Ethnic Churches are Sent

By Shannon Youell

Most of us love hearing stories of missionaries who have brought the Good News of Jesus as King–the King who brings the salvation of God’s kingdom now breaking into human reality to those who have followed other gods or not known God in any form or shape. The church has done a good and faithful job of bringing this news to most of the world. Stories of new faith and new communities brings us all new life and hope and energy.

When I was teaching in churches and discipleship schools in India, I had hours of “car” time with some of the pastors whose churches and schools I was teaching (Canada, quit complaining about traffic – it is insane in Mumbai!). Many of them asked why the church in Canada was declining and faithfulness to God was becoming a private pursuit when it was faithful Canadian missionaries who brought the gospel to much of India. My quip back was that perhaps their church needed to begin sending us missionaries to reignite our passion to be faithfully present where we are and to share the Gospel with our neighbours.

For years the pray-ers in Canadian churches have been praying for God to revive us, to reignite our passion for God’s mission, and to breathe new life on us. And we are seeing new life coming to us as God sends us the nations.

At Assembly 2019, CBWC welcomed into full membership four new churches: three Filipino and one Iranian church. Almost all our other plants in process are ethnically based – Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Karen, Kachin, African. We should take note of this….God is actually sending missionaries to Canada! And they are planting churches here.  

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Welcoming new churches into the family

There is two-fold purpose behind their plants: the first is that first generation new Canadians long to worship God in their ‘heart’ language, just as we do. The second is that when Christ followers come, they recognize there are many from their own lands that have not settled into communities of faith, are not following Christ, not engaged in a faith community and in true missionary fashion, they want to share Jesus with those folk. 

There are many conversations around what this trend means, but I think the pertinent point is that God is doing ‘something’. These communities are exciting us with their stories of folk coming to Jesus, in their devotion to gathering, to intentional missional discipleship, to sharing Jesus boldly and courageously wherever they find themselves. Perhaps they are the ‘wake-up’ call our complacent, contemplatively established churches need, to help re-excite us to the reality that Good News is still Good News for the world. 

The question is how do the second and third generations, who will be English speaking and whose culture will now be predominantly Canadian, stay engaged? How does the existing church begin to be a place where ethnic diversity truly has a place?

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, in his book Future Faith, tells us that when non-Caucasian people go to a church where all the leaders are of one ethnicity, they do not see a place for themselves. Our churches themselves are not ethnically diverse. The existing churches that are growing the most are those that have multi-ethnic staffs of both males and females. The interesting piece of his research is that the other ethnic leaders do not even have to be of the same ethnicity as the person seeking to join a church – they just have to be non-Caucasian!

The other important note I want to comment on is something that a Korean pastor of a Vancouver church said in a church catalyst meeting: multi-cultural is not the same as multi-ethnic: multi-cultural means that there is a diversity of cultures and the expressions of faith and worship of those cultures are reflected in the gathering and scattering times. Our warm welcome of all people assumes they will worship, reflect, pray, and minister like our dominant culture does, which would make us multi-ethnic but not multi-cultural.

This is an important distinction to make as our new-Canadian church plants move to the second and third generations who will be looking for multi-cultural expressions of faith to stay engaged in church life. Canada’s young people are growing up in a diverse world and they too will gravitate towards diverse expressions of faith and community. We should be right beside them opening the pathways.

I would like to say this is a near-future challenge for us and for our new churches, but we are past that. This is our challenge now and it would certainly appear as though God is sending the world to us to help us engage together in a place of all nations gathered together, worshiping and serving our God and our King.

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