We're naturally attracted to people who are like us. It's just easier to live in a neighborhood populated with people like us who look like us and shop like us. The same is true when it comes to church life. We're drawn to people who are the same age, at the same place in life, with our same tastes and preferences. We even structure our Sunday school classes and small groups this way so that we're always associating with people like us. Consequently, we're a homogenous bunch of people who call ourselves the body of Christ but hardly represent the unity and diversity that makes us distinctively Christian.
Here are some thoughts about what we can do. First, we must not buy in (pun intended) to the consumer mindset that views the church as a place tailor-made to our personal preferences. When this happens we will inevitably market different ministries to attract certain people so that they are segmented together in consumer-like clusters. This is unhealthy and more importantly, unbiblical. It is unhealthy because we often learn the most from those who are different than us. We learn how to love those who are hard to love, and we learn to listen to those who have walked the narrow road longer than we have.
For example, about a year ago my wife and I formed a small group of married couples who met together in our home twice a month. We intentionally chose couples at different stages of life. One couple was just beginning their marriage while another had been married for 20+ years. We all learned a lot from each other and each couple brought valuable insight to the group. Am I saying there is never a place for same age, same gender, same "walk of life" kinds of groups? No. I'm just challenging the way we do church and why we assume it should be done that way.
When the church becomes consumer oriented and thus segmented in its ministry, it is not only unhealthy but also unbiblical. Jesus' prayer in John 17 and Paul's many exhortations make this clear. No matter what society says regarding tribe, class, or gender, the church is to be united in Christ. Consider Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
This is no small thing. In fact, when the church lives in true unity it is a miracle. Charles Drew, author of A Journey Worth Taking, says,
The church is supposed to be a sociological miracle--a demonstration that Jesus has died and risen to create a new humanity composed of all sorts of people.
The church is a sociological miracle, a new humanity. This is what our watching world needs to see. A group of people who are not naturally compatible with one another but nevertheless united and filled with genuine love for one another. And that brings us to the final thing we can do to become what we are as the body of Christ, and that is simply this: strive to be a safe and honest community united in Christ.
In all our interactions, in all our ministries, we must leave pride at the door and open our hearts up to others. People need to see that Christianity is not a commodity to consume but a community to be a part of--a community that welcomes all people into its fold--rich, poor, black, white, home-school, public school, you name it. And the focus of this community is on a Person who came for all kinds of people and died for all kinds of people, namely Christ.
Imagine what would happen if the body of Christ really lived like Christ. We would be, like Jesus said, a city on a hill that could not be hidden. A city, a community, a body so attractive to this world that all kinds of people from all walks of life would want to be a part. They would want to share in this community and do life together not because of what we have in common here on earth (race, gender, age, tastes and preferences) but what we have in common here in Christ. For Christ himself came for this very reason. He came to "reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross" (Eph. 2:16) so that we might be united forever as redeemed people from "every tongue tribe and nation" (Rev. 5:9). May it be Lord ... may it be .. on earth as it is in heaven.