As our church has considered Christian community over the past several months, certain things have really resonated with me. As we strive to really be the Church and truly experience Christian community, diversity cannot be ignored. I think there are a few factors that have fueled this soapbox in my life.
My background plays some part, I’m convinced. I spent nearly the first 10 years of my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was born in San Benito, and then lived in Brownsville and McAllen before moving to Albuquerque, NM (and finally Houston). If you’re not familiar with the Valley, trust me when I say there is a pervasive Latino culture. Whereas larger cities have pockets of other cultures like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy,” most of the Valley is “Little Mexico.” So, I grew up celebrating Charro Days and next door to a boy whose name I thought was Meho and whose grandparents I called Abuela and Abuelo. (Later I realized they were calling him “mijo” which is a term of endearment meaning “my son” and abuela and abuelo mean grandma and grandpa!) Anyway, I’ve always been pretty comfortable around Hispanic cultures/people and probably a little more sensitive to cultural diversity, in general, because of my roots.
Another factor that has increased my cultural awareness is participation in international missions. Cultural diversity will definitely cross your mind when you go from being in the majority to being in the minority with regard to skin color, language or customs! If you’re a believer, you need to engage the world with the Gospel! Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. Embrace it!
More recently, I’ve even noticed some lack of diversity within our existing church crowd. I don’t mean that our church crowd isn’t reaching people different than us. That’s the point I was trying to make in my previous paragraphs! The point I’m making now is that we’ve built up walls even between our mostly white, middle-class selves. I think I’ve been more aware of it recently because I’ve worked closely with or entered into several different church demographics over the last few years.
For my first 10 years or so on staff at HNW, I worked with junior high and high school students. That was my world. My community and fellowship was with students and student workers (mostly apart from their families). Then I transitioned to the College and Young Singles (CYS) ministry. Since I started working with CYS, I have gotten married and, in the next 3 months, will have a son! The changes in scenery, community and Life Groups have been distinct!
The predominant thinking in modern church culture is to provide a Christian community for every little stage of life. And while there is definitely something to be said for affinity and the power of the shared experience, it’s still important that we pursue diversity demographically as we pursue diversity racially and culturally.
It really irks me when Christian college students don’t want to be in fellowship with Christian twenty-somethings… or when married twenty-somethings don’t want to be in fellowship with married thirty-somethings… or when married folks without kids don’t want to be in fellowship with married folks with kids... or when marrieds and singles don’t want to be in fellowship with each other… or young folks don’t want to be in fellowship with senior adults, etc. etc.
This is not the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is what Paul writes about in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s the power of Christ to break down walls and unite the different into one, in Him. Shame on us for rebuilding walls that Christ has demolished and for creating walls that never should have existed to begin with!
Because, in case you don’t realize, Heaven will not be segregated into our convenient, customizable demographics and English is not the official language. One of the sweetest blessings I've ever experienced is worshiping with Christians in other nations. It’s a great reminder of how diverse the new heavens and new earth will be! We celebrated this truth in Kenya with a favorite praise song that the children sing, boasting, “We are many, but we are one!”
If you believe the plea in the Lord’s Prayer that says “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you should appreciate diversity now, because we can’t practice for eternity in uniformity.