Creating a Diverse Community
Do you want to be hip and current? Talk about diversity. Diversity in the new millennium is what mullets were for the 1980s. Conversations about diversity permeate our society. We love to talk about diversity. It is very politically correct. However, achieving diversity is possible in the context of evangelism which is not a politically correct topic. Diversity is the natural result of a church committed to Christ’s mission to reach those within their sphere of influence. When we live, work, or worship in a diverse city, God moves us towards diversity.
Unfortunately, diversity rarely happens at church. Intrinsically we realize that we cannot continue to fill our churches with only the people who look like us and talk like us. In fact, I imagine most church planters and pastors want their churches to become more reflective of the community in which they live. We do not want to segregate our society on Sunday mornings. Take heart, creating a diverse community is possible, but doing so requires tremendous risk and sacrifice.
For just over 12 years, I experienced a diverse community as part of the team at Mosaic, a church diverse in every area throughout including those attending, ministry teams, paid leadership, and elders. We saw our share of failures and challenges as a church, yet years ago our church chose to reach our city – everyone in our city. We were motivated by extending Christ’s love to the people of Los Angeles. As a congregation, we made the sacrifices necessary to become the most inclusive place in Los Angeles.
Through serving at Mosaic and catching glimpses of diversity in ministries in Seattle and now in Austin, I have discovered that in order to create a diverse community we need to sacrifice our mission, our relationships, and our power.
As leaders within the church, too often we have substituted Christ’s mission with our own. Our churches have become safe havens for Christians to “get fed” or to come to worship God. The church seeks to meet our needs rather than meeting the needs of the world around us. We see church as a way to promote our heritage or learn more about God in a style we prefer. As a result, our churches become a club for others just like us. Our selfish motives for meeting together keep us from considering the needs of those around us.
A person who is a mature disciple is evangelistic. We need to follow Paul’s example when he says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). We need to trust Jesus when he says, “For whoever wants to find his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will find it” (Mark 8:35). Churches on mission sacrifice their desires and preferences to see others reached. The mission of Christ is the reason the church exists.*
God’s heart beats for those who do not know Him. When our heart beats along with God’s, the barriers for reaching others dissipate. Our love for God and for others surpasses our fear, apathy, prejudice, selfishness, or complacency. When we decide to join Christ on His mission in reaching the world, we cannot help but become more reflective of the people who live near us. When our lives are transformed by God, we become witnesses to all of those around us. We are called to love God and love our neighbor regardless of their skin color. Diversity happens naturally when people are evangelistic in our diverse world.
The early church was diverse. Christ’s followers took his message to the world. They were not interested in simply bringing Israel to God through Christ. They were impassioned by God to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). At Pentecost, the church was born as the disciples of Christ miraculously spoke in the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Asians, Egyptians, Romans, Libyans, Cretans, Arabs, among others (Acts 2: 9-11). Phillip helped an Ethiopian man follow Christ just after spending time reaching out to the men and women of Samaria (Acts 8). Paul was called by God to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. At one point he says, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Tim. 4:17). The great news of Jesus Christ is for every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9b).
Diversity should be natural in our churches as we fulfill our purpose of reaching those who do not know Him.
In order to connect with others different than ourselves, we have to sacrifice our relationships. We need to sacrifice our time, energy, and relationships in order to become friends with others from a different background than our own. For those of us who grew up in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, this may take more effort than for those who have grown up in the 90s or in this decade. This may seem like such an oversimplified statement, but in order to create a diverse community, we need to become friends with people from other backgrounds.
Cause creates community. Often we find ourselves connecting with others we would have never even met had we not played in the same band, performed in the same play, or played on the same football team. When we pursue the same cause, our shared experiences, and shared goals bring us together.
Christ’s cause creates supernatural community. I doubt that Peter the fisherman and Matthew the tax collector would have ever been friends outside of their common cause to become “fishers of men.” By joining Christ’s small group, a motley crew of men became friends. They had nicknames for each other: “The Rock” and “Sons of Thunder.” They traveled together for several years experiencing the miraculous. In the end, they were imprisoned and willingly died for their Leader. Jesus led the greatest small group in history because he was more than a Bible study leader or prayer group facilitator. Jesus was a revolutionary. His small group gathered together to feed the 5,000. His small group went on field trips to exorcise demons and perform miracles. After His death and resurrection, Jesus’ small group changed the world. Jesus’ eternal cause creates diverse community.
Dr. Gerardo Marti, a professor of Sociology at Davidson University published A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church. When asked how to create a diverse community, he said, “Mosaic did not become diverse by emphasizing diversity, but by providing multiple points of commonality such as passions, artistry, and mission. These points of commonality become arenas for multiethnic companionship, cooperation, and camaraderie.”
Sacrificing our relationships leads to diversity. The people we befriend will be the people we reach. We do not target people because of their heritage. We try to serve and share with our friends named Javier, Sandeep, Masayoshi, and Molene. We develop friendships by getting to know the person for who they are rather than believing in stereotypes. Furthermore, we need to work through the conflicts and challenges of our friendships in order to receive permission to connect others to Christ and his mission.
In our society, the majority culture has power, and the one with the most votes wins. Therefore, when we serve as leaders of the majority culture, we have the responsibility and privilege to make the necessary changes for inclusion. We need to include men and women from diverse backgrounds in our worship bands, on our dance teams, and in our leadership. Sacrificing our power is difficult yet essential in order to move our community towards diversity.
Jesus said: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). In other words, those with privilege need to be willing to make sacrifices.
Paul left his buddy Titus in Crete and gave him the responsibility of appointing spiritual leaders for the young church. This cross-cultural challenge seemed like a daunting task. Who among the Cretans could possibly serve as an elder? “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons’” (Titus 1:12). To accomplish his task, Titus invested in the lives of the Cretans in order to turn a few lying and evil gluttons into leaders.
It is not enough for us to allow people from a diverse background to attend our services. To become a diverse community, we need to raise up diverse leaders. We must be willing to give up some of our preferences without ever conceding our core values and our mission.
Becoming a diverse community is an urgent and critical need because the future world includes a diverse people. Not only do we live among different cultures, we live among people who are bi-cultural or tri-cultural. If we do not make the sacrifices necessary to become diverse, we are communicating to the diverse person that the church is not here for them. To reach a diverse person, we need to reach the entire world.
Sacrificing our mission, relationships, and power will enable us to become the diverse community we long to become. As we connect to Christ’s mission, we will be able to reach further than we could have imagined as we develop friendships and raise up leaders among those we are seeking to reach. Our world is too diverse. People are too diverse. Remaining homogenous cannot be an option. When we are unwilling to include other ethnicities and other backgrounds we are communicating that the Gospel is exclusive. The Gospel is inclusive. Jesus loves the world. Jesus loves the sinner. Jesus even loves us. We need to create diverse communities, for that is our mission.