(All photography by Pablo Morales) About a year ago I was flying to Hong Kong to start a new stage in my education. Since then, the many concepts learned in my doctoral program have helped me gain better understanding as I lead Ethnos Bible Church. Deepening my understanding of God, of my context, and of myself have sharpened some of my perspectives in pastoral leadership. So far my studies have helped me grow in those three areas. I had never done a self-assessment to learn about my personality type or leadership style. I had never studied the repercussions of a capitalist system or reflected on the local implications of globalization. Previous to my research I did not understand the American struggle with segregation and its impact on the dynamics of a multiethnic ministry. Now words like “consumer culture” and “glocal” are part of my vocabulary.
I have been surprised by many of the findings throughout my assigned reading and personal research. Yet, I can say that my understanding of consumer culture was one of the most surprising perspectives I learned this year. I used to think of consumerism as an act of consumption. Now I see it as a set of glasses that shape our worldview as well as the way we relate to religion. This mindset is deeply ingrained in how we live, so we can easily be unaware of its ramifications.
One of these ramifications is unveiled by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism. Rah points out that our captivity to market-driven materialism affects the way we think of success in ministry. He asserts, “… the church growth movement propagated a materialistic definition of success, by using consumer statistics (such as attendance figures and budgeted cash flow) as the means of measuring success.” Consequently, just as success in business is measured by size and profit, the size and financial power of a congregation are commonly pursued as two signs of success. In fact, I now notice that when people learn that I am a pastor, the first question they ask is, “How big is your church?”
I will not deny that the size and financial health of a church are relevant factors. However, leading with an undetected consumerist mindset can lead us to consider size or finances as one of the goals of ministry. Rather than being a community primarily concerned with developing mature disciples, we can become a business that seeks to attract consumers. The problem with this mindset is that it tends to sacrifice the integrity of the mission in subtle ways in order to pursue growth. In Bad Religion, Ross Douthat reflects on the dangers of this mindset, “Both doubters and believers will inevitably suffer from a religious culture that supplies more moral license than moral correction, more self-satisfaction than self-examination, more comfort than chastisement.”
Comfort is important in a consumer culture because it leads to customer retention. The implications of this mindset have also affected the way the church deals with the new demographics of globalization. In This is London, Ben Judah captures the complexities of this diversity. Through my research, I was surprised to learn that over 90% of churches in America have responded to diversity by remaining homogeneous. Yet, even more surprising was to discover that the underlying ministry philosophy of Christian segregation was based on the belief that homogenous churches grow faster. While serving in India, Donald McGavran observed that people tend to feel uncomfortable when they have to cross racial and social divides, therefore the strategy of segregation became a foundational element in the doctrine of church growth in America.
The idea that bigger is better and that Sunday segregation is good for the Kingdom are two tendencies of a consumerist mindset in church leadership. As some authors have observed, the ultimate problem is that instead of Christianizing America we seem to be Americanizing Christianity. Through this awareness about consumer culture and globalization in ministry, I have become convicted and challenged. I echo the concern voiced by Mark DeYmaz, “Indeed, the question should never have been, how fast can I grow a church? Rather, it should have been, as it should be now, how can I grow a church biblically? This is the fundamental question that pioneers of the Multiethnic Church Movement are asking and in the future the question that twenty-first-century church planters and reformers should attempt to address.” 
Growing Ethnos Bible Church biblically is the ultimate goal of my studies. This task demands being in tune with our social context as well as with the work of the Holy Spirit. As I look back, I can see how the trip to Hong Kong opened my eyes to a new dimension that had local implications for our ministry. After the first Advance, I returned home with a desire to learn more about the Chinese students in Richardson. As we were seeking God’s direction, a ministry established by Chinese Christians approached us. They needed a church to host their programs in order to reach out to the young professionals in the Dallas area. As a result, Ethnos will start hosting Servant Heart Ministry with the goal of making new potential contacts for evangelism and discipleship. I pray the Lord will use this new partnership to bring new disciples into the global family of Christ.
Being an effective “glocal” leader requires for me to swim against the current of a consumer culture. It requires understanding in order to lead with clarity. I must continue to seek understanding of God, of people, and of myself. And just as this first year of studies contributed to deepening my understanding of global concerns with local implications, I look forward to a second year of reflection and research. I pray that the Lord will use this second year to shape me into a useful instrument in His hands, so I can lead Ethnos Bible Church well in our pursuit of becoming a healthy multiethnic church.
 Soong-Chan Rah, The next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 97.
 Ross Gregory Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012), 16.
 Mark DeYmaz, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 2007), 62.