My father always enjoys belting out Amazing Grace in church, not least because he likes to tweak the second line to “…that saved a wretch like TREVOR SMITH” (or some other friend within earshot). God’s grace for people like you and me (and Dad) is truly amazing. Amazing too is his grace for people who are unlike you and me.
As such, God’s Spirit is often prompting and challenging us to see a greater diversity in our churches and groups. How often have you said or heard, ‘It would be great to have more …………. people here’, referring to a missing segment that might be generational, racial, economic, intellectual, or something else in nature. It just doesn’t seem right for God’s family to be segregated, so we want to listen to those nudges of the Spirit. But what to do about them?
There’s a whole range of possible steps, and let’s put them along an imaginary spectrum: Down one end would be practical and immediate actions, such as going straight to the people you’d love to have with you and simply inviting them. Thoughtful arrangements to make space for them would be down that end too.
At the other end of the spectrum are deep, underlying heart issues and systemic norms that may need to be addressed. These might include raising awareness, prayers of repentance, symbolic steps towards reconciliation, and contemplating your way through a heap of books and conferences.
The trouble is, where to start? If you start at the first end, you hope to solve the issue within a fortnight. But your efforts may quickly be stymied by the systemic and underlying stuff. “We saw that we were missing young people, so we invited them, they didn’t come, so I guess we can say we tried.”
But if you start at the other end, you can feel that any real progress will take 100 years. And you can take 100 years of talking and praying and thinking about the people you’re missing, and wondering whether your group is even a thing that would be good for them, and even whether your group should exist at all. It means well at first, but it can become busywork that is essentially procrastination that perpetuates the status quo. You are always inching closer to, but conveniently never achieving the aim. “We can always say that we’re taking steps.”
So how can we make real progress to see the body of Christ actually come together more fully? I suggest starting at both ends at the same time. Each will serve the other. The practical end will bring to light what underlying work is (and what isn’t) necessary, and the underlying work will shape the practical actions to be less and less clumsy and more and more wholehearted.
May the Spirit give us all the wisdom, humility and love we need – and also all the shrewdness, daring and energy of faith – to be effective agents of reconciliation as the body of Christ builds itself up in love.
Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Browse all their resources at crossover.org.au.