I’ve been thinking about diversity lately. When it comes to cultural differences, there are many like race, ethnicity, class, education, age and values. Also, experts mostly agree that socioeconomic class is one of the biggest hurdles to cross because each class tends to have a different worldview and set of values that determine how a person spends money, chooses friends, plans for the future, organizes time, etc. Something I encounter a lot in my work with Serve Our Youth Network is socioeconomic diversity. We train our volunteers to be mindful of those differences, and the personal biases they may have towards others from a different socio-economic class. We also discuss how they could impact their relationship with the kid they are mentoring. I also think that, by and large, many evangelical churches miss this.
Here are some local examples that I feel illustrate my point:
- I recently went out to breakfast with the former pastor of a church that closed its doors. He discovered, when doing an “autopsy” of the church, that those living in older part of town thought the church wasn’t for them because of the name. It took on the name of an upper class housing development & golf club. They thought it was just for the wealthier people living in that development. That certainly wasn’t the intention or desire of the church, but that is what was communicated.
- A church I worked in there were parents who wondered why we didn’t do more outings. In the same youth group I had kids who wouldn’t have been able to go at all if I didn’t pay for it out of our budget.
- A local youth pastor I know said to me, “we don’t normally do fundraisers.” Why? Because of an assumption that every family could afford the trips or activities they do. Adding to the problem – scholarships were not planned for or thought through.
This issue that should be one that affects how we do ministry and can impact things like:
- Fellowships/lunch after church, if one particular place is frequented every week, will people feel left out if they can’t go every week?
- Where small groups are hosted, are they just in the nicer homes of the church?
- How much lead time is given for missions trips, retreats, & special events and how often are they done. Does the church provide support with fundraising or support raising?
- Youth ministry activity costs
- If your church does some children’s ministry like AWANA or Pioneer Clubs – how much is chargeed for uniforms, books, & materials… or is there a budget for it?
- Are local missions and overseas missions equally?
- Does your church meet practical needs in our community?
- When we people in your church talk about being blessed, are they just referring to financial provision?
- Are spiritual needs emphasized at the expense of meeting physical needs? (We need to do both, not just one or the other.)
- Does your church do anything that would give the impression of favoritism/preference because of economic status?
The Book of James warns us that we need to bear in mind the needs of the poor, not to overlook them and not to show favoritism toward those who are wealthy.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment, (James 1:27-2:13, ESV).
How does your church combat this? What are some examples you have seen of churches doing well in this area? In what ways can churches do better?