As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16-18
Easter Sunday should be cause for celebration among Christians. It’s the one thing that gives our story conclusion and hope, a declaration not only of Jesus, but of the faithfulness of God. Jesus teachings call us to follow him, not only to the cross but to new life as well. Easter is a definitive marker of the people of God.
And yet, far too often we miss it. It has become a story that we hear so much that it has lost its punch. What should be cause for raucous celebration is often nothing more than a tempered smile.
Most times, Easter goes by with too little celebration.
But I remember one Easter in particular at a church we happened to visit while traveling. It was beautiful. The closest I think I’ll ever get to heaven in this life. This church worked hard to be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, they celebrated everything in one great Jesus style party.
Songs, prayers, biblical texts, and sermons were given in a variety of languages. They had people from around the world gathering to celebrate the finished work of Jesus in any way imaginable. There was beat poetry, break dancing, and communion with bread from around the world. Musical instruments, traditional dress, and vibrant worship from across the globe. The echo of Revelation 7 was in my ears, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” We celebrated in a style that was authentic from every place that around the world that was represented in our church. We hear stories of persecution (actual persecution, with beatings and jail time, not made up American persecution like “I was asked not to pray and I obeyed the request.”) My one feeling when it was finished was that it had ended too soon.
I wish there were more churches celebrating more joyously like that. An eclectic blend of praise, dance, and rhythmic beat loud, and long, and wide enough from everyone to enter into the gates of Heaven.
As we continue our series at creating people that invite others to Jesus, instead of to programs, events, or functions, one thing that we must realize is that for the church to move forward faithfully in mission, it must promote and practice diversity. (To catch up on the series see: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4).
I’ve talked to several pastors before that lamented their congregations desire and ability to include diversity. One poignantly pointed out, “Churches say they love diversity, but I don’t see it. I’ve had to become skillful at apologizing for other Christians who often isolate, ridicule, and exclude those that they claim to love.” As a church planter, he created a culture of diversity and acceptance and masterfully practices what he believes.
And it’s a critical issue because today’s young adults and teenagers experience diversity everywhere except in church, and it’s a startling thing for them. By some estimates the Millennial generation (born 1980-2000) are only 35% caucasian worldwide. This means they have not only learned diversity, but actually thrive off of it and prefer it. For them to attend churches that then feel segregated are jarring and unwanted. Successful churches will work to bring diversity into their churches that more adequately reflect the neighborhoods in which they find themselves.
To create disciples that are adept at inviting others to Jesus, here are three areas to pay close attention to.
So this one really isn’t much of a shock, is it? The world continue to socialize globally through social media while at the same time localizing culture (meaning that more cultures, languages, and diversity are increasingly around us in our daily lives). Future thinking churches will adapt and celebrate this diversity. They will experience non-traditional (white/North American) ways of church and push that as a new norm. Young adults don’t just ask for diversity, they demand it.
Along with diversity, this brings a new level of acceptance. Young adults are a more accepting group of people than the church is accustomed to. The quick pushback here it to want to talk about sin, and how people need to be confronted right away with that because otherwise the church might suffer. But when I’m talking about acceptance, I’m not talking about sin avoidance, I’m talking about the plurality of perspective. I’m thinking of the church we attended on Easter Sunday. Since the vast majority of the congregation was English speaking and white, it would have been easy to push through only one view of how to celebrate Easter. Instead, this church leadership paused and asked each member to bring something significant and to shape the group gathering. There was broad acceptance about worship, theology, custom, dress, and action. Future thinking churches will model this and create a wide place for people to come and to first feel accepted as a part of the tribe, and will make love a preeminent quality in all gatherings.
The third way to create churches with ‘invitation to Jesus ‘ momentum is to create groups defined around action. The small group as quiet, private meeting is not only losing desire, but it’s also losing effectiveness. Fewer people are willing to give up a couple of hours every week to just sit and talk, their lives are busy enough already. Instead, successful churches will navigate the waters ahead by calling groups based on actions, causes, or local justice initiatives. People will not readily sign up to sit in someone else’s living room and drink decaf, but they will sign up to help their children’s school or to clean up the local park. Churches that can define faithfulness in terms of action and obedience will be able to more easily invite others into the story that God is telling.
Much like aspects of language and culture that need to change, so too does our concept of space within in a church. These three areas begin to lead away from the idea that the church can function as an institution and more towards the idea that the church must first be the people of God. Creating, celebrating, and providing a safe place for diverging views, love, and acceptance will be paramount for churches that want to be healthy moving forward.
How do you live in your neighborhood that promotes these three ideals? How have you seen it draw others to Jesus?