Who's missing from our churches?
At the start of each new year, I find myself reflecting. Reflecting on what I have learned in the year previously, what God has been teaching me and what goals I want to set myself for the year ahead. It is common to make New Year’s resolutions, even if we know that the likelihood of keeping them is slim. However, while this personal introspection and planning is good and natural, new seasons also mark a good opportunity for our churches to do the same sort of reflection, but corporately. It marks an opportunity to think especially about how we grow God’s kingdom and show more of who Jesus is in the year ahead. How do our churches subscribe to God’s will for His people? While we ultimately find the answer to this in Scripture, there are things we can learn from outside our church walls. In particular, the current cultural striving for diversity and representation is something we should be intentionally facilitating within our congregations. In fact, this is one area where we can learn from our secular counterparts in the LGBTQ+ community, for whom ‘intersectionality’ is a common buzzword, and a consistent goal. ‘Intersectionality’ is the privilege and discrimination that a culture gives to certain people because of their race/gender/sexuality/class etc. By considering ‘intersectionality’ in our churches, we can consciously work to reduce these inequalities.
True Freedom Trust has worked hard to encourage an authentic, compassionate and radical welcome in the UK church. However, the welcome in our churches must be wide enough to include those who are not white who also experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. It may feel like a weighty task, especially when appealing to different minority groups comes with unique challenges. However, it is an area in which the Church needs to grow. I must emphasise that this desire for racial diversity in our churches isn’t just fed by a cultural phenomenon. It is an example of Christians being counter-cultural. This distinctiveness comes from the example and teaching of Jesus. Our motive is the fact that this diversity is a biblical imperative. Here are three examples from Scripture that point towards the goodness of inclusion and diversity in the Church.
1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27)
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created him.”
In the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God made us human beings in His image. Understanding this is to understand the inherent worth and dignity of all humans regardless of their race, sexuality, class, or anything beyond their control. Because those factors were under God’s control, part of his great design for humankind, all the inherent differences that make us uniquely ourselves still reflect the image of God. In Romans, we learn that even those who repress knowledge of God will still have the remnants of this fractured image in their character. We welcome siblings in Christ from all backgrounds into our Church, because all reflect the image of God.
2. Unity and diversity make the Church stronger (1 Cor 12:12-27)
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free…”
In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul roots his central encouragement in a desire to see the Church united in love, without division, for Jesus’ sake. However, he does not encourage this unity solely by reminding this church of all their similarities. On the contrary, chapter 12, which begins with a passage concerning the variety of spiritual gifts the apostles had received, and continues into this analogy of the body, hangs on the idea that differences are not only to be expected in the Church, but honoured! The visceral imagery of different parts of the body telling each other they are not needed can seem ridiculous, but it is very vivid in its reminder that we need our differences to create a rounded, wiser Church, that better reflects the Trinitarian nature of God, with its individual parts coming together. Paul also points out here that this includes both Jews and Gentiles – breaking down any room for racial exclusivity in the gospel. Our brothers and sisters with different cultural lenses will have experiences that reflect a differing bias in their approach to Scripture, and these varying readings can help us have a fuller understanding of what God’s word means.
3. He calls all nations to him (Rev 7:9)
“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.”
In the last book of the Bible, as John reveals to us what God has shown him of the heaven to come, he looks around and sees people from all nations, tribes and tongues alongside him. This picture of worship in the new creation represents the diversity of human creation. It is depicted as not only good, but perfect. When we are looking around our churches, I wonder if we see the same diversity that John sees here. And if we aren’t, then who is missing? How can we attempt to ensure that the missing demographics would feel welcome and united with the majority of our church?
There are many reasons why our churches may fall short in this, such as local demographics or a preaching style that’s better suited to certain groups a disproportion of those who feel equipped to serve in visible ways. However, let our lack of diversity never be down to seeing it as a ‘world issue’ rather than a biblical one. Let it never be down to a lack of scriptural foundations of the knowledge of God’s desire for ‘intersectionality’ in our churches. This year, let us commit to seeing who isn’t in the room at our churches, asking why and praying that God would help you welcome those groups well.
This article was originally published in the spring 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the spring 2022 edition of Ascend