James A. Smith Sr.
Director of Public Relations
A mix of cultures can infuse tension or uncertainty into a multiethnic congregation, but God’s Word can be the bridge that unites all who come together, Rodney Woo told Southwestern students at a “Global Church” luncheon sponsored by the World Missions Center, Nov. 14.
Woo, senior pastor of the International Baptist Church of Singapore (IBC), is an authority on pastoring a multiethnic congregation. With believers from 55 nations and 120 ethnicities, IBC strives for a spiritual unity that transcends earthly barriers. A Bible-based, mission-minded church, it spreads the Gospel in Singapore and beyond, and promotes multi-ethnicity by exposing church members to intercultural, multi-linguistic worship.
IBC supports multicultural missions in 15 Asian countries, from Israel to the Philippines, and in China and India. “My prayer is that these churches would set the pace for churches in the United States,” Woo said.
Singapore presents a unique set of challenges to Christian evangelists, with its rigid policies and myriad cultures. The strict society bans pointing, chewing gum, speaking loudly, owning a dog—and spreading religious messages. It is illegal to attempt to convert someone from one religion or belief to another or to even start a conversation about religious beliefs, but religion can be discussed in response to questions. Because of this, IBC stages a multitude of music events and other events to open conversations.
“The challenge with a church already in existence is that you have to relearn some things” when mixing varied cultures, Woo said. “It’s disruptive. Chaotic. But my wife would say that love covers a multitude of sins.” In mixed-culture congregations, smaller ethnic groups may shy away from small-group discussion, but great effort is made to fold them into all facets of church life, Woo said.
One ethnic group may object to the food of another; or a group may feel that the voices of another group do not blend well in the choir. In all things, Scripture sets the standard to soften racial and socioeconomic tensions, he said. “We have learned that these tensions can’t be ignored,” Woo said. “You have to address it.”
Yet mixing cultures within a congregation “allows some individuals of lower social stature in Singapore to take on positions of leadership in the church,” Woo said. When Scripture is the standard, church members come together on a level playing field.
Woo earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from Southwestern in 1992 and has since had a heart for multicultural missions. Addressing those currently studying at Southwestern, he concluded, “We hope God will plant a seed with you for the heart of the nations.”