Editors’ note: The following is an adapted excerpt from J. D. Greear’s new book, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (Zondervan, 2015). Greear shares what he and the Summit Church have termed “The 10 Plumb Lines of Sending,” and addresses the need for racial reconciliation as a fruit of creating a sending culture in the church.
When you bring up the topic of racial diversity in most churches, many people think to themselves, Well, I’m not a racist, so I’m good! But God’s goal is not simply to have us stop looking down on other races. God wants unity, not just a ceasing of hostilities. He wants the very makeup of his church to preach the gospel: that despite our racial variants we are united under one ancestor, Adam; that we had one problem, sin; and that we have one hope, salvation in Christ. He wants us to demonstrate to the world that this unity in Christ is weightier than anything that might divide us. When the Holy Spirit confronted Peter’s racism, he didn’t just command him to quit looking down on other races. He commanded Peter to embrace Cornelius, to go in and eat with him. Peter did not go from “racist” to “non-racist”; he went from “racist” to “gracist.”
Thus, if your metric for success is only “have ceased to be racist,” you haven’t fully realized the gospel’s goal. Christ is not after racial neutrality; he wants multicultural unity.
DNA of the Gospel
Only 5.5 percent of American churches today qualify as “multicultural,” which sociologists generally define as no one race making up more than 80 percent of the congregation. Full disclosure: at the Summit Church we aren’t at the 20 percent diversity marker yet (we’re at 15 percent), but by God’s grace we are getting close. And we are tenfold farther along than we were five years ago!
Multicultural diversity is in the very DNA of the gospel, and a Spirit-filled church will naturally drift toward this diversification. We see this reflected even in how the gospel has spread through history: Christianity has roughly 20 percent of its followers in Africa, 20 percent in Asia, 20 percent in Europe, 20 percent in North America, and 20 percent in South America. Every other major religion has at least 80 percent of its followers concentrated on one continent.
Christianity, statistically speaking, has no dominant culture. It is the most diverse movement in history.
So the fact that the majority of churches in the United States are predominately one culture is an abnormality. So how can a white—or black, or Asian, or Hispanic, or Arab—church achieve multicultural diversification in its local fellowship?
Elevating Your ‘Third Race’
To achieve unity-in-diversity, each member must elevate his or her “third race.” Think of your “first race” as whatever race or ethnicity you were born into, and a “second race” as all the races you are not. The third race is the new person God has made you in Christ.
When you become a Christian, you don’t cease to be your first race, nor do you assimilate into the second race of the people who brought you to Christ (if they were different from you). Instead, you become a part of a new race, a third race, though still maintaining your first race. In that third race you find a unity with other believers that supersedes any differences that come from distinctions in your first races. In Christ, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). He didn’t mean we cease to be Jews or Greeks when we get saved any more than we cease to be male or female. Our race in Christ simply becomes weightier than any other earthly distinctions—of gender, of culture, or of socioeconomic status.
God is not colorblind, and neither should we be. There’s no bleach line in heaven where God makes us all the same. Revelation 21:26 says that God brings into heaven “the wealth and the honor” of the nations, which means he wants the rich varieties of culture there. In that great throng of believers worshiping around the Lamb’s throne we’ll still have distinctions of race, culture, and language (Rev. 5:9–11). And it will be beautiful.
Our Weightiest Identity
When our third race becomes our weightiest identity, unity becomes a possibility. We’ll always have ethnic preferences, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with having those. I don’t need to hide the fact that I was born in West Virginia to a white family of Dutch and Scottish descent. I grew up in central North Carolina, and that shaped my tastes in music, food, clothing, and what I see as proper etiquette. I can appreciate those things without letting them become more defining for me than being “in Christ.”
The apostle Paul was thoroughly Jewish—a “Jew of Jews”—but he wore his Jewishness lightly. In fact, he said that to the Jews he “became like a Jew” (1 Cor. 9:20). Wasn’t he already a Jew? Why would he need to become like a Jew if he already was one? Evidently, Paul no longer saw his ethnicity as primary to his identity. He was still Jewish, of course—and would never deny that—but his Jewishness was something so “light” to him that he could take it on and off like a garment. His third race—being in Christ—was more permanent, more central, and more weighty to him than even his ethnic and cultural identity as a Jew.
Recently a non-white friend and member of our church told me our music, service length, and behavior in church are very different from what he’s accustomed to. “But I so resonate with the gospel and mission here that all those other distinctions don’t seem that important anymore,” he added. You see, his third race hasn’t eliminated his first preferences; it has overshadowed them. And it has given him unity with a group of people he wouldn’t otherwise choose to hang out with.