By Sam Hamstra, Jr.
As a community seeking to embrace God’s mission of a church with representatives from every tribe and nation, how do we go about planning a worship service or liturgy that affirms our Triune God’s gift of diversity?
As a pastor who once planted an intentionally multi-ethnic congregation and now as the Affiliate Professor of Worship and Church History at Northern Seminary, I have had the privilege of asking that question in a variety of settings with many individuals. Here are some tried and true strategies learned in the process. As is often the case with strategies for ministry, each one would benefit from delightful face-to-face conversation towards the development of more details for application in particular contexts. With that proviso in place, here we go!
1. Remember, no matter the number of cultures represented in the weekly gathering, we hope that the worship service will help create and sustain a third culture – a congregational culture which affirms diversity as beautiful. In Culturally Conscious Worship, Kathy Black writes,
While experts in the area of congregational studies assert that every congregation has its own “culture,” this concept takes on a slightly different meaning in multiethnic congregations that take seriously the cultures represented by the various members. By all sharing their cultures, their histories and faith journeys, as well as the ways the traditionally praise God and the ways that God inspires them through certain songs and prayer forms, a “third” culture emerges out of shared memories that blends elements from each of the cultures present. (90)
2. Practice diversity within the standard parts or rituals of the service. The weekly gatherings of Christians include a handful of transcultural elements, such as prayer, scripture reading, song, sermon, offering, baptism, and Lord’s Supper. We may cultivate an appreciation for diversity by practicing those rituals in a variety of ways.
3. For most Christians, the style of music employed to support worship is more than a preference. So, when it comes to music, select your main or default style of music and employ other styles based on the gifts of your congregation or the target audience of your evangelistic ministry.
4. Insist on diversity on the platform. Some rebel against this idea, suggesting it smacks of tokenism. I counter that this practice is a strategy to fulfill God’s mission for the Church. As a strategy, it parallels that of the apostles who chose seven Greek deacons to serve the Greek widows (Acts 6).
5. Encourage “Pride in Your Tribe.” As a congregation we are not looking to become “color blind” or to create a “melting pot.” Instead, we seek to be a community that affirms diversity as beautiful. One way to encourage pride in your tribe, besides the obvious—the pot-luck dinner—is to utilize symbols and art.
6. Get over excluding someone; every congregation excludes some people. For example, the moment a congregation selects a language by which to worship, it excludes people who do not speak that language. Still, each congregation benefits from asking, “Who do we exclude?” And then by following up that question with a far more significant one—Why? The answers to that question will challenge a congregation on many levels.
7. Remember, diversity comes in many forms. For example, nearly every gathered community includes four types of people: seekers, maturing believers, wayward believers, and unbelievers. So, as much as is possible, let us plan our services with each of those groups in mind. As another example, each person in the congregation embodies a unique combination of the emotive (heart), cognitive (mind) and the volitional (will). So, as much as is possible, let us plan services that involve the heart and mind, as well as rituals that call for action.
8. Remain steadfast to the vision of a multicultural congregation. In Culturally Conscious Worship, Kathy Black writes,
Multicultural congregations provide a beacon of hope not only for the church of the future but also for our society and world. By finding unity in the midst of diversity, multicultural congregations are creating peace by seeing all as kin in the family of God, by seeing the face of Christ in one another. (115)
9. Lean mightily on the Holy Spirit. I have yet to witness a multicultural congregation that minimizes the role of the Holy Spirit. Instead, each congregation I have witnessed has discovered that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings and holds together a people of many tribes and nations. In addition, each one has affirmed the active role of the Holy Spirit in the worship of God’s people. So, let us pray continuously to the Holy Spirit to shape us into a church of many tribes and nations.
Sam Hamstra, Jr. is the Affiliate Professor of Worship and Church History at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL), the founder and president of ChapterNext (chapter-next.com), a Chicagoland based church consultancy, and a pastor who has been planning and leading worship for over 30 years.