After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” —Revelation 7:9-10
When I became a member of Madison Avenue Christian Reformed Church in New Jersey in the early 1980s, that congregation was quite diverse in terms of age, race, and ethnicity. I think it is fair to say that this was an anomaly within the denomination at that time.
Today, however, multiethnic congregations are becoming more and more commonplace in the CRCNA, and the denomination also has more congregations representing specific, non-white, non-Dutch immigrant or language groups."
Today’s CRCNA is made up of 1,025 congregations in Canada and the United States. More than 210 of those are congregations primarily consisting of ethnic minorities, and another 110 are multiethnic congregations. Moreover, as we look at where our denomination’s recent growth has been happening, we expect growth in the near future will come from these types of communities. We praise God for this reality and for our movement toward God’s Revelation 7:9 vision.
With great diversity, however, come greater challenges. We all know our own stories of God’s blessing in our lives, and it is easy to assume that others experience God in exactly the same way. Yet I have learned that God’s ways of blessing and working are also diverse. We can see this clearly as we reflect on God’s work in the Bible. Jesus’ way of healing was not formulaic; sometimes he touched, sometimes he spoke, sometimes he was up close, sometimes he was at a distance. God’s vast creativity is unfathomable.
In the same way, as we embrace greater diversity in our families, communities, congregations, and denomination, it is important that we make space to learn about and from each other. We can’t rely only on the familiar or traditional ways of worship or of being church.
So let’s rise to this challenge and embrace this opportunity. Let us open ourselves to where God might be at work in the diversity of our communities. Let’s take time to listen to and learn from each other, especially those who come from different backgrounds than our own. And let’s strive for the goal laid out in the denomination-wide ministry plan, Our Journey 2025, that our congregations and communities “grow in diversity and unity by seeking justice, reconciliation, and welcome, sharing our faith as we build relationships with and honor the cultures of our neighbors and newcomers.”
God’s idea of diversity is so much bigger than ours, yet he calls us to be a significant part of it. May we recognize and embrace how God is weaving a tapestry unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced.