By Daniel Darling
Near the back of the Bible we find a different picture from what we normally see in most of our churches each Sunday.
We find a glorious, diverse picture of God’s kingdom, a mosaic of the Imago Dei, with every nation, tribe and tongue (Revelation 5 and 7) gathered around Christ’s throne.
John’s vision in Revelation makes it plain that the New Jerusalem—the new creation, the world—will feature racial unity. The gospel breaks down sinful walls of racism and prejudice and injustice and unites God’s people into “one new man” (Ephesians 2).
But sadly when we look around our world, our country—and in our churches—we don’t see anything resembling what we see in Revelation. Why is that?
More importantly: What can church leaders do?
Most of the time when racial issues arise in the culture, we have a tendency to withdraw in fear or get defensive. Sometimes we allow our political tribes shape our views. Other times we’re unwilling to listen and learn from others.
But the Bible isn’t silent on race. So rather than take our cues from the culture, we should lead from the Scriptures.
We need to help people catch a vision of the beautiful diversity of God’s glorious kingdom so we can work toward that in our churches, showing the world a glimpse of what is coming when Jesus returns.
How do we do that? One article can’t solve every leadership struggle, nor can it provide a full blueprint for the complex racial tensions in every church context. But three key ingredients to church leadership are necessary:
Leaders first must take time to learn what the Scriptures say about racial reconciliation. This isn’t an issue you have to press into the Bible. It’s already there across its pages.
In fact, if you’re preaching or teaching systematically through Scripture you can’t miss it.
The thrust of God’s promise to Abraham and the promises to Israel are His desire to be made known among all nations. And almost every New Testament book embeds its presentation of the gospel with its unifying, reconciling power.
- You can’t faithfully preach the Great Commission passages without stopping to acknowledge them as the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to build His church from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
- You can’t preach Galatians without preaching on the racial divisions that flared within the early church.
- You can’t exposit Ephesians without spending time on the gospel’s bringing together of diverse people into “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15).
- You can’t teach Acts 1:8 without seeing the ingathering of the peoples of God as a sign of God’s promise to call a people to himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
- You can’t do a series on the book of Revelation and not behold the majestic beauty of the diversity around God’s throne in Revelation 7 and 9.
This is just a sampling of it. We need to learn and understand what the Bible says and then teach it with conviction and make application in our contemporary settings that can be used by the Holy Spirit to move our people to action.
James 1:19 urges every believer to be “quick to listen.” Quite often on matters of racial unity, we are often quick to speak but slow to listen.
Those of us in the majority culture must be intentional about reading minority voices, having relevant conversations and forming deep friendships with other leaders of color, about hearing perspectives that come from a different place from our own.
If we are to obey the command in Galatians 6 to bear one another’s burdens, that means we must bear the burdens of our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. To quote Russell Moore: “If one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.”
This not only will help us grow in meaningful ways, but will help us become better pastors, able to shepherd our people well and teach them what it looks like to pursue racial unity in our own lives.
Racial unity will not be a priority in our churches if we don’t preach it when it comes up in the text, when we don’t listen and grow, and when we don’t lead out on it. This is an issue that takes great leadership.
Good shepherds understand their congregations and understand the pace of change. It’s up to us to teach and preach in such a way that both challenges people but also leads them gently along a path of sanctification and holiness.
Good leaders meet people where they are and help guide them along—sometimes challenging, sometimes comforting, always leading. We do this as broken and blemished sheep ourselves following the perfect Shepherd in Jesus.
Let’s help people understand that racial unity is something every believer must pursue in his or her own unique contexts in obedience to Ephesians 2 as we work toward a church that looks a bit closer to what we see at the end of the age, when God’s people gather around His throne.
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling)is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution.