How should pastors pursue diversity in their congregation? How should they likewise promote unity? Why is community such a popular notion? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (1 Corinthians 12:1-13):
Why do you think community is such a buzz-word recently?
I would say, having been around for a little while, that there have been seasons where the church has recognized the importance of this. I was on the tail end of the Jesus Movement, where the concept of community was huge. Of course it was huge in the culture at that time, with the whole flower child movement and that kind of thing, which spilled over into the church. Thus community became an important emphasis; even people living in communes and those kinds of things. With the rise of the seeker-sensitive movement and church becoming individualized, community in my mind was almost altogether lost. I think one of the benefits of post-modernism is human beings understanding that we are designed to live together. That’s one of the good recoveries of post-modernism, not just post-modern Christianity, but post-modernism across the board. That sense of community spilled into the church, and Evangelicals have recognized the need for community. When God says that it is not good for man to be alone, he is not saying that it is not good for a male to be single (of course in Genesis the issue is addressed by virtue of marriage). The point is that it is not good for man to be solitary. We are designed to live in community, the ultimate community being the new heaven and new earth where there will be no marriage. So community is huge and an important recovery, even while it is a bit of a fad. And I expect there will come a point in time where it will not be as important as it presently is, and we should strike while the iron is hot and exploit the opportunity to teach what true community is and what it will one day be in the new creation.
This sermon and text highlights unity and diversity. Is diversity something pastors should pursue and orchestrate?
I’ve always felt like any efforts to achieve diversity feel a little too mechanical and unnatural. I would love for Trinity Church to look like Revelation 5, with people from every tribe and tongue and nation. That would be wonderful. But every attempt I’ve seen of pastors trying to impose that on a congregation have always seemed unnatural. I think what pastors need to do in terms of creating this is make sure that we are rock-solid on the essentials of the Christian faith and the primary issues of the Gospel, and make sure that secondary and tertiary issues remain that way. I think that’s how we best contribute to creating diversity. But I think to create a structure where diversity must occur is a little artificial. I think you have to preach to the people who are in front of you. And if everybody in front of me is between 20-30 years old, that’s going to alter the way I preach, over against if everybody sitting in front of me is 20-70. In that sense, preaching is to be responsive to the people that are there. There are practical things we can do to promote diversity, like not dividing the church up into age groups, so the older people only hang out with the older people and the younger people hang out with the younger people. What we want to do, as much as possible, is cause the different demographics of the congregation to blend together. That means that older people might not be happy with everything that happens on Sunday morning, nor will younger people be happy with everything that takes place. But we have to learn the concept of sharing and forbearing and preferring one another as more important than ourselves.
What do you think are warning signs that a congregation is having unity issues, and how would a pastor address those?
First and foremost, unity tends to be a top-down experience. I think unity needs to be preserved, protected, and cherished at the elder level. Elders need to love each other, and they have to be fiercely loyal to each other. It’s like a family, in that when children see that mom and dad are solid, there’s a peaceful quality about that. When elders are good, and they’re working together, and they love each other, that naturally trickles down to the congregation. Beyond that, pastors should be careful to not entertain gossip, and respond appropriately when they hear things of that sort, so that people understand that gossip or anything divisive is not permissible. And we shouldn’t be unduly harsh in our correction, but use those opportunities as teachable moments and reinforce the priority of unity in the Gospel.
About Art Azurdia
Dr. Azurdia is a former Associate and Adjunct Professor at Western Seminary.