Editor’s note: This is part two of a round table discussion between four Illinois pastors. Read part one here.
Illinois Baptist: What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make over the years to reach across cultures?
John Yi: Part of Bethel SBC wanting to become a community church means we really have to become less Korean. In Korean churches, it is almost a universal practice to have a lunch fellowship after worship service and it is almost always Korean food. When I first proposed not doing Korean food anymore, there was an uproar. I’m like, “Why can’t we just do sandwiches or order pizza once in a while or do spaghetti and meatballs?” That’s how it was at the beginning, but now I can’t remember the last time we had a Korean meal at church. Our members have really taken to this idea that we have to make it more accessible. We want to get rid of all the barriers.
When you weigh the value of the gospel and the kingdom of God, I think sometimes those things that seemed so important to us start to lose their luster.
IB: What victories have you seen as you’ve navigated these issues?
Marvin Del Rios: We are a predominately or all Hispanic church in a community that has changed in the last seven to ten years; a lot of young professionals are moving in. They always saw us as a Hispanic church. But because we’ve asked the second-generation people we’re reaching to invest back into their first-generation parents and grandparents, we are now seeing where we can come out of our comfort zone in ministering to those young professionals.
We have tried to make our church a hub for the community. We are housing an AA meeting for families and a lot of contemporary culture kinds of programs. In a nutshell, they know that we are there to serve.
IB: Are there questions you ask yourself about particular ministries or outreaches to keep from trying to do everything all the time?
Kevin Carrothers: I think it’s okay to say we are a small church. As a small church, we can’t do what a megachurch does. That doesn’t mean we can’t still have influence. We have to say, and I think John used the word niche earlier, what is the niche? What are going to be the definable core values of the church?
Yi: We cannot be all things to all the needs. One response to that is that we pray for more laborers, but I think God really has given us more laborers in the field than we are recognizing. In Mt. Prospect, there are folks that speak 10 different Eastern European languages near us, a whole bunch of folks from various parts of India, Central and South America, Asians; we can’t learn all those languages to speak to them, but we know there are people in our community that do know those languages and are believers, and there are churches that have some of those people groups in their congregations already.
That’s one of the reasons we try to partner with our neighboring churches, even if they are not all Southern Baptist. We have to appreciate that those are Gospel-preaching brothers too, and we are going to spend a lot of time with them in the kingdom of God, so we better start doing it.
Del Rios: There’s the key word right there, kingdom. It’s God’s kingdom.
IB: Have you ever failed at a cross-cultural ministry attempt?
Yi: I can think of one particular failure that was really my preconceived notions about what would be okay or acceptable or most relevant for our community. We don’t see a lot of it in Illinois, but in the South there are a lot of churches that still have youth choirs. I remember the first youth choir that called us and wanted to come as a mission team to Maywood. I was really reluctant to even take them, because they really wanted to do a show in Maywood and they were from an affluent, white suburb. I’m thinking, “Well, okay, we need the help.” They arrived and did a show at Navy Pier one night. I went out there to check them out and one of the elements of their show was a rap. I’m thinking, “Oh, no. I hope they don’t do the rap in Maywood because we have serious rappers in our town and if they try to do it, they might get laughed out of there.”
I had this preconceived notion that it was going to totally fail. But they did it in public in a park with 300 people in the community out there, and everybody was going crazy. They just loved it. The failure was my preconceived notion that I know what black people want or what my neighbors want and this is not it, but they thought it was the most awesome thing they ever saw.
Carrothers (laughing): If you invited me to rap, they would laugh me out of there.
IB: What from your ministry experience would you say to encourage pastors and churches who are seeking to cross cultures for the sake of the gospel?
Yi: Now I love having youth choirs come because of the variety of things they do to be creative and it’s just fun. I’ve never had a youth choir that was a fail.
Del Rios: Food is a big link in the Hispanic community. And it is more that they want to show you, especially the first generation. They want to show you their culture. They want to show you their homemade food. That means fast all day and go over there, and then they will start making a plate for you to take home. That’s one thing that has worked very well. I just go in there and let them show me everything, not just go in there and preach.
Adron Robinson: Whatever culture you’re going to engage, it’s going to begin with relationships. Start a relationship with a pastor in a different culture. Talk to him about how to engage his culture. Also, it has to be done in love. You have to lead in love. Everybody wants love and needs love. Going back to John 13:35, when people see love, it will break down barriers.
There’s nothing that can’t be reconciled at the cross. You don’t have to agree on everything as long as we agree that the gospel comes first.