I’m excited that our small rural church that has historically been full of lots of white people is becoming more diverse. A few months ago I spent a Sunday morning casting vision to the congregation I serve about the need to be a community that is not only open to ethnically diverse groups, but intentional in trying to reach them. This is largely because I have been greatly shaped by my reading of Scripture and that the ultimate goal is that the nations will come to know Jesus (cf. Matt. 24:14; Rev. 5:9).
But I’m also a pretty cultured person. More so than many of the people that I’ve been called to love and serve. That, of course, doesn’t make me better than anyone, but certainly has some influence on why I desire to work towards being a community that sees ethnic reconciliation as a serious ministry of the church. I want to be surrounded by different colored people from different cultures who are all united in Christ! It’s such a beautiful picture!
In the past two weeks I’ve heard several people in the congregation ask the following question:
“Where are all these people coming from?”
The question is in relation to the fact that we have had outreaches and worship gatherings where people are coming to join us that are not white. This past Sunday, my friend Minhaal shared his testimony and was baptized. Minhaal is a Pakistani man who was formerly a Muslim. Sitting in the congregation was my Mexican friend Chewy (that’s his nickname). Later in the day I got to do his wedding, but that’s another blog post for another day. Our guest speaker was Ben Bahati, a Kenyan church planter and pastor that I’ve had the pleasure of ministering alongside in Africa.
Talk about diversity.
Where are are these people coming from? I think there is only one answer: God. And while God is most definitely working at drawing people to himself (John 6:44), but I also want to acknowledge that this is happening because the culture of our church is starting to change… for the better. For example, there are three things that come to mind:
- We are losing ourselves and gaining Christ. I think our identity is becoming more about Jesus and less about being comfortable around people like us. This was a pretty big hurdle to get over, but it’s happening. When people ask, “Where are all these people coming from,” they no longer are asking from a frustrated place. They are excited!
- We are actually talking to our ethnically diverse neighbors. All around us, even in a small rural WI town, there are different ethnic groups represented. Perhaps they are in restaurant kitchens or on farms. Some work in hotels and others are janitors. It is no longer safe to assume that your rural town is completely white (or whatever other historically predominant ethnic group you assume). Once I became intentional in talking to people from different ethnic groups, I started seeing more opportunities (obviously).
- We are showing interest in the lives of ethnically diverse groups. I’ve found that as soon as I show interest in the culture of my ethnically diverse neighbors, I have an open opportunity to begin forming a relationship. I love learning about different languages and cultures. Tell me more! This has really started helping us reach a larger variety of people!
When I first started pastoring here, I would never have thought that our congregation would ever grow past a small number of white faces. God has showed me that the things that are impossible, with him, are.
It’s also helpful in knowing that one of the things Jesus said would be a product of his ministry would be the bringing together of “these” and “those.” In Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers, he prayed,
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through [the apostle’s] word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).
“These” and “those” make up the community that Jesus was praying for. So when people excitedly ask me where all of these people are coming from, I smile.
Whether you are a pastor or a ministry leader, if you are in a rural church where you think you’ll never go beyond the color of your own skin, dream big! And start casting a vision of the biblical picture of the church… every tribe, every tongue, every people group. If you don’t cast a robust picture of the church, it may be hard for your congregation to make the transition.