The world as we know it is rapidly becoming more and more urbanized. This evolving change is increasingly transforming our cities and communities with people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The proverbial question of the hour is, “Do our churches reflect this demographic reality?”
The sad commentary at the moment is that many of our churches are still largely segregated. Simply stated, many of our churches remain monoethnic, monocultural, monoracial and monoeconomic. Nevertheless, much can be said about the need for our churches that coexist in diverse communities to model the horizontal outreach and reconciliation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is also worthy to note that God cares much about biblical diversity — and not just in one or two passages of Scripture, but his Word is filled with verses that highlight the value and importance God places on ethnicity and diversity in his Church. For example, Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 56:6-8; Matthew 8:5-13, 15:32-38; Acts 11:19-26; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; and Colossians 3:11. These are just a few examples to show how obvious it is that God cares about and celebrates diversity.
Not only does God care about and celebrate diversity on a divine level, he also promises some dividends to churches that reach out and receive persons who represent different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds into their congregations. One of the divine dividends we can expect to inherit because of biblical diversity in our church is joy.
True joy comes only from God and is a characteristic of his love through his Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
And when we do those things that please God, we can expect to experience God’s joy, and his love will be manifested in us and revealed through us as we touch and receive people of all colors, cultures and classes.
Churches that are deliberate and determine to plant and grow biblically diverse congregations can expect the dividends of joy in at least six ways:
1. The joy of becoming more racially, ethnically and culturally understanding.
Churches that are biblical diverse are more open and incline to talk about racial and culture differences. These cultural conversations also make church members more culturally sensitive and less awkward when engaging others across racial and ethnic lines.
2. The joy of becoming a safe faith community for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Regardless of someone’s racial or ethnicity, people want to worship and fellowship in a church where they feel safe. Churches that embrace biblical diversity communicate to all people that it is safe and all right to be different. Very seldom will anyone feel at home in a congregation that has sound theology but is culturally disconnected.
3. The joy of understanding the difference between what is preference and what is primary.
Biblically diverse congregations engage in lots of conversations about the elements of worship as they discern which elements are primary and which elements are preference. This allows for the essential truths of the gospel to be communicated as well as members learning to demonstrate flexibility and wisdom regarding cultural difference of opinions about the dynamics of worship.
4. The joy of inviting others to your church.
All too often, church members hesitate to invite persons of different backgrounds to their church for the fear that they may not “fit in.” Many churches have unspoken expectations that their worshippers should dress a certain way, talk a certain way, come from certain backgrounds and know certain songs. Churches that represent biblical diversity make it easier for people of different backgrounds to feel at home in their congregations. This, in turn, makes church members excited about inviting people to your church, whether they are in a suit, pierced eyebrows or have purple hair.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
5. The joy of your church being a legitimate witness in the community.
In a world that is fragmented politically, racially and ideologically, churches that are biblically diverse become a legitimate witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its power to reconcile people of all walks of life to an all-loving God and each other as brothers and sisters in one human family.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
6. The joy and privilege of your church experiencing a glimpse of God’s kingdom to come.
Revelation 7:9 gives us a providential preview of God’s heavenly kingdom to come:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.
This one verse gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in God’s heavenly congregation. It is a congregation that will be racially and ethnically diverse. This alone should excite your church to reflect on earth what it is going to be like in heaven before we get there.
Biblical diversity is what God has called his churches to do and be, and as Christians, we are anointed to represent the same anointing that was on Jesus Christ. The anointing that mandates us to bring good news of the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captive free from bondage, to comfort those who mourn and to bring the oil of joy, the Holy Spirit, to replace despair so that all people regardless of their race or ethnicity can put on the garment of praise to God.
As a result, our biblical diversity will delight and glorify God, and we will be the recipients of his divine dividends of joy.
Dr. Harold Lewis, Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold D. Lewis Sr. is Converge’s Vice President of Biblical Diversity. A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates. Dr. Lewis comes to Converge with over three decades of pastoral and leadership experience as a turnaround church pastor and a transformational coach for clergy and laypersons. His ministerial experience also includes more than 10 years of multicultural and justice responsibilities, which included collaborating with and resourcing Native American, Micronesian, Hispanic, Korean and Haitian ministries, as well as Black Methodists for Church Revival and the Conference Committee on Religion and Race.