Reflecting on the Value of the Church

A message I shared at our lastest GBF Camp weekend

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” ~Matthew 16:18

What is the value of being involved in the life of the church? 

Is it worth meeting new people who could potentially hurt you? Is it worth of submitting to imperfect elders and pastors to guide you in your spiritual life? Is it worth getting the family up during a Sunday morning after a long week just to make it to Sunday School and Sunday service when a family devotion at home while listening to an online sermon from John Piper may sound like a better bargain? Is it worth the hassle of having to find a babysitter at the end of a long week so that you and your wife can attend a mid-week Bible study with people who you don’t even “gel” with? Is it worth being involved in the church, when there are so many other things that seem to be screaming for your attention?

These questions are rooted in a more foundational question: what is the real value of the church? Church life, after all, is not the only component of Christian living. There’s personal devotions, marriage, family life, work, school, physical health, financial and material stewardship, relationships, and recreation to note the majors. And so there’s a growing trend – and an alarming one – of Christians attempting to live out their Christian faith without a significant involvement or investment in the church. I’ve seen this as a pastoral minister and Christian educator; Christian families, be them genuine or nominal, are investing so much energy into every major (and minor) facet of life except for the ministry of the local church. The issue is not a lack of time or energy. The issue is the failure to value an eternally valuable institution. 

Every Christian, you and me included, ought to examine the level to which he values the church as reflected in his life. And before that, every Christian ought to understand the actual value of the church. And even before that, every Christian ought to understand the fleeting value of the world. 

First, consider that the world as we know it is losing its value, because the world as we know it is headed toward decay. Read the book of Revelation in case you aren’t sure. Consider that the natural world, regardless of all efforts of environmental and ecological conservation efforts, will head toward destruction (things look a lot different than they did in Genesis 1-2). Consider that human society, from a moral and political and sociological perspective is decaying. Warfare is, as been, and will continue to be rampant and is only growing more massive in its destructive properties (nuclear weapons didn’t exist back in the days of Joshua). Terrorism is at an unprecedented level; mass killings by one man are more possible and frequent. Immorality is at an all-time high; there is no new sin under the sun, but the public embracing and endorsement has reached new heights. Consider that the family unit, though ordained by God to be the building unit of society, is temporal in its nature. Marriage ends when death does you part; parenthood ends (or should end) when children graduate from high school. Finally consider that your outer self is in a decaying process. Regular gym workouts, scheduled, and organic nutrition cannot prevent the onset of physical death; they only delay it. Consider, brother, that the world as we know it is losing its value. 

It is in the context of a decaying world that the Christian ought to then consider the value of the church. For the record, the church on this side of eternity is far from perfect. Nor is local church involvement meant to be all-consuming for the believer. But unlike the natural world, human society, and the outer self, the church is of eternal value because Christ promised its indestructibility. Listen to His words to the apostle Peter: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). While Christ is currently sustaining the universe until its decay, He is currently building His church toward glory. This is the work of the Lord. This is what Christ is doing. This is the project He is undertaking. This is how He is currently furthering His kingdom. Each day that passes by, the world heads to decay while the church gets larger and more glorious. And how is it that Christ is building His church? Through one saved, sanctified soul at a time. It was the church that Christ gave up His life for and purchased with His blood. It is the church that Christ is continually sanctifying with the washing of His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is the church to whom, in the midst of massive global destruction, Christ will be wed in heaven’s marriage feast. 

So what is the reward then for the believer who invests his life in the building of God’s church? It is that he will have invested his life endeavors in an indestructible institution. It’s that plain and simple. What remains to be proven is whether the lives of the Christians in our country will reflect such a truth.  



Identifying and Avoiding the Gossip

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” ~Proverbs 11:13 

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” ~Proverbs 20:19 

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down…The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” ~Proverbs 26:20, 22 

I was taught as a child not to associate with strangers. Later, in my budding years as a Christian, I was told not to closely associate with false teachers and unrepentant sinners. But it was only after marrying a prudent woman of God that I was warned not to associate with gossips. For her wisdom I thank the Lord everyday.
Scripture says, after all, to love all but never to associate with all. The Scripture says to do good to all, but to walk closely with a select few. But this particular dissociation with the gossiper wasn’t always mentioned or stressed in the Christian circles of which I’ve been a part. Perhaps it was because gossip is sometimes difficult to identify. But perhaps, it’s also because gossip is naturally hard to both avoid or abstain from. 

Before gossip can be avoided, it must be identified. And before it can be identified, it must be defined. Gossip is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Gossip is more than just speaking ill of others or revealing the most private of information. Proverbs 20:19 defines a gossip as one who habitually reveals information, period. There’s a difference between testifying truthfully about a situation or person and spreading information about a person in an unsolicited or unwarranted manner. Gossipers are those who inherently have very little – if any – respect for the privacy of people and their lives. To them, information gathered is information to be dispensed. There habitually spread the details of peoples lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the neutral – over the community like butter over bread, using the very butter knife of their tongue. While they are not always malicious (engaging in gossip does not always necessitate evil intent), they simply like to be in the know and make known. You know a gossiper by the sheer amount of time he or she spends talking to people about people. They have a natural instinct to expose, rather than protect, the details of the lives of the people around them. 

Gossipers make an easy living in this world because people are naturally curious about people. It’s not surprising that tabloid magazines never go out of print, for the the human flesh naturally finds gossip delectable (Proverbs 18:8). You’d expect the circulation of such behavior in the world, but it’s more unfortunate when it is both present and cultivated in the church. I have personally been a part of church circles and church affinity groups in which gossip was simply the currency of the fellowship. Such behavior caused a considerable amount of pain and grief for both me and my wife, and we have since learned to be careful with the people with whom we choose to confide and spend time. 

Thus, I’ve learned to identify the gossip given the definition above. They’re actually not difficult to spot, as they are often revealed by two things: 1) what they tell you about others 2) the kind of question they ask about you. A gossip will habitually tell me things about people that I have honestly no business knowing and that I didn’t ask about. The information they share about people are neither purposeful or encouraging. Gossips, without your inquiry, will tell you what Bruce likes to eat for dinner, the marriage problems and Mike and Shelly are experiencing, the after-school activities that Katie takes her kids to, how Aaron asked Amber out but was rejected, and how Wes is not going to Cornerstone Bible Church. Conversely, gossips will also ask you questions that are “probing.” – not because they themselves are trying to get to know you or learn from you, but because they need some currency to spend. I can identify a gossip when there is a disproportion between their level of closeness to me and the things that they inquire about me, my family, and my ministry. I find it particularly sad when close friends learn about the particulars of my life from individuals with whom I rarely interact, but it happens. 

Once identified, the Scriptures are explicit: “Do not associate with a gossip” says Proverbs 20:19. Gossipers are not to be hated or mistreated or slandered. But they are not to be associated with. They are not spend considerable amount of time with. They are not to be confided in. They are not to be walked closely with. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about playing wisely. If you desire to navigate through this side of eternity skillfully in such a way that maximizes your involvement in the furtherance of the kingdom and your influence in the disciple-making process for the glory of Christ, the relational sphere in which you integrate yourself matters dearly. That means who you walk with and who you avoid are no minor issues. So stay away from those people who make a living by telling you about others and telling others about you. You life and ministry will be richly blessed should you do so. 

Let the Teachers in the Church be Few

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” 

~James 3:1

Let the servants in the church be many; let the teachers in the church be few. 

With regards to the mass percentage of formal Bible teachers in the church, the Bible is not silent. James 3:1 is explicit: “Let not many of you be teachers.” For the record, there is a degree to which all Christians are called to teach in an informal sense (Colossians 3:15-16). The commission of discipleship is given to all believers (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that, in this epistle, James is referring to formal teachers in the church body. The culturally Jewish community of believers he was addressing most certainly understood the concept of recognized teachers of the Scriptures within the community of God’s people. In the Old Testament, teachers of the Law had to be appointed, vetted, and trained. Never were they the majority; never were they self-appointed. While the twenty-first-century church doesn’t have scribes and priests, formal teachers do exist in the form of preachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and biblical counselors to name a few. Such positions tend to be highly coveted. Over the years, I’ve seen countless individuals approach the pastoral staff of the church claiming that God has placed it in their heart to be formal Bible teachers. I’ve heard a number of them say that they’re “bored” at church…mainly because the capacity in which they serve doesn’t involve formal teaching. The problem is not that they feel this way. The problem is that there are too many of them that feel this way – because there isn’t room for all of them. By God’s design, the formal teaching ministry in the local church was meant to rest on the shoulders of a select few. The saint who claims, then, to be gifted at teaching and desires to serve formally in that capacity in the church ought to doubly examine himself, lest he be self-deceived about his perception of his giftedness or qualification (cf.1 Timothy 1:7).

The call for teachers to be few in the church may seem impractical and even unfair, but it is not without reason. James gives the reason in the second part of verse 1: “…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Again, James’ culturally Jewish audience would have understood this. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with denunciations by God toward false and careless shepherds, prophets, priests, and scribes. Christ Himself reserved His harshest diatribes toward the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes during His earthly ministry. James’ audience knew that God’s strictest judgments were reserved toward those who promoted themselves as the formal teachers of Scripture. From my own observations, most overly-eager beavers see formal teaching as a means for personal ministry satisfaction, in the same way many of today’s millennials talk about job satisfaction. Butt they are often unaware of the gravity of the commission. Teaching God’s Word is task of great gravity because of the gravity of the Word of God itself. James refers to the Scriptures as one that is able to save the souls of people (1:21). Whether a person rightly understands, receives, and responds to the Word impacts his eternal condition. Those who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal ministry satisfaction are not fully aware of the severity of the judgment that would befall them had they put it upon themselves to formally teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. A church whose body rightly understands this would only have a handful of its people desiring to take up the task. And even those who were willing, able, and gifted would do so with great fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2-4).  

So, then, let the servants be many; let the teachers be few. 

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 3)

The main premise of this series is that biblical discipleship and mentoring of young men is primarily about training them to think. I left off saying that the hope for those who seek to engage in such a ministry is that we are products not ultimately of our natural tendencies or historical upbringing, but rather new creation continually transformed into the image of Christ both in who we are and what we do. That includes Christian discipleship and mentoring. The goal of this third leg of the series is to show how the method of mentoring young men explicated in the first two entries was the very method employed by Christ Himself. 

For the record, Jesus did a lot of explicit commanding. He gave a lot of direct prescriptions. As the Lord of the universe, He did indeed tell people what to do, sometimes with a pointedness and bluntness that would cause a collective squirming in our uber-politically correct society. But when browse through the interactions with His twelve disciples and the manner, and observe how He trained them by pressing upon them a mindset. 

The following examples are mere snapshots of His discipleship method:

When the disciples initially didn’t permit the children to approach Jesus, He rebuked them, told them otherwise, and said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He trained them to think differently about children than the rest of the world did (Luke 18:16)

When the disciples began to argue with one another as to whom was the greatest, Christ explained, “the one who is greatest among you must become like he youngest, and the leader like the servant.” He trained them to think differently about greatness than the Gentile world did. (Luke 22:25-26)

When the disciples panicked when trapped in the middle of the storm in the Sea of Galilee, Christ asked them after calming the winds and the waves, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He was training them to think differently about Him in light of jeopardizing life circumstances. (Mark 4:40)

When the disciples urged Him to eat after a long journey and a conversation with the Samaritan woman, Christ replied, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He was training them to think differently about true nourishment and priorities in life. (John 4:31-34)

When one of the disciples cut off the ear of the slave who tried to arrest Him, He replied, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword by perish to the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He was training them to think differently about meekness, suffering, and submission. (Matthew 26:51-53)

When the disciples questioned Him with regards to His exhortation to the rich young ruler regarding how one can be saved, He responded, “With people, it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” He was training them to think differently about the way to salvation and the nature of discipleship. (Mark 10:23-27)

When the disciples asked him about the way to the Father, He responded: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He was training them to think accurately about who His identity. (John 14:1-6)

Christ did more than prescribe His disciples the right actions. He first helped them arrive at the right conclusions. 

For three years, the twelve walked with Christ, during which He passed down a lens through which they would interpret life, and it was when they learned to think differently that they were ready to minister mightily. He didn’t just tell them what to do; He trained them how to think. Is it not for this reason that our Lord Himself said, 

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)

The world and the church alike are thirsting for godly young men. The world, to delay its inevitable decay; the church, to catalyze its promised edification. These godly young men are here, and thirsting for mentoring. Let the church then do its duty and mentor these men by training them up to think as Christ did. 

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 2)

As mentioned in the previous entry, the discipleship of men is about training men how to think, rather than telling them what to do. Over the last decade or so, I’ve communicated this very thesis to men who have a heart to disciple others in both private meetings and corporate leadership training sessions. And, for the most part, the message was received well. I’ve rarely had a well-meaning Christian genuinely seeking to grow in the effectiveness of his ministry fight me on this issue.
Yet for so many of these men, when the rubber meets the road, they still don’t biblically disciple. So what causes so many well-meaning men to short-circuit in the discipleship process? (I’m assuming that the subjects addressed are indeed well-meaning; Ill-motivated men who seek to disciple others are an entirely different story). I believe that the answer has to do with our history as well as our anthropological tendencies as X-Y chromosomal creatures. When we’re not empowered by the Spirit to engage skillfully and deftly in the Christian ministry of life-on-life discipleship, historical bad habits and tendencies of the flesh take over.      

The following is not a comprehensive list, but rather simply four observations I’ve gleaned over the years. Four (of several) common causes that effect men tend to struggle with the implementing the biblically intended design of discipleship in their mentoring of other men are:

1)The lack of training or marred training regarding discipleship
2)The impatience that so often characterizes men 

3)The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men

4)The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot 


Cause #1: The lack of or marred training regarding discipleship 

I’m aware of the plethora of printed material that is circulated amongst various Christian circles regarding formal methods of mentoring and discipleship – church and para-alike. Para-church campus fellowships such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Navigators all circulate their own have their formal systems of discipleship amongst their affiliates. Several local churches that I’m aware of have their unique systems to which their leadership and members subscribe and teach. I’ve seen and read the materials used, and much of the content is good. The problem is when the men who are produced from these discipleship systems try to implement the exact same system when discipling others. Soon, discipleship in the church becomes a cookie-cutter ministry. It’s a problem, because a cookie-cutter ministry is meant for cookies, not people. Not every Christian man should be required to keep Scripture memory flashcards or weekly journals. Not every Christian man will benefit equally from the same set of Christian literature. While formalized discipleship materials can be helpful as compasses, discipleship in the church was never intended by Christ to be standardized to a man-made curriculum. The only authoritative book on Christian discipleship is – you guessed it! – the Bible. And when it comes to one-on-one mentoring, biblical truth was meant to be transported through the vehicle of your own life (1 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Timothy 3:13ff), not through a written curriculum.  

Cause #2: The impatience that often characterizes men

I remember speaking to a godly man in our church once who told me that when his wife found out that he was scheduled to teach a Sunday school class on the topic of patience, she laughed at him. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself, “Wow, I guess all men really are the same!” Men are, by nature, impatient. We’re interested in final products more than growth processes. When I was a school-teacher, I realized that boys generally are lazier about “showing work” than girls because it “took up time.” I’ve found that men generally have more difficulty than women when it comes to the virtue of waiting. Thus, when it comes to mentoring younger bucks, it’s easier for us to say rather than to shape. And the fact of the matter is that it takes a whole lot less hours to tell a guy what to do than to train him how to think. To be a trainer of men, rather than duplicator of self means that a man must refrain from attempting to trouble-shoot every wrong conclusion at once. For a creature given to impatience, this is no easy task.  

Cause #3: The ego-oriented nature that so often characterizes men

Women complain that men have big egos. I can’t disagree. Men are indeed ego-oriented. Better yet, we’re imprint-oriented. We like to duplicate ourselves, generally much more strongly than women do. A lot of mothers wanted children because they want to nurture children; a lot of fathers want children because they themselves want to be imprinted after, for their genes to be passed down. Back in the day, it was expected for sons to take up their father’s trade. Fathers thus trained their sons to – you guessed it – become like them. And while it may have been a cultural or historical-sociological construct (most men today in the Western world don’t go into their profession of choice that their dads did), there’s an underlying anthropological reality. Generally speaking, men care much more about being imprinted after than do women. The negative aspects of such sometimes carry over to discipleship relationships.
Cause #4: The tendency of men to immediately trouble-shoot

Men are, by nature, wired to problem-solve. We would rather problem-solve than data-gather. We’d rather solve problems than discern profiles. We’d rather fix what’s on the outside rather than understand what’s on the inside. Men are wired to modify behavior in a formulaic manner. While there are strengths to this, it can also add viscosity to the discipleship process. Desiring to always solve problems can leave a man stranded when mentoring another man because of the sheer fact that people are not problems to be solved by other people. We’re human beings made in the image of God with our own volition and set of emotions, and not robots under the control of human engineers. When discipling a younger man by training him to think, a man must restrain himself from trying to trouble-shoot everything, and embrace the reality that he isn’t going to have all problems solved by the end of the hour. It is God who brings change upon a person’s life, and He does so at His own timing. A man learn that those under his care are under his shepherding care, not his engineering care.  

Thankfully, we as ministers are ultimately not products of our own history or natural tendencies, but rather new creation continually transformed into the image of Christ by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Godly mentoring was a ministry of Christ Himself. And that’s Part 3 of this series…

Mentoring Young Men 101 (Part 1)

“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible”

~Titus 2:6

Men must mentor men. The Master mandates it.

Before the church is called to prop up pretty programs, it must prioritize the training and building up of its men – particularly the younger men. Alongside the preaching of the Word, it is the church’s primary duty. Christ Himself was a preacher and a mentor (hence, He had disciples). Thankfully, just about every church I’ve attended or been a part of has – or is in the process of developing – some kind of a men’s discipleship ministry. Rightly so.  

Yet, to say that the majority of America’s churches engage in the endeavor of discipling its men doesn’t equate to saying that men are being discipled biblically in America’s churches. The current state of Christianity in our country isn’t exactly one to rejoice over. Weak Christianity results from weak local churches. And weak local churches result from weak preaching and weak mentoring of men. I’ll discuss the current state of preaching in another entry; in this one, I’m intent on addressing where we’ve gone wayward ministry of discipling men.

So what exactly is wrong with the way men are spiritually mentored today? Over the years, I’ve gained insight from the honest feedback of friends and colleagues – God-loving, scripturally-committed, and ministry-minded men who have expressed their frustrations with regards to discipleship relationships in which they were involved. Sparing the ipsissima verba, several of them have shared the following:

“I would get paired up with a discipler or spiritual mentor from our church. Then, during our meetings, he would ask me about my week and my current struggles. Upon my sharing, he would immediately say, ‘Oh, you need to do this,’ or ‘Oh, you need to do that.’ But he wouldn’t actually help me think through the struggle or even really show me what the Bible had to say about it.”

Think and Bible. Two words mentioned worth munching. So why are mentoring relationships and the overall discipleship of men of America’s churches ineffective? Each generation has its quirks, but my most recent observations with regards to the generation in which I live is that the problem lies in those two words stated above: younger men are simply being told what to do pragmatically more than they are being trained how to think biblically.

For the record, pragmatic counsel is not sinful. There’s a place and time for it, and it can do much good when given appropriately. It just isn’t the priority of the biblical paradigm of discipling young men. Before the scowl gets scowlier, listen to exhortation given by the apostle Paul himself to Titus with regards to his dealings with the younger XY’s of the Cretian church:

“Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible.” (NASB, emphasis added)

Urge, Paul commands. Titus, parakalei! Come alongside them. Encourage them. Exhort them. Disciple them. Train them. Your duty, Titus, is not only to preach the Word, but to disciple the saints.

Urge the young men, Paul specifies. The neoterous – the youthful men, the younger sector, the men in the church full of strength and vigor but perhaps in need of wisdom and guidance. Address all of the affinity groups, Titus, but you are particularly called to disciple the young men.

Urge the young men to be sensible, Paul instructs. Sophronein – to think soundly, soberly, seriously, scriptural.

Titus, disciple the young men of the church by training them how to think!

In discipleship, training trumps telling. Hence, it’s called discipleship, and not dictatorship. Mentoring a young man is primarily the endeavor of training him how to think soundly according to the principles of Scripture. Sound living stems from sound thinking, does it not? According to Hebrews 5:14, the mature are distinguished from the babes in that they have their “senses trained to discern good and evil.” Young men need for their spiritual senses to be trained to discern what is good from evil – or what is fitting from what is not fitting – when it comes to circumstances and life decisions. For the mentors, the ministry is less about passing down a series of pragmatic practices and more about equipping a younger man interpret himself, his life, and everything around him through the lens of Scripture and in light of the glory of Christ and His gospel, then to respond accordingly.

The application flows from the obvious – but often overlooked – principle of individual distinctiveness. God has woven together each individual with his distinct personality (Psalm 139:14), a distinct set of personal convictions (Romans 14:5) and distinct spiritual giftedness (1 Corinthians 12:4). On top of this, individual young men will struggle with a unique set of temptations, setbacks, and sins (Matthew 5:29-30). Thus, the same principal truths to which all God-fearing men will submit will result in a variety of particular courses of action depending on an man’s unique makeup. Mentoring young men involves focusing not primarily on the particular courses of action (though this is important), but first on the principal perspective in which a man learns to encase his modus operandi.

So to get a bit more practical…

  • It’s less about telling a student on the brink of graduation, “You need to get a job” and more about showing him Scripture’s perspective on the dignity, purpose, mandate, and design of work – teaching him how to see all of life’s labors in relation to glory of God.
  • It’s less about telling a young husband, “You and your wife need to go on a date night once a week,” and more about showing him the necessary consistency between how he nourishes and cherishes his wife and Christ’s love and care for His church, helping him see his marriage in light of the glory of Christ’s sacrificial and sanctifying love for His church.
  • It’s less about telling a man, “You need to join the morning set-up team on Sundays” and more about helping him learn the importance of prioritizing the needs of others before one’s personal ambitions as Christ demonstrated, helping him see his ministry and service in light of the humble servanthood of Christ.
  • It’s less about telling a man that he should or shouldn’t go to graduate school, and more about training him to think proverbially about acquiring knowledge and sharpening his skills while at the same time refraining from loving the boastful pride of life, thus helping him see his choice in light of the wisdom of God.

It’s less about giving a man a fish so as to feed him for a day, and more about feeing a man to fish so as to feed him for a lifetime!

Fellowship in a Diverse Body of Believers

A biblical insight on diversity in the fellowship of the Local church – its call and benefits

Before getting into the meat of this article, I want to make a for-the-record statement that I personally have nothing against single affinity-group fellowships, be them para-church organizations or sub-ministries of the local church. I’ve preached, taught, and spoken at a number of them – high school and college campus Bible studies, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Pastors Conferences, young professionals organizations, young adults retreats, and Christian educators devotional meetings to name a few. Thus, this article is not about the whether or not particular homogeneous fellowships should exist. What I do intend to address is the current growing desire in our regional culture for demographic homogeneity in the fellowship of the local church itself.  

It’s an unfortunate reality in many American churches – particularly those in California – that people don’t value diversity in the fellowship of the local church as they should. As of recent, there has been a massive explosion in the growth of ethnic-specific churches, college campus fellowships, and single-affinity group specific fellowships even within the church. And while the existence of such groups are perhaps good in and of themselves, many American Christians have fallen into the unhelpful habit of church-hopping with the goal of seeking uniform and homogeneous fellowships – landing on the churches where they can find it, and departing from the ones where they can’t. More and more, I’m listening to people tell me that they don’t feel comfortable committing to what is an other-wise biblically solid church because there aren’t enough people of their ethnic cultural background or life stage. Consequently, local church bodies that are homogenous in race, socio-economic status, and age range are becoming more and more popular choices for Christians of my generation. Even those churches that say they welcome all believers of all walks of life – when you study the nature of the life of their local body – operate more like a collection of exclusive cliques than an integrated organism. I’ve labeled such as unfortunate, reflects our culture’s frail understanding of biblical ecclesiology. For sound biblical ecclesiology practically calls for diversity in the fellowship local church body. Anything short of diversity, then, is biblically insufficient.  

Diverse as the Household of God and Body of Christ

While I’m not pushing for the political agenda of racial reconciliation like some Christians organizations and theological systems currently are doing – it is not in GBF’s vision statement to have a multi-ethnic congregation – to say that God designed for His church to be diverse in a multitude of dimensions is nothing short of biblical truth. The church, unlike the nation of Israel, is referred to in the New Testament as the household of God and as the body of Christ. A household, in both its nature and economy, exists with a diversity of members. It consists of a man, his wife, his sons and daughters, sometimes aged parents, and (in certain cultures) male and female domestic servants. A household’s unity results from – not in spite of – the diversity of its members; they differ from multi-member bachelor pads and hostels for that very reason. Similarly, the church is identified as the body of Christ. A body, by definition, is a system made up of many parts. The diversity and specialization of structure and function of members is precisely why taking a human anatomy and physiology class can be extremely difficult even at its most elementary level. Higher-functioning organisms, by necessity, cannot be uniform in their members.  

The Call for Diversity in the Local Church

If the church of Christ is pictured as both a household and a body, then it necessarily follows that diversity was designed to exist amongst the membership of any local church.  

First, the church was designed to have a diversity of spiritual gifts. Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, and 1 Peter 4:10 all affirm that God has bestowed upon His church a variety of gifts that represent His manifold grace. While all members of the church are called to be united in spirit, affection, and purpose (Philippians 2:2), the ministry of the church was meant to be carried out through the employment of a multitude of gifts and ministries.  

Second, the church was designed have a diversity of age and affinity groups. Do your algebraic permutations correctly from the different affinity groups delineated in Titus 2:2-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, and realize that the biblical picture of the church body is one that consists of the following: older married men, younger married men, older single men, younger single men, older married women, younger married women, older single women, younger single women.  

Third, the church was designed to exist in a diversity in ethnicity and racial makeup when possible. A local church in Tokyo, for instance, will be almost entirely Japanese in racial makeup for obvious reasons. But a racially diverse geographical region such as most of the major cities in California ought to have churches reflective of such. God’s universal church is, by definition, the reconciliation of both Jew and Gentile, and therefore welcomes believers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation into a united body (Ephesians 4:12-16, Galatians 3:28). As seen in Galatians 2:12-15 in Paul’s rebuke to Peter, for a Christian to insist that his deepest level of fellowship be reserved for people of his own race is sinful and incongruous with the theology of the true gospel message. It is for that very reason that, when I was invited to attend a number of different “Filipino Bible Studies” during my years in seminary, I refused to participate.  

Fourth, the church was designed to exist in diversity with regards to the level of spiritual maturity of its members. Romans 15:1 states that those who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are weak – implying that both stronger, mature believers and weaker, less mature believers ought to be members of one another in the local church. A church that produces an unwritten expectation of spiritual eliteness from its members – honoring the mature while neglecting the weak – is not functioning according to God’s design. Contrary to what some may think, a church would not be better if all of its members were seminary students, pastors, and missionaries!

Fifth, the church was designed to exist in diversity with regards to the socio-economic and educational backgrounds of its members. Both the rich and the poor ought to be honored equally, and be welcomed equally into the life of the body (James 2:2-6). Both those with post-graduate degrees and those who never had a formal education should be equally embraced (such as the fellowship between Paul and Peter), and member care ought to blow interchangeably between all such groups.

The Benefits of Diversity in the Local Church

Such a call for diversity in the fellowship in the local church comes with several noted benefits. First, discipleship is effectively fostered and flourished. Titus 2, for instance, calls for the older women to be an example to the younger women with regards to sensible Christian living appropriate to their gender. And while there is no direct prescription for older men to disciple younger men in Titus, it holds true that wisdom does belong to the aged (Job 12:12). Formal discipleship and mentoring is most effective when the veterans are mentoring the rookies. The relationship between Paul and Timothy is a prime example of this.

Second, diversity enables the ministry of the church is both deepened and broadened. When every saint equipped for ministry and serving, the result is growth in the body. A church that lacks diversity will result in a stunted church with regards to spiritual maturity. But when there exists a diversity of gifts and all are employed by their stewards through the strength that God provides, the result is the growth and unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16).

Third, diversity enables legalism to become more easily detected. The account of the Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-29 is an example of such when the ushering of the first Gentile race – the Samaritans – into the church exposed the legalistic requirement of circumcision of believers prescribed by Judaizers. It is unlikely that this would have been detected had the church remained entirely Jewish in its ethnic makeup. It is much easier to mistake cultural practices for biblical prescriptions in an ethnically homogeneous church. Churches that consist of a diversity of ethnicities and cultures, on the other hand, are often forced to vet and question all of the practices that may have previously deemed biblically mandated – resulting in more direct fidelity to biblical teaching.  

One of the characteristics that I truly appreciate about Grace Bible Fellowship is that our church body is not only marked by sound doctrine and a biblical philosophy of ministry, but that it also exhibits the diversity described above. Our church body of 170 members and 260 regular attenders is so diverse that when my brother once asked me what the culture was like at our church, my response was:

“Well, there kind of isn’t any. And that’s what I love about it.”  

I hope and pray that it remains this way.