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Celebrating the Diversity of the Church

DiversityI 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.

The Pro’s and Con’s of Planting a Church In a Movie Theater

MalcoThis past Sunday made the fourth week in a row we’ve worshipped in a local movie theater with January 15 being our official launch. We didn’t intend to launch in a theater. I fact, we spent a great deal of time looking at retail spaces, but eventually landed at the Malco because of space, price, and availability. There’s a part of me that fell in love with the idea before we moved in, and has remained attached to it since.

Advantages of Meeting In a Theater

We know that we won’t be in the theater forever. We’re already looking around for our next home, but we’re enjoying some great advantages in the meantime, such as…

  • The rent is great, especially since we’re only paying for a few hours per week instead of the whole week. For us, it’s $650 per week, which gives us access to three theaters.
  • The decorating is done. It’s not what we would do in our own space, obviously, but it’s something we don’t have to think about.
  • We don’t have to stack chairs.
  • There is a cultural barrier between the church and the community around the church that is automatically gone. It already feels good and familiar to most people to walk into a movie theater.
  • There is a cultural barrier UP between the church plant and those who are uncomfortable with non-traditional settings. Since “churched” people are not our target, it can actually help that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of their kids going to worship in a room with a marquee that reads The Devil Inside.
  • The acoustics are great. We’re figuring out how to squeeze drums in, but the sound quality of the room is just right.
  • There’s a screen. It’s really, really big, and we don’t have to retract it after the service.
  • Kids think that going to kids’ worship in a theater is awesome.
  • We have community visibility – a prime location well-known to the community. Our theater is on what the locals call “restaurant row” in a very visible shopping district.
  • The theater personnel are wonderful at both the local and corporate levels – we love Malco‘s people!

By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?


Disadvantages of Meeting In a Theater

As I stated before, the theater isn’t our permanent home. I think it could work for some churches on a permanent basis, but for us, there are a few things that we’re thinking about long term that stand in the way.

  • We only have access on Sunday mornings until noon. We have to find other sites and spaces for membership classes, etc. We meet in homes a lot anyway, but larger, non-Sunday meetings can be a trick.
  • Altar calls are tough to figure out – not impossible – just tough.
  • As with any space rented weekly, we’re still loading and unloading, setting up and tearing down. We love it, but look forward to a sense of permanence (and trust me, we’re very patient on this one).
  • Lighting is an issue. The theater lights dim and brighten, but we still turn on the house lights for the teaching time. We bring in a lot of lamps.
  • Sometimes the movie posters in the lobby scare the children. Thankfully, Malco’s folks make a good effort at keeping those in the wing we don’t access.
  • Sometimes there is the remnant odor of popcorn… which could have fit in either category, actually.

If we had it to do over again, we’d definitely head to the Malco. It’s been pretty ideal. We’re beginning to look now for a larger, retail or warehouse space with some freedom to spread out, create our own space, and still have the flexibility of a lease instead of incurring debt this early. For now, it’s off to the movies for us, and we’re excited about next Sunday!

Fellow Church Planters, Check Out Velocity 2012

Church Planters - Velocity 2012I remember Shawn Lovejoy telling the story of how, when they had their opening service at Mountain Lake Church, he totally forgot to take up the offering, and they couldn’t meet the following two weeks because of ice. I love guys that are real who pour themselves into others, and that’s Shawn. He and his team host an annual conference for church planters and Angie and I have officially purchased plane tickets – so there’s no turning back!

If you’re a church planter or a church planting enthusiast, you’re going to want to hear from Derwin Gray, Geoff Surratt, Pete Wilson, Brian Bloye, Artie Davis, Ron Edmondson, Aaron Coe, Justin and Trisha Davis, Matt Keller, Mac Lake, Tony Morgan, Ed Stetzer, Jud and Lori Wilhite, Scott Williams, and more than a dozen other leaders.

The conference is in Cumming, GA (an hour from the Atlanta airport) on February 27th and 28th. If you’re not aware of Velocity, you are now. I hope to see you there!

Check Out Velocity 2012

The New and Improved Pastors.com

Pastors.com

I love Pastors! And I love serving and connecting with Pastors through the greatest website in the web wide world for them – Pastors.com.

In January of 2010, I was taken aback by a phone call from David Chrzan, Chief of Staff at Saddleback Church in southern California. We talked for an hour about blogging, online publishing, pastoral ministry, WordPress, and many other related topics. Then he invited me to attend Radicalis, Saddleback’s leadership conference, and I gladly agreed.

That was the beginning of a pretty amazing and totally unexpected journey. We talked during Radicalis about what Pastors.com could become and how to get it there as an online community for church leaders. A few months later, Angie and I relocated to southern California and I joined the staff of Saddleback as a Pastor, and as the “Online Community Facilitator” for Pastors.com. It’s been a unique role comprised of editorial, technical, mentoring, and pastoral responsibilities. And I’ve loved it!!!

Though Angie and I have moved back to northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills Church, sponsored in part by Saddleback, we were grateful that the role I had enjoyed could continue from a distance. And rather than phasing out, we’re stepping things up even more. I’ve now assumed responsibility for the site’s technical and design side as well.

Within a month, we redesigned the site to run on WordPress using the Genesis theme framework from Studiopress. We moved it to a new LAMP server, and added over a dozen features that have already doubled its readership and tightened its community. I could not be more thrilled!

I’m proud to announce that the new and improved Pastors.com is finally live. Some of the features that made the site so indispensable a decade ago have been resurrected. Rick Warren’s Pastor’s Toolbox, the accompanying newsletter of Pastors.com, is more robust than ever, packed with content every week. We have a fantastic line-up of contributing bloggers, weekly insights from Pastor Rick Warren, downloadable sermon notes and ebooks, a ministry opportunity (job) board, and much, much more.

If you’d like to contribute, one time or repeatedly, please reach out to me. As I often tell Pastors, this is your community – help us to know how to best help you. Our goal always has been and will remain, healthy Pastors leading healthy churches.

What Does Revival Look Like in 2012?

Code Orange Revival at Elevation ChurchBack in the olden days (the mid-1990’s) I preached a few times at a small church (averaging 12 each Sunday) in eastern Arkansas. They had a rotation system that determined who would take the visiting speaker home for lunch, and one day my lot fell to two elderly ladies who made awesome roast beef!

As I sat in their living room visiting after lunch, they brought out some photo albums from the church’s history. I was amazed to see crowds of people stuffed so tight into the little white clapboard building that they were spilling out into the yard around the church with small groups gathered around each window leaning in to hear a loud evangelist thunder forth the gospel. The next few photos were of the mass baptisms they conducted in the White River – dozens had come to claim Jesus Christ.

Some argue that “revival” isn’t about people being saved but about the church coming back to life. I agree, but the byproduct of the church coming to life is nearly always that lost people knowing and claiming Christ as Savior to the glory of God. I had grown up in a similar tradition with loud evangelists, standing-room only crowds, and mass baptisms in Clear Fork Creek in southern Kentucky.

I’ll never forget those two ladies’ question to me. “Pastor, why don’t we see revivals like these anymore?”

My heart has hurt over their question since the day they posed it for at least two reasons. First, I, too, hunger for a fresh, massive, community-shaking movement of the Holy Spirit of God. But second, my heart hurts over their question because they weren’t really asking why doesn’t God move like this anymore? Whether they realized it or not, they were actually wondering why doesn’t a movement of God look like that anymore? The difference is subtle, but worth exploring.

Here’s my bottom line… If revival happens, defined as God’s Spirit sweeping through a community to draw people back to Himself to passionately live for Him, it probably won’t look like it did before. That’s just the way of God. He does old things in new ways. This is why I don’t ever expect to hear from a donkey, to see the Mississippi River part, or to see a duplication of the events of the Day of Pentecost. But I do expect God to move in response to the pleading of His people for revival.

What do you expect?