest of the body

Also, read its methodology as description, not prescription. In other words, DeYmaz offers us one account of what worked well in one church in one context. But what worked in that context may not apply equally well in differing situations.

DeYmaz seems to recognize this, and he speaks of general principles as well as specific strategies. These general principles constitute a broad framework for the kinds of questions churches will need to consider as they pursue healthy multi-ethnicity. Whether those churches reach all DeYmaz's conclusions is probably not that important.

But two priorities are essential for every church that hopes to grow towards healthy multi-ethnicity. First, these churches should draw on DeYmaz' practical insight. Don't discard his advice lightly without a clear, biblical argument to the contrary.

Even more importantly, they should recognize that the power of the gospel is creating an eternal, universal, multi-ethnic community. No church that desires to reflect an accurate picture of how Christ's kingdom has broken into this age should be satisfied to display merely a monochromatic image.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review my book, Ben.

Perhaps other readers would be interested in knowing your specific "reservations with some of the methodolgies" I describe in the book. In addition, it might be helpful for you to state just exactly what you "disagreed with on biblical bounds."

And while I do appreciate you qualifying your opinion, please be certain that I did not go "looking ... for a biblical rationale for pursuing ethnic diversity in a local church." Rather, I merely called attention to (through thorough exegesis) what, in fact, so many remain largely unaware of in the text or, worse yet, choose to ignore concerning the unity and diversity of the local church in the first century. For sadly, if the case is so easily made as you seem to believe, why, we must ask, do more than 93% of churches throughout the United States remain ethnically and economically segregated from one another, something that surely continues to break the heart of God?

One in Christ with you,

Dr. Mark DeYmaz
Pastor, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas

Ben said...


Thanks so much for dropping in. I do think there are a few specifics in the review, but I'd be glad to speak in more detail here in the next couple days as you have time.

And in no way do I mean to criticize you for looking for the biblical rationale for ethnic diversity. I agree with you that it's there in the text, and I'm glad you drew attention to it. Believe me, it was helpful to my thinking, especially in some conversations about how ethnically discriminatory policies that have existed in the past have undermined the what the gospel is all about.

I suspect you'd agree with me that if your exegesis goes beyond what the text supports, that's "looking to hard." So I'll develop my thinking a bit more soon, and you can explain why you disagree if you like.

I'll look forward to that discussion. Thanks again for your comments, and thanks as well for drawing churches' attention to this easily marginalized topic.

Kent Brandenburg said...

We're a healthy multi-ethnic church. White is in the minority in our church. Anyone want to know how we've done it?

Paul said...


I would like to know how.


Kent Brandenburg said...

We have one Bible for everyone and we treat everyone the same. I preach the Bible. We hit everyone in evangelism, not skipping any particular people. Everybody is discipled in the same way. We teach everything thoroughly. We love all people. When you obey God, the Holy Spirit is not quenched and you get real unity, not the fake unity of compromise but the one that comes from God that honors Him. We all stand together; we all suffer together. Scripture is sufficient and Asia Minor was multi-ethnic, so if you sort out what Scripture says and do it, you'll be multi-ethnic in a multi-ethnic area.