Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Church as ghetto

Something perked my memory when I was listening to the White Horse Inn broadcast on Spiritual Gifts. No it was not particularly the charismatic gifts that perked it. It was on the idea of a church being started based on ethnic or cultural lines.

I have experience with this because a decade ago I pioneered a Filipino church in Melbourne. There is no denying that birds of a feather flock together, and that feather happened to be 'same ethnic background'. This common root idea is no doubt a rallying point for the church to have a sense of unity. When that happens, church work is easier to do because you got more hands on deck.

Unfortunately it has an ugly side to it. For one thing, it will never break out of its own mold and pre-concieved ideas. For example, a few caucasian folk sometimes would join us and during fellowship lunch, guess what, no one from my church would speak to them. These white folk would just stand there eating their lunches and no one would bother to approach them. I have tried to tell my congregation why they do those un-friendly sort of things and I would scold them, I would say - "hey you people know and understand English why don't you speak to them"?.

People from ethnic churches are comfortable within themselves and they often think they "own the church". The depressing part is that they will not let people break in to them. It rocks their style and they can not be bothered putting up with strangers or people from different backgrounds. You see the church is their gheto. They are there because they are _________(nationality). You can fill in the blank your self. You know what I mean.

Whereas culturally based churches may work for a while, they never work in the end. It does not work because it is being made to be a social club, with a bit of Jesus and some church ritual on the side. What happens is that the social aspect takes over and Jesus becomes a small aspect of the group. So the church dies besides who would like to go to a place where you are not welcomed?

Church leaders that minister to churches that have a cultural background as its root is in a very challenging position, but I think the earlier they get to identify the problem the earlier the solution will be. So what is the problem? The problem is not whether or not people are friendly or brotherly, that is just the symptom.

The problem is if people are there because of culture or the Gospel? Are they there because of Jesus or because that is where they were born, baptized or because they have the same nationality as the rest of the members? This is the reason why ethnic churches become ghetos, they are not united by the Gospel, they are united by ethnicity. This to me is the greater concern, are they there because they have grasphed the Gospel? It is a challenging thing to convert members from being there because of ethnicity to being there because they are Christians, i.e. because of Jesus, because they are fellow sinners just like people from other ethnicity, they know they share the same humanity and sinfulness and above all they know they need a Saviour just like the rest of mankind.

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus
.

11 comments:

Steve Martin said...

My pastor tells us of the time back in the early part of the last century when in Minnesota there were 3 different Lutheran churches on one corner.
The Germans, the Swedes, and the Norwegians.

Past Elder said...

Early part? It was that way when I grew up there in the 1950s! They all spoke English by then though.

Catholic parishes are the same. The Irish parish, the German parish, the Italian parish. Now though, the original immigrants have moved out and up and these parishes are inner city.

(BTW, I was told on another Aussie blog that "inner city" does not always mean there what it means here, namely, ghetto, poor.)

L P said...

SM/PE,

For the start and as a solid base, an ethnic church serves the needs of its people but overall the Gospel should predominate the culture.

Besides, the children of migrants become 3rd culture kids anyway, I know in my congregation the kids no longer spoke their parents' tongue. So somewhere down the line we are brothers and sisters because of the Gospel, correct?

Right PE, inner city does not mean ghetto. I observe that inner Los Angeles is no way quiet compared to inner Melbourne, they are opposite concepts.

LPC

Steve Martin said...

P.E.,

I told him (my pastor) your comment and he laughed. He said you are exactly right.

50's and 60's still virtually the same except the languages.

L P said...

# Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


We go beyond our races when the Gospel is at the center and there is degree of tenderheartedness towards one another.

LPC

L P said...

SM,

I meant to ask, you mean the attitude is the same in the churches except now they spoke English? Hahahaha, that is fair dinkum funny.

LPC

Past Elder said...

Felices Pascuas, hermano!

(How's that for a little "diversity" -- PR to PI!)

L P said...

y tu, me hemano! Es la verdad! LOL.

LPC

matthias said...

I once worked for the NURSES union here in melbourne and found a homeless man living in his car outside an ethnic Baptist church some doors down from my office. i managed to get welfare workers and nurses to ensure that this chap was okay ,and an Anglican Church was where he ate breakfast. The ethnic church... they did nothing.It might have been because they did not notice him ,but then he was over 6 feet tall ,so I think they preferred to stay in their "ghetto" mentality and spirituality

L P said...

Matthias,

This story is so familiar. Not before long ethnic based churches become insular. When I was in my church, it was like a mountain getting them to help people out of our culture. It was always hard getting them to practice love of neighbor who is right in your face.

LPC

Past Elder said...

Maybe the page with the parable about the Samaritan got ripped out of their Bibles.