by Jeff Skeens
This past Sunday evening we gathered together with various churches, denominations, ministries, ethnicities, and generations. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. It was so utterly normal and unimpressive on so many human levels, but the message this gathering shouted reverberated throughout my soul. It shook the heavens. It defied cultural norms. It was a corrective to the usual Christian gathering.
Each church/ministry/ethnicity/gender was able to contribute to our time of worshiping Jesus. Multiple gifts were exchanged. Blessings were offered. Confessions were made. And the Lord's table brought us together as one broken body. All this was done on a Sunday night when some families were stressed trying to get there, others sacrificed other routines, and a night at home to rest alone or with friends and family was forsaken.
The inconvenient exchange was a night to display the brining together of diverse peoples and beliefs, a foretaste of the "every tongue, every tribe, every nation" reality that is proclaimed in the book of Revelations. It was beautiful, but disrupting of rhythm and comfort, and as we all worshipped together, I couldn't help but to reflect on the way in which we've formed our typical weekly worship experiences.
We live in a culture that is fairly homogenous (ethnically, denominationally, generationally, etc.) when it comes to Christian worship. Some say we've splintered the table of the Lord into little pieces, and each Sunday we partake, we are only getting scraps compared to what God intended to offer his people. I'm not sure about that, but I do know we've been divided over the Lord's table, and as the words of a good friend once said, " It's not our table to divide." Some will read this and begin to defend their church, or stance, etc. My point isn't to stir up a defense, but to call us to something altogether different than what we're normally used to.
I'm reading a book by James K.A. Smith entitled You Are What You Love. In this new book, he shares a short vignette about the polar expedition of the USS Jeanette in the late 1800's. The whole mission was established on a faulty map and false visions of what the Arctic was really like. In short, the ship and crew got stuck in polar ice, only to break free months later and eventually parish in the cruel Arctic. After this vignette he writes this:
"We become misdirected and miscalibrated--not because our intellect has been hijacked by bad ideas but because our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing... this contest of cultural practices is a competition for your heart... More precisely, at stake in the formation of your loves is your religious and spiritual identity, which is manifested not only in what you think or what you believe but in what you do – and what those practices do to you." 22
It's my opinion that our ideas of church and how we form as corporate entities have been terribly misguided by cultural homogenous norms. What we do and how the practices of what we do actually affects us is not fully known. But what we do know is that we are changed by the habits we have in life. What we believe to be the way life is supposed to be is made known to us by how we behave, who we gather with, and the things we make time for. What we love shines brightly in our thought life and in the way we organize our social world.
To say we love diversity and unity and are “All for it!”, yet have little to no experiences of eating, praying, worshiping with those who are radically different from us, is to prove that we “like” the idea of diversity and unity, but we do not “love” it. We are not committed to it. We make time for the things we love. We sacrifice other good things to ensure our “loves” get primary time in our lives.
This is precisely why a worship gathering with those who love Jesus and are of various ethnicities, tribes, denominations, and generations is a corrective voice to our typical way of living. These gatherings stimulate our prophetic imaginations. This is why an evening like last Sunday is worth the inconvenience, discomfort, or any awkwardness you may have while joining a gathering like this.
We've had many cultural practices that compete for our hearts, our loves. And if diversity and unity isn't an intentional part of our lives, it will be left out every time, and we will either admit we don't really love it, or will make excuses as to why diversity and unity aren't a major part of our Christian worship.
What are you calibrated to? What is it that you love? Be slow to answer these questions. Take a life survey of the last month before you answer. Who do you hang out with? Who do you worship and pray with most? What's your church look like? Does your church intentionally connect with other ethnicities and denominations? Or are the gathering mostly a single local church focus? What events are promoted in your tribe?
I hope you can admit with me that we can do better, that we have work to do. We have some decisions to make and some things to consider sacrificing for the sake of glueing the splintered table of the Lord back together, metaphorically of course. And we need to be able to do this in humility without pointing the finger; offer a voice of correction, YES... start accusing certain people, churches and movements, NO. Look around you. Who's crossing the aisles, joining other tribes, carving out space to do life together with those who are different than they are?
Join them, but don't leave your church. Invite others from your tribe to join you. Be a change maker, a trendsetter. Make it attractive and mainstream to be uncomfortable and uncommitted to homogenous worship gatherings and leadership teams. We need new normals, and I know that our time this past Sunday night was one of many of gatherings that have already been laboring towards this end. I pray for more to come and for a flood of professed Jesus lovers to welcome inconveniences for the sake of diversity and unity.