5 Reasons We Need People Who Are Different Than Us
This is an article written by Rich Nathan. He is the pastor of Vineyard Columbus which is the sending church for our plant in Vancouver. Vineyard Columbus is a church where people from over 120 nations gather to worship God together every weekend. God is doing some incredible work of reconciliation in this diverse congregation. This is a timely message for all of us!
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. (1 Corinthians 12:21-22)
You've heard the expression "Birds of a feather flock together". It is designed to communicate the basic truth that people who have similar backgrounds or similar interests will choose to spend time together.
About 15 years ago, someone asked Marlene and me the very convicting question, "In the last six months, how many people who are of a different race than you have you invited over to your home for dinner?" At the time, the answer was zero. Now our answer would be very different. But the difference required some big changes in the way we did life.
A survey was taken of registered voters who were asked, "How many of your five closest friends have four-year college degrees?" Only one-third of voters without a college degree said that at least three of their closest friends had college degrees. Three-quarters of those with a college degree said that three of their closest friends had college degrees.
We segregate ourselves based upon race. We choose our closest friends based upon education. The neighborhoods we live in are sorted by wealth. In very few neighborhoods in America today do the wealthy live side-by-side with the poor. And it's rare for someone who is a Millennial to hang out with a non-family member who is a Baby Boomer.
Jesus invented the church to be an utterly counter-cultural alternative society. Nowhere is the counter-cultural nature of the church more clearly seen than when the church puts into practice intergenerational, interracial, ethnically diverse or economically diverse relationships. Why are all types of diversity not just a nice option, but a necessity? Why does the Apostle Paul warn us to never say, "I don't need you!"?
1. We need to be in relationship with people who are different than us to impact the world. During a recent presidential election, reporters from France and Germany descended upon Vineyard Columbus to find out how church members were going to vote. I asked one of the German reporters, "Why have you come to Ohio?" He responded, "Everyone in the world knows about Ohio. It's a swing state."
Not only is Ohio a swing state, but Columbus, Ohio, is the swing city. And a few years ago, our church was in the neighborhood that perfectly mirrored the voting patterns of our state. In other words, when our state voted Republican for president, the ward where Vineyard Columbus is located voted Republican. And when our state voted Democratic for president, our ward voted Democratic.
What stunned the reporters who came to our church was the racial diversity they encountered in our church. Each of them said to me, "We never expected to see people of so many different races together in a church. How did this happen?" When birds from different flocks come together, everyone, Christian or not, senses that some other dynamic must be at work. Perhaps this is God!
2. We need to be in relationship with people who are different than us to broaden our perspectives. By definition, we only have our own experiences. But if we want to become wise we'll learn from the experiences of others and walk a mile in their shoes. Young adults need to be in relationship with older adults to skillfully navigate their relationships, their romantic involvements, their vocational choices, their financial decisions and so on. No one should act as if she was the first person to ever encounter a particular situation. We all need to learn from the experiences of others.
But why does an older person need to be in close relationship with a young person? Because the world is rapidly changing and a young person can serve as a native guide to a world that is very different than the world that an older person grew up in. To cite some obvious examples, how many older people turn to their children or even their grandchildren to figure out how to get more storage on their phone or what to order in a new ethnic restaurant or even what actor is on the cover of Entertainment Weekly?
3. We need to be in relationship with people who are different than us to bring us Christ's presence. Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, 40, "35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "40..... 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
We often struggle to experience the presence of Jesus. Jesus said, "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for me." Get near to somebody who is in need and you'll get near to Jesus because that's where Jesus is. Do you want to know where Jesus is? He's at our food pantry. "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." He's at our community center. "I was a stranger [an immigrant, a refugee] and you welcomed me in." I almost never minister to somebody who is in need without getting a little backsplash of Jesus' presence.
4. We need to be in relationship with people who are different than us to mature in our love. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon in 1962 at his father's church in Atlanta, Georgia, titled, "Levels of Love". In the sermon, King urged his congregation to move beyond varieties of love that involved self-interest, such as romantic love and friendship. He cited a recent conversation with a white man in Albany, Georgia, who claimed that the tension caused by the Civil Rights Movement had caused him to not "love Negroes like I used to." King's unspoken retort was, "You never did love Negroes because your love was a conditional love. It was conditioned upon the Negro staying in his place, and the minute he stood up as a man and as somebody asking for respect, you didn't love him anymore."
Instead, King recommended a higher kind of love that extended even to segregationists and called his congregation to "rise to agape - God's all-inclusive love". King defines agape as "the love of God operating in the human heart." In other words, according to Dr. King, we human beings mature in our love towards others when we allow our hearts to be conduits of God's universal love towards people we would not naturally connect with or even like. God's love can empower us to love even our enemies. It's the practice of agape love that tells the world that God's Kingdom has come in Christ.
5. We need to be in relationship with people who are different than us to teach us the gospel. Henri Nouwen was a world-famous Catholic priest who gave up prestigious teaching posts at Notre Dame and Harvard to work as the pastor of a community in Canada that ministered to people with severe mental and physical disabilities. Nouwen said that he worked with a boy who did not appreciate and could not comprehend Nouwen's global fame. This boy wasn't impressed by Nouwen's many books or his incredible education, what he knew or what he could produce or who he could quote. Through this boy, Nouwen discovered that God loved him just for himself. It's when we get around people who couldn't care less what we know or what we've done that we get in touch with the truth that I am accepted by God for exactly the same reason that this needy person is accepted by God. It's through our simple trust in Jesus Christ and his death for us.
Never say (or even think), "I don't need you." We need people who are different from us.