DESIRING DIVERSITY IN COMMUNITY.
by Nathan Oliver 2015
I remember as a little kid after school I used to love playing at friend’s houses. We’d do pretty much the same things each time - kick the footy in the street, have Nintendo battles, pretend to be ninja turtles, etc. Inevitably there was food involved, and this was a problem for me. I don’t know how it began, but I had a weird phobia of ‘other-Mum’s food’. I’m not sure why, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any homemade treats unless my own Mum made it. Maybe I didn’t trust it simply because it was different. Whatever the case, unless is came out of a packet or you picked it up from a drive-thru, I wouldn’t touch your food.
I’ve since gotten over this issue and have recovered very well. Trust me, I would love to sample your cooking. But I do notice often, as a trait in myself and others, a reluctance to embrace things that we are not familiar with. We’re slow to draw near to that which is different to us. We can often easily fail to embrace people who are different to us.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, ‘but that is just how society works… people like what they know’. That’s true, and there is nothing wrong with forming relationships around similarities or common interests. However, the dynamic revolutionary nature of the Church – God’s earthly community, transformed into a new nature by Christ – is called to a greater reality of inclusion and ‘family-ness’. Diversity should be normal for us if we embrace others like Jesus has embraced us.
What sorts of things create diversity?
Race? Age? Stages of life? Interest groups? Wealth?
From the beginning
I began thinking about this as I was reading Genesis and was struck by the wording where it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (2:24 ESV). It grabbed me that in the midst of the creation story the author thinks it important to take an aside for a second to tell us how families will work beyond that moment. It stood out to me that God’s creation order and unit of multiplication has in-built diversity. Gender diversity. Generational diversity.
We’re familiar with hearing jokes about the differences between men and women in marriage… ‘his inability to put toilet seats down, how long it takes her to get ready’, etc. We’ve all experienced conflict between parents and teenagers and so on… It’s not hard to see the diversity that is lived out within these relationships. And then think about this – it’s part of the Master plan. God designed it.
The New Testament talks about the effects of the gospel in a similar extended way. Through Jesus’ sacrifice he has “broken down… the dividing wall of hostility” between believers of different backgrounds, making “one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:14-15). God’s aim is to create a new people who through Christ are “no longer strangers and aliens, but [who] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
This is more than co-existence or acknowledgement. This isn’t just lip service to multiculturalism. This is a reconciled, joined together, new creation that is being “built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). And the price God paid for this to happen was Jesus.
Think about the weight of these words and the power of the gospel.
How beautiful is God’s vision of unity for the world we live in.
Consider the glory of God lived out in our love for one another.
The TCND experience
Our church is only a few years old and is quite narrow, demographically speaking. Nearly all of us fall into the ‘young family’ bracket. There is little variation of age at all – either you are a kid or a ‘thirty-something’. We are mostly white and middle-class, even though we meet on Sundays in one of the most racially diverse suburbs in Melbourne. And we feel it.
One thing we’ve learned the hard way as a young church is that diversity is good. We crave it! Don’t get me wrong, we love our church and are very excited at the way God is at work amongst us. However, we recognise our limitations.
We feel a need to have mature believers from all cultures and walks of life build into us to grow in maturity as men and women of God. We desire older, more experienced folks who can relate to our challenges in raising families and be able to point us to Jesus in the midst of it. We know how important it is to have younger believers around so we can learn how to encourage and model our faith with intentionality.
We long to be a diverse family living all of life with Jesus at the centre.
This is where you come in…
In Luke 14 Jesus breaks guest etiquette and tells the host of a party who he should and shouldn’t have invited! ‘Don’t just invite your friends and family’, says Jesus, “but when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (v13-14). It’s interesting that Jesus isn’t talking about what you do when you turn up to a Sunday gathering. This is a party, a dinner, your leisure time. This is our everyday life.
In order to live out the gospel in community we need to grow beyond attending events together, even though they might be really welcoming spaces. Embracing diversity and differences involves opening up your home, your family, your story – ‘you’ – to those that are different to you. And accordingly it requires accepting the invitations to be involved with others in their homes, their families, their stories – ‘them’ – those that are different to you. Maybe then the world might know we belong to Jesus – by our love for one another.
Who comes to the dinners or parties you throw?
Are you an invitational person?
What does who you invite reveal about you?
How might the gospel influence your invite list?