December 28, 2013
What's So Great About A Racially Diverse Church?
From the earliest days of my Christian faith, I knew that God has only one family because I read passages like this one: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
All of God's children fall into that one race - the race of those who have been adopted by God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. But it took a couple of decades following my conversion to realize that this "one race," "one family" diversity needed to be practically expressed and seen in every local congregation. And it took much prayer, great intentionality on the part of Vineyard Columbus' leadership team and an extraordinary grace from the Lord to make Vineyard Columbus a multiracial church.
Currently, about 14% of all churches in America are multiracial, defined as having at least 20% of the church's members coming from racial groups different from the congregation's majority race. Vineyard Columbus has at least 35% of our members, who are not white Anglos and we have attenders from over 110 different nations.
So, what's so great about a racially diverse church?
Racially diverse churches change the world. What kind of church does God use today to change the world? To answer that question, we must ask: What kind of church did God use at the beginning of Christian history to change the 1st century world?
In Acts 13 we see that the church in Antioch which launched the first Christian mission was ethnically and culturally diverse (Acts 13:1-3). I find it interesting that the term "Christian" first began to be applied to followers of Jesus in Antioch. In other words, the church in Antioch was Christ-like to an unusual degree. They not only loved God; they loved other people unconditionally. When Jews love Gentiles and Gentiles love Jews and they worship together in one integrated local church, it is a witness to everyone around. Observers would have thought, "Obviously, Jesus is someone who breaks down dividing walls between people." The watching world learned that the Christian God was not just a tribal, or ethnic, or national God. The Christian God was Lord of all people!
Racially diverse churches look like heaven. The church today is called to be a pointer to the coming kingdom. When people step into a local church, they ought to experience something of the world to come. Why do we pray for the sick? Because in the coming kingdom, people will enjoy perfect health. Why do we feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, reconcile broken marriages, and deliver people from the power of the devil? It is because these are all pointers to the coming kingdom. The book of Revelation tells us that when the kingdom comes in its fullness, it is not going to look like an all-White church, or an all-Black church. The coming kingdom is going to be thoroughly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural.
A racially diverse church lifts up the gospel. Many people think that the gospel message is a narrow message inasmuch as people are saved only through Jesus Christ. But unlike every other message which tells us that the successful get in and failures are kept out, the gospel tells us that failures get in as well. The gospel is the only truly universal message. It applies to people who were adored by their parents and to people who were abused by their parents, bankers and the bankrupt, high school valedictorians and high school dropouts, the able-bodied and the disabled, doctors and patients, jailers and prisoners, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans - all are welcomed into God's kingdom without regard to language, performance, race, national origin, or any other human characteristic. Nothing makes the universality of the gospel more self-evident than when someone walks into an obviously diverse church.
Racial diversity is something we celebrate at Vineyard Columbus. Every church ought to aspire to be at least as diverse as its surrounding community and to be intentional about breaking down dividing walls between races. All God's children belong to one race - the race of those who have been adopted by God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
Parts of this article have been excerpted from Both-And: Living the Christ-Centered Life in an Either-Or World, by Rich Nathan and Insoo Kim (InterVarsity Press, 2013).
Mark Your Calendars:
The Women's Ministry of Vineyard Columbus will be hosting their annual Women's Conference, "Father, Make Us One," on February 27-March 1, 2014 which will, in part, celebrate our diversity.