Reverend Dr. Soong-Chan Rah worked for a number of years as an InterVarsity staff member before joining a church-planting team in Washington, D.C. He is formerly the founding senior pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a multiethnic church committed to living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context.
Today he is the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He has extensive experience in cross-cultural preaching, especially on college campuses, and he was a speaker at the Urbana 2003 Student Missions Conference.
We asked Soong-Chan about his InterVarsity Press book(The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity), multiethnicity, ministry, and how the Urbana Student Missions Convention corrects the misperceptions of the Western church today.
What made you decide to write The Next Evangelicalism?
The church today holds a worldview mindset that reflects Western culture, and I wanted to let people know about the significant changes that are happening in Western Christianity. Our neighborhoods are becoming more diverse, immigrant churches are on the upswing, the Western church is on a decline. The church needs a wake-up call to help us see that Christianity is changing globally as well as in the United States.
Five years ago, there was a lot of talk about “emerging churches,” which in reality were mostly middle-class White churches. There was so much press about these young churches. But what is really ironic is that while these churches got a lot of publicity, they were small in number. At the same time, African American churches, Asian American, Latino churches were completely ignored.
The church is so caught in a particular cultural lens (White evangelical) that we didn’t see what God was doing outside of this particular lens. God was doing amazing things in the Spanish community, Korean churches, and in the immigrant community that has gone widely unnoticed. These churches are growing significantly and very little is written about them.
What are the problems that the church faces today?
One of the main problems with this is that we don’t see these churches (anything that is not White mainstream evangelical) as places that we could learn from or do ministry with. Instead we see these churches as churches we need to “help.” This mindset also exists in the mission field. We, as Americans, come in with the attitude that we need to “help” these people. When actually the majority of Christians are in Africa, Asia, and South America.
How does Urbana come into play with these problems?
Urbana is great because we are now hearing from the Native American community and Native American theologians. Their insights into spirituality and into the Christian faith will impact Urbana participants in amazing, fresh ways.
Urbana has also played an important role in the way that missions is presented and how we view missions. Instead of viewing our global brothers and sisters as people we need to “help” or “minister to,” we are starting to see each other as equal partners in our common mission—sharing the gospel.
What was your church experience growing up?
I grew up in a Korean church, and the community was so vibrant. I saw the immigrant church serving the immigrant community. But when I joined Intervarsity I saw a broader range of Christianity.
As I attended InterVarsity’s fall conferences and chapter camps, I experienced multiethnicity in worship and in community, and it was a really eye-opening experience for me.
What are some tips for students, so that they can expand their spiritual lenses to include other cultural lenses that are different than their own?
Find a mentor that is not of your own ethnic-identity background. Our spiritual communities tend to be one single ethnicity.
Think about who your intellectual mentors are. Out of the last ten Christian books that you’ve read, are the authors of different ethnic identities? or different genders?
What kind of churches are we involved in?
What kind of relationships are we encouraging in our InterVarsity chapters? Is our chapter encouraging cross-cultural relationships?
Do we have a posture of learning during college? Learning goes beyond what we read in books. Some of the most invaluable lessons to be learned are in the context of relationship.
What step will you take to expand your spiritual lens so that it reflects God’s global church? What Urbana commitments do you need to follow through on, for the good of God's whole beautiful, diverse church?
Amy Hauptman is a writer on InterVarsity’s communications team. She is a former campus staff worker at UC–Davis, the University of Nevada–Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College. The three driving forces in her life, besides her love for coffee, are to see, learn, and enjoy as much as possible. She also blogs atamyhauptman.blogspot.com.