Last Sunday evening, Pentecost Sunday, the plan was to spend our time together focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit. The music, activities, Scripture reading, and study were all built around the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. As I prepared for my part of the evening, it dawned on me that our little group has a religious background that is more varied than a giant bag of M&M’s. It was obvious we would be approaching this subject from different viewpoints, which caused me a little apprehension.
Hoping to diffuse any potential disagreement that can often arise when people have different opinions about an important subject, I choose to be proactive and try to head off any controversy. At the outset I affirmed our diversity. To illustrate the point, I asked several to share the various Christian traditions in their background. I was aware of our diversity, but to listen to folks list their experiences really put things in perspective. I can’t remember them all but these are some of the terms we heard – Baptist (including moderate, conservative, missionary, and fundamental), Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Charismatic, Lutheran, Atheist, Mormon, Nigerian Baptist.
At that point it was apparent we needed to disband our little fellowship and go our separate ways!
Not really. No one was surprised because we have been an extremely diverse group from the beginning. Yet, it works. We get along. Once we shared our variety of backgrounds, I pointed out the obvious. Everyone is accepted in our little group. We do not have a background check or test of your orthodoxy before you can participate. If you are present then you belong.
However, it is equally important that we realize not only are we accepted, but another great blessing is that we have the opportunity to learn from others who are different from us. I read the Bible and life through the lens of someone who was raised and educated as a conservative Baptist. That does not mean I simply recite conservative Baptist doctrine. But it does mean my background and experience shade my current doctrine.
My friend John, who was also there Sunday evening, has a different lens with a plethora of reflections. He was raised in a Missionary Baptist church, studied to be a Catholic priest, has experience in the Jewish faith, as well as a charismatic church. He can teach me a lot (and he has) if I will listen. I suspect he can also learn a few things from me. John and I have other differences that are significant. For example, he’s African American and I’m not – even my hair is mostly white.
Mary, who led us through the activity for the evening, has a PhD from a Jesuit university, was Mormon years ago, has some Baptist in her from a time of living in the Texas panhandle, and who knows what else. She has an even different lens on life.
Recently, I was asked to complete a questionnaire about our church. They wanted to know about our “Target Audience.” I struggled with that question because we don’t really have one. Among our group of about 30 who are in and out of our fellowship, our age range is from 80’s to preteens. We are ethnically diverse, economically diverse, educationally diverse, and as we have already seen, theologically diverse. It sounds too grandiose to say the whole world is our target audience. But, we truly mean it when we say all are welcome.
How big is your church? When you gather on Sunday are you surrounded by people just like you? Could your church have a discussion about the Holy Spirit without being polarized? Or dogmatic?
Many churches have a “Target Audience” and try to gather folks together who are much like one another. It might make it easier to build an audience because you all like to see and do the same things and struggle with the same needs. When that happens you are missing out on a richness that only happens when a ragtag group of people gather around the Lord Jesus. That is exactly what happened when Jesus singled out his first group of followers – a tax-collector, a political zealot, several fishermen, brothers, and strangers. In fact, our little group is even more diverse – we are not all Jewish men.
Jesus appeals to every type of person. If we are not attracting every type of person to our church, it might suggest Jesus is not the drawing card. Our motto is “Christ at the center and no circumference.” As long as Christ is at the center, it is important to keep the doors open and the walls down. It is then that church can be big enough.