What should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church). Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.
If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.
When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:
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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)
My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…
Grace and Peace