“You can’t have a diverse church until you live a diverse life. Diversity in our churches is preceded by diversity in our living rooms.”
If you aren’t planting a church any time soon, is there anything you can glean from the church-planting movement that will help you transform your established church into an establishing church?
For a series we call The Math of the Kingdom, we reached out to several church-planting networks and posed this question to some of their seasoned, in-the-trenches planters. Their responses revealed six strategic themes that any pastor can implement in any context: know your community; be known by your community; pursue diversity; develop leadership; make disciples; and adopt a planter’s heart.
No matter the age or size of the church you lead, it factors into the math of the kingdom. Explore these strategies, ideas and insights to see how they can contribute to multiplication in your church.
Principle No. 3: Pursuing Diversity
JOSEPH VELARDE, Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania: I would start by looking at your community and asking, “Where does diversity exist?” We see this in a couple of ways: male and female, socioeconomics, blue- and white-collar jobs, and different races and backgrounds.
We have sought to find ways that we can empower the people God has brought to Riverbend. Early on—and we continue to do so—we placed women in a variety of leadership roles. We believe that women have a lot to offer. This is an area that can go largely overlooked if we aren’t careful.
We also have people who work in different fields—in one row, we could have a doctor and a plumber. We believe all vocations matter, as they’re created by God and for God. We seek to leverage those giftings and to help people see their work is an act of worship. I would encourage you to equip your people in different fields where they can add value. Tim Keller has written an excellent book on this called Every Good Endeavor.
Lastly, identify those in your church who help to bring into fruition the truth that every tongue and tribe will be around the throne. We have sought to see those who are of different races among us and how they can they can use their gifts from the stage. We do this through music and spoken word. I like to get feedback from them about what they think of recent issues in news and culture. I will ask, “What would you like to hear from me as your pastor about issues of race?”
We continue to see what other ways we can enhance this area. It’s important for the church to see how much these people have to offer and what we can learn from them. How could you start seeking to develop others who don’t look like you? I love to affirm those who don’t look like me and to tell them I’m grateful I get to learn from them. This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17, and so we strive to be an answer to his prayer—that the unity he spoke of would come from those who are diverse in so many ways.
RYAN McCAMMACK, Gospel Hope Church in Atlanta: If a pastor desires his congregation to reflect the diversity of a community, it is important that his own life reflect that diversity. Often, when church leaders do not have significant relationships with those from different backgrounds and cultures, their thinking is not being shaped by perspectives different from their own. This lack of exposure can result in the pastor, even with the best intentions, simply “talking past” those with experiences different from theirs.
Once a pastor begins to develop a diverse network of relationships, it is critical that he approaches those relationships with a learner’s posture. This is particularly true for pastors from the majority culture. One of the reasons for the lack of diversity in many of our churches is that people from minority cultures simply do not feel heard. A concrete step toward remedying this problem is for pastors to sincerely listen and seek to understand those with varying perspectives.
JOSE ABELLA, Providence Road Church in Miami: First, any commitment toward diversity must always come from a place of theological conviction. You and your church must clearly understand that the gospel is for every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9). Therefore, diversity in the church that directly reflects your community can only be a beautiful thing if unity in the gospel becomes a higher priority. Celebrate the diversity, but boast in the united identity—Christ.
Secondly, a church that is committed to diversity should desire diversity in its leadership. You should prayerfully consider calling men to the office of elders and pastors who are of other ethnicities and cultures, being careful not to allow the desire for diversity in leadership to trump a robust assessment for qualification and calling.
Lastly, sacrifice! A church that truly desires diversity is willing to sacrifice preference for the sake of inclusion. Changing a style of music, bringing other languages though translation into corporate worship, creating specific events and times that resonate with and reach others ethnicities and cultures will prove to be genuine, tangible desires for diversity as part of the DNA of the church.
MATT McGUE, One Church in Jackson, Mississippi: First and foremost, we have to see the biblical mandate for the multiethnic church. It’s not enough to just want to have a more inclusive church body that reflects the demographics where we live. The very first church birthed by God in Acts 2 was intentionally multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual. God has always wanted to establish churches that look like heaven and act like heaven by bringing heaven to Earth.
Secondly, you can’t have a diverse church until you live a diverse life. Diversity in our churches will be preceded by diversity in our living rooms. Developing diverse relationships with people that don’t look like you, vote like you or think like you takes a lot of intentionality. I challenge pastors to become culturally competent by beginning to study, read and listen to others from the cultures represented in your community that you wish to engage. That means you have to get out of your comfort zone and culturally safe bubble.
Finally, I highly recommend a church to hire a coach or consultant who specializes in guiding the church through the thoughtful, practical steps toward biblical reconciliation and diversity. Many churches with good intentions have prematurely hired a minority staff and shown diverse stock pictures on their website only to learn some painful lessons and false assumptions about diversification. At minimum, read all you can, and attend workshops and conferences about the multiethnic-church movement. Remember that it’s a process that must include prayer, fasting, a teachable spirit and patience.
WON KWAK, Maranatha Grace Church in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Have a vision for it and make sure you are the pace-setting, broken record about moving toward that vision through word and deed. In other words, teach on it incessantly and model it faithfully in life. Here’s one simple and profound way to model this: Love others by practicing intentional, indiscriminate and purposeful hospitality.
Maranatha has a vision to reflect the demographics of our community. And yet, this isn’t limited to ethnic diversity—it extends into the realms of socioeconomic strata, seasons of life (young and old), single and married, educational background, Yankees/Mets fans, etc.
This is not an easy thing to pursue due to our sinfully hyperindividualistic and consumeristic desires for comfort, convenience and commonality. But what I’ve come to realize is what matters most is how the local body, whatever its makeup, seeks to pursue a mission that transcends culture (not denies or downplays, but also doesn’t unnecessarily elevate at the detriment of other cultures and forms) for the sake of gospel witness.
The gospel of grace reveals to us a power that saves sinners into a new community that transcends the community around us, but it accomplishes this, as it reflects and embraces the diversity of its community. In other words, I quote the powerful words of Tim Keller:
“A multiethnic body of Christians is not just the result of the communication of the gospel, but is an important way to communicate the gospel itself. It challenges the cultural idols of each race and class, and it points to the restoration of love and the healing of injustice.”
And speaking of idols, quick confession here. My own pursuit to lead a multiethnic and multicultural body quickly and sinfully devolved into idolatry that reeked of self-righteousness and a reverse bias against Korean-Americans specifically, and Asian-Americans generally. My sin goes deep … even as a church-planting pastor. But the gospel goes far deeper.