One of the fascinating things about the early Church was its diversity. We are told by Luke that on the Day of Pentecost, 3000 Jews repented of their sins, were baptized, and received the Holy Spirit. I have heard this portion of Acts 2 quoted many times, usually in the context of church growth and that “bigger is better” when it comes to what we aim for in planting or growing churches. What I have rarely heard taught is how diverse this Jewish crowd was. When the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and other believers that early morning, the amazed crowd that had gathered, Luke tells us, included Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” (Acts 2:9-11) Included in this group were people with different ethnicities, different cultural heritages and practices, who spoke different languages, and probably many of whom looked very different from each other. It was out of this group that 3000 joined the Church, which up to that point had approximately 120 members.
Think about that for a moment. What if today there was a revival of this magnitude where the demographics of churches were literally changed overnight? Would we rejoice or be threatened? Perhaps we would be both—first rejoicing and then threatened after we realized the implications.
Our churches today may be divided by political leanings more than ever before, but they have long been divided by ethnic and socio-economic differences. It is a part of our fallen human nature to want to gather with people who look like us, live like us, and think similarly as we do. Back in the 1970’s-80’s when the church growth movement was at its peak, this was its driving philosophy. And it worked. It still does, even with the societal emphasis on diversity. Most churches are not very diverse on the whole. Typically, this is thought of as mainly a White problem, and there are sometimes racist connotations when this is discussed. There is definitely truth in this for some churches, but it’s also accurate to say there is little diversity in many Black churches, Hispanic churches, etc.
While racism and prejudice can play a role, the overwhelming reason is we as believers do not have the mind of Christ. Rather, our minds are worldly. We like what we like and that is often how we choose the churches in which we are involved. We like the people; we like the music; we like the pastor’s style of preaching. Go a little deeper with this and we find that we like people, as I wrote earlier, that look like us, live like us, and think similarly as we do. We like a certain type of music and preaching style. Where this leads typically is a lack of diversity in the church.
The early Church struggled with relating to each other, but they usually worked it out because they had little choice. Where else would they go? Today, we have an abundance of choices, so it is natural that we make our choice based on what makes us comfortable. Hanging out with people unlike us is rarely comfortable at first. We have to be intentional about it. And therein lies the key.
If we have the mind of Christ, we see other believers not as White, Black, Hispanic, not as poor, or young, or old. We see them as our brothers and sisters in the family of God. With this mindset, we are intentionally looking for fellowship with people who love and follow Jesus, regardless of how different they are from us. What unites us, first and foremost, is Jesus. If the Church is to ever truly look and act different from the world, it begins with having the mind of Christ. How do we achieve this? By reading, meditating, and obeying the Word of God. Not just occasionally, but daily. By spending much time in prayer, which is not confined to a specific time or body position. The Apostle Paul says we should pray continuously; obviously, one can’t do that merely sitting or kneeling. It can be practiced while we go about our daily activities.
When we invest our time in these means of spiritual development, our minds will begin to conform to that of Christ. And over time, our priorities in fellowship will change. We will want to associate with people who first and foremost love Jesus. The rest are mere preferences which will fade more and more into irrelevance as we grow closer and closer to the Lord.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.