4 Ways to Be Part of a Community That Is Both Diverse and Unified
- Madison Hetzler
- 2019 1 May
We as human beings are great appreciators of beauty. We savor sensory experiences that delight and awaken our faculties. We take pause to relish in that which is attractive. We cherish good design because we are designed beings, created by a God who orchestrates beauty just as he himself is beautiful. Our postmodern world relegates to the individual the power to determine what is attractive and pleasing. In this, the creative process becomes highly subjective. Though we all gravitate towards different forms of beauty, a common thread weaves together each variance: contrast.
Consider a favorite painting, book, or structure. Each piece of artwork is a singular unit comprised of contrasting elements. A painting marries together color, texture, and shape to create interest and movement. A book organizes parts of speech, thematic elements, and plot to tell a story that captivates. A structure plays with angles, balance, and materials to defy gravity. Each example represents one piece with multiple components. No created thing is singular in its composition. Contrast is essential. Dissimilarity is fundamental, not optional, in the design process. It is also not accidental.
It requires work, time, effort, skill, and energy to bring diverse elements together in cohesive form such that it pleases, surprises, and delights.
Our creative processes originate from our Creator; we should, therefore, not be surprised that the marriage of contrast and unity is rudimentary to our Creator’s design. In no one biblical construct is this more apparent than God’s design for community. In the Trinity, we see that God is three persons in one diving being. As we are made in his image (Gen. 1:27), we are intended to be many members comprising one body (John 17:21, 1 Cor. 12:12-13). Each member is given distinction in their role, but we function together for the singular purpose of glorifying God.
Community that is marked and distinguished by both diversity and unity does not come easy. It does not come without sacrifice. This, too, should not surprise us. The body of Christ does not have the breath required for life without the sacrifice of Christ himself. Our ability to dwell within community is not free, but is a costly gift that was purchased in full. How, then, should we go about this task of taking a diverse people group and making them one body?
Consider these four guiding principles.
1. Grow in knowledge of the Lord and of others.
Shortly after Paul opens his letter to the church at Ephesus, he tells the church of his prayers for them. He prays that the church would have intimate knowledge, wisdom, and hope in the immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards those who believe (Eph. 1:17-19). Do you know what it is to seek treasure from a storehouse that holds inestimable riches, to grow in knowledge from a source that is infinitely beautiful? Such a journey never ends. We can never exhaust the resource that is God’s Word. Therefore, you and I have constant opportunity to grow and learn. Yet, Paul’s words carry an intimate component. He does not just call us to head knowledge; he calls us to grow in our love for and closeness to this God we seek.
It is upon this knowledge in Christ that Paul calls us to unity in chapter four. In one accord, we are to serve with humility, gentleness, patience, and eagerness (Eph. 4:2). We cannot have such unity if we do not know one another. Just as we cannot grow in knowledge of God if we do not spend time in his word and in prayer, we cannot love one another well if we do not invest in relationship. Humility, gentleness and patience are attributes that have been stripped of pride and self-prioritization. What is left is genuine care of others. Paul’s blueprint for community is this: grow in love and desire for the Lord. As you do this, your love and desire for community will also grow. As it does, love and serve with selfless zeal for God’s purposes, not our own.
2. Walk in obedience to God’s commands.
An artist does not create a piece of artwork by accident. At some level, he or she must intentionally bring together varying materials and work them together to produce an end result. Similarly, the formation of community is not a passive act. We must actively bring together diverse people and function together in unity. This means that we must be personally responsible in our own service unto God’s people. We must not forsake meeting together (Heb. 10:25). We must be exercising our gifts (Rom. 12:6) and expending our resources (Luke 6:38, 2 Cor. 9:7), both for the glory of God and the good of others. We are not idle, waiting for community to be done unto us. Instead, we are forward moving, ready to contribute and serve.
3. Intentionally pursue diversity.
In order to know how our obedience relates to diversity, we must understand God’s design for community. God has given us diversity in our spiritual gifts and places of service (1 Cor. 12:1-11). He has written a unique testimony for each of us. While we all identify with Christ in coming to the gospel, we arrived at that place through different means and experiences. As we share with others, we all rejoice and glorify a God who is not limited by any worldly barriers and constructs; he redeems people in every walk of life, from every background.
God’s Word demonstrates continually that he has purposed that all nations come into saving knowledge of Christ. Every single one of us are participants in this plan. Matthew 28:19 tells us to go forth and make disciples of all nations. While the world tells us that cultural boundaries limit relationships and define our differences, the Bible tells us that all barriers to relationship come down when we are one in Christ. It shows us that God is deserving and worthy of the worship of all peoples (Phil. 2:10-11). And it commands us to actively go forth in pursuit of bringing every nation into the saving power of the gospel. We are not to be skittish of diversity; we are to pursue it with fervor.
4. Proceed with humility.
Dwelling in diverse community requires unceasing humility. When we engage others with different perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, cultures, giftings, and personalities, we will be tempted to forsake unity and lean into separation. Humility in Christ is the antidote to the division that is inevitable in our flesh. The posture of humility says that we are ready to be sharpened by God’s Word and people, not coddled in our emotions and opinions. It reminds us that we were not created to live in isolation, but that God designed us to need others. We cannot become or accomplish what God intends when we separate ourselves from the very means he gave us to complete our task. Our fleshly nature and all of its desires are far too strong for us to stand alone. Instead, we stand together.
As a piece of artwork speaks to the skill and eye of its creator, the Church proclaims the beauty of the Lord and his design by bringing together diversity in one unified whole.
With a heart for teaching, Madison Hetzler is passionate about edifying fellow believers to be strong, confident, and knowledgeable in the Word of God. Madison graduated from Liberty University's School of Divinity and now instructs Bible courses for Grace Christian University. She cherishes any opportunity to build community around cups of coffee and platters of homemade food.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/frimages