By Daryl Reed
In 2009 I was invited to speak at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland. This is a church I had admired and respected for many years. Mountain has a rich history that dates back to the 1820s. Its reputation for being a blessing to its community and a model to other churches is well deserved.
The sermon topic was “Beyond Racial Zones.” We exchanged pulpits that day. While I was at Mountain, one of Mountain’s ministers was preaching at my home congregation—DC Regional Christian Church, where I serve as minister. This would be the first of several visits and would mark the beginning of a close kingdom partnership.
I can still remember the excitement that was in the air at Mountain. Ben Cachiaras, the congregation’s visionary minister, and I both sensed that God was up to something. Ben preached, “I want Mountain to be a place where everyone would truly feel welcomed—rich, poor; young, old; white, black, Asian, Latino; and even Greeks!” (Ben’s ethnic heritage). He emphasized, “Not because it’s the politically correct thing to do, but because it’s the biblically correct thing to do!”
God was on the move, changing the racial complexion of his church. In Ben’s words, “The church was becoming more colorful.”
When I’m asked the question, “What can churches do to work toward racial diversity?” I think about the example set by the leadership team at Mountain. Their love and courage come to mind. Most of all what comes to my mind is proactive leadership.
I can’t emphasize enough how vital leadership is when it comes to building churches that are racially diverse. No doubt God is the one who makes a church grow. However it takes humans to plant and water the seeds (1 Corinthians 3:6). The old adages are true: “A church will not rise above its leadership.” And, “As the leaders go, so goes the church.”
Leaders set the direction of a group, and at the same time leaders are the ceilings of their groups. To make sure a leader doesn’t hold a church back, a leader must seek to be a humble learner. (That last point was personally convicting. So as I continue to write I’m praying, “Lord, teach me to be more teachable so I don’t get in the way.”)
There’s a shortage of church leaders—ministers, elders, teachers—in America who have both the will and the skill to lead people to change. In my opinion the greatest concern is a lack of will. Skills can be learned. And there are many leaders we can learn from. A few of my friends come to mind—Kevin Holland, Dudley Rutherford, and Byron Davis. These Californians are adept and passionate about building churches that reach all people.
Kevin Holland is one of my mentors and dearest friends. He serves Turning Point Church in Los Angeles. His congregation is so multiethnic I can’t tell you what the majority race is.
Dudley Rutherford and Byron Davis serve respectively as senior and associate pastors at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porters Ranch, California. Those of us who know Dudley, Byron, and the other leaders at Shepherd also know they are passionate about seeing other churches become more effective at reaching all people.
Many leaders have the will and the skill to minister to racially diverse flocks, but their churches aren’t multiethnic. The primary reason being they’re in homogenous communities, where just about everyone is the same race. In my view, building a multiethnic church in these areas is simply not realistic. God can do it, but it’s not probable. However even in these communities it should be obvious to a congregation that its leaders care about this issue.
The apostle Paul serves as the premiere example of a leader who cared about reaching all people. No doubt he had the will and skill. He was uniquely chosen for such a task. Paul’s ministry motto revealed his heart for this issue: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:22, 23). Other than Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), is there a better example to follow?
I am reminded almost daily how important racial unity is. Our world is searching for solutions. In my view, most multimedia executives have no difficulty promoting racial disunity problems, but they’re less eager to report good news stories of solutions.
Perhaps solution stories are difficult to find.
Followers of Christ trust that Jesus is the solution and God’s Word has the answers. Sometimes we minimize how critical the church is to providing solutions as well. From my experience and from what I read about in the New Testament, it takes more than a gentle nudge from God to get our attention and prod us to change.
Consider the apostle Peter; although he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, he was slow to understand the scope and urgency of Jesus’ commission—a mission that would include breaking down the walls that divide people. For Peter, it took a personal vision, a knock on his door, and a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit for him to understand that non-Jews had been invited to be in Christ’s kingdom (Acts 10).
I love Peter’s big aha moment when he finally got it: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34, 35).
We are a lot like Peter, aren’t we? But why are we so slow to get it? It’s not like Jesus’ commands are ambiguous. So we shouldn’t be confused about his expectations. Jesus’ directives are unmistakably clear:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34, 35).
No wiggle room here. No loopholes. No other options. We have been commanded to love across racial zones, just like Jesus.
This kind of love demonstrates to the world that we are authentic Jesus followers. When Christians enjoy this kind of partnership and fellowship with believers from other racial and ethnic groups, it grabs the attention of the world.
Sadly, the opposite is also true. That’s why Jesus prayed for us, “That they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
Jesus also taught, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). So, Christ followers, let’s continue to point people to Jesus and lift him up by loving one another.
Here’s my prayer: I pray that our love and unity for one another, regardless of color or race, can be entered in as evidence, bolstering up our testimony as we witness to the gospel of God’s grace. I also pray for more churches to earnestly take on this cause.
Now back to my story about Mountain Christian Church.
Even though it was potentially a controversial subject at the time, Mountain’s leadership felt confident about tackling the diversity issue. They had ample reasons to be confident. And they were vindicated—the audience that day welcomed the subject matter enthusiastically. I was also warmly welcomed—a black man in their pulpit.
However, true to our human nature, not everyone was thrilled about the subject matter or me. As I walked on stage, a couple of folks in protest got up to leave. Ben would later exasperatingly share with me, “I figured they would.”
Effective leaders like Ben Cachiaras are willing to count the cost and pay the price to boldly lead through potential obstacles that stand in the way of advancing Jesus’ cause.
Since my initial visit in 2009, I’ve been back to speak on other occasions. Each time I return, I’m amazed to see the results of Mountain’s bold leadership. I don’t know the official numbers, but to my eyes Mountain has more than doubled in attendance, they’ve added several other worship times to accommodate their fast-growing church, they’ve launched at least two new off-site campuses in neighboring towns—and, more noticeably, the church is a lot more diverse.
To the glory of God . . .
Daryl Reed is the minister at DC Regional Christian Church.