A BIBLICAL MANDATE
Being a church of mirrors is not a new paradigm or idea. As more pastors read and study a scriptural depiction of the New Testament Church, congregations are learning to follow a biblical model and directive.
The church at Antioch, the “sending” church for Paul and Barnabas, offers an example of biblical diversity, as its members welcomed people of all cultures—Barnabas of Jerusalem, Simeon called Niger (The Dark), Lucius from the African nation of Cyrene, Manaean, who’d grown up with Herod, and Saul, among others.
Moreover, Paul led his own ministry team through a number of changes in ministry approaches. And in his letter to the Corinthians, he conveys his readiness to alter his ministry style: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)
The Antioch model was the impetus for starting a church of diversity for Redmond, Washington, Pastor Ken Hutcherson. A former NFL player, Hutcherson recalls how his study of the scriptures led him to a new life and a new vision of the Church.
“After studying the Word for about 25 years or so, I got fed up with what I was looking at,” he says. Previously, the African-American pastor was involved in a predominantly white church. Now he’s the leader of Antioch Bible Church (abchurch.org), where he’s seeing his dream and vision of opening a church for all people fulfilled.
“The original New Testament Church abounded in diversity and multiple cultures,” he says. “The reality is that tradition, culture, and denominationalism have shaped the Church more than the Word of God has.”
Over the last two decades, Hutcherson’s church has grown from 15 people in 1984 to 4,000 today, but perhaps even more impressive than the growth is the ethnic diversity in the church. The congregation is now about 60% white, 20% to 25% black or mixed race, and 15% to 20% other races. Overall, more than 35 different ethnicities are represented.
Hutcherson adds to the voices of other churches reflecting their communities, saying that the leadership in a church, as well as the music and worship styles, must be diverse in order to foster more congregational diversity. But he believes the number one way to nurture those differences in the Church is to understand the biblical mandate.
“When you think diversity is essential to your ministry, and you believe that it’s a biblical standard, you’ll find people in your community that are different from you,” he says.
Other churches have learned from Hutcherson and his congregation’s scriptural focus, as they also dream about and strive for a diverse body. Rev. Mark DeYmaz, who leads Mosaic Church (no relation to Mosaic Los Angeles) in Little Rock, Arkansas, a daughter church to Antioch, believes that the biblical idea of Christian unity is the best way to reach the unchurched.
Recently, DeYmaz preached a sermon on biblical unity: “On the night before Jesus died, He delivered to us the most effective means of reaching the world with the Gospel,” he told his congregation. His text was John 17:23b, Jesus’ prayer for the believers: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The scripture has served as a key verse in shaping the new congregation.
The Little Rock church (mosaicchurch.net), DeYmaz explains, was an experiment in evangelism based on the idea of biblical unity that brings people to Christ. “I guess I’m just crazy enough to believe that,” he says. Whether or not churches can translate the Gospel message and the Church into other languages and cultures is an important litmus test for biblical churches, says Hutcherson. “If we can’t take what we’re doing into any community or country in the world and translate that, then what we’re doing is not biblical.”