Interview With Mark DeYmaz: Integrating the Church Ethnically, Economically 'For the Sake of the Gospel'

"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."

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