I grew up white, middle class, and in the mid-south. My high school was diverse, but not peacefully so. Tensions ran high between races, classes, and groups, which was to some degree a reflection of the entire community. I very well should have grown to adulthood with all kinds of prejudice. But God, in His grace, showed me a different way.
As a teenager, when I studied the Bible, I couldn’t help but notice that diversity is something God celebrates. Yes, He chose the Jewish people as His own special people, but His purpose in doing so was never to exalt one race or class above all others but rather to choose one nation as a channel through which to communicate His saving grace and glory to the rest of the families of the earth. In the Old Testament, God assigned Abraham’s descendants as His means of blessing all the families of the earth through the Messiah who would be born to the Jewish family. In the New Testament, God unveiled the mystery that in the church, He would bring together Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slaveowners, male and female, etc. And in the Revelation, God allows us a preview of heaven in the future when people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and family will be represented before His throne, bringing praise to the Lamb slain as a ransom for all.
The Great Commission is ultra-clear that the mission of the church is to make disciples of all ethnicities (“nations” in Matthew 28:19 is ethnae, literally ethnicities). We cannot fulfill the great commission effectively without celebrating the diversity of the church, just as God does. My friend, Derwin Gray, points this out well in a post about how we don’t care about the great commission.
Churches need to be intentional about reaching across ethnic divisions. History proves that it doesn’t happen without giving it thought and prayer. When Angie and I moved to northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills, we prayed specifically that God would allow us to raise up a church family that was ethnically representative of northwest Arkansas. In our last few services, we’ve seen at least a half a dozen different ethnicities represented, which thrills us, but we want to go further. In our area, because of Walmart, there is a large population of immigrants from India, the Marshall Islands, and Latin America. We’re not yet reaching them, and though we are only a few weeks in, it is already concerning us. We’re praying for God to open doors in every people group in our region.
You might live in an area where few people groups exist, but as Mark DeYmaz often points out, you can still be intentional about reaching both the shop-sweepers and shop-keepers of your community.
Some churches are so intentional they hire staff based on race. I’m not sure if I agree that this is the wisest approach to hiring, but I will say that I love the motive behind it. For us, we keep reminding ourselves that there are some things we need to be doing intentionally as we grow if we really want to be a diverse congregation.
- We need to ask God for the hearts of the nations (people groups) who exist among us.
- We need to make our intentions very clear and articulate that diversity is part of our value set.
- We need to make room for everyone to serve alongside one another.
- We need to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and befriend people from other backgrounds.
- We need to design our public presentations and ministries to identify with people from a variety of cultures.
- We need to celebrate the diversity we do see, letting it be known that this is something to rejoice over.
- And we need to preach the Scriptures clearly, that God is gathering to Himself a people of all kinds of colors.
Sometimes I wonder how a little group of middle class, midwestern white people are going to reach a diversity of individuals with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I’m more determined than ever to make it happen. For the last century and a half, we’ve rejoiced in our ability to disperse from America to the rest of the world, doing the work of missions. Today, God has brought the mission field to our doorstep, and it’s a beautiful opportunity. Embrace it.
Growing up in Sunday School, we used to sing a song that many people know well.
White and white and white and white,
they are precious in His sight…
No wait… it’s…
Red, and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
And the “little children of the world” are growing up in my neighborhood. Perhaps it’s time to tell them Jesus loves them!
Photo by Kieran Lynam.