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Can bilingual ministry work?

In Tennessee, Hispanic, Anglo Christians join voices and sing 'We shall assemble' ('Vamos a montar'). Though many churches see a need for multiethnic, multilingual ministry, crossing cultural divides is difficult.

Roberto Santiago, right, minister for the Grandview Church of Christ, and members of the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ greet visitors from Spanish-speaking congregations. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)

We shall assemble on the mountain / Vamos a montar en la montaña

We shall assemble at the throne / Vamos a montar en el trono 

With humble hearts into his presence / Con corazones humildes en su presencia 

We bring an offering of song / Nos traen la ofrenda de la canción

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since I attended the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ during my years at Lipscomb University

Inside Story | Erik Tryggestad

I’ve visited the congregation many times since. This past Sunday was particularly uplifting, as believers who speak English, Spanish and a combination of both gathered for a morning of praise and worship. 

The predominantly English-speaking congregation hosted members of the Iglesia de Cristo en Grandview (Grandview Church of Christ) in Nashville, a Spanish-speaking congregation which receives some support from Brentwood Hills. 

Christians from other Spanish-speaking congregations, including one in Chattanooga, Tenn., also attended. (What a thrill to see Marco Diaz, a minister in Chattanooga for the past 12 years. We met back in 2002 during the dedication of Clinica Ezell in Guatemala. At the time, Diaz was working for the medical ministry Health Talents International.)

Marco Diaz, minister for a Spanish-language congregation in Chattanooga, Tenn. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)

The worship was the first part of the Spanish-language program of the annual Summer Celebration lectureship at Lipscomb, which concluded yesterday. 

Enoch Rinks, of Great Cities Missions, led singing, switching from English to Spanish between verses. I’ve known Enoch since his days as a missionary in Asuncion, Paraguay. I miss reading his reports from that South America nation, but I’m thrilled that the work there continues.

When Enoch led “I Love You With the Love of the Lord,” we sang in both languages simultaneously. It sounded … pretty good. I’ve been in other church services where this was attempted — with mixed results. (A church member I interviewed years ago lovingly described simultaneous, bilingual singing as “a joyful noise.” That description has stuck with me.)

Daniel Rodriguez, a member of the Hollywood Church of Christ in Los Angeles and professor of religion and Hispanic studies at Pepperdine University, preached about the need for — and challenges of — multilingual, multiethnic congregations in the U.S. With PowerPoint slides in both languages, he addressed “el problema del etnocentrismo” (the problem of ethnocentrism) as churches attempt to combine cultures of sweet tea and tortillas — a fitting analogy in middle Tennessee. Many of us like both, but bridging the cultural divide is difficult. Rodriguez pointed to the ways that our sense of nationality and patriotism can supplant our identities as members of God’s kingdom. 


I know that we Anglo Christians can be wary of Hispanic Christians — feeling that our lack of understanding of Spanish prevents us from ministering to them effectively. I was amazed to meet several members of the Grandview church who grew up in the U.S. and said that their Spanish is limited. They don’t always understand everything that’s said in the church building, but they are part of the congregation because of the love they feel.

Many Hispanic Christians also are wary of us, Rodriguez said. In their view, “American culture is contaminated” and goes “against the will of God.”

We’re preparing to launch a series on Hispanic ministry in the U.S. and I would love to get your feedback.  

How realistic is the dream of a bilingual Church of Christ? Are you a member of one? Tell us what it’s like.

How does your congregation practice outreach to the rapidly growing Latino demographic? What works? What doesn’t? 

What is needed for effective ministry to immigrants from Latin America? What about second- and third-generation Hispanics who grew up in the U.S.? How can we effectively reach them?

Please email me or share your thoughts in the comments. 

English- and Spanish-speaking Christians mingle in the foyer of the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)



Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Inside Story Insight Opinion

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