Christians worship and serve Jesus in so many different ways.
Sure, there’s a foundation of correct theology and behavior that needs to exist for any group to legitimately call themselves a church. Among them are:
- The divinity of Jesus
- Salvation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus
- Practicing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission
- The primacy of scripture
- And more
But, when we build on the essentials, there is some amazing and wonderful diversity within the body of Christ.
Recognizing, supporting and encouraging that diversity within a biblical theological framework is not a weakness. It is, and has always been, one of the church’s great strengths. And it will be one of our greatest tools for the survival and the strength of the church in coming generations.
The Strength of Diversifying
The church will never die. Jesus said he’d build it and Jesus knows what he’s doing.
But in many parts of the world, the church is floundering right now. And all indications are that she will be in decline for several decades to come if we keep doing business-as-usual. Much of this coming reality is outlined very accurately, though heartbreakingly, by John S. Dickerson in The Great Evangelical Recession. (Thankfully, Dickerson offers some answers worth considering, too.)
The temptation, when faced with such predictions of doom, is to reinforce and require greater adherence to methods that have worked in the past. On core theology, that is essential. But on everything else, it’s a mistake. One of the church’s great strengths has always been found in greater diversification of methodology, not less.
For example, one of the primary strategies for a family’s long-term financial viability is to diversify your financial portfolio. If all your assets are in one financial basket, you’ll be left with nothing when that company, stock or industry tanks. But if you scatter your financial eggs into several baskets, when one goes down, others go up and you’re protected.
This is why there needs to be a diversity of church styles – because there’s a diversity of cultures in the world, a diversity of people within every culture and lightning-fast change happening in virtually every culture. We can’t rely on one style or method. If we do, as goes that method, so goes the church (at least our way of doing church).
What works in Tonga won’t work in Russia. But we don’t need to travel halfway around the world to see the need for diversification. What works on one block in my town won’t work on the next block over. Not to mention, what works today won’t work tomorrow.
The gospel is always bigger than our ideas about how it should be done.
See Outside Your Own Basket
Unfortunately, a lot of church leaders aren’t becoming more open to diversification. In many instances, we are hardening our one-size-fits-all approach regarding methodology.
We have to stop putting all (or most) of our eggs in
- The church growth basket
- The home church basket
- The liturgical basket
- The pentecostal basket
- The relevant basket
- The clergy/laity basket
- The denominational basket
- The non-denominational basket
- The (insert your favorite way to do church here) basket
- or even my favorite, the small church basket
I have no patience for seminars, books or conferences that present themselves as having “the answer” for how to do church in the future. I’m keeping all my options open.
This is one of the reasons I wrote a post called Thank God for Quirky Churches. They help me see outside my overly restrictive view of what a church has to look and act like.
Diversification Is As Old As the New Testament
For many people, the answer is to “do church the way they did it in the New Testament.” I agree. Because if we take that idea seriously, it supports my premise. The New Testament church was a very diversified bunch.
As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth…
…there wasn’t just one New Testament church, there were many. When someone says “we need to do church the way the early church did it,” we need to ask, “which church are you referring to?” The church in Philadelphia was very different from the one in Laeodecia, while the Jerusalem and Corinth churches might have had a hard time recognizing each other as Christian at all.
Most of the letters Paul wrote were to specific churches. John wrote the book of Revelation, not to “the church” in general but to seven individual congregations with seven different messages tailored to the size, health, histories, sins and ministries of each church. (Chapter 11, A New Way to Define Success)
One Body, Different Parts
One of the strengths of the Christian faith from the first to the twenty-first century has been our ability to adapt, adjust and diversify our methods. The gospel of Jesus speaks to every language, ethnicity and culture on earth. All while maintaining its center. Truth has a way of doing that.
The only “best” method of doing church is the one that works in any given situation.
Jesus knew this. So he didn’t even suggest a church strategy. He encouraged his followers “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). I believe Jesus wanted us to diversify. It was an essential part of his plan. So Jesus gave us the glue that would hold such disparate parts together – love one another.
But instead of appreciating our methodological differences and seeing them for the strength they are, church history is filled with splits – even wars – over lack of adherence, not to the essentials, but peripheral issues. And that continues today – especially on the internet. We’re tearing the body apart.
Lovingly challenging each other is important. But backbiting and pettiness over what are often nothing more than methodological differences is killing us. That’s not diversification, that’s dissension.
There is only one Church. One faith. One baptism. One God and father of us all (Ephesians 4:4-6). But we are made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12).
I, for one, thank God that, within his one Church, there’s a lot of room for a lot of people.
As long as the center holds, our differences won’t make the church weaker. They’re an essential element for making us stronger.
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