Integrating Worship in Segregated Communities

As Jesus was preparing to ascend, he left his disciples with unmistakable instructions that should still significantly resonate with Christians today. In Acts 1:8, he says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He specifically mentions four places in his command.  I can’t help but ask, “how well is the Church fulfilling this command?” 

I pray I am not alone among the body of believers when asking this question.  We should all examine how well the Church is fulfilling this command.  After all, Jesus did more than command it, he lived it out. Ironically, the segregation of communities during Jesus’ day is not much different than what we see presently. The difference is, Jesus was much more strategic in his approach to integrating worship among segregated communities. In other words, living in a segregated community is no excuse for segregated worship. Be that as it may, if the Black and White Church (not at the exclusion of any other race) is to have a greater impact on integrating worship, I maintain that we must measure our effectiveness based on the model of Jesus, and be willing to aggressively pursue multi-ethnic ministry.

In fact, the multi-ethnic church could be essential to the health of Christianity moving forward. While segregated communities are a reality, how is it that we still have segregated churches in 2019?  I am afraid we have not done a very good job in measuring our effectiveness based on the model of Jesus. Before Jesus ascended, he commands his followers to be his witnesses in segregated communities that were much different than the ones they came from. He also lived this out as we see in John 4:4 where the scripture says, “he had to go through Samaria.  Later in that passage, we learn he is there to be a witness to a woman and a city that were culturally perceived as the scum of the earth. 

So Jesus lived it, commanded it, and after he ascended, his disciples walked in obedience to it.   2000 years later, the gospel is still being proclaimed. Imagine if the Church today walked in obedience to 100% of what Jesus commanded in Acts 1:8. If this is the model by which we are measured then most churches are only doing a quarter of what Jesus commanded. He mentions four distinct areas where his disciples were to be his witnesses. He specifically mentions Jerusalem (25%), Judea (25%), and Samaria (25%) before he ever mentions the end of the earth (25%). 

Despite this, I have personally witnessed where churches pour 90% of their missions budget into global missions while simultaneously ignoring cities in their own backyard. Sadly, we can become so focused on reaching the world that we neglect the different people groups right among us. Just as the Jews would go around Samaria to get to their destination, today we fly over what represents our Samaria to get to the ends of the earth. 

With such a heavy emphasis on the ends of the earth, we see less than 30% of Milwaukeans are attending church services weekly. Somehow, it’s become easier to love our neighbor at the ends of the earth than those in our own backyard. Further, our churches remain more homogenous than ever. There is no excuse for this. We don’t have to live in the same community to be intentional about integrating our worship. The multi-ethnic church is our greatest hope in fulfilling 100% of the commission. In Milwaukee and it’s surrounding areas, there exist very few churches that can be described as truly multi-ethnic. 

There are a couple churches that have scratched the surface but there is much more work to be done in this area. I suggest a strong response by the Church is required to confront this reality.   We must be intentional in planting new multi-ethnic churches. I am not talking about a multi-site church that is dominated by one race of people assimilating into the dominance of the other, but rather an autonomous church plant that respects and honors the culture of the community for which it serves. There are churches who have a desire to become multi-ethnic and my hat goes off to them for their willingness to try. Still, the truth of the matter is, churches can’t become multi-ethnic because it is not in their DNA. Multi-ethnic churches can only be birthed; therefore, instead of attempts to become multi-ethnic, churches should plant multi-ethnic churches. Case in point, a Black man could never change his DNA and become a White man. However, a Black and White couple could birth a multi-ethnic child that has the DNA of both. The same principle holds true for birthing a multi-ethnic church.

Consequently, the greatest hope of fulfilling the commission of being witnesses in the four areas mentioned by Jesus, is the willingness to plant multi-ethnic churches in each. We must raise up indigenous leaders and allow them to lead in their context. We must be willing to embrace the culture of the other, and be willing to lay down our worship preferences for the sake of a truly integrated worship experience.

An existing church cannot do this without upsetting it’s base; however, it could plant a multi-ethnic church without upsetting it’s base. Therefore, the greatest hope for moving the gospel forward is the multi-ethnic church. The greatest witness in any city is a multi-ethnic, church planting church, led by an indigenous person with a strong focus on missions in their own backyard.

KURT OWENS is a church planter specializing in multi-ethnic ministry. He serve as President of the Milwaukee Declaration, which is a group of diverse pastors from the greater Milwaukee area who stand as one against racial divides. He has been in ministry for 19 years and also chair the board of Bridge Builders, a community organization revitalizing neighborhoods through Gospel impact and cultural exchange. He holds a B.A. in Business from Concordia University; an M.A. in Christian Ministry form Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary; and is currently finishing up his Doctoral studies in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Author: Kurt Owens

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