5 Things We’ve Learned as We Transition from an Ethnic to a Multicultural Church

We recognize that we need to reflect the diversity of heaven if we are to be a faithful outpost of heaven in multicultural Toronto.

Ministering in multicultural Toronto, it’s easy to assume that any ethnic church would automatically become culturally diverse, given enough time. However, we realized that various practices we took for granted were getting in the way of reaching non-Filipinos. For example, all our services are in English; but our tendency to converse in Filipino dialects unintentionally excludes even our young adults who had grown up in Canada. This was just the tip of the iceberg.

 

It has been observed that 11 AM on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. We probably wouldn’t go that far here in Canada, but we do face the challenge of reflecting John’s vision of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation exalting the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-11). Our church has embraced this challenge. We started out in 1998 as a church plant of First Filipino Baptist Church in the west end of Toronto. Made up primarily of immigrants and their kids who had been in Canada for over 20 years, we began with the express desire of becoming a multicultural congregation. We’re not there yet, but, by God’s grace, we’ve made progress toward becoming more diverse. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned so far.

1. Diversity Takes Intentionality

Ministering in multicultural Toronto, it’s easy to assume that any ethnic church would automatically become culturally diverse, given enough time. However, we realized that various practices we took for granted were getting in the way of reaching non-Filipinos. For example, all our services are in English; but our tendency to converse in Filipino dialects unintentionally excludes even our young adults who had grown up in Canada. This was just the tip of the iceberg. We began to realize that we had unintentionally become what Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop call a “gospel-plus” community, where our relationships were based on the gospel plus being Filipino. So, we are now working to reorient and redefine ourselves by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Becoming Multi-Ethnic is Painful

Ethnic churches form in a place like Toronto because immigrants are longing for home. Moving to a foreign land can be traumatic. You’re starting life from scratch, adrift in a society you don’t fully understand; people don’t understand you and your strange accent; your qualifications are not accepted; people don’t respect your past achievements. So, going to church with people from your home country is like going home without the jet lag or paying $1500 for airfare. You’re in a bubble where you are somebody. Ethnic church is your safe place but if it lets “other people” in, you’re thrust back into the society from which you’re seeking refuge.

However, we recognize that we need to reflect the diversity of heaven if we are to be a faithful outpost of heaven in multicultural Toronto. Through the gospel, we are beginning to learn that our worth comes, not from our accomplishments, cars, houses, or degrees, but from being in Christ. Our union with Christ binds us to other believers as citizens of heaven and members of God’s household, and enables us to embrace them regardless of ethnicity, language and social status. Christ is our unshakeable refuge who gives us joy to endure the pain of losing our safe place.

3. Going Multicultural Improves Church Health

When comfort and security is the underlying motive (consciously or unconsciously) for being in church, there is a tendency to be complacent. Refocusing on the gospel has challenged everyone in the church to grow.  Our older members have begun to acknowledge there’s much they still need to learn; our younger members have become more aware of the need to preserve the unity of the body by caring for those outside their peer group.

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