When I was a kid I liked to color outside the lines. I was that kid who wanted to create my own picture – I didn’t want someone else telling me where I could and could not color. As the years went on, somehow I learned the “proper” way to color was to stay within the borders and boundaries I had been given on the page. I was taught in school it was wrong to overstep the boundaries - the lines were there so the picture would look nice and clean when I was finished coloring.
Coloring outside the lines is messy. Coloring outside the lines tends to mix colors that don’t seem to go together. Coloring outside the lines can create a picture that doesn’t look like the original.
As I sit here in my office in Houston, Texas, the most diverse city in the nation, these very thoughts race through my head. You see, our church is on a journey. Like the rest of our city, we are becoming more and more diverse every day. We love it, embrace, and are constantly looking for ways to encourage, develop, and grow as we color outside the lines. This path of becoming diverse means we are learning what it looks like when colors mix to create a new, better picture. We are learning how to mix colors that don’t naturally seem to go together.
Honestly, it’s much easier to color inside the lines. It’s safer to stay inside the border and use colors that are similar. But I don’t think Jesus was safe. The Jesus I read about challenged the church to think beyond the conventional lines that had been drawn in order to reach all kinds of people. I admit this doesn’t come naturally, but when it works, the blessings are far greater than the pain. The new picture painted is much more beautiful than the original, and the freedom found is heavenly.
Here are a few of the things we have learned while coloring outside the lines. . .
Sometimes people don’t understand the beauty.
Not everyone understands Monet. Some people prefer Michelangelo. That’s okay. This effort is not one for everyone. It takes genuine passion on the part of the church leaders and membership to care, catch the vision, and be all in. Some folks will leave your church. Many more will come. When you truly embrace diversity and learn how to reach people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and history, you will add more than you lose. I promise.
It can get messy.
At first glance, when we color outside the lines it might look a little messy – that’s because it is. Any time we are forced outside our comfort zone it is scary. That’s okay. No masterpiece was ever created without making a little mess. When my daughter creates with play dough she usually has as much on her hands and face as does the creation. People are messy. Life is messy. Church is messy.
Use ALL the crayons.
Learn to create an environment of inclusion. This means it’s okay for colors to mix and make a new picture. Analyze your picture to make sure every crayon is used. Be intentional about diversity on the stage, in leadership roles, and song selection. Have meaningful conversations with those in your church and community about what it looks like when all kinds of people come together to paint the picture.
Learn the term “micro inequity.”
The definition of a micro inequity is “a theory that refers to hypothesized ways in which individuals are either singled out, overlooked, ignored, or otherwise discounted based on an unchangeable characteristic such as race or gender.” According to wiki, a micro-inequity is “a subtle, often unconscious, message that devalues, discourages and impairs performance. They are conveyed through facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, choice of words, nuance and syntax.” As we have become more and more diverse we have learned to have ongoing, meaningful, and honest conversation about micro inequities in our church. Sometimes the conversation is painful, sometimes we get way outside the lines, but in the end we find God is honored and people are drawn to a church that embraces the reality of multicultural vision.
The picture God wants to paint in your church is full of different colors. There is no crayon, paintbrush, marker, or watercolor He doesn’t want to use. The picture might not look like it was originally drawn, but I promise this – the new artwork will be a masterpiece.