Diversity in the Local Church
Adrian Reynolds reports back from this week’s City to City Conference in London which addressed the issue of church diversity. He says it was a huge encouragement.
There aren’t many areas of church life where we would live with a mismatch between our theology and practice, but for many of us, that is exactly what we do when it comes to diversity.
Of course, we can argue away our monochrome church life, but the truth is there are practices and attitudes to repent of and actions we need to take. Only then can we make progress towards our churches more accurately reflecting the areas where God has called us to serve.
To be honest, few of us are promulgating this state of affairs intentionally. It is probably just too difficult or risky to think any other way. That’s why a few of us were really pleased to be part of City to City UK’s latest conference this week. Tope Koleoso, Tim Keller and Efrem Buckle guided us through the theology and practice of diversity in the local church.
Tope got us off to a great start, arguing from Ephesians 2 (and Genesis 1) that diversity and unity are together God’s plan for the church. He called us to move beyond integration (“I will put up with you”) towards acceptance; from tolerance to true love; and from native culture to kingdom culture. A timely call for each and every church.
Tim Keller came fresh from the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, where he had been speaking, seated between Theresa May and the US Ambassador to the UK. They both got to hear the gospel on Tuesday.
Keller was on good form, I thought, giving us two gospel principles (the gospel changes our identity and it changes our view of culture), matched with six practical steps that had helped Redeemer in New York City become more diverse. They are worth repeating – most are self-explanatory.
- Diversify your leadership first, to be more welcoming, show you’ve given up power and broaden your wisdom base.
- Stretch your worship which means working “enormously hard” at serving those who gather.
- Have goals beyond simply being multi-racial otherwise this one goal will consume you.
- Exercise patient intentionality. Change takes time.
- Locate in areas which serve all those who come, not just a sub-section.
- Build intentional cross-cultural friendships.
Keller helpfully answered questions. For me, the most telling answer was to a question about multi-class (as opposed to multi-ethnic). He thought this was even harder to achieve, but still an obviously worthy goal.
Efrem Buckle from Ecclesia church in Lewisham closed out the day with an impassioned talk, especially dealing with how those from black and minority ethnic communities often view Christianity as a white man’s religion. Quoting Rowan Williams (with approval), he really helpfully set out how Christians should view the difficult topic of slavery – recognising and acknowledging past practice as heinous sin without having to be held individually accountable for it.
Getting past this, he said, was a key element in progress.
Overall, the day was very encouraging. A good number of FIEC churches were involved in the conference itself and others were there in attendance. At the end, we were encouraged to think what might be the next thing we personally needed to do. I gladly joined in.
And I prayed that our own little church – as well as our wider Fellowship – might make godly progress in this area.