Christianity Today recently published an article about the Vineyard Columbus’ (VC) heart to love people of all ethnicity and backgrounds:
“…(senior pastor Rich Nathan) has pushed to make sure VC’s ethnic makeup matches that of Columbus: currently 64 percent white, 28 percent African American, and 4 percent Latino. Since 2001, VC has gone from 10 percent to 28 percent non-majority persons, and each Sunday attracts people from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
“There’s been a serious tipping point,” says Andy Saperstein, VC’s small groups pastor, noting that for over a decade now the church has prioritized reaching international communities and modeling racial diversity. Pastor (Bill) Christensen says outreach to African Americans began in 2000, and to immigrants and refugees in 2006. Now people from 104 of the world’s 196 nations attend weekend services, whose total attendance tops 9,000.”
The cool part about the article was the recognition of the tensions that exists whenever two or more cultures overlap:
“Is there tension? Absolutely,” says Christensen. “What do you do when a subcommittee has a highly organized American, a very organized Kenyan woman, and a Hispanic woman from Colombia who says, ‘I want to make sure we just feel really loose and let this thing happen’?”
A lot of times churches tend to either ignore these culture tensions or, sadly more common, force those of the minority culture to either leave or conform to the majority. From what I can tell (having never visited the church personally), it seems that the VC is doing what it can to try to blend multiple cultures and ethnic groups into one body of Christ.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. –Colossians 3:11
As in a lot of things in life, the cultural sensitivity of the VC has been hard won through both education and practical life experience. One such example that the article talks about is the VC intimal failures working among the 35K+ Muslim population of Columbus.
“Before joining VC’s pastoral staff in 1996, Christensen and his family worked among Muslims in Morocco for 11 years. “We made efforts a few years ago that were too hard and fast, too aggressive,” he says; “targeting” Muslims backfired among local Islamic community leaders, many of whom connected such efforts with colonial missions in their former countries that were manipulative and culture-destroying. “They are highly sensitive to churches saying, ‘I’ll give you this [social service] if you accept this truth,'” says Christensen.
“Since then, VC has “pulled back” and now approaches Muslims the same way it does other internationals: through service, notably ESL classes, a legal clinic, and a food pantry, which this spring added a halal section. Rick Love, a Vineyard consultant on Muslim-Christian relations, believes this holistic, “blessing the nations” approach is best for engaging Muslims in a pluralistic society. “Blessing refers to God’s gracious favor and power bestowed on those who respond to him by faith. This expression of God’s global purposes refutes all forms of racism or tribalism,” he wrote in a 2011 paper for the Society of Vineyard Scholars.”
Ah…just re-reading that last paragraph makes me happy that I’m part of the Vineyard Movement. Jesus told us to love and bless everyone – those we like and those we don’t. We are not to try to force people of any background to be like us. Instead we are to love them like Jesus loved us and let the Holy Spirit draw them to the Lord.
Our job is to simply do what the Father says to do and say that He says to say. Nothing more and nothing less.