Deliberately Seeking Diversity

Deliberately seek diversity in your churches and relationships.

Let me start with an example God placed in nature from which we can extrapolate to apply to our Christian communities.

In their natural states, most ecosystems are quite complex and diverse.  Take for example the North American prairie.  Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, it was a diverse wilderness, a complex ecosystem supporting all kinds of plant and animal life.  This natural poly-culture was resilient.  The species diversity provided a protection from any one single factor that could wipe out the ecosystem.

Then came the European settlers who plowed it up and covered it with single-species crops.  Mono-cultures are far more susceptible to disease, pests and natural events.  They also take more work to maintain. Regular cultivation and the addition of fertilizers and pesticides are needed to keep the crop healthy and productive.  Ironically, the very topsoil necessary to maintain the crop becomes depleted. So, when the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s hit, the mono-culture crops died out but the poly-culture prairie, with its diverse ecosystem, survived. That’s because a poly-culture stores water, cycles nutrients, controls pests and becomes ever more diverse, productive, beautiful and adaptive.

The church in true marketing style often likes to ‘target’ a specific group in order to create and even speed up growth.  That is because we as typical humans much prefer to be with people who are like us. It’s just easier.  After all, “Birds of a feather stick together”.  That isn’t an inherently evil reality, but it is not an acceptable reality for those who are now in the community created by Christ.  The problem comes when our relationship circle choices and our gathered communities become mono-cultural.   I am not using the word cultural to exclusively mean ethnicity.  I also mean cultures of thinking, lifestyle, economics, preferences and even theology. 

The mono-cultural nature of many Christian communities perpetuates the status quo and prevents growth of diversity because:

  • When you enter the community gathering, the mono-cultural optics reveals the narrow rules for belonging.  People then self-select out of further engagement.
  • Diversity of thinking is lacking.  When you are all from the same generation or ethnic culture or psycho-graphic group, you share a point of view that can become a limitation to expansion of vision and extension of impact.
  • The exercise of wrestling with theological and practical perspectives for working out our faith, that inevitably arises in a diverse community is replaced by a conformity that stifles thinking and growth.
  • The leadership and programming efforts to maintain the community can often perpetuate the mono-cultural nature of the community.  If you continue to plow and seed the soil with the same crop, you’ll get the same crop.  When the same leaders are at the front, when the same themes are presented, when the same events are held and the same attendees come, no amount of words calling for diversity will actually contribute to diversity.

In Christ no longer does gender, ethnicity, economics, religion or theology create viable or acceptable borderlines (Gal 3:28, Col 3:11). We are now a newly formed human community being acculturated into this new reality.  The training & experimental ground is the gathering of believers called the Church.  Our leadership challenge therefore is to live and lead into this new, trans-cultural community of those who follow The Way of Jesus.

No easy answers.   I can’t and won’t leave you with 3 steps to a new culture.  However I can say it’s possible because we all have the Spirit of Christ to lead us.

Encompass is happy to share what it has seen and learned about this.  Some of it is great stuff.  Some of it isn’t.  However, we’ll stay at it, because the One who called us to this is completely dependable. If He said it, He’ll do it (1 Thess 5:24).

Harv - harv@encompasspartnerships.org

Harv Matchullis