ORANGE, Calif. (BP) - For Ricardo Vides, young adults pastor at Ministerios Betesda Church in Orange, California, approaching ministry from an ethnically diverse perspective is reality, all the time.
Vides’ southern California ministry has always included people who have migrated from Latin America. But, he said ministry leaders must recognize demographic shifts and adjust. Ministerios Betesda is a Hispanic church. But, Vides chose to conduct its ministry in English because it reaches mostly bilingual people. The church has seen that the children of first-generation immigrants grow up speaking both English and Spanish. "[Ministry] will have to continue to evolve," Vides said. "[We have] to understand the cultural impact each of these teens are going to be going through with having to live in two distinct cultures."
Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the shift is only beginning. "The shift in racial balance was expected," Ross said. "What is newsworthy right now is the fact that non-whites and Hispanics became the majority for the first time."
Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, said pastors are going to have to do a better job of understanding the differing perspectives of people in their communities. "Each person has a story, and in a broader sense, each race has a story," Trueblood said. "Those stories, or histories if you will, impact how people see and interact with the world." Trueblood said that schools and communities around the U.S. are already seeing the change. He thinks ministry leaders should evaluate how they are shifting to represent the people around them. "As a white leader in the SBC, my love for people needs to move beyond just saying, 'I love people of color,' but actually into deed and showing that love through personal friendships, ministry partnerships and through personal initiative to research, learn and understand other perspectives," Trueblood said.
Shane Pruitt, National Next Gen Evangelism Director with the North American Mission Board, agreed. He said churches should ask themselves, "Why are you not a diverse church?" "If we're going to be serious about reaching our diverse communities, diverse schools and a diverse generation, we will naturally become diverse ministry," he said. The generation of people 16 and under encounter brokenness at an earlier age, he said. They are looking for a solution. He believes this searching is an opening for an awakening.
Ross noted that hot topic issues for the 16-and-under generation include science and the Bible, gender issues and racial attitudes. "If teenagers have friends at school who would not be welcome at their church, that can be a deal-breaker," Ross said. "We need strong, biblical preaching and teaching to precipitate a change in adult attitudes. If attitudes in the adult church change, then student ministry can be effective in reaching all students in the community."
Ross said as student pastors adapt their ministries to relate to a more ethnically diverse population, they need to make the right moves for the right reasons and that will entail listening. "When the student pastor has the right motives, has the support of the adult church, and community teenagers still won't come - it may be time for him to listen," Ross explained. "With a humble attitude, [pastors] might need to ask minority teenagers, or their parents, what keeps them away. He also may need to ask a minority youth leader to teach him about dynamics he knows little about."
Even as student ministry evolves to become and remain effective in a new context, Vides said the backbone must remain the Holy Spirit, as revealed through God's Word. "If this age range is willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit and open their hearts to God like no other age has done in recent times, then I believe there can be a revival," Vides said. "But we need men and women with a true desire and passion to do what is needed to be used by God to initiate this revival."
Biblical unity calls for action, Ross emphasized. "If our teenagers see their churches creating biblical unity among all God's people," Ross said, "then they can turn their attention to King Jesus and all He may have in store for a young generation."
Pruitt said understanding must come before action. "We have to figure out bridges we can build and what barriers we can remove," Pruitt said. "If we're going to have a future as evangelical churches, it must be a diverse future."