by Ray Moulton, Lt. Colonel –
“Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” This statement is probably as true today as it was in 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. made the declaration in one of his final sermons. Over thirty years later…and even the most integration-minded churches still struggle to cross the cultural divide when it comes to congregational worship. Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, look around you. While your heart may embrace multi-cultural values, your corps may not; you may look around and find little diversity among your members.
I am always amazed how blessed our territory is with great diversity within the population. Truly, we can claim to be among the most, if not the most, ethnically diversified territory within The Salvation Army World.
The blessing of such great diversity comes with the responsibility to reach beyond our own cultural comfort zone to engage those who are different from us. In the West, we have no choice. This is the demographic reality we serve in—all of us—whether we recognize it or not.
Let’s recall the demographics of the Kingdom mentioned in Revelation (7:9, 10)…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 in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out with a loud voice, ”Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” What a staggering vision—John has to use several different words to try and convey the vast variety of those gathered before the throne! Nations, tribes, peoples and languages! They were different in multiple ways—yet united in purpose, united in worship and united in the Kingdom.
This is a picture of things to come—a demographic snapshot of Heaven. But will we be ready to engage in such a diverse chorus around the throne? We must begin to gather as nations, tribes, peoples and languages now…that love for all of God’s children must begin to grow in our hearts now while we are on earth so that we are ready to continue in Heaven. Let’s change the face of eleven o’clock—let’s whet our appetite for the awesome and rich diversity of Heaven.
The conventional wisdom of the church growth movement promoted an easier route to increase congregational numbers, but the congregations created were often a sea of sameness—very homogenous. This does not match the biblical demographic we just heard. When God builds his church, it is bursting with color and variety and difference! When we engage with him in building his church, we will encounter real differences. If we ignore these genuine differences we can manufacture a false appearance of peace, but we cannot build a church that is a true reflection of Heaven. Growing a heterogeneous church does require more work—and more grace—but God is generous with his grace! We must see differences as opportunities to learn and dialogue and grow. And we must trust that the Prince of Peace is able to hold us all together, despite our otherness, and build a more strong and magnificent peace in the midst of our created diversity.
When a congregation is homogenous, standardization is an effective methodology. But this does not work for a diverse body of people—standardization becomes a straightjacket to enforce uniformity. Our goal is unity, not uniformity. And these are days when we need creative leaders to lead the multi-cultural church into the new frontier. We need to realize that when someone new comes into the church, the entire church is bound to change! We must be open to the newness and respond with a creative impulse to foster the growth of the multi-cultural church.
Cast a global vision…locally—what an exciting and challenging mandate. In order to proceed with this strategic priority in the Western Territory I believe we must be willing to do the hard and rewarding work involved in building multi-cultural corps. We must focus on the mission of Jesus, recognize that we need each other, recruit and support a more global leadership and be creative in our methodology.
And as we embark on this endeavor remember the words of James.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James knew the work ahead could be very demanding and painful, but he also knew the result would be joyous and God honoring. Take heart in his words, because they are also true for us as we venture forth.
There is a future that is emerging, whether or not we chose to embrace it. May Sunday at eleven o’clock be a time when we can celebrate our rich diversity and unity in Christ.