The Case for Diversity in the Church

I wrote this post last Friday, August 11. That evening white supremacists organized in Charlottesville. The next day, one of the white supremacists turned himself into a terrorist and drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing at least one and injuring many others.

This post now has a new context of urgency and pain. Racists are bolder than ever. Jesus-loving, people-loving Christians have to start taking action, not because our country needs more political activists, but because people that Jesus loves are being targeted with hatred.

I believe our responsibility isn’t more marches and more speeches and more tweets. It’s more love, actively caring for, including, and increasing minority representation in our predominantly white churches and our church leadership.

We’ll look at some reasons why diversity in leadership is vital, how to approach the challenge appropriately, some stats about church attendance and diversity, and how your local context should inform your staff’s diversity goals.

The Bible Supports Diversity in the Local Church

First, let’s get one pretty important thing established. The Bible supports diversity in the body of Christ. And, if the local church is a local expression of the body of Christ, it’s pretty easy to say that the local church should strive to be diverse if it’s able.

With that said, not all local churches are able to be as diverse as they may want to be. Some churches are located in areas with predominantly one culture. In those cases, diversity may not be easily achieved or even helpful to the mission of the church in that place. And that’s okay. Diversity, by itself, is not a command on the same level of biblical faithfulness or loving your neighbor. It’s an ideal worthy of our effort and pleasing to our heavenly Father.

Let’s sit on that point a moment longer. There is no biblical command to diversify your local church’s racial or cultural makeup. Making the case that a culturally homogenous church is sinning by not being diverse is a perversion and false teaching. It’s a perfect example of taking Scripture out of context to support a personal conviction or drive a political stance. It’s no better than saying that God’s promises to Old Testament Israel are also applicable to America as a nation.

Now, knowing that there is no biblical command for racial and cultural diversity in the church is not a pass on striving for those same ideas. Nor is it an excuse to give that effort lip service with a token effort toward diversity.

Most of the traditions and programs in modern western churches are built on biblical principles and precedents, not biblical commands. For example, we have children’s ministries because Jesus valued children and the Bible makes it clear that adults are responsible for their spiritual upbringing, not because the Bible tells us we have to have children’s programs in church.

Taking Action Toward Diversity in Your Church

On another point, it seems that convictions about diversity in church don’t exactly match motivation to do anything about it. Honestly, that’s the case with most of life; we feel convicted about something that’s broken enough to talk about it, but not enough motivation to fix it. At least, when it comes to diversity, that’s the what the statistics seem to communicate.

Lifeway Research, under Dr. Ed Stetzer’s leadership, published some numbers a few years ago about diversity in the church. Their research found that a large majority of American pastors, almost 90%, felt that churches should be diverse racially and culturally, but only 13% actually have what they would consider to be a diverse church. The numbers among Christians who are not pastors are more depressing; almost 80% think churches should be diverse, but only about half would feel comfortable in a diverse church.

The biblical case for diversity in the local church is pretty air tight. There are undercurrents of racial and cultural diversity throughout the Bible. Whether you point to the inclusion of Gentiles in the New Testament or the unity and diversity of the Trinity or the variety of languages spoken at Pentecost, diversity is everywhere.

Diversity in Your Church is About More Than Inclusivity

Diversity, though, is not the same as racial inclusivity or the representation of multiple cultures in an otherwise homogenous church. Nor is diversity a melting pot where all races and cultures lose their individuality and conform to a new shared cultural identity. No, diversity is the inclusion, appreciation, and valuing of various races and cultures without any single race or culture losing their individuality.

So, if your church is not diverse and you’re not sure if you should or shouldn’t strive for diversity, here’s a pretty decent rule of thumb. If your church is in a neighborhood with more than one race or culture, you should be putting real work into being a diverse church.

Making the decision to be a diverse church and making actual, measurable strides in that direction are two very different things. Diversity won’t happen because you start preaching about it or using multi-cultural illustrations. It won’t happen because you start a hispanic ministry or urban outreach or adopt an anglo church. Those aren’t bad things, but I guarantee most people will see those things as tokens.

Before embarking on a quest to form token diversity measures or implement affirmative action in your church membership processes, it’s important to have a foundation that’s deeper than opinion or conviction.

A Theological Framework for Diversity in Church

Jeffrey Rogers argues that a diverse church comes out of a proper theological framework for diversity. He points to the Trinity as our leading source for proof that God desires diversity. And he applies that trinitarian example to the body of Christ. Here’s a quote summing up that argument.

A dynamic, social understanding of the Trinity models for the church in every time and place both unity in diversity and diversity in unity. The doctrine of the Trinity is a both/and assertion of the diversity in unity and the unity in diversity of the very Being of God in God’s own self as well as in God’s self-revelation in the world. And to the degree that the Christian community is what Paul calls “one body in Christ,” we are both many and at the same time one, in terms that sound suspiciously similar to those that Christian theologians will use in their formulations of the Trinity: “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another” (Romans 12:5). We are both individuals and at the same time members of one another.

Diversity Leadership in the Church

You could say that the biblical case for diversity in the local church is strong enough to compel any Bible-loving Christian to take serious strides toward diversity. But, in case you need more encouragement, Dr. Ed Stetzer is back with more wisdom on the topic.

He wrote in 2016 about the reasons for diversity in the local church, naming 5 truths. He, of course, starts with the biblical case for diversity, but adds that diversity in the local church is also good because it’s sacrificial, humble, intentional, and beneficial.

It’s sacrificial because it requires majorities to make room for minorities and, therefore, all the cultural preferences that must change, too. It’s humble because it displays a submissive nature to your brother. It’s intentional because diversity won’t happen on its own. It’s beneficial because it opens our eyes and hearts to a fuller breadth of God’s interaction with humanity. You can read more from Dr Stetzer here.

Diversity in the Local Church is a Blessing

Diversity is, therefore, a unique and significant blessing the church that embraces and strives for it. There is no promise of blessing given in the Bible for diverse churches, but the natural outcome of diversity is that blessing. And the effort to become diverse involves principles and promises that do hold blessings in Scripture, like meekness and kindness and purity and putting others first. Jesus made clear that these are the types of people that receive God’s blessing.

What does all this have to do with diversity in church leadership? Well, have you ever seen a diverse church with racially or culturally homogenous leadership?

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Remember the Titans. The team captain is fussing at his team for not having heart and having poor attitudes. Another team member responds with, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”

That’s some serious truth in a small phrase.

The people in your ministry will follow your lead, for better or worse. And the culture in your ministry is your responsibility, whether it forms by accident or with intentionality.

Leading Your Church Toward Diversity

Of course, moving toward diversity starts with the pulpit. Preach your guts out and call your church to open their hearts. Build programs that are more open and inviting to multiple cultures. But, no amount of programming and preaching will be as loud as leading by example.

Hire who you want to reach. If your church has a significant population of black people, you need color on your staff. If you’re a black church in a whiter neighborhood, you need some beige on your staff. If you’re an older congregation in a young community, you need some greenies on your staff. If your church is seeing lots of hispanic or asian or middle eastern immigrants moving in, you need those people on your staff.

And I don’t mean you need to start a hispanic ministry if your neighborhood is predominantly hispanic. No. You need to hire a hispanic minister and share the pulpit and decision-making with that person. There’s no room for token staff members or token ministries in our churches, taking up space and making the majority feel better about themselves.

Of course, this isn’t a call to hire the first culturally diverse person who submits a resume. You still need to act responsibly as the leader and steward of your church body. However, if you find that you’re having a hard time finding someone that fits your hiring needs and also represents a minority race or culture that is represented in your community, it’s time to do more work.

One way to find and recruit a more diverse staff is to work with other churches in your area whose racial or cultural makeup is different than yours. They may have young people or senior people looking for new opportunities to do ministry. They may be able to share resources or connections that open doors.

Diversity in the Local Church Isn’t Easy

And it may not happen quickly at all, much less overnight. It’ll take time to build relationships, build trust, and develop the theological framework that your church needs in order to make real change towards diversity.

This may be a 5 year or 10 year plan. It may mean losing some of your tithers who don’t want diversity. It may mean losing staff that don’t understand your conviction. But if your church is in a diverse community, it’s your biblical responsibility to seek and strive for racial and cultural diversity in your church body…on earth as it is in heaven.

Scott Magdalein

Scott is the founder of ServeHQ and has over a decade of experience as an Executive Pastor, Worship Pastor, and College Pastor. You can chat with him directly using the widget at the bottom of this page.

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