When Church Planting Theology Meets the Richness and Complexities of Ethnic Communities
By Marcelo Gomes
The intent of this article is not to question denominational practices but to encourage a reflection on practices and customs in ethnic planting initiatives and to note the need to discuss the complexities of this reality.
Theological and dialogical capacity is fundamental for ethnic ministry. There are clear differences between the ethnic and Anglo ecclesial communities, including liturgy, theological identity, biblical hermeneutical positions, and pastoral practices. This last element is often what most contributes to the isolation of ethnic churches in the United States and what most makes the ethnic community continue to feel part of the theological and denominational identity of the country of origin and not of The United Methodist Church in the U.S.
With these aspects presented—(1) the place that ethnic ministry occupies in the denominational structure; (2) the model of pastoral appointments, and (3) theological conflicts—it is time to analyze the dimensions of ethnic isolation and how this isolation has affected the growth of the ministry within the church planting initiatives of The United Methodist Church.
From the conception to the implementation of church planting actions, there is a presumption that ethnic contexts are fundamentally the same. Such a presumption restricts the vitality of the local community and compromises the spiritual and communal health of congregations by lumping all cultures together. It also fails to offer concrete paths for integration between specific ethnic congregations and local Anglo communities.
Although it is possible to understand this interpretation from the point of view of planning and denominational governance, we cannot ignore the ethnocentric historical aspect of the missions of Western countries to colonies worldwide. It is necessary to analyze and reevaluate ethnic church actions to ensure that historic ethnocentric models do not dictate the path to be followed, nor should these models prevent us from developing new approaches with ethnic communities. It is essential that we understand the diverse cultural and theological dynamics of these communities. Hosffman Ospino writes:
On occasion mainstream scholars and ecclesial leaders tend to treat the U.S. Latino/a experience as homogenous and somewhat static. The opposite is true. The U.S. Latino/a experience is complex because of the diversity of religious expressions, cultures, social locations, histories, political worldviews, and generational differences that characterize it.
A static or homogeneous understanding of the various ethnic communities in the United States can generate an oppressive environment. It is possible, therefore, that the legitimacy of the ethnic population within The United Methodist Church becomes more difficult in the face of institutional decision-making processes.
How do you perceive the ideas of this article? What would be your own perceptions on the subject? What are some of the gaps not mentioned here?
If you want to discuss these complexities more and how Path 1 can help with strategic planning, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].
Dr. Marcelo Gomes is the Director of Training & Church Planting Systems with Path 1 at Discipleship Ministries.
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