Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points—both for our staff and for the entire church. They are a way to encapsulate our ministry philosophy in short, memorable phrases.
Plumb Line #9 at the Summit is: “The Church should reflect the diversity of its community and proclaim the diversity of the kingdom.”
Hardly anyone in the American church thinks that ethnic diversity is a bad thing. And yet, take a look at most of our churches, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous criticism still has some bite to it: “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” A mild desire to see diversity isn’t going to create multi-ethnic diversity in our churches. For diversity to truly take hold, it takes intentionality.
One of our African American pastors, Chris Green, has summarized the process of a church becoming multi-ethnic in a helpful spectrum:
IGNORANCE – AWARENESS – INTERACTION – GOSPELIZED COMMUNITY
We all start on the left, with ignorance. Most of us grow up around people like us, we work with people like us, and we socialize with people like us. We aren’t willfully hateful, but we simply don’t know much about people from different backgrounds. So we—especially those of us in the majority culture—fill in the gaps with presuppositions and stereotypes. We assume that “black people” or “Hispanic people” all think, act, or feel a certain way.
Admitting our ignorance leads us to the next step along the spectrum—awareness. Perhaps we watch something on the news, or make a new friend, or have some personal experience that forces us to recognize cultural differences. Awareness is unsettling, because it challenges a lot of what we assumed was simply “normal.”
Most of the time our society thinks that awareness is success. But it’s the jump from awareness to interaction that really begins to change us. We develop personal relationships with people from other ethnicities and backgrounds. We respect them them. We listen to them. We assume the best about them. And we ask a lot of questions. I’ll be honest: this is uncomfortable and difficult work. But we at the Summit have grown tremendously by simply asking questions and being humble enough to hear the answers.
The end goal, though, isn’t just interaction. It’s gospelized community. Our society wants us to be aware. At key moments of national tragedy, they may want us to interact. But they can’t offer a way for us to love each other like family. But we in the church know that we are a family—black, white, Latino, Asian, Arab, and everything in between. There’s really only one race—the human race, one problem—sin, and one solution—the blood of Jesus Christ. As the old saying goes, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
That’s why we say, “The Church should reflect the diversity of its community and proclaim the diversity of the kingdom.” Multi-cultural unity is one of the hallmarks of the gospel, a sign to the world that the gospel has real power (Eph 2). It’s also a sign and preview of the coming kingdom, in which every tribe, tongue, language, and nation will gather around Christ’s throne (Rev 5).
There’s a balance we have to maintain as we pursue this goal. Practically speaking, we can’t have every nation represented in every church. That kind of “Revelation 5” multi-culturalism will have to wait until the end. But as we proclaim that final unity-in-diversity, we look to the cultures that are already in our midst. Is there a large African American population in our city? A large Latino population? Whatever ethnic group God has given us in our community, we want to change what we need to in order to reach out to them and give them a voice in our church.
This means we structure our services differently than if our entire church were white. It means we prioritize diversity in the leaders we’re developing. It means we host forums where we can have a safe space to talk about our ethnic differences.
But more important than all of that, multi-culturalism has to start personal. We don’t want to just host multi-cultural events; we want to live multi-cultural lives. At the Summit, we’re constantly asking, Do you have friends who are not like you? Are you seeking to embrace, and learn from, other cultures? Do you have relationships that would make a watching world wonder why you are friends, when you seem to have so much that separates you?
This interpersonal connection is more important than finding a worship style that white, black, and Latino will all like. God did not call us to put on a multi-cultural display on the weekend, but to live out a multi-cultural wonder throughout the week. When we begin to live multi-cultural lives, our events will very naturally take on a multi-cultural flavor.
This kind of unity turned heads when Christianity first burst onto the scene in the first century. And if we pursue multi-cultural lives, it’s going to turn heads today, too.
Our nation desperately wants to see racial unity. But events of the last few years have revealed that the divide between whites and blacks in the United States is deep and painful. Our society yearns for change, but lacks the power to achieve it.
I believe we are in a kairos moment regarding race. “Kairos” is a Greek word for time that implies a specially appointed moment in history. I believe that God has appointed this moment in the world for the church to rise up and demonstrate a unity in Christ that the world yearns for but has been unable to accomplish. What the flesh is unable to do through the law, God does in the gospel.
I believe we are in just such a kairos moment today. Humanity has a common problem, sin, and a common Savior, Jesus. Multi-culturalism in the church puts on display our common humanity and common salvation, and it glorifies the firstborn of all creation.
For more, be sure to check out our entire list of plumb lines here.