I serve in Mobile, Alabama, a city that is scarred by its racial history. My city is where the last slave ship landed, and the last black man was lynched. Yet, I have a great hope that our past does not determine our future and that God is capable of raising up a diverse church in the heart of Dixie.
As I have studied Scripture and served these past seven years, I am convinced that a racially reconciling church pleases God and is a powerful proclamation of the gospel. I have seen God bring together people from different backgrounds and languages, and merge them into one family in Christ. I have even seen an 85-year-old white woman worship to Christian hip hop. Through it all, I have learned about the beauty of the image of God as it is reflected in those from various cultures.
Among the important lessons I’ve learned, here are four that make me deeply committed to a racially reconciling church.
A racially reconciling church displays the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham
As you walk through the unfolding of God’s plan revealed in the Bible, it is clear he intentionally weaves every tribe, tongue, and nation into the tapestry of his covenant people.
God handcrafted the first human being in his image, revealing that all humanity has a common ancestry. Then, God sought out a man named Abram, calling him to a covenant through which a Savior would bless all the peoples of the Earth. Through God’s work of creation and his covenant with Abraham, it is obvious that God’s redemptive work is a multiethnic movement.
God’s promises and power are ultimately displayed as Jesus fulfills God’s covenant to Abraham. Through his atoning death, he reconciled humanity with God—a humanity that was once his enemy, now made his friends. He turned an ethnically diverse, brutal, fearful, and oppressive humanity into a family. After his resurrection, he instructed his disciples to draw people from every corner of the world to follow him and join God’s people, solidifying a family as broad as the face of the Earth. God’s redemptive plan continues today through his Church.
A racially reconciling church is essential for reaching the next generation
Over a half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his angst over the fact that church gatherings on Sunday were the most segregated hour of the week in America. There is a disconnect for people in our culture when they see diversity in every other sphere of their lives, yet many churches remain monoethnic.
By the year 2030, the majority of the working class will be nonwhite, and by the year 2060, 57% of the population will be nonwhite. In other words, the next generation will be multiethnic. If churches do not adjust their methodology for the changing mission field, they might miss reaching the next generation.
Thankfully, over the past two decades, the percentage of diverse evangelical churches has grown to 20%, but there is still a long way to go. Among the next generation, there are many who are skeptical about the Church and are watching closely to see how she deals with matters of race and politics. My prayer is that many churches will adjust their methodologies to reach their changing communities with the timeless message of the gospel.
A racially reconciling church displays the power of the gospel
In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17). He prayed over his disciples, who had very different perspectives, and he prayed for future generations of disciples who would surely have differing perspectives.
Issues of race and politics, in particular, are more polarizing than unifying for people today. Often, this is because people live in “echo chambers” and do not have relationships that are diverse in political, social, and cultural points of view. Because the early Church was a multiethnic and multi-class movement, the New Testament is marked by conflict between Jews, non-Jews, the poor, and the elite (e.g., Acts 2; Rom. 11; Gal. 2). Likewise, churches today that seek diversity will also find conflict when cultures and preferences collide, but because this is normative for the New Testament church, it should also be normative for the modern-day church.
At the same time, the Church should be a center for reconciliation both with God and people. The power of the gospel is on display whenever the Church functions as God’s reconciling agency.
Helping people reconcile with one another usually happens through developing deep empathy and understanding. Jesus’ ministry was marked by a deep empathy for the pain that others experienced (Matt. 8, 14; Luke 7; John 5, 8, 11). Paul tells the Romans, “Weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another” (12:15-16). This passage does not say to judge whether they should be weeping, which is often how people respond today. The Church has a great opportunity to be people that seek to empathize and understand like Jesus, standing in stark contrast to a culture that has often lost its ability to empathize.
Western culture often focuses on the individual, but the Church can display the power of God to bring people groups that have been divided to a place of forgiveness and unity through the pathways of empathy and understanding. The world is deeply in need of the supernatural power displayed through diverse people glued together by the life-changing power of Jesus.
A racially reconciling church displays a preview of heaven
Fast forward to the end of history in Revelation 7:9 where every tribe, tongue, and nation are gathered together, worshiping Jesus as one family while maintaining their distinctions of color, culture, and language. This is the end goal—God’s redemptive masterpiece presented as the mystery of Christ is “displayed in high definition when a mosaic of multicolored, multiclass, multigenerational people learns to love each other as God so loved them.” The population of heaven is comprised of a redeemed people from all classes, races, and people groups worshiping one risen King.
Building a racially reconciling church is more difficult than building a monolithic one. There are challenges with:
- developing a multicultural leadership team,
- developing a multigenre worship style,
- honoring cultural differences,
- cultural assimilation,
- and political allegiances.
But all of these challenges pale in comparison to the opportunity to raise up a beautiful, diverse bride of Christ that previews what heaven will eternally portray!