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Why Third Culture City

So what’s in a name?

You might be wondering why I chose “Third Culture City” for the name of this blog.  If you weren’t wondering…then I guess you’ll have to suffer through this post or skip it!

You may or may not know that I am currently working with another new church plant in Cleveland called Forest City Church.  J and I felt that Forest City is a great fit for us in many ways, but for me the most intriguing aspect was MJ’s vision for the Arts Ministry at Forest City, specifically the music. Forest City is focused on reaching the Shaker Square neighborhood of Cleveland, which is an extremely diverse part of this city in every way.  I use the term “diversity” instead of “multiethnic” because it is also diverse in socio-economic status and overall culture.  The Shaker Square area includes artists, young professionals, college students (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art), people in systemic poverty, and people living as top .01% earners in this country.  Yes, I meant to type .01%.  Because of the demographics of Shaker Square, the Arts/Music at Forest City will naturally need to be some sort of jumble of styles to reach an extremely diverse community.

While I was transitioning from Velocity to Forest City and thinking about what this might look like, I started work on my master’s thesis for Lincoln Christian Seminary.  After wresting for three years thinking, “What could I possibly write on that would take up nearly 100 pages?” I decided to dive head first into the world of diverse, urban corporate worship (what happens on Sundays).  My first title, though amazingly awesome, was a little bit cumbersome: “Creatively Communicating the Gospel in Corporate Worship in a Diverse, Urban Setting.”  Doesn’t THAT make you want to curl up by the fire in an easy chair and…fall asleep?

Nevertheless, “they” (whoever “they” are) say that the last part in the thesis writing process is choosing a title.  So, I put my head down and steamrolled forward.  The more I wrote/studied/researched, the more passionate I became about diverse peoples worshiping together on Sunday morning, especially in the CLE.  That’s when I came across this sentence in one of the books I was reading for research: “Why not try to hit as many cultures as you can or even try to develop something new – something that we call a ‘third culture sound.'” – Nikki Lerner, “Multicultural Worship,” in Multicultural Ministry Handbook, 97.

There’s obviously a much larger context to that statement, but it’s hard to understate the impact that sentence had on me.  As I visited churches around Northeast Ohio for research, and as I read books about “diverse worship,” it became clear that A) there aren’t many churches doing this, and B) most of the time churches just pick a particular culture’s style and sit on it.  I just had this gut feeling that “there must be another way…”  I knew as soon as I read that sentence that the “third culture sound” was for us at Forest City.

The third culture represents another way; in this case, specifically dealing with diversity in corporate worship.  Are we that un-creative that we need to settle for what we hear on the radio or at the closest megachurch?  The third culture represents an approach that isn’t particular to any ONE culture.  Yet, at the same time, it is unique to the makeup of ONE particular body of believers (in my instance, Forest City).  We will seek to incorporate elements of gospel, jazz, hip-hop, rock, classical, and whatever else reflects our body of believers.  Churches in diverse, urban settings need a third culture sound.  Does your church need a third culture sound?

So why did I pick Third Culture City and not Third Culture Sound?  Easy.  Third Culture Sound was already taken! 😉  I did pick city, however, because I am convinced that God is calling cities to develop a third culture for their context.  As we move forward in time, one culture sounds will become obsolete.  I am praying/listening/seeking a third culture sound for Forest City, and for Cleveland.  The journey is beginning, and it should prove to be an exhilarating ride.  God is up to something in Cleveland.

Welcome to the Third Culture City.

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