I’m weird. I actually enjoy going to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I find it intriguing to spend part of an afternoon at the DMV because it offers the best glimpse of diversity in our culture today. Skinny or stout, tall or short, married or single, successful or struggling, we all spend a day paying our dues at the DMV. Paying for the right to be part of the community of transportation. The Department of Motor Vehicles gives us an accurate view of the people who make up our local culture. There are businessmen in dress slacks, hairdressers clothed in black, and homemakers looking casual with their kids in tow. There’s the middle-aged woman who will slide into her Mercedes Benz adorned with a personalized plate, and the elderly man who struggles to find the flexibility to attach this year’s tag to his Buick.
Diversity. That’s why the DMV is such a great place to spend part of a day.
It’s different from hanging out at Panera Bread. Only a certain type of person is going to grab coffee and a cinnamon crunch bagel, enjoy some classical music, and respond to e-mails from a laptop at Panera.
It’s not like spending time at the local Cabela’s store. Only a specific segment of our population is going to be testing the weight and feel of the newest fiberglass fly-fishing rod. (Likely, this isn’t the same person sitting in his second office—Panera.)
It’s not like meandering around Bath & Body Works sniffing the soft fragrances of their body lotions and triple-wick candles. Folks who spend time and hard-earned money at Cabela’s aren’t typically concerned about eucalyptus spearmint hand lotion.
Sweet bagel, new fly rod, and aromatherapy lotion aside—everybody needs transportation. It’s a commonality that unites us all. The DMV offers me a genuine glimpse of the broad spectrum of people in my local community. Folks I might not run into at Panera or Cabela’s or Bath & Body.
But there is another reason I enjoy the Department of Motor Vehicles. Whenever I sit and wait for my number to be called, I’m reminded of another more significant picture of diversity. One with a global reach. A collection of individuals with a wide expanse of socioeconomic, cultural, political, and theological differences. A group with more examples of uniqueness than even the DMV can attract. God’s church!
By design God draws to himself teachers and artists, contractors and caregivers, to be part of the unique group of people he calls his church. He created it that way.
God calls the poor, the wounded, the opinionated, the nosey, the caring, the broken, the seemingly unlovable. He calls them his own. He welcomes all of us, with our quirks and our maladies, into his unique community of love and acceptance, of grace and truth.
This community is far different from anything you or I could ever dream up! Not because we couldn’t pull together a group of folks that would resemble the famous “Buy the World a Coke” television commercial from the 1970s.1 With a little help from our Facebook friends, we could gather a group from across the globe. Problem is, we wouldn’t. The power of diversity is lost on most of us.
You and I would likely pick a group that looked a whole lot like us. We’d choose people who wear the same Eddie Bauer jeans, Gap sweatshirts, and Clark’s shoes that we do—folks who drive Honda SUVs, make the same schooling choice that we make,2 and live in three-name subdivisions.
If it were up to us to choose, God’s church would look a whole lot like you and a whole lot like me. The Church of the Mirror.
Fortunately, God in his great wisdom, didn’t draw unto himself a collection of clean-cut-Christian look-alikes, dressed in white polo shirts and khaki pants. He didn’t draft a fantasy faith team of the smartest, funniest, best looking, and most creative.
The church that Jesus is building is an eclectic, intriguing, quirky, diverse mess of humanity. That’s God’s way. (Which couldn’t be more different than our personal view of the world—and the church.)
It’s All about Me!
Simple fact: you were made in God’s image. It’s true. Here’s the evidence in black and white:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26–27)
Because we were made in the image of God, bearing his likeness, we are really significant. We carry with us the image of the Creator and sustainer of the entire world! (Take a moment to ponder that.) It’s an amazing and humbling truth wrapped up tight in a skin-covered package that is uniquely you and uniquely me.
How amazing are we? God himself smiled on his creation. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
It was very good!
But now, the very good thing has a problem. Our significance often causes us to idolize the created instead of the Creator. We worship self instead of worshipping the Holy.
Here’s how it works: instead of thankfully and joyfully being little images of the living God, we make big images of ourselves and consider God the little one. We don’t say this, of course—that would be blasphemous. But what we practice is a world centered on our thoughts, our actions, and our dreams.
Don’t believe it? Consider for a moment the way you and I typically determine the quality or value of a photograph. It’s a great photo if you look good! Right? Not such a good shot if your eyes are shut or your smile reveals a front tooth with a piece of the broccoli you had at lunch.
Here’s another one: Consider the appropriate driving speed on the highway. You set the curve. Everyone else needs to stop driving like your great-grandmother and get out of your way, or they’re certifiable speed demons driving like NASCAR star Jimmy Johnson! Right?
We tend to be the barometer of all that is right and true and correct in the world.
Obviously, these are two seemingly insignificant ways we position ourselves as the ultimate authority in our day-to-day experience. What we’re really doing is slowly developing a mind-set where we elevate our thoughts and actions above God’s plan and his desires. Unfortunately, our experience with other Christ followers often puts them on the receiving end of our elevated view of self. And, typically, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Anne Lamott captures the essence of this thinking when she writes of some honest counsel she once received: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”3
Can’t see this sort of thinking in your own life? Consider how easily the mind-set takes over after a weekend worship service or a midweek small-group gathering.
- Are you critical of the music style of worship unless it matches the tunes in your iPod?
- Are you disappointed in the pastor’s sermon unless it’s filled with enough funny stories and memorable illustrations that you can bluff your way through a dinner conversation about the message’s application for your life?
- Do you disapprove of the newly appointed elders who were selected to lead your church because none of them are guys you play golf with each week?
- Are you unhappy with the new person who’s been added to the teaching team of your Sunday school class because he’s been influenced by the wrong theologians and Christian thinkers?
- Are you critical of the book you’re studying in your weekly small group because it’s challenging the way you and your spouse are parenting your two children?
Your dissatisfaction and angst might be warning signs that you’ve begun to attend church made in your own image. Built on your opinions. Fashioned after your desires. You’ve made yourself the senior pastor of the Church of the Mirror.
Unfortunately, this happens in the hearts and minds of Christ followers every weekend. You do it. I’m guilty. It happens in churches of every denomination, of every size, in every city. The Church of the Mirror mind-set infiltrates congregations everywhere—without much opposition.
Church databases are filled with people who came from the church across town. Christ followers shuffle from one local body of believers to another. Why? Because something’s always wrong—the worship style, the volume, the pastor, the elders, the lady who wears too much perfume, the guy who’s got too many tattoos, the folks whose tongues are too loose in the lobby following the service—all are very important. The real problem? Other people who aren’t like that person in the mirror.
That’s why longtime pastor Eugene Peterson says:
The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people. They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ. They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations. Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken) a drag. But at the same time our Lord tells us they are brothers and sisters in the faith. If God is my Father, then this is my family.4
As the pastor who oversees the small groups at my church, I see this I-want-to-pick-my-family thinking with regularity.
If some members classify themselves as “deep” biblically and theologically, they’re typically only interested in connecting with a group of Christ followers of similar depth. And if they can’t find others to discuss the nuances and differences in the Synoptic Gospels or kick around the theological similarities of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, they’re looking for another group of believers where they can experience “deep” community.
While there is certainly something unique in our culture about folks who still value a deep biblical or theological discussion, this desire often makes me wonder; who will be left to guide the younger, less-mature believers if all the people with biblical and theological depth are off swimming in the deep end of the pool of Christian community?
Another example I see often is the common interest in being physically active. Active people often want to invest only in others who’ll bike and hike, camp and fish, and exert their inner Bear Grylls on the weekends. Common activities aren’t wrong. Doing life together in a small-group community that has similar interests can provide us with powerful experiences and lifelong memories. But this active group is typically a made-in- my-image community. It’s too narrow. Too self-serving. Too me-focused. It pays little respect to the diversity of God’s church.
Pastor John Ortberg wrote an entire book on the oddities and quirkiness of God’s people. In it, he says, “The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul. Our need for community with people and the God who made us is to the human spirit what food and air and water are to the human body. That need will not go away even in the face of all the weirdness.”5
Most of us long for a church community that is rich in worship, teaching, and relationships. We yearn for a worshipping community that regularly leads us into the presence of the Father. We desire a teaching community that is rooted in Scripture and is theologically rich. And we long for a community of Christ followers who are honest about living out their faith in word and deed. Problem is, we too often want all of these communities created in our image.
Rick McKinley pastors the Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. His church is a diverse collection of urban professionals, former drug addicts, and young middle-class families. His clarity on this diversity of God’s people is refreshing: “Jesus created the community of the church to be a family that comes into being by a new birth in Jesus and the miracle of our union with him. Jesus didn’t create a product for us to evaluate and decide if we like it or not.”6
The diversity that we see among the unique community of people that God is building called his church is something that we should run toward—not away from. It should intrigue us to know people—at a deep, spiritual level—who are unlike the person we see in the mirror.
The security that we have as men and women of our heavenly Father should open doors of opportunity that nonbelievers can only dream of having. Is there a safer person from whom to learn about an opposing political view than a fellow believer? Could there be a less confrontational environment to discuss racial issues? Isn’t a fellow Christ follower the best person to help you understand the economic challenges faced by the poor, or the weight of responsibility carried by the wealthy?
The community God is building is incredibly diverse. And every one of us is better because the rest of the community doesn’t look just like us.
1. The 1971 advertisement with teenagers from across the globe made the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)” such a part of our culture that many Coca-Cola-drinking adults can still sing it today some forty years later.
2. A pastor friend of mine once told me that he could look out over his congregation of three hundred on a Sunday morning and see the dividing lines of homeschool, Christian school, and public/charter school families in the seating patterns at the worship service.
3. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (New York: Anchor, 1994), 22.
4. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 176.
5. John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them (Grand Rap- ids: Zondervan, 2003), 18.
6. Rick McKinley, A Kingdom Called Desire: Confronted by the Love of a Risen King (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 139.
Rob Bentz (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Woodside Bible Church in White Lake, Michigan. Rob has written numerous articles for various ministry websites and is currently a featured blog writer at ChurchLeaders.com. He and his wife, Bonnie, have two children and live in Highland, Michigan.
Content taken from The Unfinished Church: God's Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress by Rob Bentz, ©2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.