The Church: Navigating Diversity

Minolta DSCTwo weeks ago I wrote to argue that the word of God compels the local church to seek to be diverse. When the surrounding community is able to see an uncommon group of people in deep fellowship, serving together in love & unity – it speaks to a greater reality than human engineering. While our flesh often leads us to relationships with people who best suit our personality and preferences, our good Father leads us to relationships with ALL people, regardless of exterior traits. Jesus is most glorified when He is seen as the common bond among an uncommon group; And when the local church is a beautiful picture of diversity, it is best reflecting the eternal picture of the church to come (Revelation 7).

This week we are speaking about how to navigate diversity. I think it is important for me to say first that I am not calling for diversity on issues that the bible clearly gives us a stance. In those cases, we must simply obey. Secondly, I am not just thinking of race, which is where a lot of our minds may go. Racial diversity is certainly a key component for us to best reflect the eternal church. But I am also thinking about diversity in backgrounds, economic classes, personalities, preferences and ages. Any of these issues can be used as a dividing line in a church, the exact opposite of what we are calling for in this article. A church that is building diversity must learn how to embrace and celebrate their differences. And this is often a hard task, choppy waters, at least at the outset. So how do we navigate diversity? Let’s consider a few scriptural principles in contemplation. We will not unpack these very much, but pray that the Spirit will teach us about each one:

First, let us desire to glorify God in obedience to His will more than we desire to be comfortable. Diversity is hard and we often find it much more comfortable to be around others like us. But God has appointed His church to exist in a certain form, which Paul argues is like a body with equal, yet different parts. The body – in order to function – needs the unique parts to operate in unison. The body of Christ – likewise – is designed by the Father to have no divisions, and for each unique part to compliment the others, so the whole body functions as He has chosen. (Please read 1 Cor 12:14-26)

Second, let us remember that God intends for us to learn from one another. Scripture calls for the church to be made up of people willingly ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ‘. Mutual submission should lead us to gentle interactions even on points of disagreement. Living together in the wisdom of the Father, we will see that every person has something to teach us. We do not have everything figured out, and the possibility exists that someone else’s way is equally as valid as ours. Unique preferences and views on life do not have to be points of argument. The beauty of a garden in bloom is intensified with a variety of colors. (Please read Ephesians 5:15-21)

Finally, let us be willing to remain in relationship with each other, in loving toleration. How quickly could diversity be built (and how many church splits could be avoided) if we simply listened and obeyed scripture?  May God’s word, wash over our souls: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive‘ (Colossians 3:12-13).

Grace and Peace

David