The following is a guest post from Tyler Recker.
In my last post, I began a discussion on how diversity within community is a better testimony of the Gospel than affinity (where everyone is alike).
With this post, I want to clarify a few things and refine what I am trying to say, and then in my next post, I would like to put some practical feet to this point.
The problem is that on a local church level churches are far too segregated by age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Furthemore, on the small group level, the church usually has structures and systems in place designed to make sure things stay segregated accordingly. (So, we divide people up into life stage classes, etc.)
Last week, I began making the point that we need to cultivate deep relationships across the spectrum of life stages so we can all mutually benefit from one another and so the full gifts of the body are leveraged in the small group context.
Allow me to clarify these points further.
1. We need to intentionally seek after diverse community, because affinity will happen naturally.
In all my talk about being in deep relationships with people different than us, I am not at all denying that sometimes we need to be around people who are at a similar place as us. When you are young and married it is helpful to be around other young married couples and hear their stories, so you are comforted that you are not alone in all the difficulties of that life stage. When your kids hit the teen years, you need other parents of teenagers that you can just share stories with and no you are not alone. When you hit the empty nest period, you need relationships with other folks who are walking through that as you navigate this new life stage.
However, all of these relationships will happen quite naturally.
The young marrieds will find each other. The parents of teens will find each other. The empty nesters, the singles, the seniors, the new parents, the homeschool parents, the single parents, etc will find each other out and will find time to hang out. On the other hand, because of our cultural conditioning (or other factors), diversity simply does not happen quite so naturally.
2. We need diverse community because it deepens regard for Jesus.
When we are in groups based on affinities, it’s very easy for the group to become about the affinity, rather than about Jesus. In fact, I would go as far as to say that when the group is organized around affinity, it is very difficult to keep Jesus as the center of it.
Ever been in that Bible Study on Romans but somehow you knew that it was always going to come back around to parenting, or football, or another topic unrelated to the biblical text? Why? Maybe because everyone is gathered around that affinity, rather than around Jesus…
When I’m surrounded by people who aren’t like me and aren’t in the same life stage as me, then I am reminded that the power of the Gospel transcends these silly categories to work powerfully in the lives of all His people. And I leave with a greater sense of how great Jesus is.
Bruce Milne articulates this far better:
“Just as in the matter of our being justified before God we had to learn that all our human works had to give place to Christ’s work for us at the Cross, so in our fellowship together we have to learn that Christ is the exclusive basis of it (Gal. 3:28). This means that we need to take as our brother every one within the church or local Christian group whom Christ himself has received and not simply those to whom we feel attacted on other grounds.
Other common factors such as shared outlook, a compatible temperament, common experiences, a shared social background, a common level of intelligience, our belonging to the same sex or age group, are all secondary to the common share we have in Christ. One of the reasons why fellowship in many churches and Christian groups fails to attain to New Testament levels lies precisely here…that we permit these other bases of relationship to usurp the place which ought to be reserved for Christ alone.”
Bruce Milne, We Belong Together, p. 27 (in my 1978 copy).
Next week, I’ll go over some practical steps that we can take to move in a more diverse direction within our small groups so that by doing so we can better glorify King Jesus.