Diversity and the SBC: An Interview with Thabiti Anyabwile, Peter Rochelle, Brad Paradis, and Baptist21

Developing a Middle Ground: The Church


Many of us (even myself at times), cringe when it comes to talking about the issue of diversity in the church. In this blog it is not my goal to use the guilt of the past as a bludgeon to move believers into action, but to begin a conversation that assumes that we are the generation that is capable of more than agreeing that change needs to happen. So let’s go to work for the Kingdom.

I often daydream about a scene of an unchurched person walking their dog one late Sunday morning. As this person and their pet turn right on the main road, they peacefully walk by the local church as the service is being let out. As this person and their pet walk by, the pet owner begins to notice that there is something peculiar about the scene in the church parking lot, but cannot quite put her finger on it. There are people of different ages, socio-economic status, and ethnicity in joyful community as they make their way to their vehicles. The pet owner continues on with her walk, but is often reminded about what she saw in the parking lot that day.

The closest scene that resembles my daydream is in a parking lot after a ball game when home team is victorious. But the trivial rallying point of athletics pails in comparison to the weight of the human soul being made alive in Christ, and living in biblical community (the church) with believers from all walks of life. Stated plainly, it is no task to rally diverse individuals for something external to themselves (sports, music, politics), but gathering diverse individuals into the bond of brotherhood for the sake of God’s glory strikes at the core of humanity: particularly a humanity that has been made new in Christ.

As I began my own ministry I struggled when it came time to find a church to serve. My desire was to serve an economically, generationally, and racially integrated church, but the reality was that I had two primary options, serving in a largely African American church, or in a mostly Anglo church. As I began to struggle through these issues, my heart began to long for some sort of middle ground.

Defining the “Middle Ground”

I began to promote an abstract concept of what a middle ground ought to look like, but my ideas proved to be hollow and superficial. As a result of my hollow conclusions, I began to meditate on scripture, and a fairly simple vision developed. The middle ground that I longed for was the Church, the Church in all of her intended glory, as an earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. With that said, I do not want to over simply the issue by stating the obvious (namely, the church should look like Heaven) because believers are agreeable to such a goal, but the difficulty is developing a process for the Church to arrive there.

Step One: Candid conversations among friends
(More steps forthcoming)

An important step for the church to make toward mirroring the Kingdom of Heaven is to have candid conversations that span across cultural, socio-economic, and generational lines that are rooted in genuine relationships. Christians across this country desire unity in the body, but are afraid of having blunt conversations because the last thing they want to do is offend their brother or sister in Christ. As a result of this fear, thousands of Christians are walking around with good Kingdom intensions, but are crippled with the anxiety of the unknown.

A special note on the issue of race: By encouraging conversations across cultural, lines that have been drawn for us in generations past, I am by no means asking everyone to turn off our brain and erase our nation’s history from our minds. Our history is a part of our heritage, and its effects are real and should not be ignored. On the other hand, I encourage each of us to ponder the fact that the primary identifying mark of the believer is Christ, not race (Col. 3:1-11). As those who identify themselves with the Gospel, we are new creations and have been given the ministry of reconciling to all men and woman to Jesus Christ, crossing racial, linguistic, socio-economic, and generational barriers (2 Cor. 17-20).

In my humble opinion, there has never been a generation in this nation’s history that is more capable of having God honoring and candid discussions about Kingdom issues as those who comprise the church today. In generations of old the goal for Christians was to be blind to race and culture (treating everyone as though they were the same), but I think that is less than an ideal solution. In the current cultural milieu, the celebration of diversity does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of unity. In fact, the diversity of the body under the unifying blood of Christ is a powerful testimony to those both inside and outside of the church.

It is not our intent to lob a series of ideas into the blogosphere. We would like to model (to the best of our ability) how these steps flesh out in real life and ministry. Attached to this blog is a conversation that I had with some friends, and I pray that it would be one of many honest, Christ-centered, Kingdom minded conversations that are had across the country. Of course you do not have to cover the same issues or content that we covered, these are just issues that we thought were important (you do not have to have a moderator either). If you have any questions our suggestions about anything pertaining to these, issues please comment below and the Baptist 21 crew and I would be delighted to interact with you.


Diversity and the SBC Interview


Podcast Participants:

  • Thabiti Anyabwile-
    • Senior Pastor: First Baptist of Grand Cayman
  • Peter Rochelle-
    • Executive Director: Camp Oak Hill, Raleigh, NC
  • Brad Paradis-
    • Pastor of Education: Faith Baptist Church, Youngsville, NC
  • Benjamin Quinn-
    • (moderator) Baptist21 Contributor
  • Walter Strickland-
    • Baptist21 Contributor

Comments 0

  1. Amen brother! This is one of a few things that the SBC needs to work on. My little sister is the only African-American in our whole church (she’s adopted). I understand that my church is fairly small (about 100), but still. We definitely need to strive for our churches to resemble heaven’s diversity. Besides black and white, I believe we should be reaching out as much as possible to internationals. Our cities are extremely diverse now. We have a ton of Muslims and they’re more diverse than we are also… The SBC must change for the sake of sharing the Gospel and being the Kingdom. We have to shift our focus from DOING church to BEING THE CHURCH.

    I remember when I was in Zambia earlier this year that the church I attended celebrated their tribal diversity in song. Someone would lead the song up front and call out the name of one tribe, and then that tribe would get up and dance while the rest of us clapped and cheered for them. It was awesome! They even called out “Mukuwas” (white people), so that we could do it too. That was something I’ll never forget and would like to see similar things more. We’re all the Body of Christ, so let’s be it!

    In Christ’s Unfailing Love,
    Elijah Elkins

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    It excites me to hear of brothers around the county who have a heart for this issue, not just for personal reasons but for Kingdom reasons. I love your example of unity in Christ and diversity in the body form Zambia. It is my prayer that we can bring that home to the states.


  3. Great post, thank you for lifting this issue to recognition. As someone who is burdened by this issue, there are some tough questions… Ben’s question around the 47 minute mark is huge. Affirming all theological bases of the absence of race, there then has to be some serious intentionality. Hanging out where folks hang out, as Walter said “serving your way in.” But I’m coming to the conclusion that the most effective (not the only) but perhaps the most effective, is incarnation. Thinking less attractional (corporate form and style) and much more incarnational. This really seems to be the only way to consistently love people well, as Thabiti said. The Gospel has to be communicated contextually, and I know this is sensitive because you can always go too far or not far enough, but understanding the culture well enough to live and speak truth clearly on a daily basis can only happen if you are in it daily. This may start with evangelistic bible studies or over a game of bones, but it seems the “hope” that a black person would just up and come to a predominantly white church or vice versa just isn’t the norm. Because after trust and authentic relationships are made, visiting a church won’t be so tough and some of those worship “barriers” can be addressed, if they are still barriers at all. I remember talking to Dr. Nelson about this issue in regards to style and he said something along the lines of corporate worship should reflect the culture of the body, but the body should reflect the culture of the city. So form and style can adapt, and if folk get upset with that, then bigger gospel questions must be asked! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

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    Josh, thank for your comment. As for your question, I have sat down on two different occasions to try to answer it briefly, but I have concluded that it is not possible for me to get it to less than 500 words or so. For that reason I would like to write an entire blog in order to answer your question in extended manner because there so many factors that play into the answer that I would give. I pray that I may do justice to such an important question.


  5. Post

    Elijah, your question is a valid one, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much intercultural ministry is happening at any given time. What I can say is that there needs to be a greater intentionality in our local churches and that need is evidenced by the disproportionate majority in our convention. As for NAMB and the other SBC entities, it is my hope that they would take a strong stand on this issue but doing so by empowering local churches to be more organically multi-cultural in their daily ministries. I say this because it is important to note that the SBC entities are doing their job insofar as they are supporting the ministry of the local church. With that said, NAMB can be a great help in this endeavor, because they can provide the expertise to come alongside the local church to cultivate a tangible vision, and a love for reaching people from every ethnic background. I understand that I went beyond your original question, but I thought it was necessary to distinguish between the roles of NAMB and the local church, so as we move forward the church remains God’s chosen mechanism for reaching the world with the message of the Gospel.

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