In recent years there’s been a push for multicultural worship. A prime example of this is Sandra Maria Van Opstal’s book, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, published by InterVarsity just this year. Overall, I think this book and others like it constitute a push in a healthy direction, in the same way that the push for Christian families to adopt children has been healthy. But I fear we go too far when we suggest that God is displeased with the family that decides not to adopt. Similarly, I fear we go too far when we suggest that the local church composed mostly of African American or Caucasian Christ followers is somehow unsettling for God.
Really, this is just the megachurch movement in disguise. The megachurch movement, at its worst, says, “God is only pleased with supersized sanctuaries, colossal auditoriums that can contain the mass of people we are reaching.” The equation is: Big Church = Happy God. While more and more Christian leaders are being given eyes to see the problems with the megachurch equation, my concern is that some of these same leaders have simply replaced the old equation with a new one, which is equally problematic: Diverse Church = Happy God. Let me clarify why I think this equation is dangerous.
The teaching of the New Testament is not that every local church must reach the pinnacle of becoming a multicultural or multiethnic community, which sociologist Michael Emerson defines as a congregation in which no one racial group makes up 80% or more of the people (see his “A New Day for Multiracial Congregations”). Rather, the teaching of the New Testament is that every local church must reach out to people from every tribe and language and nation (Matt 28:18-20; Rev 5:9), understanding that when God gives the gift of multicultural community it is indeed a positive and powerful thing. Multicultural community is not something we can manufacture. If it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6), then it seems to me that it must be God who gives the increase in diversity.
A good friend of mine says that many megachurchers use a “Madison-Avenue approach” with Jesus. “Let’s do whatever it takes to sell Jesus to the people.” I would argue that this approach is inevitable when the assumption is that only the big church brings a full smile to the face of God. The faulty assumption causes us to function in dangerous ways. We fare no better when we operate with the assumption that only the diverse church is pleasing to the divine. Samuel L. Jackson would say that, sooner or later, an assumption like this will “make an ass out of you … and umption.” Perhaps he’s right. Certainly, it will cause us to use some type of Madison-Avenue approach. “Let’s do whatever it takes to make this church multicultural.” Maybe we should call this the “Jada-Pinkett-Smith approach.”
In sum, to those brothers and sisters ministering in multicultural congregations, praise God for the increase in diversity that he has given you. And to those laboring in churches and areas that are primarily Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, or whatever, don’t think for a second that God is disappointed with you. Don’t fret about the results. Remain faithful in your proclamation of the gospel, the message of what God has accomplished for sinners of every color in the person and work of Christ. If you’re doing this, God is pleased with your ministry.