One of the most important things I’ve ever heard was from my friend, Dr. Charles Montgomery Jr. Dr. Montgomery was addressing a full house at an international conference when he offered this simple truth: “If you want a diverse church, you have to have a diverse life.” The truth inside this statement is worthy of a doctoral dissertation. For people engaging in pastoral formation and working in pastoral ministry, it’s one of the most important elements of this pastor’s life.
Baskin offers us 31 flavors. At least.
That’s not an accident.
When I first started this pastor’s life, we were taught the principle of homogeneity. If we wanted to build a church (ie. get a lot of people in our local franchise) get people from the same basic demographic. Vanilla likes vanilla and doesn’t feel comfortable around all the other flavors. Grow fast and grow big by keeping it vanilla. If other flavors want to join, bonus, but they’ll be joining vanilla and we won’t be mixing flavors.
And the simple truth is that this principle is pretty common to life. Our tendency is to be with people who are like us. We’re attracted to people like us. We enjoy people like us. We relax around people like us. We feel very comfortable about people like us.
Homogeneity is the Anti-Baskin. His number is 666.
I don’t doubt the principle. I’ve seen it work over and over. But I won’t work it. It’s the wrong ladder against the wrong wall. It’s the road that looks great but can’t get me where I want to go. Where I need to go.
I need diversity in my life. I need a church full of people who I would not ordinarily hang out with and who would not ordinarily hang out with me. I need the whole Baskin experience, all 31 flavors. Why have one color of the rainbow when you could have the whole rainbow?
I need friends who aren’t like me so I can see the things I don’t even know I’ve been missing. I need friends who don’t like the things I like so I can seriously consider why I like the things I do. I need people with life experiences that are different from mine so that my view of life can expand to take in more than my narrow slice provides me. I need friends who laugh at things I don’t, who read books I’ve never heard of, come from places I’ve never been and eat things no one I knew before knows how to cook.
In pastoral formation I believe that anyone who wants to be pastor needs to invest time in life among people whose cultures are very different from their own. Develop relationships with people who don’t vote the way you vote, who don’t dance or do dance – whichever is different from you. Live in places, don’t just visit, with customs you don’t understand, politics that aren’t what you’re used to and worship reminds you that you’re not in Kansas any more.
Myopia, near-sightedness, has plagued my life. Never more than when I’ve focused my life on the little circle I’ve drawn around me and mine. One of the most important things I can think of for pastors to do today, after developing the diversity of their own lives, is to create the space and the opportunities where the people they pastor can taste all that Baskin has created and to expand their own understanding of what ‘normal’ is and to learn how what people are really like rather than the caricatures our prejudices and media monsters want us to believe in.
I work at surrounding myself with friends who aren’t like me. I look for experiences and opportunities that are outside what has been my ‘normal.’ I open my life up to include people I’d never find myself with naturally. And the church is the perfect place for that to happen. It’s where God intended for this to happen. And God uses all of the flavors in my life to make me a better me and make me look a lot more like Jesus than I do if I stay in my little vanilla world.