7 Ways that Pastors Can Help Their Congregations Grow in Ethnic Diversity

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I’ve recently blogged about why God is magnified through ethnic diversity, along with why diversity is both more important and less important than you might have thought (and why diversity in the local church is more, if not less, than ethnic diversity).

Over at Desiring God, Greg Morse has an excellent post on how all of us—those in the pew, and those from the pulpit—can grow in this area and see lasting fruit.

Here is his section for pastors in particular.


1. Don’t dismiss social justice as “not a gospel issue.”

Many minorities have not had the luxury of ignoring social issues. Injustice has been the lion’s share of African-American history. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to fighting for civil rights and economic equality, ethical implications of the Christian gospel have never been mere abstractions.

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. represent many more minorities than majority culture might assume,

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

In an effort to preserve the pure gospel against liberal theologies, many Bible-believing churches abdicated gospel-love for their neighbor’s social needs by standing against the Civil Rights movement — and lost many blacks as a result.

Social justice is not the gospel — but it is a result of the true gospel, and can be instrumental in directing souls to the true gospel. Jesus did not speak the second great commandment in vain. Paul did not draw in gospel ethics as a peripheral matter. Christians care about all suffering — including societal suffering. Especially when addressing societal suffering opens a doorway to share the only message that can prevent eternal suffering.

2. Diversify the liturgy.

I love hymns now — but I surely didn’t before I was saved.

What did thou even mean? Why were words not finish’d? Did Shakespeare write some of these? The use of archaic language made evangelical churches to me — in my unregenerate state — seem extra-white.

Every Sunday, I went from living in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to stepping inside four walls of Downton Abbey. The transition was jarring. But they had the words of eternal life, they preached Christ crucified — where else could I go?

Now, it would be a crime to scrap the hymns. But just know that these precious songs use a strange tongue that can alienate the foreigner to the congregation. Diversify the music and explain some of the old hymns. I’m sure most will be helped by an explanation of what I’m actually raising when I raise mine Ebenezer. And furthermore, what an Ebenezer actually is.

Add some songs that might tempt even the Swedish Baptist to sway and clap.

3. Diversify leadership.

Qualified diversity in leadership lends itself to a healthy diverse church.

Although none of the elder qualifications have to do with skin color (for or against), having shepherds who all share the same mission — while contributing different backgrounds, perspectives, and culture — strengthens the church and casts heaven’s shadow upon earth.

This may not be possible for you in your setting, but as far as it is, seek it.

4. Tell stories and quote the preaching of saints from other cultures.

The church has been greatly benefitted by European theologians, but white faces have almost exclusively dominated what we consider authoritative and helpful. Even Augustine (who was African) is paper-white on the front of my copy of Confessions. That the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not even know the names of orthodox pastors like Daniel Payne, Jupiter Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, and many others is unfortunate, to say the least.

Intentionally read works from other ethnicities and cultures, and sprinkle them throughout your preaching ministry to remind people that God has revealed himself to non-white thinkers, writers, and preachers.

5. Preach the ethnicity-filled text.

Pastors don’t need to make up original ideas to mention ethnicity. To preach from the Bible, you would have to go out of your way to never mention it.

The Bible is a book featuring what Western civilization would label as “minorities.” No one in the Bible was Caucasian. Nobody looked American. None remained untouched by a crayon.

According to Daniel Hays, in his excellent biblical theology, From Every People and Nation, the closest people to Caucasians were Indo-Europeans, who included groups like the Philistines — although they looked more like modern-day Greeks or Turks than Americans or Europeans. Identifying that the non-European figures in the Bible were, in fact, non-European, helps undermine the myth that Christianity is only for whites.

6. Preach the gospel intelligibly.

If the preaching is unintelligible to those without a college degree, it is not good preaching. The complexity of language should not be the barrier to heaven; a God-hating heart should be. The offensive person of Jesus Christ should be what the rebel dismisses, not a preacher who gets lost in abstractions.

Putting one’s preaching on the top shelf will ensure that only those who are already tall will be fed, while those dead in their sins will keep descending, uninterrupted, into hell. The plea is not for shallow preaching, but rather for piercing, substantive, winsome preaching that challenges, convicts, and comforts normal people.

7. Strive to make the local church local.

Aspire and pray that the demographics of your church might generally reflect the neighborhood it belongs to. Barring extreme cases, the local church should be made up of, well, local people. If you pastor a rural church in Iowa, you may be hard-pressed for much diversity — although diversity should still be a conviction the church embraces (and diversity is never merely racial).

The temptations for an inner-city church of commuters is that it can rally around one cultural expression of worship — not feeling any need to contextualize for the people in that area, and feeling little investment in the community where it gathers because no one actually lives there.


You can read the whole thing here.

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