I’ve been thinking about pluralism in the context of ministry for the past few days because of an interview question I received from a church in the Bay area. These are some of my thoughts on what it means (or should mean) to do ministry in such a diverse area as the San Francisco/Bay area.
In dealing with the issue of pluralism, it’s important at first to simply acknowledge that pluralism is a fact. It’s not worth having a conversation about whether pluralism is good or bad – it just simply is. That is our world – the one we live in and do ministry in. We live in a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-faith world. As engage with others, I think there are some important things we can keep in mind.
First is the importance for us to engage in conversation with others. Conversation is always important, for many reasons: so that we can become more educated about the others in the world, so that we can experience dialogue and friendship with others, so that we might be changed by others.
Second, as we engage in these conversations, we need to hold our beliefs deeply but with open hands. As we engage with others and in the world, there is no reason that we need to “water down” our beliefs or not be honest to who we are or what we believe. But at the same time that we deeply hold our beliefs, I think it’s important that we hold those beliefs with open hands rather than with clenched fists. As the history of Christianity has clearly shown, faithful Christians have in the past held beliefs that we now look at and simply call wrong (women in ministry, slavery, etc). It’s important to trust in a God who is bigger than we can imagine, and to know that we just might be wrong – it’s all about having a stance of humility.
Third, when we engage with others, and hold deeply onto our beliefs, we also testify and witness to our experience of God. Again, we don’t water anything down, but we simply share our experience of God with others. However, we do this not “expecting converts” for it is never us who converts anyone. If someone does have a conversion experience, that is attributed to the movement of the Holy Spirit within their life.
Finally, all of this is done with the belief in Jesus’ grace and radical compassionate love. We fully submit all of this to God, whose ways are above and beyond any of our understandings. If it is a matter of having too small a view of God, or too big a view of God, I believe we should error on the side of too big, on grace, on acceptance.
What are your own thoughts about pluralism and Christianity’s response to it?