(Pictured above, from left to right: Tom Anderson, Thurman Williams, Al Guerra, Dr. Alex Jun, Dr. Bryan Chapell)
In a talk to the 42nd General Assembly, Bryan Chapell made the point that if “more progress is not made in cultural engagement, demographic diversity, and world-Christian movement, [his] own children might struggle to stay in the PCA.”
Such a statement prompts the question: So, what is the path to advancing diversity in the PCA? At the 43rd Assembly four ministry leaders from varying backgrounds responded. The four were part of a panel discussion June 10 moderated by Chapell.
It starts with a shift in perspective, explained Dr. Alex Jun, a ruling elder at New Life Mission Church (Fullerton, California), professor of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University, and a Korean-American.
He said that people will often comment to him how they appreciate the way Koreans pray or what the Korean culture brings to the worship experience. But when he asks them about the other person’s church, they will often respond, “Oh, it’s just as normal church.”
“Who gets to ‘own’ normal?” he asked.
It’s important for the Anglo community to realize that it, too, has a culture, he pointed out. It might be the majority culture, but it is still a culture. To begin down the right path to real diversity begins by understanding one’s own reflection in the metaphorical ethnic mirror.
“The way we look at ethnic participation is really impacted by the way we look at ourselves.”
Equally important as a shift in perspective is a change in posture — from one of teacher to one of student — explained Thurman Williams, associate pastor at Grace & Peace Fellowship (St. Louis) and an African-American.
“Particularly for us in our denomination, we have to be able to confess our ignorance and our need for help when it comes to advancing ethnic outreach in the ministry. We’re not good at it. We need to learn from people who are so that we can become good at it.”
Similarly, the PCA must address the fact that those in leadership tend to be members of the same group — mainly those of Anglo and upper middle-class backgrounds. Williams pointed out that while power can be a good, even necessary, thing when it is used to advance the kingdom of God, it can be easily distorted when it’s concentrated among members who are all a part of the same group.
“Power must be genuinely shared. Not just [offering] a seat at the table, but a seat in deciding who else sits at the table.”
Williams explained that a lot of churches are asking questions about how to have multiethnic worship services or how to make worship services more comfortable for those of different ethnicities.
“All of those things are important,” he said. “However, they’re not enough in and of themselves. We have to be able to address the things that are underneath why they’re important. Or else you could invite Tony Evans to preach at your church and Kirk Franklin to be your music director, but if you don’t address the things underneath, people still will not stay.”
In our consideration of ethnic diversity we need to make sure we’re not forgetting the importance of multi-economic diversity as well, added Tom Anderson, an Anglo-American and senior pastor of Strong Tower Church in Macon, Georgia, a church committed to serving the generationally poor in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood. And that means moving beyond simply reaching out to the materially and generationally poor, but also inviting the poor to communicate their wisdom to the materially and generationally less poor.
“It takes open hearts to see that it’s not a paternal one-way street, but we do desperately need each other to truly see God’s grace and His love and His patience for us as reflected in His love and grace and patience for the poor.”
And that is the ultimate goal, Chapell concluded: to move from a place of merely accepting those who are different from us to seeing our need for those dissimilar from us.
“The Gospel step is to say, ‘I need you to be different. I do not understand the Gospel. Our church will not — we will not — mature, if we don’t have you. I need you, the poor. I need you, a different race. I need you, of a different world place.’ ”
In upcoming issues of the magazine, byFaith will run a series of articles on how the PCA can continue to pursue genuine diversity within our churches and presbyteries.