Pastors Pursuing Diversity: Interview with Wes Van Fleet

Over the next few months, I will be conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

(Due to length, please feel free to print interviews for future reading and referencing)

Wes van FleetWes Van Fleet is the Associate Pastor of Kaleo Church in El Cajon, Ca.   He has served in various capacities for over 4 years and has been a pastor for a year.

Have you always had a desire for a diverse or multiethnic church?

Not as full of a desire as I do now.

What has fueled this desire?

About 5 years ago I started to have a more diverse view and vision for the church. I was a part of a seeker-sensitive church plant and would bring homeless people to the church. The lead pastor (a well-meaning man) told me to “not bring people who can’t give back.” I remember being so sad and frustrated, wondering if there were actually churches that believed that the Gospel calls people from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). When I came to Kaleo Church (which had officially launched 4 months prior to my coming), almost half of the congregation was homeless. This was my first physical view/shadow of what the church will look like for all eternity. It was messy, scary, and beautiful!

How have you sought to build diversity within your congregation?

A few different ways. 1) Through the preaching. Our main teaching elder, Tim Cain, preaches the Gospel week in and week out. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus left heaven to rescue a people completely unlike him. Romans 5:6-8 shows God dying for the ungodly, the Strong dying for the weak, The Sinless dying for the sinful. When this is consistently preached, unity in the midst of diversity becomes the DNA of a local church. 2) Through life together. We believe the Gospel forms a family that live life together. We purposely stay away from starting “ministries” that cater to people with preferences. For example, we don’t think having a youth ministry, a college ministry, a senior citizen ministry, etc. furthers unity in the church. 3) Missional living is one that our church is really growing in right now. Nothing will remind you that you were once an outsider than going out to those in your community that are unlike you and welcoming them into your life. I think this is what Jesus had in mind in John 13:34-35 when he says, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It seems we are called to live a life that displays such unity in diversity that non-Christians, in some way, know there is something different about us as God’s people. It should really cause them to ask questions.

Do you have a diverse staff as well?

As of now, we only have two staff members. However, El Cajon is quite a diverse city. In fact, we have 10,000+ middle eastern refugees. One of our prayers for the last couple of years is that God would bring us a middle eastern man that God would convert and help us better reach that community. We would love to have a more diverse staff and are really asking God to do so.

What do you see as the benefit of having a diverse church?

Similar to what I wrote above, I believe it is the biblical call of the church. There is nothing more beautiful in my mind than seeing a local church that is diverse because I really think it’s a glimpse of eternity. I think we miss out on so much when we surround ourselves with people just like us. We have a lot to learn as a church and really try to present a beautiful vision that is not just mixed in race, but socially as well.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your testimony? Did you grow up surrounded by diversity?

I was raised in a non-Christian home. I joined the Army right after the September 11 attacks, and in 2005 I started going to church with a mutual friend. I started to read the Word every day, helped plant a church in 2007, and was half way through Bible college. However, I still was not a believer. I would define who I was then as a moralist, I did good things but truly didn’t treasure Jesus. In 2008, I started going through Romans and The Cross of Christ by John Stott with a friend. The Lord graciously exposed my sin and showed me the beauty of him taking my place on the cross and crediting me with his perfect righteousness. I legitimately became a new creation overnight.

As a kid, though, I did grow up around a ton of diversity. The city I grew up in was an Exodus of sorts for a lot of people moving away from Los Angeles during the height of the gang wars in the early 90’s. Not only did this bring the diversity of L.A. to our city, it also brought a lot of gangs. To be honest, I never knew diversity was not the norm because I grew up in it. It wasn’t until I joined the Army that I really witnessed racism for the first time and it was heart-breaking to me.

Have you had any fears in the pursuit of diversity? Have you struggled with doubt that it is possible?

Yes, absolutely. I think the thing I have feared most is my family being harmed by some of the homeless in our church/city. When you welcome people into your home, things become more real. Although these have been some of the most special meals we have had in our house, it can also expose unhealthy fears of control. I often have the unhealthy “what-if” daydreams; like what if I step away for a call and someone attacks my family. I truly believe these are unhealthy fears and the Scriptures call us to a diverse unity that is costly. Even if it’s only emotionally, diversity is bound to hurt us because we are all sinful. This moves me to run to Jesus who shows how costly it is to love a diverse people by dying on a cross to purchase and unify them.

Do you do anything unique with your service?

I think because we are used to the diversity in our service, I often forget about it. As of now, we don’t plan anything specific but if you were to walk into Kaleo Church I think you will experience this diversity. We have had a lot of visitors leave because the homeless and “marginalized” make them feel unsafe. It’s actually funny at times because we have had drunken homeless people walk right up to the pulpit and need mediation because they were fighting. We have had some people pull out a harmonica and start playing during communion. Diversity has become less of a challenge while keeping order has become the real challenge. There is a brother who comes weekly who is in a full-time care home who answers his phone in the middle of the sermon and will continue to talk to his mom, all while sitting in the front row and using the loudest voice imaginable. Our hope is to one day move toward a more diverse worship service, where we might have middle-eastern worship music and other forms of worship that better welcome the different cultures in our family.

What are the demographics of your congregation (if you happen to know)?

I am not sure of specific percentages but it looks a lot like our city. We have Caucasian, Middle Eastern, German, Indonesian, Persian, Latino, etc.

If you could give any advice to a pastor who desires to pursue diversity within his congregation, what would you say to him?

I would encourage him to take a good look at the Scriptures. If Jesus has knocked down the dividing wall of hostility and brought us near by the blood of the cross (Eph. 2:11-16), than who are we to rebuild walls and try to separate ministries that encourage that? Also, I think the eternal view of diversity that we see in the Scriptures does not appear to be something we ignore until we are with our Lord. Even in our daily reading for our church this morning in Isaiah 49, we see this great picture of God going to the nations. He doesn’t ignore Israel but makes perfectly clear that his people are much more diverse than just Israel. Paul uses this same idea in Acts 13 to make clear that God is taking the Gospel to all kinds of people. The local church ought to be a kingdom outpost where our cities can witness the diversity in heaven, in some sense, here and now.

If you were asked to speak to a congregation who was about to begin a series of initiatives in hopes of building a more diverse congregation what might you say to them?

Same as # 16 mostly. However, I did just preach on Philippians 1:3-11 and I think it’s helpful for a congregation to see that diversity is something that God calls his people to. The background to Philippians is Acts 16, where you have a rich white collar woman (Lydia) and her family, a Roman blue caller, tough guy jailer (and his family), and a demon-possessed, fortune-telling slave-girl as the beginning of the Philippians church. Paul talks about this love he has for them ALL, over and over. Then in Phil. 1:6 and 10 he mentions that Day when Christ returns. I think I would show this same thing to another congregation and emphasize that our God is using a diverse people to help them learn to love more and more until Christ returns. The same unity that will be clear at his return should be growing now among us.

Did you actually do anything differently to pursue diversity? Do you think it is necessary?

Personally, prayer has been my first thing. I know God is able to make our church more diverse. I specifically pray that his invisible Kingdom would become more visible on earth (Matt. 6:10). Other than that, the desire to see a more diverse church causes my eyes to be looking to build relationships with those that are not like me, physically and spiritually.

How do you think that the Great Commission can motivate a pursuit of diversity?

At the core of the Great Commission is this unity among the Father, Son, and Spirit that should motivate us. To see the different persons of the Trinity working in perfect unity is what should motivate diversity. God has given me a strong passion for the enjoyable, yet often hard work of making disciples. When we go out to make disciples, it seems to me that this naturally should cause us to build relationships with others that are not like us because our God has called us to himself when we were enemies. The beginning statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Jesus should free us of having to force diversity. He is the one who has all authority so we can trust him while we proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. Even better is his closing statement: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This frees us to not just boldly make disciples but to know that our Savior is with us as we pray for diversity.

I, personally, believe diversity begins in the home. In other words, we are adopted into a new family and that family, the church, is beautifully diverse. We should seek not to have a face change in our churches but to have it in all of life—our lives should include those unlike ourselves. Do you agree? If so, how might you encourage members to build diversity in their homes?

I absolutely agree. Our main teaching elder whom I mentioned above, Tim Cain, has set a high view of adoption in our church. He did a year residency with John Piper and was so encouraged to see a church full of adopted children. My wife, Jenn, and I just had our first child (Olivia) six months ago. We were told we would never have kids and were actually about to start the process of adoption. As of now, the adoption agency we want to go through has us waiting until Olivia is a year old to start the process. The goal in all of this is two-fold for us personally: 1) To reflect this massive view of adoption seen in the Scriptures to a child that has been abandoned. 2) To reflect this same view to our congregation and city.

 

 

 

 

Pastors Pursuing Diversity: Interview with Steve Henderson

Over the next few months, I will be conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

(Due to length, please feel free to print interviews for future reading and referencing)

AdamEmilyHendo2014-03

Steve with daughter, Emily, and church member dressed in traditional Bavarian attire.

Steve Henderson is the pastor of Munich International Community Church in Munich, Germnay. He has served that congregation since 1999.

Have you always had a desire for a diverse or multiethnic church?

I’ve experienced a lot of openness to a multi-ethnic ministry in university days, seminary

and in local churches, though I did not actively pursue it until coming to Germany.

What has fueled this desire?

Being in a rich, genuine, and thoroughly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural setting has

made it a stronger desire. Though my physical features don’t mark me out as “not

belonging” in Germany, my language, dress, cultural patterns, and spiritual convictions

all do mark me out as a minority in this culture.

When did your views and desire for diversity change and why?

I was shaped in significant ways by my university experience where I met many international students and was aware of the difficulties they experienced in integrating into the culture of a predominantly white university. One of my roommates was from Colombia, and my friendship with him and the pursuit of Christ we shared was a significant growth point for me.

How have you sought to build diversity within your congregation?

In this genuinely multicultural setting, the presence of diversity is almost unavoidable.

We maximize the opportunities by regularly seeking to integrate people from many different cultures, ethnicities and language backgrounds into various aspects of the ministry of the church. One of the great opportunities people have in this setting is very simply the opportunity to let go of inconsequential matters. People have to give something up to be a part of this community. We choose to value Christ and the gospel above culture, ethnicity, tradition, and language.

How have you sought to cast this vision to your members?

Regular preaching on “exile texts” such as 1 Peter, Daniel 1-6, Ruth, Jonah, Joseph

(Genesis 36-50), Malachi and Nehemiah—this reminds us that we are gathered together as strangers and aliens in Munich and that we are striving together for the sake of the gospel, not for our nationality or cultural supremacy.

Do you have a diverse staff as well?

Our staff is small, but if you include our leadership core of elders and deacons we currently have on our elder team two Germans, one Englishman and two Americans. We also said farewell to an Angolan who left late in 2013; previously we have had men from

Brazil, India, Iceland, black Americans, and Japanese Americans serve as elders.

Our current deacons include four Germans, three Americans, one Englishman, one

Greek, a deaconess (also church secretary) who is Malaysian ethnically and raised in

Scotland. And then we have a deacon whose father is German, mother is South Korean, yet he grew up in The Republic of Texas!

What do you see as the benefit of having a diverse church?

Wow. We have a marvelous opportunity to see men and women join together as unlikely friends in a foreign setting. We remind each other often that if we were gathered for worship in our home countries we would not be seated near a person like the people we are surrounded by. The wealth of experience and the foretaste of heavenly worship has marked my heart and mind with indelible prints.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your testimony? Did you grow up surrounded by diversity or has this been a newer conviction/desire?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1960s. We had the standard divisions of black and white in our community, but our schools were not segregated. From early in elementary school we were in classes and activities together. The community had a strong German heritage, as 90% of my teachers in grades 1-6 had German surnames! There was a lingering but strong sense of immigrant communities in Cincinnati in those days.

My junior high school Latin teacher had a profound impact on me. Robert L. Davis was his name. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and a black man. I remember thinking in the early days in Latin study that he was the first deeply intelligent black man I had ever known. He shaped my life with a simple statement one day, as he observed my delight in learning languages. He remarked, “Steve, you have ‘language sense’.” Some years later I realized that his words had had an almost prophetic effect on me, as I had pursued the study with relative ease of biblical languages, other ancient languages, and modern languages as well. God providentially used that man to adjust the trajectory of my life, and I am eternally grateful. Those memories encourage me to be generous, clear and specific with my encouragement to others as well.

I attended church, but had no relationship with Christ. We were average, middle class folks. In 1969 the gospel arrived at our church, as R.C. Sproul was called to serve as associate pastor. I was converted in 1971 in a second wave of conversions, as the adults who had come to life and faith in Christ in 1969-70 were actively reaching out to the teenagers. In university days I earned a degree in Art History from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but my passion in those years was evangelism and discipleship, as God used Campus Crusade to equip me to serve the college campus. With that remarkably unmarketable degree, I went on to study at Dallas Theological Seminary, completing my masters in Semitic languages, and getting only so far as an “ABD” in doctoral studies in Semitic languages—the call to pastoral ministry and to family interrupted my academic pursuits. Following a pastorate in Houston, we moved to South Carolina for eleven years, where I encountered and experienced ethnic stereotypes and tensions which I had not seen in either Ohio or Texas.

Have you had any fears during the pursuit of diversity? Have you struggled with doubt that it is possible?

Have had loads of doubts. Still doubt regularly my abilty to make connections with people from various cultures. Am I being unconsciously offensive or off-putting? Am I presenting Christ and him crucified, or some American recasting of the good news? Can I trust the Spirit of God to do what he has promised to do through the preaching of the Word and the communion of the saints?

Do you do anything unique with your service(s)?

Since we are an international church we are committed to praying each week for the nations of the world. We present a public awareness of our international diversity. In our music team on a given Sunday, you’d be likely to see a pianist from South Africa, joined by a Korean guitarist, an Indian on electric guitar, a Finn on bass, a German with percusion, and singers from England, US, Germany and Malaysia. For more fun add a bassoon from Germany!

pic for steve hend

Women’s Retreat

We’re an English speaking church made up of a mixture of temporary residents and long term locals–about 175 households from over 50 different nations (about 40% is from the US and UK and 25% from Germany). Others are from South America (Peru, Brazil, Colombia), Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India), Europe (Finland, Holland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Sweden, Germany, France, and Greece), Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria), and a few Australians and New Zealanders. So far no one from Antarctica!

The church is about 50% “professionals” here with Microsoft, BMW, Siemens, and other global corporations. We have a good selection of students, au pairs, teachers, engineers, and even a few opera performers. And we also have a selection of refugees from time to time. Right now we have a family from Afghanistan seeking religious asylum in Germany, and also several Pakistanis who are likewise in transit from a persecuted life in their home country seeking refuge with us here.

If you could give any advice to a pastor who desires to pursue diversity within his congregation, what would you say to him?

Don’t give up. Don’t give in to the critics. Don’t believe the voices that tell you that it won’t work where you are. Preach the word and look for diversity. Challenge: read Acts with an international mindset. You cannot get past chapter two before you’ll be overwhelmed by it. Then when you get to the original international church at Antioch, you’ll be fully converted and ready to go forth and multiply!

If you were asked to speak to a congregation that was about to begin a series of initiatives in hopes of building a more diverse congregation what might you say to them?

There’s a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before you who can testify that the joy of serving in a diverse context far surpasses the trials, opposition, failures, and disappointments.

Did you actually do anything differently to pursue diversity? Do you think it is necessary?

Nothing “differently” except keeping eyes open to the horizons to see what God is doing.

How do you think that the Great Commission can motivate a pursuit of diversity?

Simply the awareness that it is the nations (ta ethne) which the risen Christ has commanded us to disciple. Not just folks who look like me, dress like me, think like me.

I, personally, believe diversity begins in the home. In other words, we are adopted into a new family and that family, the church, is beautifully diverse. We should seek not to have a face change in our churches but to have it in all of life—our lives should include those unlike ourselves. Do you agree? If so, how might you encourage members to build diversity in their homes?

Recognizing our acceptance in Christ is not just legal (justification) but relational (adoption) and intimate (union and communion with Christ)—this opens us up to the relational possibilities in accepting others who are not like us, and adopting children from different nationalities/ethnicities. Each of these pathways opens up opportunities for the broadening of our horizons.

 

Catch up on the Pastors Pursuing Diversity Series

Over the past month, I have been conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.United cover, final

I wanted to pause this week and give you a chance to catch up and see what pastors are saying about this pursuit. We will continue with interviews next week.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

Please take a moment to read these. And if you haven’t yet, I’d like to invite you to purchase United. Would love to know what you think!

 

John Erickson

Irwyn Ince

Lance Lewis

David Prince

Jeff Noble

Pastors Pursuing Diversity: An Interview with John Erickson

Over the next few months, I will be conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

(Due to length, please feel free to print interviews for future reading and referencing)

pastor john ericksonJohn Erickson is the Lead Pastor of Jubilee Community Church in Minneapolis, MN. He and his wife, along with one other couple, began Jubilee in 2009.

Have you always had a desire for a diverse or multiethnic church?

It’s definitely grown over the years; my parents were impacted by John Perkins in the early 80’s. They moved into the hardest neighborhood in Minneapolis, which is also the most diverse neighborhood. So, I grew up among many cultures. Growing up our church was all Anglo and my heart beat to see my diverse friends know Jesus.  I wanted them to grow in the Word and to be trained as men who would follow God.  The question that haunted me for a long time was where are they going to be helped to know and follow Jesus.  So that burden and passion has grown for over the course of decades of living in the neighborhood I grew up in, wanting to see the peoples of our community know Jesus and love Jesus.

If so, what has fueled this desire?

In 2006, two other men, myself and our families launched out from being on staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church to plant a multiethnic church. We knew that diverse leadership was essential. We knew that having a lead pastor who was not white would be huge and we had a very gifted African American pastor on staff at Bethlehem who was going out to lead the church and I was going to serve alongside of him. Unfortunately, the week before our grand opening in the fall of 2006, we discovered that he had disqualified himself morally from ministry and that began a long period that was hard. I was immediately thrust into the role of interim pastor. The Lord was very gracious and the church stabilized and prospered.

We had a very diverse church with diverse leaders. It was a wonderful church.  It was a beautiful picture of a diverse, united, Christ-exalting community.

In our commitment to diverse leadership we pursued hiring a new lead pastor who was also non-Anglo.  After finding our new lead pastor, he needed room to grow so I saw that I needed to move on and give him space to lead because I had been a lead role with the church for a year and a half.

That was a good and painful change because we had a diverse and wonderful church.

In assessing the future we were led back to my childhood community in 2009, to plant Jubilee community church.

We weren’t coming from a strong, well prepared situation.  In fact we began with just one other couple and my wife and I. We knew we needed diverse leadership.  My biggest wrestle in planting the church was my own ethnicity.  I had seen to many all anglo efforts in our area and I really didn’t want that again.  This time the Lord didn’t open up the door for us to have diverse leaders from the beginning. So my biggest question before planting this church was, “God, am I the right man to plant this church?”  In prayer God was encouraging me in that to say yes, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

How have you sought to build diversity within your congregation?

We’ve sought to be very intentional in pursuing relationships with people from other cultures, we have sought to do ministry in our community that’s very intentional in reaching out and loving people. The Lord has given us a number of strong ministries that are connected with our church that are doing good things but it always takes time. It’s always much slower than we want but we keep working at it and trust that God will help us in it. Some of the ministries are:

  • The Jubilee Urban Leadership Initiative – An intentional discipleship effort by our pastors and elders to invest in diverse leaders in our city.
  • Ben Carson Academy – A homeschool housed in our church for a couple of young men from our community that we have been in relationship with.
  • SAY YES – A youth outreach ministry that seeks to love young people through Bible studies, meals, games and mentorship.
  • Hope Academy- An amazing Christian school for urban families that was started by one of our elders 13 years ago.
  • Jericho Road – A ministry that is open every weekday to meet the needs of people in crisis with food and help done in the love of Christ.
  • Coaching Youth baseball – The Minnesota Twins built a beautiful baseball field in our neighborhood, but it never had a team play on it.  Why?  Because who coaches youth baseball?  Dads.  No dads = no youth baseball.  So I started a team for my sons and recruited some other believers to help and from that many other teams have sprung seeking to be intentional in evangelism and discipleship and playing good baseball.

How have you sought to cast this vision to your members?

I preached on it yesterday from Gal. 2 just highlighting that we need to walk in step with the truth of the Gospel, namely that the Gospel frees us from any kind of racial or ethnic pride, superiority, separation, that God has made one new man out of those who were separated by the dividing wall of hostility; He’s broken that down! John Perkins said way back that we’re called to live out that reconciliation that Jesus has already accomplished. I think that’s exactly right so we try to call our people to that again and again, to humbly cross-cultures and learn from other people, and befriend in humility and with grace and purposefulness. It’s always happening more slowly than we would like.

We have also sought to cast this vision to our members by offering different books for the congregation to read like Aliens in the Promised Land, One New Man, A Cross-Shaped Gospel and United by Faith.   We have sought to make sure there’s a book stand where they can check out books to read and we also encourage people to attend conferences that are diverse with diverse speakers.

Do you have a diverse staff as well?

I’m really thankful that Jahill Richards is on staff with us. Jahill is doing this interview with me. He’s the director of the Jubilee Urban Leadership Initiative, which is an urban leadership development program/internship, which seeks to provide sound theological training, character development and assessment of calling and gifting for urban, multi-ethnic leaders in the context of the local church.

Unfortunately, our church is not as diverse as we would like but we are seeking to raise leaders up and grow them. We do have some diverse deacons and interns and worship team members.  We hope there are some future staff members in our church and some future Elders and future Deacons in our church. We believe there are and just want to continue to invest in them. I have known for long time that that’s extremely important and yet it’s not something you can do with the snap of the fingers but it is something we are seeking to be very intentional about.
What do you see as the benefit of a diverse church?

In our city, in our neighborhood, it would reflect the community and it would reflect the power of God’s power to reconcile people. In every large city there’s a lot of hostility between cultures and between races and to have a church that crosses that is huge. Not only that, it’s beautiful, it’s enriching, it’s good for families. It’s just a beautiful thing. Every cross-cultural relationship I have, I love and I’m so thankful for. Our experience at All Nations Christian Fellowship was rich and a treasure and the experiences we’ve had here have been good too!

There are many benefits, namely it reflects heaven and what heaven will be like. Heaven will be the ultimate diverse “ecclesia” gathering! I’m so longing to grow into the likeness of reflecting heaven as much as we can.

Have you had any fears? Have you struggled with doubt that it is possible?

I think a big struggle has been the slowness of trying to cross cultures.  My own personal limitations are extremely frustrating to me. I go back eight years to having a burning desire to see and be a part of a cross-cultural diverse body and planting intentionally under an African American Pastor and seeing the need to not have an all-white led staff and then have that blown apart. To be in a church that was so diverse, then moving on and trying to recreate that and finding that so slow in coming is hard.  To me the greatest frustration or weariness, is how slow crossing cultures has been in comparison with the desire I have for it, which is very significant.

Do you do anything unique with your service(s)?

We do a few things that seek to be intentional. One is we have a time after our welcome to greet one another intentionally. We’ve had a number of guests recount that they really appreciate how warm and welcoming our church is, that is an intentional effort to love people and welcome them in. We have sought musically to grow in diversity by intentionally using music from different backgrounds. At times that’s limited by the skills that we have, but we are striving our best to move in that direction. We seek to welcome people, love people, and bring different pieces of the service from different backgrounds together. One more thing is, we want to be very intentional in who preaches at Jubilee so we have sought to be intentional in welcoming guest preachers from different backgrounds and our church loves that! They have been men who have served us so well with the Word of God.

What are the demographics of your congregation (if you happen to know)?

Jubilee is right now majority white. By the grace of God, it’s not only white. We have also brothers and sisters in our body who are Asian, Latino, African, African American, other cultures and so by the grace of God, there’s some diversity and there’s a deep longing in every elder and the people of the church for us to grow more in this way.

If you could give any advice to a pastor who desires to pursue diversity within his congregation, what would you say to him?

He needs to be a learner. He needs to learn about other cultures. He needs to be humble and ask lots of questions, and needs to be intentional in building relationships cross-culturally. He needs to do more listening than talking and he needs to read as much as he can, learn from people of different backgrounds, and then he needs to pray and call his people to pray and persevere over a long period of time through the painful events that will inevitably happen in this pursuit. Every single person that pursues this and every single church that pursues this runs into painful experiences that must be persevered through by faith.


If you were asked to speak to a congregation who was about to begin a series of initiatives in hopes of building a more diverse congregation what might you say to them?

For predominately anglo-churches I would refer them to the book “When Helping Hurts” making sure in their self-assessment they have really considered whether a patronizing, paternalistic, and proud attitude is present in them.  It is very common, frequently not noticed and it can be so destructive and harm efforts from the very get go. Our labor needs to be rooted out of humility and love. To me that is the biggest thing about this process. When a majority culture seeks to cross-cultures they need to do a self-assessment and understand that what they think are the needs or the challenges often aren’t. They need to make sure that they do as much as they can to not add to the problem, exasperate the problem but to be part of God’s solution.

Did you actually do anything differently to pursue diversity? Do you think it is necessary?

We started an Urban Leadership Initiative. We long to raise up leaders in our church for our city from diverse backgrounds. We give a lot of time to that and feel like it’s time well invested. I think for us, it’s absolutely necessary in our context; it’s absolutely necessary. A non-diverse church long term in our community will not prosper. So as much effort as we can give here, by the grace of God, we want to do that.

How do you think that the Great Commission can motivate a pursuit of diversity?

In the center of the Great Commission is the call to make disciples.  Before moving to the phrase, all nations, we have to remind one another constantly that the call Jesus gave us is to ‘make disciples’. That means its not just ‘have a relationship’ or ‘have a conversation’. But to truly make disciples which takes a long period of time. So to cross-cultures in making disciples is a really big deal and to have that at the center is really big but then to see that it is a call to make disciples of all nations and to look around in our cities, our location or our community and see that in many many cities and neighborhoods that God has brought the nations near. If we open our eyes we will see a call to fulfill the Great Commission by crossing cultures right where we live in our disciple making.

I, personally, believe diversity begins in the home. In other words, we are adopted into a new family and that family, the church, is beautifully diverse. We should seek not to have a face change in our churches but to have it in all of life—our lives should include those unlike ourselves. Do you agree? If so, how might you encourage members to build diversity in their homes? 

I’ll start by saying that I’m a big fan of adoption. By the grace of God, we have been able to adopt three times and we are very thankful for that. We didn’t adopt to pursue diversity. We adopted because we wanted children, loved children and loved diversity too. So by the grace of God, we do have a diverse home. But beyond that we also want to be intentional in who we invite into our home and so we seek to invite people and welcome people from different backgrounds and cultures into our home. And feel like that’s a blessing to our family; it’s a blessing to anybody who does that and we seek to model that for our church by doing that in our home. But it definitely starts in the home; it starts with personal relationships before it starts at the church level.

Anything I missed? Please do share!

I’m so helped in Galatians 2, that Paul doesn’t say to Peter, “You’re a racist” but he says, “You’re not walking in step with the truth of Gospel.” He’s so passionate about the Gospel. Paul doesn’t want anything to get corrupted or distorted about the Gospel. He’s alarmed that anybody would be leaving the Gospel behind and he confronts Peter because of a Gospel issue, which is related to this issue of diversity. So, it is easy to make something other than Christ something other than a Gospel-central. That’s a great concern related to diversity, that it doesn’t become the main thing or the main pursuit. We must stay focused on Jesus Christ and His work of saving us at the cross through faith and that produces Gospel-centered diversity that produces a living out of the reconciliation that He accomplished but we have to maintain that order and we have to keep fighting for that order, otherwise we will slip into something else that the world might like or that the world might do that’s not rooted in Christ and His cross.

 

What is the greatest joy you have found in ministry?

I think the greatest joy is when a man who has been a Black Panther since 1968 comes to you and says, “Thank you for helping me find God.” Just helping people to know more accurately the character of God and in that knowing of the character of God, having their whole life transformed. It’s amazing that we get to know God and that we get to share the knowledge of God with other people. It’s a huge joy, and when they’re walking in that knowledge it’s glorious, it’s transforming and it’s beautiful. That’s definitely the greatest joy for me.

On the same lines, just seeing transformed lives. Whether it’s from unbelief to belief, or whether it’s from immaturity to maturity, or walking people from singleness to marriage, or no kids to kids, just seeing them grow in biblical wisdom and understanding of walking with Christ and in figuring out how to do life together. I love walking with people and seeing them grow in their love for Jesus or when the Word is preached and people come to you, and you can tell they’ve been affected by it; they’ve been changed in some way by understanding some new part about God or some new thing that struck them at a deeper level about who God is, that’s a joy for sure!

 

Pastors Pursuing Diversity: An Interview with Irwyn Ince

Over the next few months, I will be conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

(Due to length, please feel free to print interviews for future reading and referencing)

pastorIrwyn Ince is the pastor of City of Hope Church in Columbia, MD. He helped start the church in 2007.

Have you always had a desire for a diverse or multiethnic church?

My desire to see and be a part of an ethnically diverse church came very closely on the heels of my conversion.

If so, what has fueled this desire?

This desire came out of what I call a “holy discontent” with the mono-ethnicity of most churches particularly in areas that are very ethnically diverse. Prior to becoming a Christian I held to an afrocentric worldview. Inherent in that system of belief was that my brothers and sisters were people of African descent. When Jesus saved me, my eyes were opened to the reality that I had been adopted into a new family. My brothers and sisters were all adopted children from every ethnicity, language, and nation. Our family relation was our union with Jesus Christ.

How have you sought to build diversity within your congregation?

First, we’ve stated that reconciliation with God and one another is a core value for our church. We have intentionally pursued cultural diversity in worship, in leadership, in our community groups, etc. It’s not forced or commanded, simply encouraged.

How have you sought to cast this vision to your members?

A primary way that this vision has been cast is through my preaching. Our union with Christ and one another, the cosmic impact of God’s purposes in redemption, and role he intends for his people/church to play in his kingdom agenda are clear in and permeate throughout the Scriptures. So, this vision is a regular drum beat in my preaching.

Do you have a diverse staff as well?

I am the only paid staff at the church to this point, but our leadership is very diverse. The ethnic backgrounds of our elders are African American, Anglo American, Indian American and Egyptian American. One of our pastoral interns is Ghanaian. This ethnic mix is also reflected in our praise team.

What do you see as the benefit of having a diverse church?

I say to our church pretty regularly that God is extending to us the privilege of extending great grace to one another. It is challenging enough to be a part of a mono-ethnic church, but in a multi-ethnic church we are guaranteed to step on each other’s toes. And when we offend one another, we get to ask the question, “Am I upset because the gospel is at stake, or is the offense based on a personal preference that Jesus would have me die to for the sake of the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace?” We all stumble in many ways, but in a diverse church we get to pursue life together in anticipation of the life we’ll have in the new heavens and earth.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your testimony?

I grew up in a Christian home. My mother is still an active member of the church I grew up in. My father was as well until his death a few years ago. I am grateful to God for the type of home and family I was blessed to grow up in. However, I rejected the faith as a teenager, and in college turned to a radical black nationalistic or afrocentric worldview. This happened even though I was surrounded by diversity my whole life. It’s hard to grow up in Brooklyn, NY and not be thrown into very diverse situations. Additionally, diversity hit close to home as there was interracial marriage on both sides of my family. I do think that these things all played a role in my desire to see the church reflect the diversity of its community in practice.

Have you had any fears or struggled with doubt as you’ve sought to equip your church about the pursuit of diversity?

I’ve certainly struggled with doubts about this pursuit. I’ve wondered how to encourage people not to simply abandon their cultural heritage, because God commanded humanity to cultivate and create culture. So, the call to diversity isn’t a call to obliterate cultural distinctions. What keeps me going and pushing through in spite of the fears is the clear teaching of Scripture. Included in that is the reality that with Christ all things are possible.

Do you do anything unique with your service?

I don’t think that we have any unique elements to our worship service.

If you could give any advice to a pastor who desires to pursue diversity within his congregation, what would you say to him?

First and foremost, be convinced that this is a part of God’s kingdom agenda. If he is attempting to pursue diversity in an established, non-diverse church, go very slowly. Exercise great great patience. It will likely go much slower than he would like.

If you were asked to speak to a congregation who was about to begin a series of initiatives in hopes of building a more diverse congregation what might you say to them?

You have to start with the fact that the church belongs to Jesus. He calls the shots. Because of that we will not be able to avoid dying to self and preferences. The building of a diverse congregation will not happen unless people are willing to change. So, prayer to that end is essential. You must be desperate and desiring of the Spirit to do his work in your hearts. Your success will not be due to great initiatives. It will be due to the work and moving of the Holy Spirit. Part of the evidence of this will be the willingness to see this diversity reflected in the leadership of the church and those who are up front in the worship service.

Additionally, we need to realize that we’re not pursuing something novel. When we look at the New Testament, there was no such thing as a mono-ethnic church. Even the church in Jerusalem, though made up of Jewish converts, was from all over the Roman world. This is a call back to what we see in the Scriptures.

Did you actually do anything differently to pursue diversity? Do you think it is necessary?

I think that what you do depends on context, but you have to do something intentionally. To be prayerful about diverse leadership is doing something. To encourage diversity within community groups is doing something. Even preaching the gospel of reconciliation is doing something. So, yes, it is necessary.

How do you think that the Great Commission can motivate a pursuit of diversity?

The charge in the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations/ethnic groups. That’s what we see happening in the book of Acts. I think it’s as simple as that.

I, personally, believe diversity begins in the home. In other words, we are adopted into a new family and that family, the church, is beautifully diverse. We should seek not to have a face change in our churches but to have it in all of life—our lives should include those unlike ourselves. Do you agree? If so, how might you encourage members to build diversity in their homes?

I agree with that. Given the demographics in our country, it is more than likely that we live in a diverse neighborhood. We encourage our folks just to be good neighbors. Get to know the people who are around you; where you live, where you work, and where you play.

Pastors Pursuing Diversity: An Interview with Lance Lewis

Over the next few months, I will be conducting interviews with pastors who are pursuing diversity in their congregations. You can read more about the series in the introduction.

The questions are geared to help pastors and congregations in the pursuit of diversity in the church and all of life. All of the views, opinions, and suggestions are that of the interviewee. The goal of the series is to provide a resource from a variety of pastors, and therefore opinions may also vary.

(Due to length, please feel free to print interviews for future reading and referencing) 

lance lewisRev. Lance E. Lewis is the Senior Pastor of Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove CA. He has been at Soaring Oak for six months but has served as a pastor for well over ten years.

Have you always had a desire for a diverse or multiethnic church?

No, I haven’t.

If not, when did it change and why?

I think it was in 1982. I heard a song on the radio by a group called the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. One day while in the record store I picked up the album (yes there once existed stores that only sold vinyl records) and when I looked on the back cover I discovered that BTC was a multi-ethnic choir from a multi-ethnic church. I believe God used that to awaken me to the call to pursue His express design for tangible ethnic unity within His church. At this point I had no strong theological basis for this apart from God’s general command for God’s people to love one another which seemed to me reason enough to at least consider pursuing this call.

This resolve was strengthened the first time I heard Dr. Carl Ellis Jr. in 1993. He gave a testimony of a church in which he served called New City Fellowship of Chattanooga. It was the first church I heard of within my denomination (PCA) that was intentionally cross-cultural. Dr. Ellis also taught on the ways in which NCF sought to pursue cross-cultural ministry as well as the biblical ways our Lord Jesus taught and modeled this.

At that point I was convinced that the pursuit of gospel driven ethnic unity was an integral part of the call of the gospel.

How have you sought to build diversity within your congregation?

Actually not a great deal since I’ve only been here for a few months.  However, during the pastoral search process we did have some good and needed conversation regarding our continued pursuit of kingdom focused ethnic unity. We’ve also maintained our conviction to draw from a variety of cultural musical styles.

Beyond that it’s important to note that under the previous pastor SOPC renewed their commitment to sound, biblical, expository preaching. I’ll elaborate on this later, but for now it’s important to note that in my view one of the most important aspects of the pursuit of God’s promise of ethnic unity is the cultivation and practice of beautiful, biblical, Christ-centered worship of which expository preaching plays a crucial part.

My hope is to continue that practice. However, expository preaching must also be honest when the text address issues of ethnic unity or disunity. That means I cannot shy away from passages that speak to this issue even though it might make me uncomfortable. But more on that later.

How have you sought to cast this vision to your members?

At this point I’ve declared our vision to engage in multi-ethnic church planting as one of our main forms of evangelism.

 Do you have a diverse staff as well?

Yes, God has blessed SOPC to see our unity expressed in our staff as well as those who lead various ministries.

 What do you see as the benefit of having a diverse church?

A)  The opportunity to grow in ways that apart from pursuing biblically based ethnic unity we would not.

B) The blessing of displaying something beautiful about the gospel that I’m not sure can be displayed as fully with mono-ethnic congregations.

C) The witness a multi-cultural church can be to its community.

D) The members of churches that pursue Christ-centered ethnic unity also afford themselves the benefit of engaging in authentic, fruitful dialogue concerning issues of race/ethnicity.

E) Another potential benefit of churches that pursue ethnic unity is that they may be in a better position connect with newer groups of immigrants that settle within their community.

F) The blessing of entering into a new world that has the potential to yield life-long, significant cross-cultural relationships for decades and change you in the process.

G) The odd looks you get when a group of folks from the church are at a public place as people try and figure out what in the world do these people have in common since it’s clear their not physically related.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your testimony? Did you grow up surrounded by diversity?

I was born and raised in West Philadelphia. Though neither I nor my immediate family was believers, I did have a strong Christian influence through my grandmother and an older cousin. At the age of 16 I got saved through the witness of a close friend and became a member of a local Pentecostal church. I commuted to a school that was about 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Italian, and one 1/3 Jewish. Beyond that there weren’t any other ethnicities in my neighborhood or church.

Growing up I had no particular desire to live among people from different ethnic groups though thought that would probably be the case once I moved away from Philly. Even after becoming a believer the conviction of tangible covenantal unity across ethnic lines never occurred to me. It was only after seeing that BTC album cover that it entered my mind.

In college I did begin gaining some exposure to believers from other ethnic groups. However, I still participated in a mainly African-American student fellowship. I do remember having a joint fellowship with the local IV or CCC but that did not increase a desire to become attached to any kind of multi-ethnic fellowship. One of the main reasons I felt this way was due to the reality that there just didn’t seem to be any room for my distinctive cultural expressions of worship within these groups.

Following my faith in Christ I spent nearly ten years in all black congregations until moving my membership to a mainly while church. I didn’t do that to pursue ethnic unity however, rather it was due to a change in some doctrinal convictions.

 Perhaps you have only just begun this pursuit. Where ever you are in the journey, have you had any fears? Have you struggled with doubt that it is possible?

Yes, I have had fears and doubts. One of the things of which I’m most concerned is that the church will allow our political ideologies to take precedent over our biblical theology and calling. One of the biggest challenges the evangelical church faces in this area is our lack of thought, reflection, study and teaching on God’s call toward redemptive ethnic unity. It isn’t something taught much less even mentioned much in our seminaries, books, other media, or pulpits. It’s not viewed as an aspect of the ongoing process of maturity in our lives or part of the call of the gospel. Consequently, we tend to fall back on and embrace the prevailing conservative political ideology regarding issues of race/ethnicity. While this may have some use with respect to political issues within this country, it’s a wholly inadequate lens from which to discern a course for ethnic relations within God’s church.

Also, while I have no doubt that genuine, tangible expressions of ethnic unity are not only possible, but have happened (in my life and the lives of thousands of others) I am concerned that the church as a whole in America will once more fumble away an opportunity to display a critical component of the gospel that displays God’s power, wisdom and beauty. That we will ignore Christ’s cross, His call and His consummation out of fear, indifference and arrogance. Such a failure could do a great deal of damage to our present and long term witness no matter how ‘relevant’ we attempt to be with this and succeeding generations.

What are the demographics of your congregation?

I’m not exactly sure but I’d say we’re about 40% Black, 40% White and 20% spread between those of Asian and Hispanic descent.

 Do you do anything unique in your service?

I can’t say that we do anything unique with our worship service at this point apart from our song leader exhorting the saints into praise a bit more than might be found at other PCA congregations. She also does a fantastic job using video slides that feature people from various ethnicities during our worship through music.

In the previous congregation I served we did have a prayer line once a month (on communion Sunday) in place of the regular pastoral prayer. This gave those who attended an opportunity to have me pray for them personally during the worship service. While this is certainly not unique to many African-American churches it was somewhat different for those who had spent any significant time within PCA congregations.

 If you could give any advice to a pastor who desires to pursue diversity within his congregation, what would you say to him?

Over the past 20 years or so there are a few ways I’ve sought to pursue biblically directed ethnic unity within the churches I’ve served. Over those years I’ve learned that there are a number of ways to approach the pursuit God ordained ethnic unity within His church.

For those considering how they might begin to more fully obey God’s call concerning this issue I’d first start with Scripture. To me, you have to be convinced of the witness of Scripture especially since many believe (and I’d say mistakenly so) that issues of ethnicity have little if anything to do with our salvation. It might be good to start by tracing the history of our redemption with a particular emphasis on God’s promises of salvation to the world’s various ethnic groups. God’s call to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) was the first promise of this type and interestingly enough this aspect of the promise was repeated to Abraham as well as to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. (see Gen.22:18, 26:4 and 28:14) Related to this is Paul’s declaration that this was the gospel that God preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8). One of the truths this highlights is that our salvation was never view as merely a personal, private and individual affair. Rather, it was a promise to bring souls together from all ethnicities into one multi-ethnic worshiping community.

I cannot overstate the importance of beginning with the biblical teaching of God’s redemption. That’s crucial because if we’re to do anything within God’s church it must be based on what Scripture teaches. Another reason however is that ‘diversity’ seems to be all the rage these days. Consequently, it can appear that churches are thinking about these things simply as a reaction to some of the changes within our society. Also we cannot gloss over the reality that merely talking about issues of race/ethnicity makes many uncomfortable. Add to that the belief among some that the active pursuit of ethnic unity might be viewed as a concession to political correctness and you can see why beginning with a firm, biblical foundation concerning God’s redemption is the critical place to start.

In parallel with the Scripture study I’d strongly encourage the pastor and other leaders within the church to commit this to prayer on a sustained and regular basis. Prayer is needed for insight and wisdom along with the changes God will have to make in the hearts and mindset of the members. We must also pray against the work of the evil one who will not only seek to keep us separated, but complacent in our division. Here’s it’s good to heed Paul’s words from Eph 4 which calls for us to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. Along the lines of this passage then prayer is needed to combat the attitudes of indifference and apathy that can short-circuit our pursuit of unity before it even gets started.

Begin to practice it within his own life. Try and find a group of pastors (or other affinity group perhaps based on a hobby) of a different ethnicity with whom to begin an ongoing. For many of us being new to any established group is at least a somewhat uncomfortable and awkward experience. Now imagine what it would feel like to do so among an ethnic group different from your own? To me it’s unwise for pastors (especially those who come from the majority ethnic group in this society) to entreat souls from minority ethnic groups to join their churches without the pastor himself knowing how it might feel for them. Moreover, there’s no telling what he might learn from being a part of such a group.

In his preaching and teaching start to use positive examples, stories and quotes from people of different ethnicities. Isn’t it interesting that we’ve named a certain story recorded in Luke 10 ‘the parable of the good Samaritan’. Neither our Lord who told the story nor Luke who included it in his account of our Lord’s ministry gave it that name. But the name has stuck since it fits the character and actions of the story’s protagonist. Now our Lord could have used a tax collector, pig farmer or even a fisherman to make His point. But he intentionally chose a Samaritan, someone whom everyone in the crowd would have been raised to revile and from whom to remain separate. Making use of people from other ethnic groups in this way helps to raise the church’s consciousness about them and reminds them that God has been at work among people other than those with whom we most identify.

In connection with highlighting souls from various ethnic groups in his messages, the church should actively consider inviting speakers to address their various groups. These speakers don’t have to address issues of race/ethnicity either. They can speak on any number of biblical topics to men’s, women’s, college, couple’s, youth, young adult, singles, etc. If the pastor and/or church are unfamiliar with whom to contact they might begin with those ministers within their own denomination or association. That should provide a level of comfort that the speaker won’t say anything that clearly disputes some of the core doctrines of the church.

All of these things can help prepare a congregation for the pursuit of redemptively focused ethnic unity. If done well, consistently and wisely they can help lay a foundation for the inclusion of whomever God’s calls into the fellowship.

Following that I’d encourage him to consider seeking to connect with people from various ethnicities that live within a 15 minute drive from where the church he serves meets for worship. Granted this geographic marker may appear to be a bit arbitrary, yet for most churches it will more than likely involve several thousand souls from a good cross section of ethnic groups. Beyond that, a 15 minute drive should still put them close enough to participate in any weekly church activities.

Please be sure not to limit yourself to just connecting with one particular strata within a given ethnic group. I say this based on experience within my own denomination in which those seeking to pursue ethnic unity decide to limit themselves to only connecting with dependently poor blacks or Hispanics. For some reason it just doesn’t occur to them to also reach out to those African-Americans and Hispanics who have similar incomes as those within their congregation.

It’s my view that the church will have to seek some creative and wise ways to connect with those groups they desire to be apart of their fellowship. Among other things this might mean they have to be pointed about their desire to pursue gospel driven ethnic unity in response to Scripture. For example, they may consider having the pastor record a short video for their website in which he expresses his desire to have souls from various ethnicities become a part of their fellowship.

We know that people will look for churches via the internet. It could be that souls from different ethnic groups might be more inclined to check out a specific church if they know they’re welcomed and wanted. And yes this will mean that we will have to move beyond the canned rhetoric that says ‘oh we just preach the gospel to everybody’. The truth is that if our churches mainly consist of people who look the same, identify with our ethnic group, have mainly the same income level then we may have done a fantastic job of preaching the gospel to a particular subset of people with whom we’re most comfortable but not to ‘everybody’.

It will also be necessary to of course inform the church of this with the view that they will have to be sure to warmly greet and welcome all visitors, but especially those who respond to the church’s efforts to pursue ethnic unity. Now I recognize that this might fly in the face of some of our accepted views with respect to how we regard and treat those of other different ethnicities. This is why it’s critical for us to separate our political ideology from biblically based, redemptive theology. With that in mind it may be helpful for us to view souls of different ethnicities in the manner our Lord commanded our ancient forefathers to regard and view the foreigners who came to their land.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (ESV)

17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

One of the factors of which we ought to take note is that most people who seek a church need not go outside of their ethnic group to do so and probably won’t anyway. That’s a significant difference from say choosing a school or place of employment. Add to that the fact the developing relationships is one of the main reasons people choose and remain at a church. It’s probable that the average person who visits a church outside of his or her ethnic group will feel like a stranger in a strange land. For those who cannot yet understand this it could be that you’ve never really had to have such an experience. If your elementary education (whether homeschool, public or private), college, workplace, church and neighborhood in which you’ve lived were always mainly populated by people from your ethnic group, as well as led and ran by people of your ethnicity you may have never grappled with the experience of ‘otherness’ the way some have.

And it could be that the very experience of ‘otherness’ especially in your college experience and workplace moves you to be drawn to a spiritual experience with people who do come from your own ethnic group. The truth is that churches are cultural as well as spiritual places. What we must understand is that those who consider making the switch to a congregation of a different ethnicity may be doing so at a significant social cost to themselves. A social cost that we might not even know about or consider. Consequently, it both biblically wise and considerate to make them feel as welcome and wanted as we can.

 If you were asked to speak to a congregation who was about to begin a series of initiatives in hopes of building a more diverse congregation what might you say to them?

I’d probably say many of the things written in response to the previous question. I’d also try and give them a first person account of what might be going through the mind of one from a different ethnicity as he considers visiting and possibly joining their church.

 Did you actually do anything differently to pursue diversity? Do you think it is necessary?

Reflecting back I’m quite surprised and grateful at what God did to cultivate a deep degree of ethnic unity in our very small congregation. As I wrote previously I have a strong conviction concerning the use of biblically prescribed elements of worship within the public worship service. I’ll mention three here that highlight how in my view they helped draw us together and forged our peculiar church identity. The first was my attempt at expository preaching. The second was our regular responsive reading through the Psalms and the third was something I mentioned before which was our monthly special pastoral prayer. These are some of the regular prescribed elements of worship taught in Scripture and yet God blessed us to practice them in such a way that in my view spoke to the souls of the two ethnic groups of which our fellowship consisted.

Concerning should anything be done differently to pursue our God-given heritage of ethnic unity, yes I do and some of them I touched on in question 16. Since some of these changes can involve the actual service of worship let me again stress the blessing of making good use of the biblically prescribed elements found throughout Scripture. One other advantage of utilizing the biblically prescribed elements of worship is that they not only help to provide a basis for authentic unity, but within their boundaries God’s people have a great deal flexibility regarding the expression of and response to these elements. Remember, almost everything we do within a given worship service is in one way or another impacted by our culture. That includes such things we usually don’t think much of such as the start time for service (e.g. how and why did 11 AM once rule the start time of most churches in America) the length of service, how we take up the offering, the number of songs sung, etc.

A church thinking and praying through responding to God’s call for ethnic unity would do well to at least investigate how other cultures express some of these biblical elements within their worship service. Doing so can give a window into how those with which they seek unity practice some of the very same things they do in worship and may suggest ways to incorporate them into their existing service.

Let me give an example. I’ve heard and sung the hymn ‘Holy, Holy’ Holy’ in both Pentecostal and Presbyterian churches. While we sang the same words and even used the same tune I can testify that there were noticeable differences in the way each church did the hymn. And yes, our Pentecostal brothers and sisters were a bit more expressive (though never, ever out of control). They also tended to repeat the verses a few more times and had more exhortation from the one leading the song. They also ended the song with a jubilant expression of praise. As you might have guessed this is not the way I’ve sung this wonderful hymn in Presbyterian churches, and yet it seems to me that it would not be too difficult to integrate the two approaches to the same song as a way of practically and yet biblically demonstrating our unity.

How do you think that the Great Commission can motivate a pursuit of diversity?

I think the Great Commission is one of the key passages that taken with others on this topic help to form a biblical line of thought for the call to pursue cross motivated ethnic unity. While I won’t take the time or space to reflect on it fully let me suggest a few points about it that in my view supports the pursuit of our God given unity. Many of your readers are aware the controlling verb clause of the passage is ‘make disciples’. Thus the focus of our Lord’s teaching was for His initial closest followers to enter into relationships with others for the purpose of seeing them too become His active followers (i.e. those who orient their lives around His worship, walking before Him in obedience and witnessing of His gospel and kingdom). As my friend Rev. Kevin Smith, (senior pastor of New City Fellowship of Chattanooga) says the very process of making a disciple means entering into a close and long term relationship with the ones you’re discipling. This is exactly what Christ did with His disciples.

The next clause that speaks to this issue is ‘of all nations’. Once more I’m sure many of your readers know that the English word translated ‘nations’ is from the Greek term ‘ethnos’ from which we derive our word ‘ethnic’. This shouldn’t surprise us as Christ is the seed of Abraham who came to bless the nations (more specific various ethnic groups) of the world with holistic salvation (see Gen. 12:3 and compare with Gen. 22:18, Gen. 26:4 and Gen. 28:14).

So far then we have our Lord Jesus commanding His closest followers (who were all Jewish and thus from childhood were taught not to closely associate with non-Jews which included having a meal in their home, see Acts 11:3) to initiate and maintain close, kingdom-focused relationships with non-Jewish souls for the purpose of discipleship. And from the way the ancient disciples applied this command (namely they started churches, see the book of Acts) it follows that our Lord intended for them to worship with these non-Jewish disciples.

The next clause should help us to see how a tangible expression of unity is woven within the very process of discipleship. ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. Here our Lord institutes the sacred sign of baptism as a way of publicly indicating that not only have our sins been washed away, but that those baptized also publicly declare that they now belong to Christ and His church. Baptism then is not only a sacred sign that Christ has washed away our sins, but that we’ve identified with His one, unified people. To put it another way to become baptized into Christ means that I’ve publicly declared that I’m now a connected member of the Father’s one new spiritual race, His one new spiritual kingdom and His one new spiritual family (see 1 Cor. 12:13and compare with Eph. 2:11-22)

Granted, it took the ancient church several years to truly put this into practice even to the point where a leading apostle was publicly confronted about it (see Gal. 2:11-14). But the truth of Great Commission is clear. Christ’s death has not only called me into fellowship with the Triune God, but also with His one body the church. Among other things this fellowship consists of discipling relationships that should exists across ethnic lines which results in the tangible ethnic unity promised by God in the O.T., prayed for, commanded and purchased by our Lord Jesus Christ, taught throughout the N.T. and culminated in the age to come when God’s multi-ethnic worshiping community will exist to know, serve, worship, and delight in the Lamb together forever.

 I, personally, believe diversity begins in the home. In other words, we are adopted into a new family and that family, the church, is beautifully diverse. We should seek not to have a face change in our churches but to have it in all of life—our lives should include those unlike ourselves. Do you agree? If so, how might you encourage members to build diversity in their homes?

I suppose the most direct way to enhance our pursuit of unity is to have believers of various ethnicities in our homes and begin to talk with them about their lives and our common faith. This fellowship should include discussions on how ethnicity has impacted our lives. Let me give you just one of many, many examples of why this may be necessary.

Years ago a group of co-workers and I (I was a claims adjuster at a major insurance company at the time) took a road trip from PA to DE through NJ. While en-route we saw a group of young black men who’d been stopped and were in the process of being searched by the NJ state police. Up to that point (there were four of us and I was the only black person) our conversation was a pretty animated one about work and family. As we drove past this scene however an uncomfortable silence fell over our vehicle. After a few moments the awkward silence was broken when someone asked me what I thought of this. If I recall rightly (this was in the early 90’s) I said that though I’d seen plenty of people pulled over by the state police in tri-state area I’d rarely seen whites have their car searched and that was not the case with African-Americans.

At this point our newest co-worker (a transfer from CA) told an account of a former supervisor of hers who upon earning a promotion attempted to buy a home closer to his new office. He was prevented when the residents of the neighborhood banded together to buy the house instead so that he would not integrate the area. She remarked at how shocked and saddened she was to learn that this could happen to someone she knew and respected as well as man whose education, experience and work ethic had afforded him a position where he could purchase a house in this area.

I hope this story is helpful in a few ways. First, it shows how this man’s ethnicity impacted an important part of his life while not dominating it. He didn’t lose his job, was not threatened with bodily harm, nor was he forced to live in a segregated area. However, this incident did remind him of his ‘otherness’ and was part of his experience living as a black man in America. Consequently, to get to know him (i.e. all of him and not just the parts with which I might feel comfortable or safe) I’d need to know this story, how it affected him and perhaps most importantly how the church I serve could be used to minister or reinforce the gospel to him.

There is so much more that could be said on this topic. For one, it is true that not everyone will want to talk about how their ethnicity has impacted their lives. It’s also true that there are many who believe that discussions along these lines do nothing but exacerbate the problem. Also, this is by no means a mandate to always and only talk about the issue of race/ethnicity. As the actor Sidney Portier once said in an interview concerning these things (I’m paraphrasing from memory) ‘yes I am a black man. But I’m also a husband, a father, a friend and an actor.’ His point was that being black didn’t dominate every aspect of his existence, and yet he could not ignore the reality that at some level it did impact it.

 Please tell us about your family.

I’ve been richly blessed to be married to my wonderful wife Sharon for almost 29 years. We’ve followed the call to pursue ethnic unity for nearly 25 years and have shared its ups, downs, struggles and triumphs. Sharon is an exceptional woman who has developed authentic relationships with people from a variety of ethnic groups. She’s just as comfortable and eager to swap healthy nutrition recipes as she is talking about issues of unity for the sake of the gospel.

God has graced us with two extraordinary children who are walking with Him and each have a strong interest in the kingdom motivated call of authentic ethnic unity.

This leads to my final thoughts on this subject (at least for now). Answering the call concerning striving for the church’s heritage of ethnic unity has been one of the signature blessings of our lives. It’s brought us into close, life-long relationships with people who apart from answering the call we would more than likely never even met. I simply cannot tell you of the vast wealth of relationships we enjoy with so many souls from different ethnic groups. These are souls with whom we share an authentic fellowship that’s grounded in our common faith in our Savior Jesus Christ. It is a deep and meaningful fellowship not because we live as though our ethnicity did not exist or conversely that it dominates our lives to the extent that it is the only subject that occupies our time and fellowship. Its richness is experienced as we enjoy all of the aspects of our fellowship including the differences over which we through our good, wise, powerful and gracious Lord did not separate. We’ve shared countless meals, conversations, outings, wondrous worship services, struggles, sorrows, celebrations, holidays, and triumphs. The truth is I count them as my family.

They aren’t just ‘those white folks’ or ‘those Asian folks’ or ‘those Hispanic folks’. They are our folks and for that I thank our great and gracious Savior who was slain and with His blood He ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and He has made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9-10)