Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So we’re in the middle of a sermon series called Hot Topics, which is going to be this month and next, and we’re looking at a handful of topics that we think are most pressing to us as a church.
Most of these topics are ones that you told us about, and a few others are ones that we as pastors considered important and relevant either way (so we threw a few extras). But today’s topic of Diversity is the at the top of both of those categories.
In the feedback you guys gave us, the topic of diversity was the most popular. And then when it comes to its importance and relevance, especially with tomorrow being Martin Luther King Day, the topic of diversity is what we should be talking about right now — but we need to be more specific because diversity is broad. It could be referring to cultural, generational, intellectual, socio-economic, religious, gender — there are so many different ways you could talk about diversity. But for us, for this sermon, we’re talking about ethnic diversity — by which I mean people who speak the same language but have different ethnic backgrounds, different skin colors. That’s not the only diversity we care about, but that’s what we are focusing on in this sermon.
And at this moment, because of where we are in the calendar and where we are in the life of our church, this topic feels really significant to me. In other words, it feels “hot.” It feels like a hot topic.
But also it feels heavy. It feels heavy to me because of its truth, first, and it feels heavy to me because I’m delivering it as a white Protestant male with an accent that might spark a negative stereotype in your mind. (Maybe that’s not the case, but it’s possible and so I just want to recognize that.)
One of my daughters has a friend from school, and they hang out a lot in the afternoons and at some point [in last couple months] my daughter told her that she was born in North Carolina, and so her friend ended up telling her mom that, and the next day when they were playing together, my daughter’s friend told her that her mom said people from North Carolina were racist.
And my daughter was pretty confused by that. Now I don’t know how many people think that way (I guess at least one does), but more than anything I’m humbled by that. And it reminds me that it’s so important for us to know what God thinks about all this. What does the Bible say? How does the gospel transform our understanding on the topic of diversity?
That’s what we’re going to look at today, and the way this sermon is set up is a little different than usual. Rather than expound Matthew 28:16–20, I’m going to just list out five guiding principles for how we at Cities should think about ethnic diversity. Most of these are connected to Matthew 28, but I’m just going to list them out one at a time, explain them, and then we’ll end at the Lord’s Table.
And before we get started, let’s pray together. [Father, we ask for you to make us know your ways, and teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation, and you are the one we’re looking to (Psalm 26). Help us, we ask, in Jesus’s name, amen.]
Five Guiding Principles
Okay, so five guiding principles for how we at Cities Church should think about ethnic diversity:
1. Ethnic diversity is not the goal, ethnic harmony is.
This is the longest point, so hang in there. The first thing I want to do here is clarify and adjust the idea of diversity. We’ve been calling it “diversity” — I’ve been calling it “diversity,” and that is a fine word, we’ll keep using it — But I just want to say that I think the idea behind the word in our society is inadequate to describe what we really want to see.
Again, “diversity” is a fine noun, and “diversify” is a fine verb, and we can use them, but when it comes to the project of diversity that’s put forward and valued by our society, I think a lot of it is superficial, and we have to want more.
And hear this mainly at the level of category. I just want us to be aware of this and know it exists — that if we were to examine the cultural landscape and how this topic has played out in recent years, I think we’d find that the popular idea of “diversity” is mainly concerned with image.
At a societal level, it can seem like the main goal is to just get a lot of people who look different in the same room because, as a society, we think there’s something special about that. But if that’s all it’s about, that’s not impressive. And here’s one example why:
Last year there was a video that made its rounds online that featured a Christian pastor, Jewish rabbi, and Muslim imam (you may have seen it). And they were all sitting beside each other, each dressed in their respective garb, and they were having a conversation. And the video had all these shares online, and the talk was: Isn’t this so cool? Look at their differences! Look at the diversity! And then when you started to hear them talk, I’m not so sure that any of them represented their faith very well (the Christian guy certainly didn’t). Once they started talking they didn’t have many differences after all; and by the end of the video, it was pretty clear that although they each looked different, they all thought the same way, and the whole thing was a sham. They were posing on their visual differences, but intellectually they were each as narrowly open-minded as the other. They were dishonest about their real differences, and the goal, apparently, was to just co-exist. And just so you know, when we’re talking about that category of diversity, I don’t find that impressive.
And again, I know that’s just one example, and I want us to talk mainly about ethnic diversity here, but the point is to say that we should be aware that some of the “diversity talk” in our society is just pretense. And we should not be impressed by pretense, and we should not aspire to pretense. Diversity like that — diversity as a value that has emerged in our secular, pluralistic society — over time it will prove itself to be hollow.
Now, on the one hand, it is a common grace (it is a good thing) that we have a value in our society that says our differences should not immediately and necessarily separate us. That’s a good thing! But on the other hand, although it says that, the value itself does not have the power to bind us together despite those differences.
In the cultural conversation, when the goal of diversity is diversity itself, ultimately it won’t work. And it won’t work because it lacks a foundation and it lacks a true end; and therefore it lacks a moral center. Just being in the same room is not enough.
And Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this.
More Than Integration
I was reading an article last week about King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the writer of the article says that King’s main call in the speech — his “rousing call” — often gets neglected.† He says that King didn’t simply call for integration, but he called for “radical integration.” And it comes out in some of the speech’s most historic lines, like when King says in the speech:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. . . . [then he says a little later]
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama . . . little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers.
And you can hear what King is saying here. It’s what the writer of this article is calling radical integration, but we have another word for it, and you know what it is. We call it harmony.
See, the goal is not just for people with different ethnic backgrounds to sit down in the same room. That’s not the dream. The dream is for us to “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The dream is that we who are different from one other are holding hands together. We’re talking about harmony here.
And the only way you get harmony is when there is something greater than your differences that’s able to hold you together for good — and the only thing that has the true and lasting power to do that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel’s Threefold Resources
Which means, the only way we’re going to make progress at a societal level is when our society, at the very least, borrow and use truths found in the gospel, starting with human dignity.
That is foundational. And human dignity is a Bible truth. It says that your worth and value and dignity is not based upon the color of your skin — and it’s not even based on the content of your character — but instead your worth and value and dignity is based upon the fact that God created you in his image. We are all made by God, which means (according to Genesis 10) we’re all cousins. That’s the first cord of harmony.
Saved into One Family
And then more than that, not only are we all created by God, but we can all be rescued by God. We can all be saved by the blood of Jesus and welcomed into one family. Which means, we’re not only cousins, but we can all be brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s the second cord of harmony.
The Ultimate Goal
But there’s more. In the gospel, not only to we created with human dignity and saved to become one family, but the gospel also shows us the final goal of diversity. The gospel shows us the ultimate dream, and it’s not that we’re just all in the same room. Something more than that is happening in the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation chapters 5 and 7, we see this vision that one day those from every tribe and language and people and nation will be together in the same place and they will be worshiping Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus, in Revelation 5:9, was slain and by his blood he ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Which means there’s a lot of diversity in Revelation 5 and 7, because Jesus died for that diversity, but it’s not just for diversity’s sake.
In the Book of Revelation, all of that diversity is worshiping one King, and all that diversity — that “great multitude that no one could number” (Rev. 7:9) — all that diversity in Revelation 21 is called by one name, and that name is “Bride” (Rev 21:2). That is the ultimate dream!
So there are three cords of harmony found in the gospel, and a threefold cord is not easily broken [Eccl 4:12]).
This means that because of the gospel, the church has the true resources needed for ethnic harmony, which means that when it comes to this topic, it is not a government issue and it is not societal issue, but it is first and foremost a Christian issue. And ethnic harmony is our goal.
2. Ethnic harmony matters because of who Jesus is.
So this is related to the first principle, but says a little more. At a societal level diversity is a value, but I’m saying we have to have more. The goal is not just ethnic diversity, but it’s ethnic harmony, and the church has the resources to accomplish it, and therefore, Christians should be the ones most committed to it. And we should be most committed to ethnic harmony explicitly because of Jesus. And see the reason why in Matthew 28.
In verse 18 Jesus says: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” So let’s think about that for minute: Jesus claims to have all authority in heaven and earth. And when he says “all authority” he means that he has the say. He’s in control. He’s the owner.
When he says “heaven and earth” he’s talking about everything. That phrase signifies totality. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth and on Mars and every other way you want to draw it up. Pastor David said this last week. Jesus is seated at the throne of the universe. He is king over it all. He reigns over it all, and that’s what Jesus wants us to know here at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has all authority over all things.
And so he says in verse 19, “Go therefore” — therefore as in because of who I am, because of my authority over all things — “Go therefore and make disciples.” But it’s not just “make disciples.” What does he say? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The word is ethne — which means nations or peoples. So Jesus, having all authority, says to make disciples of all nations/peoples.
And it’s important we see the connection here. The reason Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations is because he has all authority over all nations. Because Jesus reigns over every people group on this planet, he tells us to make disciples of every people group on this planet.
This is because Jesus is not some little tribal deity. He’s not just the Savior of one ethnic group, or of one kind of person — and to think like that or function that way is to belittle him. Jesus is the Savior of all peoples because he has that kind of authority, which says something about his glory!
And this is the most serious problem with mono-ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts — And we need to be careful here with how we say this because there are a complexity of different situations, and this doesn’t apply the same way across the board.†† But for churches that are made up of just “one kind of people” when they are surrounded by all kinds of peoples — those churches do not accurately reflect the all-peoples authority of Jesus. And that means that they’re missing something about the glory of Jesus.
There is a fuller, richer, more vivid vision of Jesus’s glory that we miss if everybody here has the same ethnic background and the same ethnic story. When we’re all the same there’s a part of the glory of Jesus we don’t see.†††
And I want to see more of the glory of Jesus. I want us to see more of the glory of Jesus. We are about Jesus, and that’s why ethnic harmony matters.
Ethnic harmony matters because of who Jesus is.
3. Ethnic harmony is basic to our mission.
Our mission at Cities Church is the Great Commission in Matthew 28. This means, related to the previous point, that our mission is first and foremost grounded in the glory and realness of Jesus. Because of who Jesus is, and because he’s real, we just want to do what he tells us to do. And he tells us to make disciples of all nations. So, we exist to make disciples of all nations. It’s really that simple. That’s our mission statement.
And we say “all nations” because Jesus says “all nations.” If you want to parse it out, you could say there are three pieces:
- our mission basis is the supremacy of Jesus;
- our mission imperative is to make disciples of Jesus; [and]
- our mission scope is all nations.
Again, that’s straight from Matthew 28 — it’s the why, the what, and the who. And we always need all three of these together. Because if you take the imperative without the basis, it won’t be sustainable; and if you take the imperative without the scope, we won’t know where to start. So we need all three of these in orbit at the same time, all taken together.
But that is not easy, because the temptation, always subtle, will be to inflate one over the others, which would go something like this:
- If we over-inflate “the why” then we’ll become eggheads who just want to sit around and read all day.
- If we over-inflate “the what” then we’ll truncate our discipleship to the most common denominator (and for those of you who care, this is what’s called the homogeneous unit principle — which in the church growth movement 20 years ago led to what’s called “seeker-sensitive” churches.)
- And then lastly, if we over-inflate the “the who” then we might get more diversity, but it’ll be for diversity’s sake alone, and over time we’ll lose the center, that this is mainly about Jesus and we’re trying to make disciples of him.
So because our mission is the Great Commission, ethnic harmony is basic to what we’re trying to do. It’s required by our mission statement: make disciples of all nations. But we always have to keep all three pieces together.*
It’s because Jesus has all authority, make disciples, of all nations.
That’s what we want to do here at Cities Church.
But it’s easier said than done, so we need to get more practical. There are so many implications and details to draw out, and we need to draw them out, but for now, I’m just going to mention two things as guiding principles.
4. “All nations” start where you are.
So the first and main thing to say here is that we shouldn’t think that the scope of our mission is somewhere other than the places we normally live. We need to get this.
So track with me here for minute: Since the scope of our mission is “all nations” or “all peoples” then it means that there is no person or people group who is not part of that, and there’s never an exception. There’s never a time when we can say: it’s make disciples of all nations, but not here.
And this is important because it means that everybody you see counts, and it would be wrong to bypass one kind of person from “all nations” because you’re only looking for another kind of person from “all nations.” “All nations” is fundamentally inclusive.
And our structure of Community Groups is meant to reflect that inclusiveness.
A lot of you know how Community Groups work. We define our Community Groups as focus, shared ministry networks because they are teams of Christians — teams of disciples — sharing in gospel ministry that is focused on reaching specific neighborhoods and relational networks.
Basically, your Community Group wants to team up with you to make Jesus known in the places where you live, work, and play. That’s your everyday life — and we think that mission happens in everyday life.
And the thing with everyday life is that it’s surrounded by people from “all nations,” including many who have a different ethnic background than you do.
“All nations” start where you are. And since we live in a multi-ethnic city it means the places where we live, work, and play are going to be multi-ethnic. And if you don’t think your circles are multi-ethnic enough, then find some new circles. Several people in our church have done that. In their personal ministry, in their normal routines, they have built things into their lives that connects them with people different from them. They’ve made it part of our their everyday lives.** And that’s important.
Because the thing we don’t want to do is this: We don’t want to end up side-stepping all the people we see most consistently because they don’t fit the profile of the people we really want to reach.
We believe that where you live — where you do your life and what you’ve made part of your life — that is your ministry. God in his providence, has put you there, and that’s where your mission starts. The scope of mission, all nations, starts where you are.
5. Ethnic harmony happens on the ground.
So if all nations surround us in everyday life, then ethnic harmony needs to happen in everyday life. This is not just an institutional thing. Ethnic harmony happens on the ground, first, in little conversations, and in meals, and in relationships. This is where it starts. And here at closing, I want to mention one practical thing that might help us as a church. This is more of a mindset. We can call it: 1) Eyes up; 2) Step up; and 3) Bring with.
By eyes up I mean that your everyday life is most likely more multiethnic than you think, and that’s because in the busyness of all that we have going on, we probably don’t stop and say: “Hey, I wonder how many people I see today will have a different ethnic background than me.” I think that’s probably more true for white people.
Because people like me are the majority culture, I think, most of the time, we’re not naturally aware of ethnic differences. But we can change that. And I think one really basic thing for us all to do, especially white people, is to keep our eyes up for the ethnic differences around us. Just look for them. Recognize people who are different. Recognize minorities.
And then step up. And by step up I mean that once you begin to recognize ethnic differences, step up and say something. Step up and just demolish those invisible walls that exist around us. Engage people who are different from you. And this is going to require a lot of us to operate outside of our comfort zones. For some of us it’s hard enough to talk to anyone, I get that, and it can feel especially hard to talk to people who we consider different from us. But we’re talking about our mission, and the Spirit is with us in our mission. A lot of times I think we don’t engage people who are different because we just assume that we can’t relate, or that they don’t want to talk to us, or whatever. It’s all fear of man stuff. It’s the fear of the awkward. And ethnic harmony is not going to happen until we demolish that. So, with the Spirit’s help, step up.
And then, third, bring with. And by this I mean, build relationships with people from different ethnic backgrounds, and bring them into gospel community. We want this church to be a place where that happens.
Of course it should happen, first, because of the threefold cord of harmony found in the gospel, and also know that there are all kinds of other things we need to do and want to do as a church and as your pastors to make this more possible. So just know that we’re working on that, and the reason we’re working on that is because God has given us people in this church with different ethnic backgrounds who are devoted to helping us become more multiethnic.
And I want to take a minute to say thank you to these people. Some of them even helped me with this sermon! I want you to know that we as a church are thankful for you, and we need you. We get to see more of the glory of Jesus because of you, and there is more glory for us to see.
How Are We Doing?
So this past summer I heard a story on a podcast about this guy who went on a trip to France, and when he got back after a month or so, people were asking him, “Hey, what were the people like in France?” “What were they like?”
That’s not an unusual question. We ask questions like this all the time. And this guy says that he answered all these questions. He’d say, Oh they’re like this, and like that, and so forth — until one day he realized that he had actually only been to one place in France, a smaller town, and that he had really only interacted with maybe a hundred people the entire time. And it just occurred to him how incapable he was to comment on what the French are like. And so he stopped. He realized that there were things he could say, perhaps true things, about France as a whole, but that he was really only accountable to answer the question based upon where he had been.
And I think that is the way we should think about ethnic harmony. As the topic of diversity continues in our culture, and as we want to see more healing in race-relations at the national level, ethnic harmony really does happen on the ground. It starts with you. It starts in your life, your family, your street, your church. That’s where we’re accountable. The question isn’t first how is America doing? It’s how are we doing? What are we doing?
And there’s work to do. There’s work to do when we’re talking about a dream of brotherhood and joined hands, which is a dream about harmony. And that harmony is centered around this Table.
The bread and cup at the Lord’s Table represents the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. And his body that was broken and his blood that was shed to save a people from every tribe and language, and people and nation.
And when we receive the bread and cup, we are remembering that. We are remembering what Jesus did, and we are looking forward to the day when all nations for whom he died are united around his throne in worship. And if you trust in Jesus, we invite you to do that with us.
We do this meal every week for the members of Cities Church, but if you’re here and Jesus is your Lord and Savior and Treasure, we invite you to eat and drink with us this morning. ...
† Jonathan Zimmerman, “Martin Luther King’s dream of integration,” accessed: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/thats-history/59029-martin-luther-kings-dream-of-integration
†† Some of these different situations include monoethnic communities in the rural United States, immigrant communities or expatriate communities around the world, and church planting movements among unreached peoples. It’s important to remember that many places around the world are not as multi-ethnic as the urban centers of North America and Europe.
††† But it’s not just about us experiencing more of the glory of Jesus, it’s also about the message we are sending out. There is both our experience and our export. There is our own tasting of Jesus’s glory, and there is what we’re telling about Jesus’s glory — and both are hindered when churches in multi-ethnic contexts are mono-ethnic.
* When it’s all said and done, churches will make disciples of who they are centered on. Churches that are centered on diversity will, over time, make disciples of diversity, not Jesus. We want to be centered on the gospel, on Jesus, so that we make disciples of Jesus among a diverse people.
** Mission starts where you are, but it may not stay where you are. As you’re going about your life on mission where you are, among all nations, God might put a special burden on your heart, say, for China. And if he does, what do you do? Well, you might decide to become an English teacher and move to China to teach English and share the gospel with Chinese university students.
Or say, maybe you develop a burden for men in prison, who are forgotten by so many. You have a burden for inmates to hear the gospel, and what do you do? Well, you might get connected to a prison ministry and start visiting the same prison and the same inmates weekly for ten years.
In short, ministry becomes part of your everyday life, which means your everyday life becomes your ministry.