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At the time of this post, Shane Huey was on staff at Veritas in Columbus, Ohio. He is now at Vineyard Columbus.

I love my church, flaws and all. I currently attend a Reformed, Southern Baptist church full of white people, which is surprising considering my roots. I grew up in a very loud, very black stream of Pentecostalism. I have chosen to stay at my current church, because I saw the sovereign care of God, taking someone who was an altar call junkie, living from one emotional frenzy to the next, to someone who is no less emotional (I can still shout with the best of ‘em), but more firmly rooted in the unchanging truth of the Gospel. I also stayed because I wanted to stick around long enough to see God form a bunch of broken, imperfect people into a faith family.

Over the last year, our big, white church has been striving to more fully reflect the diversity of Columbus, Ohio and the Kingdom of God. In the first few years, we perpetuated the racial segregation that exists in so many churches across America. Then in just four short years, we became a church of 1,000 white people, and our gracious Lord has made some of us increasingly uncomfortable with that ever since. So now, our infant church is stumbling our way through trying to figure out what it looks like to be a Gospel-centered, multi-ethnic church in the city. Here are a few of the lessons we are learning along the way.

The “Man of Peace” Myth

One of the first things you’ll hear when you seek out advice on how to become a more racially-diverse church is the phrase “man of peace.” Essentially, a man of peace is someone (a minority, for example) within your church who gives off those “don’t let this sea of white people freak you out” kind of vibes to all visitors.

Starting with one person is good and necessary, because racial diversity usually doesn’t happen all at once, but it’s naive to believe having one minority floating around your church is enough to disarm entire centuries of hostility. It’s not enough to post them up at the front door and hand out bulletins, or even give them five minutes of stage time to make a few announcements.

More than just having minorities, you may need to have minorities with decision-making authority. I know this may not be what you want to hear, but that means you may have to hire minorities for your staff and ordain minority elders and deacons. And none of that will happen unless you are committed to long-term, sustainable change.

Assimilation is NOT Reconciliation

Being one in Christ does not mean everyone needs to become just like us (i.e., black, white, Asian, etc.). Oneness does not mean sameness. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that racial reconciliation simply means assimilating minority cultures into what we’re already doing. But assimilation falls short of reconciliation. In fact, assimilation can be just another form of oppression.

If we, as a church, fling open the doors and welcome everyone in, but stop short of examining our own biases and stop short of celebrating differences within others, then we aren’t really in the business of reconciliation. We’re silently saying to people of other races and cultures, “It’s cool for you to be here, but you have to talk like we talk, dress like we dress, and like the music we like.”

Reconciliation demands not only that we embrace diversity, but that we practice diversity. That means critically examining some of our white-washed faith practices in the music, aesthetics, and even sermon content to see if we’re silently (or not so silently) exalting the social norms of one race or ethnicity at the expense of others.

Embrace Discomfort

Pursuing reconciliation is hard and it may take a very long time. But whenever you shake up something as homogenous as one-race churches, things are bound to get a little messy. For example, it might take your indie-rock worship band one, two, or twenty tries before their attempts at Tye Tribbett songs sound good. Sometimes it’s simply because people are so programmed to worship to one style of music that their cynicism won’t allow them to embrace something new. Whatever the reason for people’s discomfort, just embrace it.

Inevitably, someone will always be upset with what you’re doing. You’re either not doing it well enough, or not doing it often enough, or perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all. Use those opportunities to pastor one another and expose the idols that lay at the root of those criticisms. If you’re one of those angry-looking folk unwilling to accept diversity, just take those songs that you don’t like as a reminder that it’s not about you anyway.

Our faith family has a long way to go, but the Lord is faithful in building his church. Our hope and prayer continues to be that Jesus would be exalted across racial and cultural lines in Columbus.


What are some lessons your church is learning as you pursue racial reconciliation?

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