I was 22 when I began doing outreach and evangelism with my church college ministry, Volunteers for Christ. When I began knocking on dorm room doors at the University of Tennessee, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I thought to myself, “Who will reject me? Who will come to know Christ this year? What will I say when the door opens?” If no one opened the door, I would simply slide an invitation to our ministry kick-off under the door.
At one of our ministry kick-offs, one of the girls I invited came. She was white, wore cowboy boots, listened to Bluegrass, and was from Oregon. I was black, wore casual business attire (I might as well have had a suitcase), listened to jazz, and thought I was from New York City (I’m actually from Tennessee).
As we got to know each other, we ridiculed each other for our differences. We were polar opposites in so many ways. But in time, she bought me a bluegrass CD, and I had her over for a black southern style Thanksgiving dinner (yes — it’s different).
Liz and I became the best of friends. We were different, but we were kindred spirits at the time. Why? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down barriers like skin color and ethnicity.
Liz and I celebrated diversity in our dorm rooms.
Going Beyond Black History Month
In our culture, diversity gets celebrated each February. Schoolteachers pin up the faces of American black heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall. Churches break out old negro spirituals and host black pastors to preach. Black history month provides a wonderful time for celebration and reflection.
But, if we are truly going to build diversity within our homes, it must be more than once a year.
One practical way to begin building diversity in your family is through teaching and learning about different cultures and ethnicities throughout the year. Learning the history of other cultures can only assist you in understanding the perspective of other cultures. As you learn with your children, don’t limit your knowledge to textbooks and mini-biographies. Get creative and cook a new meal. Or introduce your family to the culture and music of those different than you.
Going Beyond Skin Color
There is one thing that I am assuming in this article, which is that its readers have a desire to build a home that cultivates diversity. May I submit to you that it isn’t really about diversity, at all? It’s about love. To celebrate diversity in your home you must first cultivate a love for people — a radical, whole-hearted, grace-motivated, love for others.
Jesus commands a radical love, doesn’t he? It’s a self-abandoned love. He tells us not only to love others but to love them like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39) And that’s a lot! This type of love God commands of us can only come from one source, Himself!
Pray that God would give you a radical love for people. His Word says that if we have not love, we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). Pray that your heart would be stirred to take an interest in others, in people who are different than you, in people who are made in the same image of God.
Diversity at the Dinner Table
One practical way to show love to others in your home is simply to invite other Christians in. This can be for lunch, dinner, or parties. This can be fellow with members in your church, or with your neighbors. Find those who are different from you, take an interest in their lives, and invite them over for a meal.
Truthfully, it’s more comfortable to dine with those who are just like us, and there is nothing new about that. When the early church gathered in homes, probably the homes of the wealthy, certain divisions emerged over the dinner table (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–22). Commentators believe these divisions were caused because wealthy believers tended to sit and feast together in privileged dining rooms (triclinium), while the poorer believers sat in second-class facilities (atrium). The privileged Corinthians preferred to dine with those of the same social rank. Does that sound familiar? It’s always more comfortable to dine with the people who resemble us, but however comfortable this makes us, divisions over race or class are a clear contradiction of the gospel.
Who can you invite into your home? If a visitor comes to church and you notice them, greet them. Be inclusive. Then look at your neighborhood and welcome your neighbors in. Learn about them as people and go beyond skin color or ethnicity. And if their culture is an important aspect of their lives, listen and learn.
Learning From the Shepherds
“Nothing binds a pastor’s heart to diversity more than having it in his home,” says John Piper (Bloodlines). He has done this through adoption, but there are many other important expressions of this for pastors to consider. It’s important because congregations look to pastors for guidance and direction in their lives. Whether it is subconsciously or intentionally, we learn from those who lead us in the Lord and emulate their lives.
Building diversity within the homes of the congregation starts from the heart of the leadership. If pastors are excited and passionate about diversity, the congregation will get a vision for it, too. Building diversity in the church begins with pastors who are willing to build diversity into their own homes. Just like parishioners, pastors can begin to take simple steps like learning history, talking about it with their families, and inviting others into their homes.
Our Hearts and the Good News
Stepping out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable. It has been uncomfortable for Christians since the early days of the church in Corinth. It is uncomfortable because our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). It is wise for us to examine it for the sin of partiality in our own hearts.
James addresses partiality when He says:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1–9)
Could it be that you are partial to those who are just like you?
Could it be partiality that hinders your own pursuit of diversity?
God says if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We can run to God and receive forgiveness and grace.
By the grace of God, he will reveal to us what needs to be revealed, and he will give us the grace to repent if repentance is needed, then he will pour out his grace to us again through the forgiveness that comes from knowing Christ.
Every Tribe, One Voice
I’m convinced that diversity is possible if you desire it for your home. If God can bring two people together like my friend Liz and I, then he can definitely create ways for you to serve and love others through diversity, until the day when every tongue and tribe will, with one voice, sing praises to our God and King (Revelation 5:9–10)!
Until then, let us continue to strive against partiality in our fallen hearts, and strive towards building homes that celebrate diversity, reflecting the diversity of God’s people, all for God’s glory.