By D.A. Horton, urban church planter, previously the National Coordinator for Urban Student Missions at NAMB
The United States is “browning” statistically and spiritually. That’s what Richard Rodriguez calls the contemporary blending of the cultural and ethnic hues residing in our country.
A recent study from The Pew Research Center shows that in the last fifty years, the population of ethnic minorities increased from 15% of the total population to 36%. Projections forecast these numbers will surge another 22% by 2060, when Hispanics alone will embody 31% of the population.
The nations of our world are now inhabiting the neighborhoods of our cities. In 22 of the top 100 populated urban areas in the U.S. there is now a 50/50 population split between whites and ethnic minorities.
What we as Southern Baptists must understand is that sin is not racist or selective; it has infected every human being, and sinners from every ethnicity under the sun saturate our urban context. For this reason, we must evangelize sinners from every nation, tribe, and tongue in our urban contexts. One effective way we can do this is by planting churches in the urban context. Not just the impoverished communities of the inner-city, which is densely populated with ethnic minorities, but every metropolitan area, of every color and of every ethnicity.
Throughout history, cities have acted as strong culture makers. They set the cultural rhythm that moves the rest of our society. And the pulse of America’s mosaic rhythm today reverberates an unmistakeable song of relativism. In May of 2013 it was reported that 77% Americans polled believe religion—Christianity included—is losing its influence in the United States.
In 2009, evidence of a relativistic application of the doctrine of regeneration was put on display when 76% of those polled for the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) identified themselves as Christians, while only 34% of that group claimed to have a personal relationship with God by being “born-again.”
By assessing the statistical and spiritual climate of the U.S., it’s not hard to tell we’re living in an urbanized multi-ethnic mission field. As Southern Baptists, we have a choice: we can naively wish for the days of the past, or we can recognize the challenge before us, seeing these high levels of lostness in our urban environments as an opportunity to follow Jesus in the very heart of the Great Commission.
The BFM 2000 says, “The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christwhich includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” The church is the eschatological foretaste of the eternal state of God’s redeemed. We see this in Revelation 7:9, where the City of God is said to be populated by people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Heaven is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-national, and multi-generational.
As Southern Baptists, we are standing at the corridor of opportunity to plant churches (and revitalize others) that can serve communities in our nation’s cities as literal brochures of heaven! Doing this en masse will afford us opportunities to re-introduce to our nation an SBC that not only repented for our sinful connection to slavery in 1995, but one that walks in repentance by tangibly raising up, nominating, and appointing multi-ethnic and multi-generational leaders. Imagine the witness it would make if every level of leadership (from our Executive Committee, Seminary Executives, our State Convention Leaders, and local churches) would serve our churches by reflecting the diversity of their community and proclaiming the diversity of heaven!
I know I am calling us to an uphill climb. Such changes, if they are done properly and in step with the Holy Spirit, will not happen overnight. I’ve learned a lot in this regard from Judge Pressler’s A Hill on Which to Die, looking at the patience that was employed during the Conservative Resurgence. We have high expectations and high hopes, but we must match those with a Spirit-inspired ability to show a high level of patience.
So with our workload cut out for us—indeed, staring us in the face, I call us to find our comfort in the gospel. Christ’s work bulldozed every wall of hostility sinful humans use to segregate ourselves from each other so we can operate as one new man (Eph. 2:11-22). In the gospel we find that salvation is made accessible to sinners not because of ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status (Galatians 3:26-28), but rather through faith in Christ Jesus. In fact, our ethnicities (blood line), carnal desires, and personal volition fail to earn us access into God’s family (John 1:12-13) because salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:4-10) given by grace through faith in Christ.
When the gospel’s implications are not seen in the rhythm of our churches, there is greater potential for sin and segregation to remain. The gospel challenges believers to set aside cultural, generational, and personal preferences, so the whole Body can be edified through the means of grace. Segregation feels right at home in the church where the majority of people place personal preferences and comfort above the multi-ethnic mission that God has called us to live out. I have written on ways we can actively fight against segregation here and here.
My fellow Southern Baptists, we have before us an open door, a chance to live out the implications of the gospel. Will we step through that door, showing the world a more Kingdom-picturesque future of the SBC?
As a convention, our president, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, has called us to pray for a spiritual awakening, and to God’s glory we’ve answered! My challenge to us now is, let us couple our prayers for spiritual awakening with hearts that are prepared to steward the souls God saves through our evangelistic obedience.
We must capitalize on the opportunity to plant and revitalize churches that reflect the Kingdom, so that God can reveal to the world that his body has the cure for racism and segregation—the gospel.