Ministry in the Full Gospel
Somewhere awhile back in the 20th century (seems odd to say that) a Charismatic Movement broke out calling themselves "Full Gospel" churches. Oddly enough, Google identified 3 churches as related to "Full Gospel" near me in my county of around 100 churches. One was something called the "Full Gospel Tabernacle", which is probably most like this particular brand of Pentecostalism. Another on the list was the Church of Latter Day Saints just down the road from me, which I'm sure is a bit of a misunderstanding. The last, which surprised me, was my own church, St. Mark United Methodist. So, apparently my credentials for writing about "Full Gospel" ministry is verified by Google. That is just more evidence that the world is confused by the names and terminology we use to place divisions in the Body of Christ.
My brief experience with a Pentecostal congregation leads me to believe that "Full Gospel" to them meant an appropriate worship, reverence, and application of the Holy Spirit in their lives (often, but not always shown by praying/speaking in tongues and prophesying). I'm not a tongue-speaker myself, but there is much that I affirm among that tradition. However, I believe that a better description of what it means to have the full gospel occurs when we move beyond monocultural ministries into multicultural ministries.
Monocultural ministries often are described as natural, organic, and working with the culture around us. There are lots of ministry models for this, both missional and attractional in emphasis. The underlying premise for them is: like attracts like. You remember those days of booming youth groups and rivalries between churches to attract the upcoming crowd of football players, because if you get the popular kids then the rest will follow? Do you remember the church growth movements that boiled down to "If you build it, they will come."
And then we ended up with a lot of great big church buildings that remain mostly empty and/or get rented out for daycares, birthday parties, and other community events. Those are not bad things, but they are probably not what the builders envisioned when those churches were built.
That's the lifecycle of most monocultural ministries. They start with a small passionate core team that wants to win their culture for Christ, they invest heavily, make contacts, and market their idea in the community as the culturally relevant thing to do. It struggles at first, but once it gains a critical mass, it becomes the new cultural outlet for time, energy, direction, and a sense of belonging. If they can weather the growth and potential conflicts over the years, they may have several decades of growth. The big hurdle tends to be passing the torch to the 2nd generation. Generally, if a church can raise up one generation of leaders, it can raise up a dozen generations and last until the community around them completely changes culture.
The struggles of many churches in the United States today may be due more to that second fact than the first. Our church leaders know how to train people like them. However, our cultural landscape has been changing rapidly and their children spend more of their life throughout the week in a foreign culture that raises them as opposed to the church which they only spend 4-8 hours each month at best. Many have dropped out altogether and are no longer part of "Christian" culture, and therefore, we do not know how to raise them to become church leaders like us. We lose our people spiritually because we never had them culturally, and we only know how to minister in one culture.
So, if you live in a low-tech, isolated, third-world country, you may be able to do monocultural ministry well for the long-term. However, much of the European and more and more of the American cultural landscape is showing us that it does not work for us across the generations anymore. So what do we do?
We can do the same thing that the first generation of Christians did... learn to grow and thrive in multicultural ministries. Oftentimes we think of multicultural ministry as a black/white issue in the U.S., and to a degree, that has been true. Today though, in our very globalized society, it goes much further. It involves race. It involves social-economic status. It involves language. It involves nationality. In every ministry situation built around a monocultural community though, it will essentially come down to Jews and Gentiles. Insiders and Outsiders.
Among anarchists, there may be the thought that the solution to this division is to simply eliminate all insiders and make everyone an outsider. Should you succeed at that, there would be no community though, no hub for people to stick to and find belonging. There is another solution though, something modeled by Jesus and fleshed out in the Early Church. You have to continually, intentionally make the inside group diverse.
Does that sound like Affirmative Action? Probably, but it has a different purpose. Diversity among core leadership is not about giving every culture what it deserves. It is about modeling on a small scale how every culture submits to Jesus as Savior and Lord and how Jesus brings us all together as redemptive cultures1. That model (modeling being one of the most primary forms of teaching) becomes a hub that then is able to draw a much greater, much more diverse crowd together, and show them how to live together in Christ. This multicultural ministry gets to the heart of the story of the Rich Young Ruler when Peter asks, "if this man cannot be saved, then what hope to we have?" Jesus reply is the same to us, when contemplating multicultural ministries: "With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." What does this have to do with multicultural ministry? That rich young ruler was the epitome of the "in crowd".
Jesus, instead built a core of 12 disciples that, under normal circumstances, would never have stayed under the same roof or ate at the same dinner tables. Tax collectors, fishermen, revolutionaries, people from priestly families... and women! Don't forget Mary and Martha who tagged right along with the guys. The Samaritan woman who was one of the first evangelists was arguably chosen by Jesus as he left the Twelve and sought her out on that hot afternoon in Samaria. Yes, Jesus created a multicultural church, and it was only by an act of God that they came together in the first place.
Where have I experienced this kind of ministry? I was invited to help pastor a leadership team of international students doing ministry at Campbellsville University. Their vision is to bring all people of all cultures together in the name of Christ. It is challenging work, particularly when almost half of our students in the ministry are not proficient English speakers. It is a place we pray for spiritual gifts of communication.
I have experienced this ministry meeting with Hispanic Pastors from all across Kentucky. I hear there stories, struggling with ministry, making ends meet, having very migratory congregations, and dealing with a wide range of cultures within their own context and people who do not always see eye to eye (Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Columbians, etc.) Some have said that ministry was much easier in their home countries where it was monocultural. I listen and learn all I can from them.
Finally, there is my own multicultural experience at church. We are a small, fairly traditionally led, about 95% white, English speaking church. However, we have been blessed with a 4 or 5 year sister-relationship with a primarily African American church in town. We worship together several times a year and often participate together in community-wide ministries. It's not just a show though. Our members greet each other in Wal-Mart. We pastors work together. Both our congregations only have a small degree of diversity, but the people who bring us new kinds of culture are celebrated for the gifts they are as people, not just as token cultural representatives. We learn from each other and we make each other better - often in joyous ways, and sometimes as iron sharpens iron.
We are not there yet... not by a long shot. But we keep moving forward. We celebrate the work God is doing in us, because without Him, none of this is possible. We learn from our mistakes by repenting, giving grace, and offering healing. We don't give up on one another just because we cannot understand each other at times. We pray, and God keeps us humble and in awe of what He can do as He creates a redemptive community that we could never even imagine.
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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