We live in a multicultural society. Everywhere you look there are people of different nationalities and religions. Some came years ago, others came only recently. Some came looking for better jobs, education and a chance at a new life. Others came because they had no choice.
Some Christians are fearful of these changes in our society, but others see it as a chance to show God's love to people who may never have heard it. One such is Rodney Cowell.
For nine years he was the pastor of Mairangi Bay Community Church. During that time, the church took the decision to intentionally become multi cultural and multi ethnic. Here is some of their story.
How it all started
Rodney says, 'We were called to pastor a church, and that was the beginning of the journey for us. Our first thoughts were to sit with the leadership and ask 'what are we here for?' If we were there to bring the life of Christ into the community, we had to ask, 'what does our community look like?'
Rodney drove past every house within 1km of the church, about 2,500 houses. Looking at the church's neighbours they were clearly a mix of people from many different cultures.
When they investigated how the community perceived their church, they discovered they were thought to be Mormons, this idea being reinforced by the shape of the building. “So we altered the shape of the building and changed the name of the Church from 'Church of Christ' to Mairangi Bay Community church”, recounts Rodney.
In doing this, they gave everything they did to the community. This was in 1997. It was the start of an amazing journey.
'We started by saying that 'we need to learn to communicate the gospel to people who have no Christian background and no comprehension of Christian truth in a way they could understand. We have a responsibility before God to share his love with the community.'
They then asked 'How do we do it?'
'We stuck with English sermons,' says Rodney, ' because we are in an English speaking country, but simplified the language and also provided English lessons.'
They worked hard to promote a sense of family. 'There are plenty of things that cultures share in common. Chinese people may look different but they still have a mum and dad and kids, they also have a need for work etc. We became an intentionally multi cultural and multi ethnic church.'
Rodney went big on supporting his sermons with lots of visual material. 'We also provided English texts of my sermons and Chinese translations of the sermons so they could take away the documents and could grow both in English understanding and in Biblical truth. When the data projector came along it cured the problem of having the slides upside down!' laughs Rodney.
'We worked to build an effective warm community, and people came because we were a family. We used the Church notice board to talk to people outside the church and actively sought ways of making ourselves visible in the community.'
'We had an Op Shop in Mairangi Bay to raise funds and we put about 33% back into the community. Because of that I was able to put lots of stories into the local newspapers. We tried to be visible and be a relevant part of the community'.
What we found was that as Asian folk started to come they would bring their extended family and their friends. As a result the church has gone from 20 people in 1997 to about 170 today and can't fit in the building'.
The Book 'God's Secret plan'
Rodney has written a book and produced a DVD workshop on the subject in which he explores some of these things in much more detail.
The book contains many stories and lessons from his time as pastor and all the chapters have 'Application points' to work through.
The title comes from the rendering of Ephesians 3:1-6 in the Living Bible, which speaks of God's secret plan that the gentiles would come to know about him.
There is also a four-part workshop (6 hours) to focus on some of the opportunities we have and focus on some of the issues we highlight in the book and find ways through them rather than make the same mistakes we made
Anyone wanting a copy of the book or would like to discuss can either get them through their local Christian bookshop or from the following addresses:
'God's Secret plan' Book. Bamboo Books Auckland 09 6305 778 or the author on email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information, including details on the 4 part workshop based on this book, go to www.multiculturalmission.com.