One of the interesting benefits of my job is getting to be in a different church almost every Sunday. Most of the time I am speaking, but at other times I visit churches to encourage pastors and extend the seminary’s influence to new communities. My church visits continually remind me how diverse Southern Baptists are in their methods, music, and message.
We normally think of diversity in relation to language spoken, ethnic/racial background, or geographic location. Those are important factors determining the kind of church a community needs. But even within those categories, there is remarkable diversity in methods, music, and message. Not all Korean churches are alike, not all African-American churches are alike, and not all Southern California churches are alike. From an outsider’s perspective, they may seem so – but only because of viewing them through a superficial lens. When you visit a dozen churches in those categories, you will be surprised at the differences you discover.
Anglo and multicultural churches are also not easy to categorize. All kinds of music and methods are being used, along with significant variety in how the message is communicated. While the gospel is the core message – some churches emphasize God’s love, others God’s sovereignty; some emphasize humanity’s sin, other focus on God’s grace. Some preachers sound like prophets, some like professors, others like counselors, and still others like friends in a conversation.
What do we make of all this? Some Christians get angry and demand every church be like their church, their doctrinal emphases be universally affirmed, every church sing their kind of music, and every preacher be like theirs. They believe the “pure church” is the church they see through their lens – usually compared to the church they attend. There is a better response.
Many times, when I leave a church, I think, “That’s not my style. That’s not the way I would do it. That’s not a church I would join.” Then I think about the hundreds or thousands who are part of that church and remember, it’s not all about me. Not every church has to meet my needs, fulfill my expectations, or use my methods. Not everyone is like me. God made all kinds of people and he wants churches who can connect with them, reach them, and disciple them for his glory and service.
The global church, including the churches in your denomination, are more diverse than you may imagine. Let’s celebrate those differences and conclude, like Paul, when “Christ is proclaimed…I rejoice…Yes, I will continue to rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).