Review by Dick Alexander
Why would a person be interested in a book titled Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church? Most likely for the same reason Mark DeYmaz got interested in the subject—a growing burden, born of a prompting of the Holy Spirit, that the church on earth should look more like the church in Heaven. If that’s you, and if you’re seeking answers to complex questions and direction for the journey, DeYmaz can help.
Biblical Principles, Practical Strategies
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church is DeYmaz’s second book on this topic. The first, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, lays down a solid biblical foundation, gives necessary principles and practices, and offers a good starting point for leaders in three divergent settings—church plants, turnaround churches, and well-established, otherwise healthy, homogenous congregations.
This second work builds on the first, drawing on DeYmaz’s experiences, plus those gained from many other leaders through Mosaix Global Network (www.mosaix.info), which he cofounded in 2004 to inspire diversity. It is an intensely practical work, written to help the reader navigate the myriad details of multiethnic ministry.
DeYmaz’s own experience is primarily with the church he planted in Little Rock, Arkansas—not the first place one would choose as a likely drop zone for a multiethnic church. It was Little Rock that sent shock waves across America when in 1957, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional, nine black students attempted to integrate the all-white Little Rock Central High School. But in a place where multiethnic ministry would, at the very least, be considered an uphill struggle, U.S. Sen. Mark L. Pryor (who served 2003–15) writes in the preface to DeYmaz’s first book that Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas is “breaking down these barriers and changing our city’s culture.”
And Mosaic Church is not just a blend of black and white—the church’s first convert was a Muslim, followed by a Japanese person, an Australian, and a Mexican. Individuals from more than 30 nations now call Mosaic home. DeYmaz writes as a leader who has done it, who knows why and how multiethnic ministry thrives, and who connects with other leaders on the front line.
Challenges and Solutions
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Seven Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them delivers just what the title promises—challenges and solutions. Chapter one offers a quick flyover summary of DeYmaz’s first book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church. Those who intend to preach on this subject will want to refer to the more robust biblical exposition in the earlier work. Not only is it good reading, it is a necessary foundation for those who would seek to lead a multiethnic church. The hill is steep enough that few will persevere merely because it seems a culturally relevant thing to do. Essential motivation comes from a conviction that this is among the most prominent themes of Scripture.
This more recent book devotes a chapter to each of seven challenges—personal, theological, philosophical, practical, cross-cultural, relational, and spiritual—in this kind of ministry. And they are challenges! Multiethnic churches face every challenge a homogenous church faces, plus an entire additional layer brought by the ethnic differences.
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church is helpful in at least two ways. First, it diminishes loneliness for leaders. Growing this kind of church is still a pioneering work in America. While the number of these churches is (thankfully) increasing, they are still a tiny minority, and to lead one is to be swimming upstream. In DeYmaz, leaders will find a traveling companion for the journey—one who understands the issues from the inside out.
Second, because Mosaic Church is well led, does multiethnic ministry intentionally, and has been at it longer than most, the church has found and shares solutions for many common issues freely. For instance:
• When you have people from different countries and cultures, what kind of music is used in worship?
• How do you staff—is there a “quota” system?
• What curriculum do you use for children?
• How do you work with those speaking little (or no) English?
• What about undocumented immigrants? What are the legal, biblical, and practical implications?
• How do you deal with the theological diversity of people from different cultures?
DeYmaz writes in narrative style, incorporating challenges his church faced, solutions it considered and implemented, and lessons it learned. The writing ducks no hard issues—e.g., do people from the suburbs want their kids in youth group with those kids? Can undocumented immigrants serve in the church or lead in the church?
The solutions offered are not held out as the way to do ministry, but as a way. Yet they are principled, not merely pragmatic. They will not only help leaders solve problems, but anticipate them.
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church challenges common assumptions on how to do church. For example, multiethnic ministry inherently conflicts with the homogenous unit principle that has shaped much of church growth thinking for the last half century. DeYmaz says that while people may naturally gravitate to those who are their own kind, churches should not be content with it. He writes, “The primary question should not be, How fast can we grow a church? Rather it should be, How can we grow a church more biblically?” (p. 77).
It’s not that the homogenous unit principle has no validity, but that it’s an inadequate organizing principle for a congregation. He offers that people may naturally come to Christ through people like themselves, but then through “graduated inclusion” they should become part of a multiethnic church. And he provides a framework for that transition.
DeYmaz challenges some conventional church growth thinking, but he is not anti-growth. Instead, he believes that, especially in cities that are fast becoming multicultural, multiethnic churches are the best path to growth; homogenous churches will be seen as dinosaurs.
A crucial closing chapter speaks to overcoming spiritual obstacles. With a little reflection, it’s easy to see why and how Satan would attack a multiethnic church. What is the most common demonic entryway into a church? Relationships. With the possibilities for devilish mayhem in a multiethnic church, DeYmaz helps leaders prepare for, respond to, and overcome the inevitable.
Late to the Game
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church and the earlier book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, are best seen as a two-volume work. Though they were not written that way and have some overlap, they are sequential—the first is heavy on the “what” and “why,” while the latter book focuses on the “how.” Both are excellent study books for leadership teams, and the more recent book also provides thoughtful discussion questions for groups.
In one sense, it is unfortunate books on multiethnic churches are just now coming off the presses. DeYmaz’s writing is part of a Leadership Network series that fuels the leading edges of ministry. As sometimes happens, the church is late to the game in this area. DeYmaz notes that the church is the only major institution in our society in which segregation is allowed by law. Of the relatively few multiethnic churches in America, most have existed in contexts like university communities that were already integrated, rather than in challenging settings where the gospel was the power that reconciled people to God and each other.
Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church is filled with encouragement, though never Pollyannaish. DeYmaz writes, “If you lead, or hope to lead, a multi-ethnic church, you . . . must prepare to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misrepresented, and misjudged” (pp. 171, 172). In numerous sections he is frank about the costs, but also the rewards. Frequent text boxes tell stories from those who testify to how God is at work on the front lines.
Thankfully, a growing awareness exists that this is a challenge that can and must be overcome. Those who are pioneering multiethnic ministry will breathe a sigh of relief and offer a prayer of thanks for Mark DeYmaz’s ministry and writing. It puts wind in the sails of other leaders, and its practicality will save years of trial and error.
(Note to the reader: Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church is a repackaging/retitling of the 2010 book Ethnic Blends. The 2013 title carries minor additions to content and is to be preferred to the 2010 title.)
Dick Alexander serves as international consultant with CMF International.