Am I the only one here?: Being a minority in Church

Changing churches can be a very stressful exercise. About a year ago, my family and I decided to move from our beloved city back to an area I grew up in. On top of our priority list was finding another church. Off the bat I knew I didn’t want to go to a thousand different churches, having to awkwardly stand up a thousand times during the meet the visitor segment of church services. That is just too much pressure. So I decided to do a little research, and try to trim the list of a thousand  down to a couple. Fortunately it didn’t take too long to find the church as God guided me to a really great church. But before I joined the church I had to address one big issue, can I go to a White Church?

It is hard to go from a multicultural to monocultural environment. One of the great qualities of my previous churches was the fact that they were very multicultural.  There’s nothing better than worshiping with other brothers and sisters from all nationalities. If I were to rank my level of comfortability in terms of church diversity I would prefer multicultural worship over a predominately black church. I  would even considered going to a spanish evangelical church where I would be a minority, but that would be okay because like some black churches they know how to get down( meaning they have passionate worship and preaching but at times extremely long services). Ironically, despite my preferences the two churches that I visited were both predominantly white.

One of the first things I do and I’m sure many others do as well when visiting a church is look for people that they can connect and relate to. This happens no matter what type of church you go to. If you are a teenager you will look for other teenagers, if you are single you will look for other singles, if you have a young family you look for others with young families. One of the most disappointing things to happen is to go to a church and feel like there’s no one or only a handful of people like you there. So when I visited the first church which is a good thriving church, I was immediately taken back by the lack of black people or diversity there. I felt a little uncomfortable, not because of anything that anyone said or didn’t say in particular, because the greeters and ushers were kind. The discomfort came because I felt that I would only be able to connect superficially, and because I felt like I was in a place where no one would really understand me.  I didn’t know it until processing it later but I actually experienced culture shock.   Its funny to think that culture shock can come in the same city that a person grows up in because we usually use the term when people go overseas to mission trips but here I was in the middle of church thinking this is probably not the place for me. In fact I must confess I actually had a little condescension for the one black guy I did notice, thinking he must be the token black guy.

To put things in context, I felt more out of place at that church then at the Korean church I where I served as the English Ministry Pastor. Ironically the Pastor of the Korean Church is a great example of displaying diversity. He first hired an Indian and then myself an African American to work with the korean  youth and young adults at his church. Part of my search for a home church was simply because the only other church services at that church was in Korean.

Often times we create self fulfilling prophecies when we put up guards before even getting the chance to know someone who seems different. This doesn’t just happen with race, but with language, class, gender etc.  Though we should embrace the opportunity of change , we have be honest with our experiences and our own makeup; sometimes juggling those conflicting feelings can be difficult.

God gave me another chance to do just that. While browsing online I found a great church.  It had great teaching, a great missions program, and did local outreach. The only downside I found was when I looked at pictures of the staff. At first glance I looked and saw that there were no people of color, but after checking again I saw that one of the pastors was Asian, not a total strikeout I thought.  So I decided to check out the church on Sunday with my family. This church though predominantly white, had a small mixture of other races, and a small amount of blacks. Like the other church the greeters were friendly, but for some reason I felt more comfortable. Though the church was not as diverse as I wanted it to be, all the other factors more than made up for it. After a couple of weeks I came to the determination that this was the most balanced church I had ever been to or seen.  So my family and I joined.

It was after joining and meeting the pastor that I understood why I felt more comfortable. My pastor in the new members class said something that I will never forget. When he assumed the pastorate there weren’t too many black families, and one of the most faithful  black families was considering leaving precisely because they felt unwelcome. After talking to that couple my  pastor told the church something amazing. “I will not pastor an all white church”. He told the church that he wanted more diversity,and that the church would have to change the way it looks at those who are of different ethnicities.  He explained to the new members in class that day, how that moment transformed the ethos of the church, and how though not perfect they became more conscious of how to treat others. This is one of many reasons that I love and respect my pastor. He cast a vision for the church and made a stand that diversity sometimes means challenging the status quo.

I’ve been at my church for over a year and have had to from time to time wrestle with the idea of what it means to me to be a minority in my church. I have to say that in the year I’ve been attending the church has grown a little more diverse, and that there are so many wonderful men and women of God who are genuinely loving and don’t see skin color. This doesn’t mean however that there have not been awkward or uncomfortable moments as well. But there will always be awkward moments, even without race, its just a part of fellowship.

One of the reasons that I write this is to partially share part of my journey in being a minority but also to give a little perspective on how some minority’s may think. In honor of black history I would like to close with a few recommendations for churches who want to become more diverse.

  •  The call for diversity is heard loudest when the Pastor is willing to not only communicate it, but stand for diversity.
  •  Sometimes minorities may feel a little uncomfortable even when you may be friendly, they may just be dealing with their own experiences and doubts of whether they will be accepted.
  • Minorities feel a little more comfortable when they see other minorities in leadership positions.
  • One of the ways to make others feel welcome is to just love on them.
  • Talk to them and get to know them without stereotyping.
  • Experience their culture; films, music, books, food
  • Recognize that even within ethnic groups theres great diversity of personalities that they are not one monolithic group.

The church is the one institution that God has left to testify to the world of his great love. This is why I get so excited when I see Koreans and Japanese, White and Black, Palestianian and Israeli brothers and sisters worshipping together. It proves that the love of God has no boundaries. I’m so glad to be at my church and want to encourage all my fellow minorities who may feel a little out of place, that God may have you there for a reason; to spice things up. My prayer is for all future pastors and church planters to build churches that are reflective not only of their local communities, but of the beautiful and colorful bride of Christ.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Am I the only one here?: Being a minority in Church

  1. Dave

    Thank you for this article. I am an Asian-American believer. I grew up in California, and currently attend a church in Michigan. Except for 2 other men, I am the only Asian man in my congregation of 250+ people. There is 1 Asian woman. The rest are white, except 2-3 who are black.
    I connect with everyone, but I can’t ignore that oftentimes I am left out of some of the social activities, such as lunches or being invited to a family’s home for supper. There seems to be a “wall” to 100% fellowship that I don’t observe being imposed on my white brothers and sisters.

    • thanks for sharing, It can be hard being the only one. It definitely is difficult when you can notice disparate treatment. Part of the challenge is being able to find someone in the church who you can share with without feeling judged. Churches that are not diverse sometimes don’t even recognize those unconscious biases. California definitely unique when it comes to diversity so moving can present some challenges. I’ll be praying for you.

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