BUILDING A MULTI-ETHNIC CONGREGATION

by Robin Horn, pastor of Southside Vineyard

Our journey in South Auckland has been one of building an authentic multi-ethnic or multi-cultural community.

Roughly 80% of marriages in Southside Vineyard are cross-cultural, with most of our people from Pacific Island origin and Pakehas in the minority.

For me, coming from a fairly red-neck, middle-class family having no contact with Maori or Pacific people, coming to South Auckland to plant was like going on the missionfield, not knowing the culture and all the protocols and pitfalls that go with it. So it’s been a continual learning curve and at times God has confronted the prejudices in my own heart and the dominance of my own white culture.

All cultures are a gift from God

Here are some things I have learned:

Having different ethnic groups come and trying to assimilate them into your church culture under the guise of “It’s all about Kingdom culture” is not building an authentic multi-ethnic community.

Actually there is no such thing as a pure Kingdom culture. When the Kingdom comes it works in and through the culture. Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, spoke Hebrew. He ministered in and through the Jewish culture of the day.

All cultures are a gift from God and they have to be honoured and given a place to express who they are. In all cultures there is good, bad and neutral. As a pastor, it’s suicidal to point out the faults in another’s culture and try and change it. Let God show them and redeem the bad but celebrate the rest.

We endeavour to encourage ethnic groups to express worship in who they are.

Building a multi-ethnic community is a constant dying to self. But the rewards are amazing.

Worship is far more an expression of our culture and personal preference than based on any theology. We encourage different worship leaders to sing songs in their own language, cultural expressions and instruments. For instance, drums and movement is huge in Pacific Island culture. I have seen them come alive when we give them permission to use those expressions in genuine worship. And I’m not talking about tokenism where you ask them to do a cultural item. It has to be part of corporate worship.

For many cultures, connecting in intimacy with God in worship does not mean becoming contemplative and quiet but the exact opposite. Loud and expressive. As the pastor, I have to learn to lay down my personal preferences in worship.

Our leadership is made up of different ethnicities as a reflection of our wider community. As a result, our leadership gatherings are invaluable, challenging but precious and a God-send because they all bring their different cultural perspectives and allow my own cultural blind spots to be confronted. It’s saved me from putting my foot in it many times.

Building a multi-ethnic community is not an easy road. It’s costly and been a constant dying to self. But the rewards are amazing.

Having a multi-ethnic church is like seeing a multi-faceted diamond being formed with each part reflecting a different facet of God’s glory.