Through both my practical ministry as a church leader over the last 16 years and theological study, I have become more convicted than ever of the importance of developing multi-cultural churches. In Acts 11-13, the church in Antioch highlights how truly diverse our churches should be. In these riveting pages we read that the early growing Christian community included Jews, Syrians, and North Africans. Furthermore, the Antioch church truly modelled a multi-cultural leadership: “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch)”.
As Britain becomes more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, it is imperative that our churches too strive to reflect the wonderful ethnic diversity of the communities we live in. Such a model of church is not only Biblical but a powerful witness to see different nationalities genuinely embracing each other, sharing fellowship and ultimately affirming that we are called to love one another. Indeed, multicultural churches are a reflection of heaven!
Over the years I have come to acknowledge that there has to be a real intentionality about creating a multi-cultural church. In my current church setting the sharing of food from different cultures has helped to create stronger ties, and at such meals there has been much laughter and Christian joy. However, it has not always been this way.
In one church I ministered in, there were three main cultural groups, Afro-Caribbean, Indian and white British. At meal times people would often stay in their own cultural groups. Whilst some may argue this is a natural human reaction, it fails to reflect our true identity in Christ, ‘we are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, at the meals together, we introduced games that encouraged different people to mix, and break out of their comfort zones. I also set out deliberately to encourage a wider cross-section to stand for election for leadership roles within the church. This took some time, as the dominant group felt threatened and tended to ‘vote on’ people they knew well, usually from their own family or culture. With the help of Biblical exposition, the culture of the church has considerably changed and the leadership has become more diverse.
However, we have made it a priority to ensure that other roles in the church also reflect the diversity of the church. This has required us to constantly ask ourselves important questions: who is involved in the welcome team? What about the music group? Who leads at the front? What images of people do we show on our PowerPoints? Are these culturally diverse? A vicar of Indian origin recently told me how he was called to ordained ministry: “It was because the vicar believed in me. He spent loads of time with me, and helped me see what I could do. He helped me plan sermons, then gave me feedback. I just became more affirmed. Before I used to look at the person at the front and think, not me!”
In my current church we have welcomed a number of Middle Eastern people, notably Iranians. Many have found a new Christian faith from seeing Christian love in action, especially as they seek refugee status. Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves and in this certainly is a powerful calling to all of us to embrace our ethnic and cultural differences so that we can be one in Christ Jesus. Without doubt, a multi-cultural church is a wonderful reflection of the kingdom of God!
Rev Arani Sen, Vicar Christ Church, Upper Armley
Rev Arani Sen will be one of the speakers at our upcoming ‘Growing healthy Churches, Learning to work Together’ event in Bolton on 10th October. For further details about this event and to book your place go to: