By Juan Sanchez
As our English-speaking multiethnic congregation embraces our mission to reach non-English speakers in our community and include them in our body as members upon a credible profession of faith and believer’s baptism, one of the principal questions we’re asking has been, “How do we gather for worship?”
Rather than suggesting how to have a multiethnic worship gathering, though, I think it’ll be more helpful to raise some questions to ask as our ministry contexts become increasingly diverse.
1. Is our desire for multiethnic corporate worship rooted in Scripture or driven by culture?
Our pluralistic culture celebrates diversity for the sake of diversity. Some time ago, my daughter auditioned for the part of Louisa in a local production of The Sound of Music.
She didn’t get the part because the production company was looking for a diverse cast. Perhaps my half-Puerto Rican daughter looked too Austrian for the part.
You see, when ethnic diversity becomes ultimate, the outcome can be rather silly.
Our approach to multiethnic ministry in general and corporate worship, in particular, must be rooted in Scripture. A biblical view of ethnicity celebrates our unity in diversity, not diversity as an ultimate end.
The gospel empowers peoples of multiple ethnicities and cultures in a congregation to function as one family, thereby displaying the wisdom of God.
2. Is our practice of multi-ethnic worship rooted in Scripture or particular cultures?
When we gather, our corporate worship must be true worship, in spirit and in truth (John 4).
True worship is a proper faith response to the truth of the gospel declaration about Jesus by those who are sealed with (Ephesians 1:13) and filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-20).
True worship engages both mind and heart. When worship engages only the mind, it breeds sterile intellectualism. When it engages only the heart, it breeds circus-like emotionalism.
Further, when worship is rooted in particular cultures, it appeals to our self-obsession.
As our associate pastor suggested to me, “the forms of multiethnic worship (whatever they might be) must not be shaped by what naturally appeals to us, but by what communicates truth about God to one another and stirs our affections for Him.”
3. What should true worship look like in our context?
Only after asking the first two questions can we move to this one. Each worship gathering that includes a diversity of peoples will look different depending upon your context.
Yet, since true worship is rooted in Christ and His gospel, when we gather, regardless of ethnicity, culture, or language, we must pray the gospel, sing the gospel, read the gospel, preach the gospel, hear the gospel, and see the gospel (ordinances).
The gospel must be central in our gatherings because Jesus is ultimate.
Still, the most challenging element of any worship gathering is music. How you include diverse peoples in singing the gospel requires careful thought. Let me offer two suggestions.
First, since clarity of the gospel is of utmost importance, you should make lyrics available in some format so that all may understand what we are singing.
Second, lest you frustrate everyone, it’s important to find a “musical center” that provides ongoing stability in your singing.
This center will allow you to include music from various cultures at various times, while still communicating that Jesus, who’s ultimate, unites us all.
This musical center will also allow you to include music from various epochs of church history. After all, Jesus is Lord over all ethnicities, all cultures, and all times.
Once you realize that music is only one of many elements in the corporate gathering, you should be encouraged that there are multiple ways to reflect the diversity of the gospel in your gathering.
If language isn’t an issue, peoples of any ethnicity may read Scripture, pray, or share a testimony. If language is an issue, you can translate any of these elements into the requisite language(s).
Central to true worship is the preaching of the gospel.
What’s most important in preaching isn’t who the preacher is but the faithful proclamation and exaltation of Christ through clear, consistent biblical preaching that’s faithful to the text of Scripture and its applications to all of life.
Finally, the ordinances paint a beautiful picture of gospel inclusion.
Whenever one sinner repents and turns to Christ in faith, regardless of ethnicity, that person is baptized before the congregation, signaling union with Christ and initiation into the body.
When we take part in the Lord’s Supper, we’re reminded that all who profess faith in Christ are welcome at the Lord’s table because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
When we come to the Lord’s table, we’re able to see a diversity of people serving a diverse congregation as we celebrate the Christ who has made us one.