Monday, February 26, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 8b)

My family’s relationship with Christ Church has not been one-sided, however. I think it was crucial that the church reached out to me and my family and showed a genuine interest in us, but I think it was also important that we made the effort to become active participants in our church.

First, my wife and I were willing to learn and adapt to the culture of our new church. We knew that when we decided to attend Christ Church that it wasn’t going to be the same as it had been in a Black church, so we adjusted accordingly. For instance, as a trained musician, I have strong opinions about music (you can check my profile for my musical preferences). Yet, when in Rome… I’ve learned to like some of the contemporary, rock-influenced, worship songs. As far as songs I don’t like, I’ve learned to live at peace with them. And songs I don’t like…well, at least I can tolerate them. The point is, you can’t have everything your way. (This is why I don’t understand the whole “worship wars” thing. Why can’t the “contemporary” crowd learn and sing a few hymns? And what’s the problem with the “traditional” crowd learning a few contemporary songs? Do you think I just love all the music in a White church? I know from experience, singing something you don’t like won’t kill you.)

Also, my family and I took the initiative to get involved in the life of the church. My wife joined the choir. I joined a men’s small group. Early on, we chose to attend an adult Bible class. We took the initiative to become plugged into the life of the church. In my opinion, one cannot stand apart and complain that “no one asked me”. Don’t wait until you’re asked; sign up! Now, if you’re not accepted once you show up, that’s another thing. But, at least try to get involved.

If people on both sides of America’s race wall are willing, I think there are things that both sides can learn from each other. For example, I remember once being asked to give the prayer before the offertory. I had prayed publicly in church for years, but this time was different. The instructions I had been given days before were something like this: “Remember to pray about this, and don’t forget about that…but just pray as you feel led…and you have about 2 minutes!” I was so nervous! In the Black Church, you really do pray as you feel led. And then, of course, Black folks (in the best Black contexts) give you immediate verbal feedback. When people are talking back, then you know the people are really with you. This is true whether praying, singing or preaching. And once you know the people are with you, you stay right “there”, because the people want to feel what you’re doing. Spontaneity in the Black Church really is spontaneous. But, I’ve learned there is also such a thing as “planned spontaneity”.

I hope I’ve been able to also teach the people of Christ Church that it’s quite all right to depart a bit from the “script” on occasion (within reason, of course). And it’s always a joy to lead the congregation in song, and watch them put down their worship folders and clap while they sing. Some people seemed so delighted to be given “permission” to actually move while they worship!

I don’t want to make all this sound easier than it is. I’m sure my propensity to take more than my allotted time when ministering through music in the worship service can try the patience of worship planners. But, then, I sometimes find the tight worship schedule constricting and Spirit-quenching. After all, in the Black Church, you just sing (or pray or preach) until you get it out of your system!

All this calls for humility and grace. People must be willing to sometimes lay aside their preferences for the sake of others. If any people should be able to exercise humility and be willing to extend grace to others, it should be believers in Jesus Christ. This is why racism within the Body of Christ is particularly despicable.

Has everything been perfect at Christ Church? No, but I’ve not come across a perfect church, yet. Have you? I think, however, if people are willing to at least make the effort to really get to know and be involved with people who are not like them, and if churches take seriously Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”, it will go a long way toward bringing Christians of differing races together.
The apostle John was given a vision of the racial, ethnic and cultural harmony that will exist in heaven (Revelation 7:9-12):

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
We might as well start practicing now!
To read the previous posts of this series, click the following links:

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