Corey Widmer is Senior Pastor of Third Church, Richmond VA. He is also co-founder of East End Fellowship, a multicultural congregation in the urban core of Richmond.
Recently in a conversation with Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in New York City, he said, “Racial diversity is crucial for missional credibility. It has never been more crucial than it is today.” What did he mean by this statement?
Pastors talk a lot these days about the rapid secularization in our society, but we don’t talk as much about the rapid diversification. It is truly astonishing to consider the changes that have occurred in the last 100 years that have made a relatively culturally monolithic nation into one of the most diverse nations in the world. The most recent US Census Bureau figures predict that by 2042 whites will be outnumbered by ethnic minorities within the United States. Already the majority of new babies born every year in our country are non-white. A recent book called The Next America by Paul Taylor and the Pew Research team outlines these changes in great narrative detail. But you don’t need statistics to confirm this- just visit any urban public school or suburban mall or Sam’s Club and you’ll see it before your very eyes.
Yet as a Presbyterian pastor, I’ve very aware that if you were to visit a typical Presbyterian congregation on a Sunday, you would see little evidence of this reality. We in the mainline Protestant traditions are faring far worse than Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches when it comes to incorporating cultural diversity into our congregations.
But is this even important? Is this essential to Christian mission and the gospel?
Yes. One of the key marks of missionary faithfulness in the New Testament is bearing witness to the culturally reconciling power of the gospel. The Spirit of God pours out on diverse cultures gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2). The church incorporates Samaritans and Gentiles as a sign of Christ’s reconciling power (Acts 8, 10). The first truly multicultural congregation in Antioch is where the followers of Jesus are first called “Christians.” (Acts 11, 13). Paul rebukes the apostle Peter for refusing to live out the truth of the gospel when he dissociates from those who are culturally different (Gal 2). Paul preaches a gospel that has the power to tear down walls of division between those who have been culturally separated (Eph 2). John has a vision of the church as the diversity of nations gathered around the throne of God (Rev 21). It’s impossible to read the New Testament carefully without recognizing this vision of the church as a new humanity of diverse peoples who in their very life exhibit the power of the reconciling good news of Jesus.
Everybody is asking these days how we will reach our rapidly secularizing culture. Among the paths before us, fostering multiethnic congregations is one of the most necessary and biblically faithful ways we can witness to the reconciling grace of Jesus in a culturally diverse society. When the world sees people gathered together in the Christian community who cannot get along in the broader society, they witness a message that is not just words but serious power (1 Cor 4:20).
Racial diversity is crucial for missional credibility. There is much more to say about how diverse congregations can be fostered, but first we have to believe that this is true and is indeed a vital calling. Will we heed this call?