WACO, Texas—Systemic segregation of congregations undermines the credibility of Christianity, 600 participants at the annual No Need Among You conference heard.
The Texas Christian Community Development Network sponsors No Need Among You each fall, attracting congregational and faith-based nonprofit leaders from across the region.
“If the kingdom of heaven is not segregated, then why, on Earth, is the local church?” asked Mark DeYmaz, co-founder and president of Mosaix Global Network.
Eighty-six percent of U.S. churches are segregated, meaning less than 20 percent of the membership is a different race or ethnicity than the majority group, DeYmaz reported. Consequently, “no one is listening to the message of hope, the message of the gospel,” because division of the church invalidates the Christian message.
The biblical ideal for the church is found in the New Testament epistle of Ephesians, whose theme is “the unity of the church for the sake of the gospel,” he said. The church in the city of Ephesus was multi-ethnic and diverse economically “for the sake of the gospel.”
Unfortunately, the church is the only institution today that is allowed to segregate, he lamented, calling for a reversal. “Imagine the power of willfully coming together,” he said.
Christians who seek to transcend racial and ethnic barriers to advance the gospel must practice humility, insisted Lorena Garza Gonzalez, vice president of Urban Strategies.
Some advocates call for cultural awareness and even cultural competence, she said. “But I can’t be ‘competent’ in your culture. We need cultural humility.”
“In order for us to have a relationship, one has to be centered on another culture,” she explained. “You’re not here to fix others. You’re here to have a relationship.”
And through cultural humility, relationships blossom when Christians of privilege temper or check their power and help others uncover their own power, she said.
Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, told the crowd global migration provides major fuel for the growth of the church.
Throughout its history, the church has been “always moving, always advancing,” and the 21st century is no exception, he said.
“Numerically, this is the most exciting time of Christianity,” Jenkins insisted, pointing to “massive growth of Christian numbers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” For example, Africa was home to 10 million Christians in 1900 and one-half billion today. But by 2050, that number will double.
Consequently, with global migration at play, that impact is being felt elsewhere, he said, pointing to huge African congregations in Houston. And through migration, the fervor of faith multiplies, he added.
“Why does migration often lead to people being more religious than they were at home?” he asked. “They are cut off from their landscape—the institutions they knew. So, they form new institutions—in education, welfare and health. They join churches for a sense of community and become much more religious in tone.”
Stevie Walker-Webb, founder of CAST, a nonprofit organization that creates theater for social change, called on Christians to practice creativity as an expression of love for God and outreach to others.
“Creation is God’s first love language,” he said. “When we create, we speak to him in his original language. …
“The question is not: Are we, or are we not artists? But: What kind of artists are we?” he stressed. “We were created to create beautiful things. When we stop creating, we break God’s heart.”
Creativity has an evangelistic impulse, Walker-Webb said. He grew up in Waco and received the ministry and support of Mission Waco. He benefited from a Mission Waco scholarship and graduated from the University of North Texas, where he studied fine arts. Then he returned to Waco, and with Mission Waco director Jimmy Dorrell, reopened the Jubilee Theater. Under Walker-Webb’s direction, the theater gave the community “a safe place to rage and engage,” dealing with issues such as racism, economic inequality and even the hypocrisy of the church.
“Discover the arts as a way to deal with pain,” Dorrell urged leaders of congregations and nonprofit ministries.
Our friends at the Baptist Standard also covered No Need Among You. To read about Shane Claiborne’s presentation, click here.