LONG BEACH, Calif. – Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church in central Arkansas and who led the second national conference on multi-ethnic churches, said the movement's goal is to integrate the church ethnically and economically for the sake of the Gospel.
"As far as a movement, our focus is addressing these two glaring systemic problems in the church that we face out of Galatians 3:28. Not men and women so much, but ethnic and economic inclusion," DeYmaz told The Christian Post backstage at the Mosaix 2013 conference held at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach last week.
DeYmaz, author of the book, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, said he, along with this wife, Linda, were called by God to plant a multi-ethnic and economically diverse church in Little Rock, Ark., that is reflective of the community the church serves.
According to DeYmaz, even though the vast majority of churches in the U.S. are segregated homogeneous churches, the first century church was multi-ethnic and united Jews and Gentiles together to worship God.
"The New Testament church was multiethnic. Every church outside of Jerusalem, beginning with Antioch, at Ephesus, at Rome, these were Jewish and Gentile believers walking, working and worshiping God as one. This is what blew the world away," he said. "It presented a credible witness of God's love for all people in an otherwise diverse society."
"If you think about all of the different nations in the milieu, Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire. And, when Jews have their God, and the Hittites have their god, and the Egyptians have their god, and the Phoenicians have their god, and then the Gospel comes along to say: There is one Messiah who is God over all people, working in all people, working through all people. His name is Jesus. He's the Prince of Peace."
DeYmaz explained that in the American evangelical world, believers think of Jesus Christ as being the Prince of Peace, who brings peace to individuals – peace with God as an individual through faith in Jesus. He noted that this belief is correct, because Jesus brings peace to believers as individual people, citing Ephesians 1.
"But it also brings peace with men," he said. "This is what Ephesians 2 is about, where the barrier, the division between Jew and Gentile, what we would call racism today, is broken down by the blood of Jesus Christ."
He noted that when the world watches Christians, and they see black, white, rich and poor gathered in the same room, choosing to come together to worship God, they are witnessing His power.
"You see, everywhere else in society you are forced to integrate," he said. "There's one institution you don't have to integrate (the church), and when we willfully integrate, we understand the power and the pleasure of God that not only dwells in that, but also goes out to the world."
"We also have, in my opinion, a weakened view of Gospel in the American evangelical church. The word Gospel, the concept, our view is weakened, it's incomplete."
DeYmaz emphasized his point by adding that he believes pastors cannot preach Matthew 28 without also preaching Luke 4. "God says go into all the world and make disciples of all men – this is taught to the ethnic nations and ethnic people – and preach the Gospel."
"The Gospel that we preach and typically think of, again in the evangelical church, is individual salvation with God, which it is, no question about it. But it lacks the depth of what Christ taught, what He lived and died for, what Paul lived and died for, and that is the ramifications of that proclamation," he added. "The ramifications of the proclamation are that the poor are welcome with the rich, women are welcome with the men, and Gentiles are welcome with the Jews. Paul addresses this in Galatians 3."
He continued: "It's an incomplete Gospel if it is not only proclaimed, but experienced with the rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women all collectively walking, working, worshiping now together as one. In this way then, as Ephesians 3 happens, we experience the height, the breadth, the length, the depth of God's love. We see Him do exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we could ask or think. And the manifold wisdom – which is a derivative of a word that goes back to Joseph's coat of many colors – the manifold wisdom of God is displayed to the world so that the world comes to know God, and believe in God's love."
Assimilation vs. Accommodation
DeYmaz told CP that he has no doubt that every church pastor, leader and volunteer in the U.S. who shares the message that "all are welcome" in their church are well meaning and intentioned. But added that the underlying message, even if they don't realize it, is that there's a caveat, and that is that they are welcome, but only if they are willing to assimilate into the way that church operates.
"In my own context, early on in the life of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, an African-American woman came in and said, 'I think we can attract and reach more African-Americans if we offer a Gospel choir every now and again on Sunday morning.' Well, if you're a white church, all white people, and an African-American says that, what are you going to say, in the moment?" he asked.
"You might inadvertently say, 'I think there's a great church up the street called Second Baptist and they've got a great Gospel choir.' So what have you just told that African-American woman? You didn't mean to, but you basically said, 'We don't really welcome your kind. That is your form of worship. Your culture, in this church, it's not what we do here.' You put up this barrier, where Christ broke down the barriers in Ephesians 2."
What that is, said DeYmaz, is the difference between assimilation and accommodation.
Intrinsically, people want to assimilate diversity into their church, which basically means members and staff are able to structurally keep their church the way they like it, in regard to preaching, worship style, small groups and children's ministry, he said. And, as long as "the other" likes it the church functions, everybody's happy.
"But that's called assimilation, and that doesn't build a healthy multi-ethnic church. What you have to understand is accommodation," DeYmaz emphasized.
"Accommodation is when the majority culture, structurally, begins to shift in form and function, to welcome the other."
In DeYmaz's situation, his church found Gospel musicians and singers and accommodated that member's request. "We accommodated that part of the African-American church, the culture, and sure enough, more African-Americans came."
Prayer, Fasting and Building a Multi-Ethnic Leadership Team
"How in the world are you going to build a multi-ethnic community of faith, without multi-ethnic leadership?" DeYmaz asked, noting that building a leadership team works much the same way as building a multi-ethic congregation, which is by promoting a spirit of inclusion.
All of it is structural, he said, from the hiring practices of building a multi-ethnic leadership team, to networking and empowering diverse people to become leaders in the church.
"So, it's not enough to just say, 'Hey, we'd love to have anybody here.' It has to be dealt with at a structural level, or it's just not going to happen," he commented. "In America, there's a standard way to plant a church, and they can literally hand you a manual and say, follow these 79 steps and plant a church, and you'll come out of the gate with 250 people, or what have you."
"[To plant] a multi-ethnic church, I can't hand you a manual. Nobody can hand you a manual and say, 'Follow these steps,' because this a work of God and the Holy Spirit that otherwise can't be engineered by human means or methods, and that's why this idea only comes out through prayer and fasting."
DeYmaz continued: "It's a completely different animal in terms of church planting, growth and development, because it's built on relationships of trust and transparency that take sometimes years to develop. It doesn't necessarily mean that your church will explode in growth at this point, because trust is not a commodity that's so easily assumed in an environment filled with people who aren't like you."
Scriptures That Reflect the Vision of a Multi-Ethnic Church
According to DeYmaz, the starting point is to recognize that Christ envisioned the multi-ethnic church.
"In John 17:20-23, on the night before he died, Luke describes it in action in Antioch; and in Acts 11:19-26 and Acts 13:1 [are examples of] a multi-ethnic leadership team. Then Paul describes it throughout his writings, particularly in the book of Ephesians. The mystery of the Gospel in Ephesians 3:2 and 6, and Romans," he said.
DeYmaz also told CP that he and Oneya Fennell Okuwobi have written a book, titled The Multi-Ethnic Christian Life Primer that's aimed at people in the pews. The primer is an eight-week daily devotional that people can read privately, use in small groups or for pastors as a preaching series.
"All the writing to this point, which I've written and so many others, is leader-to-leader, but this is from the bottom up," he explained.
Community Transformation and the Church
While many people talk about reaching the community and engaging the community, and community transformation, DeYmaz homed in on what he believes is the most fundamental question Christians must ask: "How in the world do you realistically expect to transform, engage or reflect the community if your church, in fact, doesn't reflect the community?"
At a structural level, according to DeYmaz, simply saying that the church is going to engage and transform the community is "just rhetoric."
"You cannot change a community or impact it significantly, in the ways that we all want to, unless your church actively reflects that community. Because, in reflecting that community, then you begin to get the diverse voice, in terms of responsibility, authoritative voice. You really understand things," he explained.
As an example, DeYmaz explained that for the church in Antioch, "missions" wasn't a program, it was just a part of who they were.
"We found that, in healthy multi-ethnic churches, you don't have to try to be missional," he said, "it's just who you are, because of the unique ethnic, economic diversity that you bring. Everybody's got a voice, everybody's got a seat at the table, and mission just develops from who you are, versus 'we've got to manufacture a program.'"
He continued: "God blesses churches that are trying to do it and get out there and make a difference and are diverse. Because there are some churches that don't even do that. But how much stronger and how much more credible is our witness when our church actually reflects the community. And from that strength of bases, versus from theory or do-gooders, as it were – it just comes from who we are."
Transitioning From a Homogeneous to Multi-Ethnic Church
Structurally, according to DeYmaz, healthy homogeneous churches are undergoing transition.
"[Homogeneous churches] need to go under transition and they need to be methodical and slow," he emphasized.
"The last thing you want to do is split a church in the name of unity. I'm not recommending that, but you do need to begin to change, and begin to make structural changes and begin to study these things and to move the church. Because the fact is, in the coming years, homogeneous churches in this country, by and large, will be irrelevant, because an increasingly diverse society is not going to believe a message of God's love for all people when it's preached from segregated pulpits and pews."
Not simply to survive, he added, but to thrive in a multi-ethnic culture, churches are going to have to transition, slowly and correctly.
Recognizing New Wine
With transition also comes a change in membership as people leave to seek out other churches, which is unfortunate, DeYmaz said, and something that no pastor wants to see, but it's unavoidable.
"The whole thing is about recognizing new wine," as he described it. "The fact is, as churches transition you're going to lose people – that's just going to happen."
"None of us, as pastors, want to see anyone walk out the door. But here's the deal: currently in America, there's tons of churches that are homogeneous that those people could leave and go to, but how many are healthy and multi-ethnic?" he asked.
DeYmaz explained that if congregations want to be relevant, and are going to thrive and not just survive, and are going to be biblical in reaching a diverse nation, then churches must undergo a transition.
"Even painfully, if it means having people walk out the door or lose members. And that's going to happen," he said. "But there's going to be pain in any course correction. And this is a macro course correction for the American church at a critical time, where the Gospel is being undermined through our segregation."