Book Review: The Color of Church: A Biblical and Practical Paradigm for Multiracial Churches, by Rodney M. Woo
“How did you do it?”
That is the question first time visitors to High Pointe Baptist Church often ask after observing the ethnic diversity present in our worship gatherings.
The question assumes both the rarity of multi-ethnic churches and the reality that as sinful humans, we do not naturally gravitate toward people different from ourselves. In our “can do” culture, the question also assumes that there must be some method or program that would enable a church to transition toward ethnic diversity. In our case we can only point to the grace of a sovereign and gracious Lord. Yet what is sometimes lost on our members is that our Lord works through various means to accomplish his will.
In his recent book The Color of Church Rodney Woo serves the church well by arguing that God’s vision all along has been to gather to himself a multi-ethnic assembly and that our earthly assemblies should reflect the diverse heavenly assembly of Revelation 7 (section 1). As he makes his case, Woo warns of the impending obstacles in the transition toward multi-ethnic ministry (section 2). He also exposes some of the means which the Lord used to transition Wilcrest Baptist Church in Alief (Southwest Houston), Texas from an all white congregation to a diverse multi-ethnic congregation whose membership represents over 44 nations (section 3).
A NUMBER OF KEY STRENGTHS
This book has a number of key strengths. The first I’ll mention is that Rodney Woo reminds us just how much our flesh fights against God’s vision for humanity, which is why the move toward multi-ethnic ministry has to be intentional. Woo also grounds his entire vision and approach to multi-ethnic ministry in Scripture as his sole authority, providing a biblical grounding for God’s vision for unity within diversity. This biblical vision allows us to look into God’s work at Wilcrest Baptist Church in order to understand better not only how difficult it is to bring together all peoples around Christ and his gospel, but also how glorious it is to reflect God’s image by gathering a multi-ethnic, multicultural assembly.
Woo also rightly asserts that leadership and worship are key issues in a multi-ethnic church. Since church leadership should reflect the makeup of the congregation, some churches may be tempted to select leaders based on ethnicity rather than the biblical qualifications. Woo guards against this by explicitly grounding the qualifications for leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (chapter 11). Likewise with worship: instead of allowing felt needs and preferences to rule the day, Woo provides a biblical and theological understanding of worship within which multicultural worship must be practiced (chapter 10). When you have a clear, biblical basis for worship, as Woo does, then the secondary issues are placed in proper perspective.
Woo guides the reader step by step on a lifelong journey toward racial reconciliation and preparation for the ultimate worship assembly portrayed in Revelation 7. What I appreciate about Woo as our guide is that he is willing to receive anyone wherever they are and exhort them to progress forward at their own pace (12). Woo wisely and humbly warns that in some churches, the pursuit of a multicultural, multi-ethnic ministry may actually be more destructive than beneficial (262). However, Woo encourages members of those churches to educate themselves through reading about other cultures and ethnicities and building friendships with people from other cultures and ethnicities. Finally, Woo admits that the process will not be easy, so one must endure (263-64).
A FEW WEAKNESSES
This first weakness must be qualified. It reflects more on the publisher and does not in any way diminish Woo’s helpful work. The only reason I mention it is because The Color of Church is published by B&H Academic. Since the book is an academic monograph, one may expect thorough exegetical and theological development of the biblical basis for multi-ethnic ministry. Yet while Woo’s biblical foundation was correct, the exegetical theology behind it was assumed rather than developed. Instead of an academic monograph B&H has produced a very helpful and practical guide toward multi-ethnic ministry.
As for the book itself, I was uncomfortable with Woo allegorizing Israel’s Exodus from Egypt to the journey out of the bondage of racism and into the Promised Land of racial reconciliation. The Red Sea and Jordan crossings were redemptive historical events with salvific implications which displayed the saving grace of God among his people. These redemptive historical events pointed forward to new covenant realities in Christ. To apply these crossings to the real but difficult problems a church may face, such as the crossing of racial barriers, misdirects and clouds what the redemptive historical events foreshadowed.
A BIBLICAL PUSH OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES
Nevertheless, Rodney Woo has served us well by providing a biblical basis for multi-ethnic ministry and in chronicling for us the unfolding story of how the vision for multi-ethnic ministry unfolded at Wilcrest Baptist Church. Woo unapologetically grounds his proposal in Scripture and the Lord has honored that foundation at Wilcrest.
Also, Woo has served us well by pushing us out of our comfort zones. This book should be read by all pastors and lay leaders, particularly those who find themselves in diverse communities. Woo forces us to ask difficult questions: “Does our church reflect the ethnic make up of our community? If not, then why not?” “Is the multi-ethnic ministry approach just another model among others like ‘Purpose-Driven’ or is it God’s desire?” If our churches should reflect the make up of our community and our community is ethnically diverse, then “What are we doing to cast the vision for multi-ethnic ministry?”
May the Lord grant us his vision for his church and the courage to pursue it.