Future Challenges for ‘Minority’ Ethnic Churches
Olu Ojedokun, Ph.D, isÂ a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and author of the unpublished 'Speaking Truth to Power: Albie Sachs and the work of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission'View all articles by Olu Ojedokun
Summary of Arguments for minority ethnic churches
The Language Argument: They allow Christians lacking fluency in the language of the dominant culture to worship in their mother tongue.
The Social Network Argument: They give people the opportunity to meet people of the same ethnic background and similar life experience.
The Cultural Argument: They can sustain the ethnic minority culture by offering language classes and by celebrating cultural festivals.
The Evangelism Argument: They can evangelise members of their own ethnic group more effectively than indigenous churches.
The Pastoral Care Argument: They are better equipped to meet the pastoral needs of members of their own ethnic group than indigenous churches.
Summary of Arguments against minority ethnic churches
By focusing on members of their own ethnic group minority ethnic churches limit their own mission and exclude other ethnic groups.
The Recruitment Argument: They might find it difficult to recruit qualified full-time staff, and, in consequence their ministry is undermined.
The Community Argument: They could experience difficulties in creating a sense of community because their members are widely dispersed in huge catchment areas. In addition, minority ethnic churches are isolated from their local community.
The Second Generation Argument: They usually find it difficult to serve and engage second and third generation immigrants who have either adjusted to or become assimilated into the host culture.
Interactions with some African migrants, international students have produced some practical suggestions, addressed below. It is hoped this would help some of the indigenous churches better address this issue.
The Contemporary Observations of Africans about the ‘English’ Church and Some Practical Suggestions.
• The African students think the ‘English’ Church could do better at welcoming generally. They particularly find it quite irritating when the same people ask their names and general information over and over again. Their response is: “Surely, we stand out enough, there aren’t so many of us for you to keep mixing us up”.
• Africans are more emotive and assume relationships, they feel because you are a Christian then you would express it warmly in whatever context, whereas some British people operate in context and are reserved, relationship has to be built over time.
• It is suggested that a very effective way of welcoming Africans is by visiting them at their homes or where they live which is something we do not do much in the English Church. Many Africans observe that in the years some of them have been here, no one has ever come to visit them in their houses. Though the culture here expects you to be invited, the African culture expects you to just turn up. A compromise could be to plan a visit time but the ‘English’ Church needs to take the initiative.
• It is suggested that a way to keep the African students involved with a fellowship group of the Church is by giving them defined responsibilities. Africans generally would prefer not to be at the receiving end but to be made to feel like we are the ‘playmakers’. They are generally not in England to learn the language and the culture like some other internationals, so they do not easily take on the role of a leaner. The Africans want to be developed and to serve others. They also like the opportunity to be in ’charge’ to the extent that being made to feel are the ‘chief’ (responsible) of two people; it gives them a reason to commit. They are more likely to commit to something if we feel they are needed and they have a role to play, otherwise, they leave. To keep them, it is suggested that you give them responsibilities as simple as saying prayers before they split into groups, lead some studies where possible.
• Globe Café, a café run for international students by Friends International in the UK does not really work for the African students because they are not here to practice their English speaking skills and they prefer to mix with themselves rather than with
• The alternative is to come up with something entirely different to reach Africans.
It is suggested that apart from wishing to give, one thing Africans really need is a feeling of acceptance. In one sense, a lot of what the English/indigenous Church does is geared towards people who want to learn, I think what the Africans value most is a feeling of acceptance.
They do not come wanting to learn, they come wanting to belong and so they will stay if they feel accepted and if they feel like they belong. That boils down to having a role to play, having people visit them and look out for them.
Some Suggested Solutions: The principles of non-assimilation and mutuality
It is mandatory for aspiring multi-ethnic churches to select their leaders on the above basis to avoid a mono-ethnic leadership. It also shows a willingness to listen and to learn from them.
Cross-cultural fellowship is not easy because we naturally tend towards our own kind. But to mix with those other nations and those from other cultural backgrounds should be a particular characteristic and glory of the Christian Church. Thorsten (2008:81)
The principle of mixed-ministry teams
People of different cultures and social rank worked together for the sake of the gospel. In addition, the cultural insights which they brought to mission enabled the church to be more effective in its outreach.
An important step for integration into the local church is to help them to find opportunities of service according to their abilities and gifts. Serving others is an important dimension of Christian life. Their status as internationals should not reduce people to the passive receipt of service from other church members. The Africans need an equal chance to serve side by side with indigenous Christians in roles of mutual reciprocity. In the process their participation enables them to get to know other members of the church better and to form friendships. It is suggested that mission today is a two way street, it is about ‘giving and receiving’ The paradigm of mutuality. C. Ross (2006:3) M Ireland (2003:78) notes:
‘For too long in we in Britain have thought of world mission as ‘what can we do for them’, whereas we now need to recognise that our own country has become a mission field and that we need others to come and help us in mission’.
Most of the materials contained in the notes are from African students interviewed by Lois Isemede, a Church Worker in Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, and from a Ph.D. research of Prill Thorsten, titled ‘Global Mission on our Doorstep Forced Migration and the Future of the Church’.
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