Breaking Down Barriers, Building Bridges Across Differences in the PCA

In its 46 years, the Presbyterian Church in America has successfully attracted white, middle-class Americans. Some PCA leaders have longed to broaden the denomination’s appeal, and in recent years their cause has gained momentum. But when established churches want to better represent the diversity of their communities, it’s often hard to know where to begin.

But the Lord placed within the PCA people who can help churches think about how to reach out to their neighbors and welcome them with the welcome we have received from Christ.

Ted and Ann Powers, Building Bridges

As assessors and trainers with Mission to North America Church Planting, Ann and Ted Powers help church planters see the importance of cultural awareness. The Powerses encourage church planters to know the communities where they want to plant, identify the different cultural groups, describe the differences among groups, and build bridges to them. But, the couple notes, different cultures aren’t just defined by different skin colors.

The Lord placed within the PCA people who can help churches think about how to reach out to their neighbors and welcome them with the welcome we have received from Christ.

“Artists, athletes, NASCAR fans — we want to help people develop the kind of awareness and abilities to form healthier relationships — period — especially with people who are different from them in any way,” Ted said. “If people want multicultural churches, that’s easier said than done. If you’re ever going to have diverse churches led by diverse sessions, you need to understand your own culture and how people process life differently.”

In the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), they discovered a tool that could help pastors, planters, and leaders identify their opportunities for growth.

Participants who complete the IDI receive feedback on where they stand on a continuum of intercultural competence. Ted and Ann help participants understand the inventory results and think through practical ways to work on areas for growth.

Ted and Ann are now two of nine PCA leaders certified to administer the IDI and debrief participants about their results. Beyond their work with future church planters, the Powerses, along with their fellow qualified administrators, work with churches, Christian schools, and other organizations that want to grow in their intercultural competence.

“It’s a positive, hopeful thing that everyone is on a journey in this,” Ann said. “You’re never too far along, and it’s never too late to change. It depends on your willingness to experience other cultures and reflect on those experiences.”

ICCM and the Welcome of Christ

Intercultural relationships have defined the ministry of Irwyn Ince from his seminary days, to his time pastoring a multiethnic congregation in Maryland, to his role as the PCA General Assembly’s first African American moderator.

Irwyn Ince

Ince has become convinced that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ministering across lines of difference. As director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross Cultural Mission (ICCM), he helps churches think about what it looks like to offer the welcome of Christ within their specific contexts.

ICCM helps pastors and church leaders answer the context question through tools such as the IDI and a three-year training curriculum involving monthly online training and semiannual training in Washington, D.C.

“A conference, a Bible study, a sermon series — though good and maybe necessary — won’t fix it,” Ince said. “This is a matter of discipleship, long-term perspective, and engaging in a process that helps [the church] answer the contextual question: What does faithfulness look like for us as a church to pursue unity in diversity? A church must be able to answer that question in context.”

With a pastoral approach, Ince believes the Holy Spirit will empower churches to show hospitality, evangelize, and disciple across cultures, and welcome believers as Christ has welcomed them. 

Relate2Color Fosters Needed Conversations

As an African American kid in St. Louis’ predominantly white suburbs, Aaron Layton felt as if he lived in two worlds. His African American church discussed issues of race and injustice all the time, but his white friends and their churches were often silent on the subject.

Aaron Layton

Layton now understands that some of what silenced his white friends wasn’t indifference. Many white people simply believed that they demonstrated their sympathy and open-mindedness by not discussing race.

In 2014 — the year 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, and the city erupted in protests — Layton decided it was time to break the silence. He founded Relate2Color, an organization dedicated to fostering needed conversations about race and culture. Relate2Color offers workshops, consultations, conferences, and community events to build bridges between people who have had different racial, ethnic, and cultural life experiences.

In 2017, Layton published “Dear White Christian: What Every White Christian Needs to Know About How Black Christians See, Think, & Experience Racism in America.” In the six years since Relate2Color’s founding and the publication of his book, Layton has become a popular speaker, putting on intercultural forums  and speaking at conferences and retreats around the country.

“People are realizing that simply not talking about color isn’t right. Silence is interpreted by minorities as uncaring,” he said. By helping people break the silence, Layton helps them break down barriers.

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