“There are unsaved, unchurched people everywhere. That’s our target. It doesn’t matter what our skin is wrapped in. The quicker we quit seeing past skin color, the better we’ll be.”
Notice that Ted Young, lead pastor of a burgeoning church plant in LaPlata, Maryland, doesn’t say to ignore skin color. In fact, he says something paradoxical:
It doesn’t matter what our skin color is;
we shouldn’t ignore skin color.
Young has been a member of New Life Wesleyan Church in LaPlata for 14 years. He has volunteered faithfully, including service as LBA head trustee.
Encounter Church, Young’s church, is New Life’s eighth church plant. New Life is known for multiplication. Its 20-acre campus has three primary worship centers, and one is a smaller building affectionately known as “The Chapel.” The Chapel has been a church plant launching point and is currently housing Encounter Church.
Young and his wife, Tiffany, have always felt called to be pastors. After building a successful landscaping company, Young knew it was time to step out of commercial industry and into spiritual ministry. He was following the footsteps of his grandfather, who planted several churches in South Carolina.
Young encourages Encounter Church’s diverse membership to live Spirit-led lives because the Holy Spirit leads Christ followers to holiness. Spirit-led living also leads us to spread the gospel. But rather than spreading the Good News in segregated, isolated places, congregant diversity ensures the gospel reaches every part of the city.
“Getting past the barrier of race allows us to understand each other better,” said Young. “We have to move forward. We have to move out. Christ made us to live in community. When you live among only your type of race, you’re missing out.”
The church, asserts Young, should be a diverse community — a place of knowing and a place of being known. He points out that The Wesleyan Church began as a denomination that championed racial unity. In 1791, John Wesley penned his final letter, and he wrote it to William Wilberforce, renowned British abolitionist. Wesley wrote, “O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”
Only 50 years later, Americans across the pond were forgetting their abolitionist roots. So, in 1842, Orange Scott and others stood against slavery to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Young embraces this Wesleyan heritage.
“This is who we are. As a denomination, our roots are ethnically diverse; we stand up for one another.”
Young mentions two of many notable biblical precedents for diverse community. Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 violated current cultural norms for multiple reasons. Not only was Jesus interacting with a woman, but also, Jews and Samaritans were segregated ethnic groups. Additionally, Jesus’ disciples, notes Young, were a diverse makeup of men coming from many walks of life. They were a racially, economically and socially diverse group.
Not only should we celebrate diversity in the Body of Christ, but we must also intentionally seek it. New Life Lead Pastor Mike Hilson said, “The church should always be looking to reach humans. Jesus died for humans. Therefore, every type of human is our mission.
“There is never a reason to limit the grace of Christ as offered through our individual congregations on any basis: rich, poor, black, white, U.S. citizen, non-citizen — all of these are distinctions made by culture and not recognized by the call of the gospel.”
Ethnic diversity doesn’t happen accidentally. It is an intentional process the local church needs to seek. A starting point, Young notes, is for local pastors to get to know other community pastors who represent different racial and ethnic groups.
“Be honest with those whom you are trying to reach,” said Young. “Let them know, ‘We want to learn. We want to get better at diversity.’”
The best way to learn?
“Go to the community where you want to serve and start serving.”