How can a church grow in diversity? Talbot Davis shares insight on how churches can become diverse by understanding cause and effect in terms of the goal of the church. He also includes 5 ways we can encourage diversity in a church.
I am a 53-year-old white male who lives in the South and embraces a conservative understanding of Scriptural authority and Christian morality. My high school was full of people who looked just like me, and my college was much the same. My sport of choice was tennis which is most well-known for the following it has developed . . . in country clubs.
Yet in spite of that monochromatic resume, the church I pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina is remarkably, providentially, improbably diverse.
On a typical Sunday, Good Shepherd United Methodist includes people from 35 different nations, including Ghanians, Liberians, Ecuadorans, Indians, Cubans, and Romanians. And while each of our three worship gatherings (8:30, 10, and 11:30) remain majority Anglo, our 11:30 service in particular has become known as a gathering place of the nations.
As a ministry friend who visited a recent 11:30 celebration said to me, “I knew there was some diversity here, but I wasn’t prepared for this.”
And given my background, neither was I. Neither am I. But God.
So the question becomes: how did such a thing happen? In particular, how did such a thing happen in a United Methodist church where we are known for talking the diversity game at our regional and national meetings but then quickly retreating into the enclaves of our single race churches?
The answer to that question has several supporting structures—which I’ll get to momentarily — but one foundational building block. Here it is:
We’ve learned to distinguish between a cause and an effect.
Our cause is Christ, or, as we say it here, inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. In the conservative way in which we understand biblical authority, Jesus is not one of many. He is the one and only. And how people respond to him is decisive for their eternity. So in our music and in our preaching, in our LifeGroups and in our children’s ministry, in our Outreach and in our Inreach, our cause is to lift the name of Jesus as high as possible. Colossians 1:18 says it best: “so that in all things Christ might have pre-eminence.”
What is the effect of this greater cause? All kinds of people respond to the Savior and rally around the message. You lift up Jesus high enough and people of all colors, cultures, and languages will come.
Our diversity is the result of our theology. An exclusive commitment to a singular savior leads to an inclusive church.
People don’t rally around effects, like diversity. They respond to causes, like Christ.
God forbid that racial diversity would ever be our primary goal. If we descend to that, a vapid diversity-for-its-own-sake would be the result. We want no part of that. Instead, we long for the kind of barrier demolishing diversity that Ephesians 2 tells us is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
With that theological foundation, Good Shepherd’s racial and ethnic diversity has the following structures that support it: training, imaging, naming, staffing, and anticipating.
Every since 1999, we have had a ministry called Bless This House which is a low-threat, high-touch way of welcoming new movers to our area and inviting them to church. In the early 2000s, I began to notice that the people answering the doors on which I knocked didn’t look like me anymore—they were either African-American, continental Africans, or Latino. In response, we signed on with Serving In Mission, a Charlotte-based mission-sending agency, to train our staff on leading our church towards multi-ethnicity. That nine month process led to a sermon series in early 2004 called “Let The Walls Fall Down,” based on the then-current Maranatha tune. From that series on, the people of the church knew we were headed into God’s full color future.
All of our art, photography, and advertising reflect not only the kind of church we are, but the kind we wish to become. We recently turned the large exterior wall of our Worship Center into a billboard featuring a bi-racial couple and our tag line: Come To Life.
Our staff is still predominantly Anglo. Yet we have made a series of strategic decisions along the way, including a bi-lingual church receptionist, a full time pastor of Latino ministries, and a person of color to serve as pastor of Outreach and Community Impact.
Ever since the Let The Walls Fall Down series in 2004, diversity has been on our lips. The most common early refrain was “we want worship here to look like worship in heaven.” That has since been augmented with “we want to do in history what we’ll be doing for eternity.” And the first of our “core values” as we invited all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ is that we are a full on, full color church. I don’t go too many Sundays without naming that value in a sermon.
Our full color worship gatherings are merely an appetizer for heavenly experience. We pray Good Shepherd is living Revelation 7:9 in real time: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
When you are able to distinguish between causes and effects, that’s the kind of thing that can happen.
How in the world did I get to Fiji and on a grass tennis court?
Well, in January of 1976, when I was in eighth grade, my dad took a sabbatical from his professorship at SMU Law School in Dallas to teach & work at a school in Sydney, Australia. Along with my then college-age brother Clayton, I accompanied my parents Down Under for five months.
On the return trip, we took a ship from Sydney to Fiji (I remember falling in 8th grade love with a girl on the ship who of course paid no attention to me. Or just enough attention to drive me crazy.).
The place we stayed in Fiji had just opened its brand new grass court tennis complex. So I went out to play some tennis against Clayton -- my designated practice partner for the whole five months -- and my dad snapped this picture.
Grass courts are extremely rare and altogether exotic and so I remember thinking that this was like playing tennis in paradise.
If you've read this space before, you know that I have made confessions like:
I'm better at leading the congregation than I am at leading the staff; or I'm a disciplined person but not a very disciplined leader; or I'm better at dealing with one or with 2,000 than I am with 12.
To a certain extent all those things are true. I will always more naturally incline towards pastoring and teaching than I will to leading and mentoring. However, I have recently come to a realization that has helped me enormously in increasing my leadership ability when it comes to both the staff at Good Shepherd and younger clergy in the United Methodist Church.
It's this: take what has become second nature to me, put it on paper, and then share it verbally with team members.
Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:
I've done so many funerals and memorial services through the years that preparing eulogies has become second nature.
I've knocked on enough doors of new movers into our area that the script for Bless This House has become second nature. I've had so many counseling sessions with men who are addicted to pornography that sharing with them the steps into recovery has become second nature.
I've followed up with enough first time guests that the process has become second nature. I've even done enough marital counseling that the agenda for a first session with a couple has become, you guessed it, second nature.
And my natural wiring is to store up that second nature information inside me -- essentially, to approach ministry like I do a singles match in tennis!
All that is why through the years, I have on occasion become frustrated with team members or younger clergy who weren't responding to those same ministry opportunities in ways I thought they should.
But then it hit me: it's not second nature to them. You need to take the time to spell out all those years and all that stuff you have running around in your head and share it with them.
That process, in turn, has become great fun -- especially if you have either staff members or younger clergy who have teachable spirits. So we're having some smaller staff meetings that become verbatims (for those of you who remember Clinical Pastoral Education), shoring up counseling abilities.
It's why we now share much more of the sermon development process. It's even why I am learning to take the time to show team members what is involved in the seemingly mundane task of composing hand-written notes to first-time guests.
Because in the big picture, mentoring is about turning what is second nature into a first priority.
So on a day in which I feel some blog-indecision, here are five possible subjects I could then do a Top Five post on.
1. Top Five Upcoming Events For Beyond. Tempting . . . but I don't want this space to read too much like a church e-newsletter. That's why we have church e-newsletters.
2. Top Five Crises Facing The United Methodist Denomination. Yawn. Plus, the list may be long enough to require a Top Fifteen Friday.
3. Top Five Personal Grooming Tips For Young Clergy. Tempting. I think I have both experience and expertise.
4. Top Five Personal Goals I'm Setting For 2015. Some of you who know me well might think I operate this way. I like to plan, I'm borderline OCD, things have to get on paper before they become reality, but . . . I've never been much of a personal goal setter.
5. Top Five WHAM Songs. Why list five when just one covers it all?
I’m going to do a few hand motions and I want you to do them with me, OK? This is not like Sweatin’ To The Oldies (AV) and I’m not going to pass out Kool Aid afterwards, but I just want you to do what I’m going to do with my hands, OK?First: (OUT in STOP mode).Now: what does that convey?Right!Stop! Don’t go there!Keep your distance. Don’t even think about taking another step, mister!Don’t you get closer to me to try to kiss me good night because I didn’t really want to go out with you in the first place. All of the above.The hands communicated all that.
What about this one?(Welcome.)Now: what does that convey?Right!Come in! Welcome!Mi casa es su casa!I’m interested in who you are and what you have to say.This is one of those hand gestures that is clearly connected with the face: you can’t do THIS without a smile.We use our hands in these ways, don’t we?Even with our own kids: to strike and caress; to correct and to heal.I use them to pray over my sermon prep every Saturday.We do THIS with our hands and it conveys Order, Boundaries, Protection; we do THIS with them and it’s Advance, Relationship, Progress.
Which brings us to today’s little story in Mark.Now: this encounter happens just BEFORE the one we looked at last week in Beyond Me, but it is still in the section of Mark’s gospel where the focus is on how the disciples, Jesus’ inner inner circle, just don’t get it.Jesus is wanting to take them beyond; and they are staying still.Anyway, look at 10:13a:
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them
Who is bringing them?Mothers, no doubt.In ancient times, men very rarely shared any child rearing duties at all with moms. And what motivates these moms to bring their children to Jesus?Well, first and most important, they had seen what his hands could do.They’d seen him heal a woman who was hemorrhaging; they’d seen him raise Jairus’ daughter; they’d seen his hands multiply food so that 4000 ppl got fed.And I imagine one mom brings her infant boy there, a little fella who has an unrelenting cough.And mom has him in the stroller.And mom’s an aggressive type and she sees the long line of people waiting and just decides rules don’t really apply to her. And so she cuts in line because she knows “One touch with THOSE hands and his cough will be gone.”
And she cuts in front of a slightly better mannered woman whose child is a bit older and she thinks to herself, “Well, she’s got some nerve but I’m good because one touch from those hands and this little girl will turn from terror to treasure.She’ll obey!” And one other mom is there with a bored teenager, texting and she’s like “Oh, one touch and I KNOW his SAT will go up 100 pts and he really will go to college!”This is the environment that day.
A lot of you have been there.You have children – problems or not – and you have wanted them to have a touch of love, you want to give them a blessing, you’d even like for Jesus himself in however he still does it these days, to touch and bless your little ones.Like the note I got from a teacher the day our daughter was born: Every new baby reminds us God still loves the world.
So into this type of environment, Jesus’ posse intervenes.Look at 10:13c:
but the disciples rebuked them.
You know what they were acting like?BOUNCERS!
I love it!They decide who has access and who doesn’t and because children are the most vulnerable they were the easiest to deny. They were acting like preachers’ bodyguards (someone attended her precisely because I DON’T have them!)!And you know what they must have done with their hands?THIS (STOP, AWAY)Why?Because they were all about order.They used their hands to enforce order.In their world, Jesus is about NOW, he needs to be protected and their hands enforce those boundaries and that order.
And it’s funny.We still get that.Lord, I love order.I love precision & predictability & safety.You know what gets me?Bouncing balls in church?I know that even if it is allowed, even it is the point of the game, if kids start bouncing balls in KZone, I’ll run in with my hands like THIS & try to stop it!I’ll say to the kids, “Don’t you know bouncing a ball in church sends you automatically to hell?!” So what do I do?I’m growing in my self-awareness, so I just walk away.If I can’t see it, it’s not happening.
But there are other, more sinister ways churches can enforce order.Many years ago, another church, another town, I wanted that church to buy a van.Church van.And a man in that church came up to me, enraged, and said, “if you use that van to pick up black children and bring them to this church, it will tear the church apart.”And for once I said what I thought, “then we don’t have much of a church to start with, do we?”We got the van & that man and his racism left the church.We opted for something other than order.What about you?When it comes to the generations, when it comes to the ethnicities, when it comes to teens & Latinos, church, are you so dialed into NOW and its order that your hands mimic your life: STOP ???
Because Jesus paints such a different picture in 10:14-15:
14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Now: before I say what he is saying, let me tell you what he is NOT.This is not some sentimental picture of children’s wild-eyed wonder.In ancient times, children were not valued for their curiosity.They were instead disposable.When Jesus said “like a child” we immediately think of bright and shiny and curious; you could just as easily think of whiny and petulant and self-centered.That’s “like a child,” isn’t it?So Jesus isn’t operating in the world of sentimentality here; he’s in the real world.
But that key part:Let them come & do not hinder.It’s interesting.Elsewhere Jesus says he’s going to have to compel adults to come; kids he just has to let.There is some kind of natural momentum – even if it’s messy! – towards Jesus.Do not hinder – which is Jesus’ way of saying to those got-it-wrong-again disciples: change your hands!No more STOP & a lot more WELCOME!Your hands right now as you are in bouncer mode are all about resistance and order. Mine are about healing & welcome & progress.The disciples in this case are looking at these children for who they are now; Jesus is looking at them for who they will be – residents of the kingdom, serving its king.Disciples: now. Jesus: beyond now.Here’s where it lands us:Your hands will either enforce order or enable progress.And beyond now people enable progress.
Can I acknowledge something?When you open up, when you choose progress over order, there’s a risk to it.Little boy was in a relative’s wedding and as he was coming down the aisle, he would take two steps, stop and while facing the crowd, put up his hands like claws and ROAR. Steps, claws, ROAR.As you can imagine, it sort of altered the mood of the wedding. Up on the altar, the pastor asked him what he was doing:“I was being the Ring Bear,” he said.Risks to progress!
So there are risks, but the reward in this inviting all people which includes little people church, is quite substantial.Here’s what we’re going to do; here’s what Beyond is all about, here’s how we live into Your hands will either enforce order or enable progress.And beyond now people enable progress.
We’re not going to hinder children or students here.We’re not going to HANDS STOP. We’re going to HANDS WELCOME.Because we realize we can hinder kids when the environment here is good-but-not-great. We realize we can hinder teens when we consign them to a space across the street, disconnected from the intergenerational life of the church.We realize we have an opportunity to choose progress over order & begin enabling upcoming generations to have a living rel w Jesus Christ.That’s why the Beyond Project involves moving the K-Zone from good to WOW (AV).Irresistible, unforgettable, three-dimensional.But be very sure of this: in the way we do it, every WOW moment, every drama sketch, every piece of 3 D gear oriented décor, every loving teacher, every bit of compelling content, is to tee up a conversation between that child and their parents.Content hereis but a conversation starter at home.We not children’s ministry. We resource moms and dads to be children’s ministry.As good as the KZone will be, the best CM is in your family room.
Oh the Student Ministry is the same concept! We don’t want to hinder them by isolating them.Instead of isolating we want to be integrating. That’s why the Living Roomis so perfect!We add a voice of consistency & clarity to the voice mom and dad already speak into teenagers.And those cases where students DON’T get it at home, well we want to be well positioned to invited students to move from death to life. Your hands will either enforce order or enable progress.And beyond now people enable progress.
We're so excited about all this that we made a movie for you:
And we know this story in Mark is all about the hands and their posture! Why? Look how it ends in 10:16:
And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Jesus rebukes the STOP and blesses the WELCOME.He chooses progress over order.
So will we.And you know why I know we’ll do this well?Because you all have an incredible record of “not hindering” kids you’ve never even met.In 2010 it was What Child Is This? (AV) and $207,000 at Xmas to free internationals caught up in trafficking.In 2013 it was $400,000 on one day to free domestic girls being raped for profit.You all have shown radical generosity for kids you don’t know and will never meet.Well . . . how much more for the children of this church and this community?Both kids we got and kids who haven’t been here yet.Because we know that if you can connects kids with a living relationship with Jesus, the chances are so much better that they continue in that than if you hold off and wait and give them the gospel whey they turn 21.Most people who become Xns do so by 14 or so. Fascinating.Not my story but it IS the story of most ppl with a living relationship.Like this note I got one day:
And can I say a word to those of who either don’t have kids or your kids are grown and so they will never take advantage of either the KZone or the Living Room?Get this:your life will last a lot longer than your lifetime.With your generosity, your hands can have that posture of WELCOME and not STOP long after your lifetime has ended. We’re not going to name the place after you – or anybody, for that matter, except The Good Shepherd – but your generosity on Feb. 8 and beyond will have a ripple effect.You will enable generations not towards order & resistance, but towards progress and faith.Your life will be continuing much longer than your lifetime.REFRAIN
We started with hands.THIS (DO STOP) and THIS (DO WELCOME).You know, there is a least one other posture with our hands.It’s this, when you lift a hand to say "sign me up!".We’ve talked a lot about upcoming generations in a living relationship with Jesus here, but I don’t want to skip YOURS.
(And then we did an invitation to salvation with "raising a hand" as the response. Trickles of people at 8:30 and 10 and then a wave at 11:30!)