GOD’S HEART FOR DIVERSE UNITY
I’m going to come right out and say the entire point of this series of articles in the first line: we need multigenerational relationships in our lives and in our churches. And I don’t mean the “Hi, how are you, good to see you” and move on kind of relationships. I mean the real thing where they know you and you know them. Where your lives are intertwined in meaningful, substantive ways. Over the next several weeks I’ll share a variety of reasons why multigenerationalism is vital to healthy Christian discipleship and life, but let’s first start with understanding the call to diverse unity in scripture.
God’s Desire for the Church
Paul tells us in Ephesians that through Christ, God is creating for Himself a new people from the diverse/seemingly-at-odds people of the earth. Specifically, in Ephesians 2 Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles, but the truth is at play constantly in all arenas of separation in the Church in the New Testament. Just think about who Christ gathered around Himself. Men and women, fishermen and tax collectors, Pharisees and prostitutes, Samaritans and Jews. His disciples were diverse, but in Jesus they were one. And as Christ establishes His church in Acts the diversity grows.
In Acts 13:1, Luke lists the leaders of the church in Antioch. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. Luke specifically gives us details about each man so that we can understand their diversity. Different nationalities: Barnabus is from Cyprus, Simeon from Ethiopia, Lucius from Cyrene. Different skin colors: light brown in the Jews, dark black in Simeon, and dark brown in Lucius. Different wealth levels: Manaen was raised with the royal family! And different ages: Manaen having been brought up with Herod the tetrarch would have been very old by the time of Paul and the Church. And yet here is your leadership of the church in Antioch. Diverse yet one in Christ, because Christ is for all the people of the earth.
God’s desire for the church is that it would have diversity in make up and yet oneness in devotion to Christ. And through this oneness He wants to reveal Himself to all of creation (John 17:22-23; Ephesians 3:10). There is much we can say about the great need to see the diversity of skin color, socioeconomic makeup, and nationality grow in our churches, but here is what I find interesting. When God first establishes the church in Acts 2, Peter quotes the prophet Joel. And look at the two specific types of diversity that are addressed:
17“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Joel foresaw and Peter established that God would use both men and women and young and old. This is the prophecy that the first church was built on.
Here is a safe rule of thumb, if and where the church is homogeneous it is disobedient. It is natural and comfortable to only associate with those that are like us in age, and race, and culture; but, Christ is to be our supernatural uniting point, not the natural things of this world. We have allowed things like musical style preferences, dress style preferences, and building style preferences to separate what Christ prayed would be one (John 17:20-26).
There is no doubt that in order for unity to be established personal preferences must take a back seat to Christ glorification. Older generations must acquiesce to stylistic and cultural changes. Younger generations must honor and seek out relationships with the wiser and more experienced and not just folks like themselves. Listening, and valuing, and serving must be practiced instead of complaining, and isolating, and nitpicking. Where the generations honor and love each other the church is being obedient and Christ is glorified. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite things about where I get to serve, Paseo del Rey Church. And I long for each person I meet to get to experience what we do! And yet, such multigenerationalism is not developed by happenchance, it must be valued and fostered regularly by all involved.
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
There are so many practical and wonderful benefits to having a multigenerational church that I will discuss in greater detail over the next several weeks. For now, what we need to establish in our hearts is the truth that multigenerationalism is part of God’s great desire for the oneness in His church. If all of our relationships of any depth in our church are only with those that are in the same stage of life as us then we are missing out on so much of what God intends for us to be and do in His church. I can think of no other place in society where the generations are brought together in such a way. May Christ bring Himself glory in the diverse, super-natural, loving unity of His church!
Questions for reflection:
- On a scale of 1-10 how diverse are your meaningful relationships in your church?
- When was the last time you shared a meal and/or a meaningful relationship with someone of a different generation in your church?
- How can you better value and serve a different generation in your church?
- Ask God to reveal to you places where your own personal preferences are keeping you from loving and relating to other people in your church.
- What does diverse unity look like in the context of your church and community?