How Is Your Church Different From Other Churches?

By Scott Seaton
I was recently asked that question, by a newcomer to Emmanuel. If you’re looking for a church home, it’s a great question to ask.

I responded by saying we actually don’t try to be different. All churches ought to express the core beliefs and mission that Christians have always affirmed. Sure, there have been differences—some very loud differences—over the centuries, but they have mostly been over secondary issues. The essentials of the faith, of who God is and how he relates to us, are held in common by churches in every age and every culture. Jesus has also given his Church a common mission, to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). And so we aren’t trying to be different in our essential theology or purpose.

That essence can be expressed in one word: Emmanuel. God With Us. The triune God who created us in his image, loved us so much he did everything necessary to rescue us from our sin and shame. There is no person, behavior, or circumstance that is beyond the presence of God. And so we chose Emmanuel as the name of our church, to be reminded that no matter who we are, where we are from, or what we’ve done, God is with us.

But while the essential beliefs and mission are shared by churches everywhere, each church has its own personality. It exists in a particular time and place, with unique people and circumstances. And so each church is indeed different from other churches—the question the newcomer was asking. For our congregation, that distinction can also be expressed in one word: Emmanuel.

I told the visitor the first thing many people notice about Emmanuel is the diversity of our congregation, not only our members but also our officers and staff. In fact, we named our church Emmanuel, because it has the same meaning and pronunciation in every language. It’s a constant reminder that God welcomes people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9).

Since diversity is our eternal and inevitable future, our church is committed to reflecting and celebrating what it means to be a diverse community, here and now. As a multi-ethnic church in Arlington, one of the most ethnically rich areas in the country, we’re developing ways to deepen and extend the vision God has given us.

For example, we’re starting a new course that will look at lessons from the life of Barnabas, who planted the first multi-ethnic church. Deeply soaked in the gospel, Barnabas built up the marginalized and distrusted, created opportunities for others to serve and develop, gave away power and was willing to be eclipsed. Barnabas is the kind of person we need to be, in order to be an authentically diverse people. We’re also praying the Lord would enable us to plant other multi-ethnic churches and equip pastors who want to grow their own church’s diversity.

As we lean into this vision, we’re mindful that unity in diversity is a powerful witness to an increasingly divided world. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). True unity is possible, only because Jesus transcends what naturally divides us. And not just our ethnic differences, but our social, economic, and political differences as well. It’s what we all long for, whether we know it or not. Deep inside every image bearer you will meet this week, there is a chord that resonates with God’s work of restoration.

In that way, may we all be different, because God is with us, our Emmanuel.

Scott Seaton | Outreach |  Diversity | Multi-ethnic | John 13 | Revelation 7
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