The other day, I had a friend ask me what I hoped our church family would look like ten years from now. That’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with.
I’ve been one of the ministers at North Point Christian Church for twenty years. The past fifteen, I have been the primary leader of the staff and Sunday morning preacher-teacher-ringmaster (even though I didn’t fully stop doing youth ministry here until about three years ago).
When we moved our little SoCal family to the Great State in 1995, it wasn’t a conditional proposition. It was clearly “all in” for us…and we have never, not once, regretted the decision, though our resolve continually gets tested during the disgustingly hot days of summer. However, there’s no way I envisioned 2015 back then. But over the past two or three years, I have thought a lot about the future.
I rolled out the answer to my friend’s question quickly. “Ten years from now, I hope North Point is a just a better version of what we are today.” My friend was not impressed. I wasn’t either. So he pushed a little more. “Really, the one thing I want more than anything else is for us to be more diverse.” Really.
Part of this desire is very natural for me. I grew up in a racially and economically diverse community. I have always been drawn to cross-cultural ministry. But, as important as it is, the diversity I’m drawn to these days is way more than color and money.
I grew up in a church culture that strained for homogeneity. I was raised to believe that my church was more right than your church. And if you wanted to be right with God, then you needed to be right with us. I hate admitting this, but I actually grew up holding every other faith group at arm’s distance, if they didn’t hold to the same doctrines we believed and taught.
Even though I got over that foolishness years ago, it took a while longer for me to come to the understanding that it’s in our diversity where we see the real difference Jesus makes. If everybody in our church family is expected to think the same, interpret the Bible the same, and share the same behaviors and values, the power is in the hands of the governing leadership (the ones who establish the right interpretations, the right behaviors, the right values). But that should never be.
We all walk different paths. Our personal stories will always shape how we understand the Bible and how we respond to Jesus. There are reasons why we parent the way we do…spend our money the way we do…vote the way we do…fill up our free time the way we do…choose the friends we do. All should be welcome. All should have a voice. All should be given love and respect.
I realize my critics could put words in my mouth. “Mike, what I hear you saying is you want a church where people can believe and act in any way they want.” Well…no. That’s not what I’m saying. What I AM saying is the list of non-negotiables needs to be really, really small…with lots of room for differences. I have two reasons for wanting this.
First, when we are forced to share life with people who are different, sometimes significantly different, than we are, we are pressed into doing something that’s difficult…something that really cannot be done without the new life and presence of God’s Spirit that has been promised to those who come to him by faith.
Diversity is the sandpaper that can smooth out the rough edges of relationships. Diversity is medicine for the sickness of narrow-mindedness and I’mbetterthanyouitis. Dealing, face to face, eye to eye, with people with whom we disagree is surgery for the soul. I’m convinced it’s what God uses to shape our character into the character of Jesus.
To put it in simpler terms, hanging out with people who always think, talk, and act like we do is easy. You can do it in your sleep. It really requires no effort. Hanging out with “those OTHER kind of people” (and truly loving them as family) is impossible without supernatural help. And who doesn’t need some supernatural?
Second, I believe when people see honest unity in the midst of obvious diversity, its life giving. When people of different color, culture, values, politics, church heritage, education, social skills, socio-economics, interests, hobbies, and even loyalties to sports teams can figure out how to lay down what separates and give room for true respect (and belly-fulls of laughter), it’s a beautiful thing.
And isn’t it about time people outside our walls saw something attractive inside our walls?