Pastoring & Leadership

Adding Friends in the Faith

Taelor Gray

About 7 years ago, I started seriously considering the beauty of diversity in the church. I’d begun to develop a myriad of distant discipleship influences from different theological persuasions. I started reading books and listening to radio programs from mostly white, reformed preachers who first introduced me to expository preaching and Puritan theology. I didn’t embrace everything I learned, but I pursued definitions and relished in discovery.

One day, I looked at the contact list in my phone. I was discouraged to find I literally had no white Christian friends. I had phone numbers from acquaintances and emails from people I knew years ago, but no friends who were white believers. As a matter of fact, I had no solid relationships with any other ethnicities than mine.

Even more glaring was the absence of any other theological perspectives than mine. Mostly everyone in my friend circle spoke the same “Christianese” and held to similar doctrinal leanings. I didn’t have people around me challenging me to think through all angles of historical Christianity. In the months that followed, this reality began to convict me.

I started praying to this end, asking the Lord to help me grow in this conviction. I wanted to see more diversity in my own life just as much as I wanted to see it in the American church. What transpired over the next few years was an overwhelming answer to that prayer. Did I just wake up one day and find my Facebook friend requests flooded with theologically diverse, multi-ethnic believers from all over the world? Not quite. The journey has been awkward, but intentional.

Roots and Intentions
My wife and I began to attend a mostly white, reformed church and immediately dove into community. In the years that followed, the learning curve got serious. I went to conferences where it became apparent I would be the single percent representation of a minority. I participated in conversations ranging from cessationism to annihilationism. I discovered a litany of churches in my own hometown I never knew existed. I gained political participation perspective I otherwise would’ve never considered. I ate at restaurants tucked in the crevices of exclusivity. Even though I don’t drink coffee regularly, I learned what the good kind tastes like. I even opened my ears to a Taylor Swift album…one time.

During this expedition, I somehow gained more appreciation for where I came from. If I’m honest, my drive for discovery wasn’t an entirely pure intentioned quest to see the gospel more clearly displayed in relationships. I was also working through traces of bitterness and church hurt which ultimately propelled me even further into the journey. I would look back on things I learned growing up in my church context with disdain and disinterest. Oddly enough, it was while discovering new frontiers of culture and conviction I gained a fresh appreciation for my roots.

I now know this to be a work of God’s wondrous sovereignty. Providentially, I started to see the false dichotomies I’d created in pitting people and perspectives against one another. My pursuit became more complete and I stopped simply searching for diversity simply as a means to finding greener pastures. There was much to appreciate everywhere. Learning new languages doesn’t diminish the beauty of your native tongue. Tasting new food doesn’t always alter your favorite dish. Hearing different styles of preaching doesn’t negate the sound teaching you’ve always received.

Diversity, by God’s Grace
With a full heart, I now know it is well worth it to pursue diversity. Being comfortable and stationary robs you of experiencing the ever-extending bandwidth of God’s grace. Endure the subtle insults and sarcastic innuendos from your tribe. Decide to be a token by circumstance rather than by assimilation. Be empowered in your mission to diversify your perspective. Oftentimes, diversity will not knock at your doorstep; you’ll need to go after it.

Today, I look in my phone contacts and I’ve got all types of born again friends. My friends range from a black Methodist pastor, white Baptist worship leader to an Asian Anglican priest. I’m friends with people who come from Mennonite backgrounds and folks who classify themselves as black Hebrew Israelites (not the heretical kind). I can argue with pastors in my hometown like Joe Byler and Nick Nye about Bible translations and punk rock. In fact, I never would’ve met Tyler Burns or Jemar Tisby, nor discovered RAAN if not for an invitation from my brother Tony Hall to go to a 2013 TGC conference. The Lord is as gracious as He is sovereign.

I’m still endeavoring for the spirit of what Paul articulates in 1 Corinthians 1:10-31. While divisions among us seem to blur the lines between the social and theological, we can still cling to a Christ that stirs unity at the cross. This is a messy unity. This is a tedious unity. However, I’m praying that as we continue to behold the glory of Christ, we’ll slowly look at one another and admit that it was worth it.

The call isn’t for some soft-shoed ecumenicalism, rather a flesh-warring pursuit of denying self. It brings praises to my lips to know that without a gracious God and His glorious gospel, I’d never know the beauty of diverse fellowship. I hope my testimony gives hope for those just starting down this road, while encouraging others like me to keep pressing forward.

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