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What's The Church's Biggest Challenge? A Fellowship of "Differents"

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“Be ye separate.” (2 Cor 6:17, KJV)

That text served as the foundation to the first sermon Scot McKnight preached as a teenager. It also serves as a sort of parable for the way 90% of American churches gather:

We are a church of separates.

Yet that’s not how God designed the church, says McKnight in his new book A Fellowship of Differents. In his fresh perspective on ecclesiology, he invites ministry practitioners to rediscover how God has designed the church and remember how important its local expression is for shaping the Christian life.

McKnight argues that God has designed the church it to be a fellowship of differents:

The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. (20)

Taking this design seriously is the greatest challenge of the modern church. It’s also crucial for shaping discipleship. The reason may surprise you.

Which Kind of Salad Is Your Church?

If we want to get the church right, we’ve got to see it as a salad—and what kind of salad our church is determines how it acts. McKnight outlines three possibilities:

  1. The American Way: Fill your bowl with salad ingredients then smother it with dressing;
  2. The Weird Way: Separate each salad item around your plate, then eat them individually;
  3. The Right Way: Gather your ingredients, chop them into bits, then mix them together.

Which way is your church’s way? McKnight suggests we’ve turned the church into either numbers one or two: “we have smothered all differences in the church so that everything is the same;” or “we separate all the differences and different and scatter them across the towns and cities so that each group worships on its own.” (21)

The result?

[E]ach of our churches has created a Christian culture and Christian life for likes and sames and similarities and identical. Instead of powering God’s grand social experiment, we’ve cut up God’s plan into segregated groups, with the incredible aggravating and God-dishonoring result that most of us are invisible to one another. (22)

Which gets us to an important question:

Who Is Invisible in Your Church?

McKnight says this question is a crucial “test question” of church health. Church health? Yes:

The success of a church is first determined by how many invisible people become visible to those not like them. (24)

As a former pastor I’m not sure I defined success in this way. Sure, I valued inclusion and at least the idea of embracing differences. In practice, however, placing a premium on differences wasn’t really all that high on the priority scale!

Which is a shame for a number of reasons.  I was ignoring Paul's teaching in Galatians 3:28, “a set of lines that reveals what God wants the church to be and, therefore, how the Christian life is to be understood:” (27)

There is neither Jew nor Greek [ethnic]
neither slave nor free [social or socio-economic class]
nor is there male and female [gender] (Galatians 3:28)

McKnight asks, “Why is there no ordering of life on the basis of ethnicity, class, or gender?” Because “you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In Jesus, invisible people become visible to those not like them. McKnight provides a helpful list of those most invisible to make them visible:

Widows, children, young adults, seniors, women, the poor, urban, suburban, faith-strugglers, non-university dedicated, LGBT, and introverts.

Are these invisibles made visible in your church?

Why Inclusion Matters: Church Life Shapes the Christian Life

The greatest challenge to the American church is also the most crucial, because our church life shapes our Christian life:

Everything I learned about the Christian life I learned from my church…a local church determines what the Christian life looks like for the people in that church…we all learn the Christian life from how our local church shapes us. (15)

Taking his cues from Richard Foster, McKnight outlines six themes of how churches understand the Christian life (16):

  1. Prayer-filled
  2. Holy and virtuous
  3. Spirit-empowered
  4. Compassionate or just
  5. Word-centered
  6. Sacramental

9780310412144This was a light-bulb moment for me. When I consider my own childhood church experience, I can see how it drove me to focus on certain elements in my own Christian life—like McKnight, on numbers one, two, and five.

In place of these themes, McKnight offers six others to guide church life in order to govern the Christian life: Grace, Love, Table, Holiness, Newness, and Flourishing.

How is your church determining your peoples’ discipleship?


In the end, McKnight is inviting the American church to ask important questions about what the church is supposed to be and how the Christian life looks in response.

Engage his important work yourself to cultivate a fellowship of differents and shape your peoples’ Christian life to reflect God's design for his Bride.

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