the shape of leadership

The Value of Diversity

How churches can lead the way in promoting unity

Kristi Northup on August 25, 2017

When we were laying the groundwork to plant Saints Community Church in New Orleans six years ago, one of the core values that God placed on our hearts was “Embracing Diversity.”

Our pastor and spiritual father — Gary Grogan from Stone Creek Church in Urbana, Illinois, who helped us plant as a parent-affiliated church — wanted to make sure we had heard from the Lord and were not just following in his footsteps.

Stone Creek is an international congregation in an Illinois university town. Black, Asian, Hispanic and white folk fill the pews side-by-side in four services each Sunday morning. Pastor Grogan told us, “No other value will bring you more pain.”

I revisited this topic with Pastor Grogan six years later for this article, and he shared some powerful insights.

Diversity is not a buzzword. It’s not a style.

“Diversity is a biblically held theological conviction,” Pastor Grogan says.

It’s easier to follow church marketing by planting for a homogeneous group of people: same ethnicity, same stage of life, same socioeconomic level, same political persuasion. But that’s not the example we see in the New Testament. As the gospel spread, the Early Church rapidly grew to include individuals from many backgrounds and nations.

How do we truly embrace diversity today, both on a local and national level?

A Deep, Purposeful Intentionality

Pastor Grogan elaborated: “It’s things like singing in another person’s heart language, and making that normal. It’s intentional inclusion of people of color on the platform and in the leadership. We have to get over the idea that my culture is the best culture, my food is the best food, and be willing to embrace the traditions of others.”

It has been interesting to me as a worship leader to see how highly motivated people are by their own traditions. Embracing the spiritual practices of others does not come naturally; it is only a heart surrendered to the body of Christ that embraces this.

We must allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and transform our thinking to conform with His purposes.

The temptation is for each group to want its own piece of the pie. Each of us must humble ourselves and be willing to give up our comfort and our rights to include people who are different than ourselves.

A Deep Dependence on the Holy Spirit

Our 241-year history as a nation has proven that there is no way we can accomplish reconciliation through human logic and skill. Many people try to handle diversity with only their heads, but it is an issue of the heart.

I am all for fair legislation and pursuing justice through the legal system, but racial and ethnic divisions are as deeply rooted as original sin can get. The issue is massive. It is everywhere, on every continent and in every nation. Only a Holy Spirit visitation can heal us of this deep wound.

Whether it’s worship wars, politics or cultural differences that divide us, we must allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and transform our thinking to conform with His purposes.

When the Holy Spirit speaks, all we have to do is obey. Paul wanted to go to Asia, but he had the vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us.” Think of what came out of this, and how different Christianity would have been if Paul had not responded.

A Fresh Vision of Progress

The Assemblies of God formed a century ago in a Holy Spirit charged environment where blacks and whites worshiped side by side, and women were sent out as missionaries and evangelists.

While we spent several decades trying to forget our heritage, we have reconciled with the past and made great strides to embrace our legacy as a diverse Fellowship. Currently, the U.S. population is 39 percent minority, and the AG is 42 percent. This is a win!

A conversation I had recently with Pastor Darrell Geddes greatly encouraged me. He is the executive secretary for the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God and the pastor of Christ Church International in Minneapolis.

When I spoke with Pastor Geddes on the final day of General Council, he said, “At this historic Council, I have fallen in love with the Assemblies of God all over again. The intentionality in worship from the opening night, with the representation of black, brown, white and Asian. The election of the first black executive presbyter and several Hispanic leaders to the EP brings representation at the top levels. The response of the audience to these elections was overwhelming. It was as if we were rejoicing in whom we were becoming. We still have progress to make, we still need a broader representation, but we are headed in the right direction. I was blown away.”

Is it worth it? Yes. Is it working? Yes. Does it matter? Yes. Is it in the heart of God? Yes. We will spend eternity with our brothers and sisters from all the ages and nations, worshiping Christ the King in our heart languages. I long for heaven to come to earth and give us a taste of what is to come even now.

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