God has always wanted the nations… and in the end he will get them (Revelation 7).
But perhaps not as we think. In the coming Kingdom every tribe and tongue will stand and worship together. There will be no hierarchy nor separation, but a distinctiveness will remain; it will be united diversity.
When Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom, this united diversity was a central agenda item (Matthew 28:19 “all nations” etc). The early church did not try to make different churches for different tribes but rather to stretch their practice in order to incorporate all tribes and tongues into the one church. As Gordon Fee has said, Paul’s mission “was not simply to “make believers out of Gentiles.” Rather his passion was the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God… so that there were not two people of God but one… ”(God’s Empowering Presence p.811). The leadership team of the church at Antioch is a clear example of such united diversity (Acts 13:1).
With many nations being increasingly co-located in our cities (1 in 10 people in the UK were born abroad – 2017 census) we have an unprecedented opportunity to see the Kingdom Come by multiplying united diversity into our churches. Here are 3 things we’ve found helpful:
1. Ask God to do it
God asks us to pray for his Kingdom to come on earth. If we pray for united diversity, God makes it possible. In our church we prayed over and over that God would make us a diverse people who represented our City (40% non-white). One Christmas two black ladies contacted us out of the blue and started to attend our church. Because we had prayed for them we explicitly celebrated them as treasures from God. That envisioned them. Their black friends had told them they could never last in a “white church” but their minds were quickly changed when they realised it was God who had brought them to us; they laughed about being the firstfruits of the united diversity God would bring into our church. We are now 40% non-white in every arena. God has done this and if you ask God to send you the nations he will do it for you too.
2. Be a leader in considering others as “higher” than yourselves
Many of us assume our cultural preferences are “of God”. Choosing to consider others as better than ourselves breaks this assumption in our hearts. In Croydon we pushed into this through prioritising relationships with people who were most different from us. We actively befriended them and very often our new friends wanted to cook us their national dishes (if we gave them a gentle encouragement to do so!). As we thanked God for their delicious food (which was very easy to be thankful for) they knew we loved them and honoured them, and so gave honest and gracious answers to our trickiest questions. And in this process God quickly highlighted those he wanted to raise up as leaders in our increasingly diverse congregation.
3. Learn to Communicate to multiple cultures at the same time
This is the hardest part of pursuing the united diversity of the Kingdom. The vast majority of material we looked at either enshrined one culture or leaned towards a divisive kind of identity politics. The best foundation we found for engaging and discipling multiple cultures at once was a simple graphic from a book by Eric F Law (The Wolf shall dwell with the lamb).
It shows that the cultures which are powerful (traditionally those in the affluent West – NB – where Vineyard initially “encultured” itself) believe God wants to humble them. They tend to see intimacy in worship as surrender, want preaching that is anti-authoritarian in style and celebrate “being real”. Conversely, cultures which have been powerless (traditionally those who were colonised or plundered by Europeans) believe God wants to empower them. They tend to associate intimacy in worship with thanksgiving, want preaching from strong leaders who can help them to break the cycle of oppression and celebrate “advance”.
The crucial benefit of the cycle of Gospel living idea is that it enables you to see where people are on the cycle, to celebrate that and allow them to pull others round the cycle towards them. If people of multiple cultures do this in collaboration the whole church moves around the cycle, enabling the fullness of the gospel’s work to be seen. In this way, you can celebrate the guy in a hoodie who sings about his emotional healing as he finger-picks his guitar just as much as the traditionally dressed lady shouting out the word of God to overcome her challenges. In the celebration you encourage them to “stretch” what they are doing so it is accessible and helpful for those entering the cycle at a different point.
This harnessing of different cultures to enrich one another requires a good “feedback loop” with the leaders you are trusting to do it. Make sure they know up front that you want them to “bring what God has put in them” and that you will also give them honest feedback afterwards about how well they took others with them. When it works, it is staggering. And when it doesn’t work – no-one dies.
We have found this journey – this pursuit of the united diversity of the Kingdom – to be the most exhilarating part of our lives; our worship is richer and more exciting, our friends are incredibly varied and our church is known in our city for being a beautiful bastion of diversity. We could never go back to mono-cultural church. We encourage you to give it a try.