Leading a Church Family into Greater Diversity and Community Impact

By Dr. George A. Johnson, Sr. Pastor of Hope Community Baptist Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan

Jesus has commissioned all of His followers to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18–20 NIV), “preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), and be His witnesses “to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8). These are clear biblical commands. Therefore, it seems logical that His Church, on His mission, must have a global impact and composition.

In the Revelation, the heavenly vision the apostle John received, he tells us that he saw “a great multitude . . . from every nation, tribe, people, and language” worshipping the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). Again in Revelation 15:4, he writes, “all nations will come.” In light of these biblical realities, I’ve always had the conviction that while our world is locked up in the sins of bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, hatred, racism, strife, and the like, it cannot be—no, it must not be this way in Christ’s Church. Sunday morning cannot be the most racially divided hour of the week. God forbid!

I came to Hope Community Baptist Church in July of 1990 back when it was still Ridgemont Baptist Church. I started out serving as the youth/Christian education pastor. After the joys of having Jesus as my Lord and having a lovely Christian family, serving this local church has been a significant high point of my adult life. The first eleven years as the associate pastor and the last nineteen years as senior pastor have been so rewarding I would do it all over again.

Ridgemont was a very missions minded, ethnic-German, family congregation, in the very best sense of this expression. While the church building was located on 8 Mile Road, the northern border between the city of Detroit and its suburbs, church membership was ethnically monolithic. Attempts had been made to be a witness in the community, but whether their thick German accents, the strong Roman Catholic beliefs of their neighbors, or other factors, they were not successful at impacting the community.

Moving from East Detroit to the Sterling Heights community further into the suburbs north of Detroit, the new facility was now more centrally located to where the membership lived and worked. The name was changed to Hope Community Baptist, with the desire to impact the surrounding neighbors to a greater degree. Our senior pastor and his wife, Dr. Arthur and Mary Boymook, along with the board, were very intentional in this new focus of ministry and helped reset the course of ministry for the future.

A first relevant hurdle for the church to overcome was to bridge the racial divide that has poisoned so much of the city of Detroit’s history. To do this, God brought a young African American man who married into one of our most dedicated families. He went on to serve in a variety of roles within the church over the years: deacon, treasurer, advisory board/ministry team, and choir, and he and his wife continue serving the Lord to this day. They raised four children among us and have been a great blessing.

Soon after moving to our new location, the Boymooks invited their new neighbors, a Liberian family, to come to Hope Church. Little by little, other African Americans; people from Jamaica, Mexico, the Philippines, and all over Europe; and most recently immigrants from the Congo have all joined our church family. These newest members from the Congo comprise our largest demographic of growth, most of them coming from the apartment complexes right around the church building. Praise God, we are beginning to look more and more like the community around us.

Where’s the strategy in all of this? Love God and love people as we carry out the Great Commission together. I pray that we would all strive, right now, here on planet Earth, to be a little bit more like what heaven is. Now I am a very simple man. I believe that if you get to know people you will find out at the core we are quite a bit alike. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners who are in desperate need of a Savior. I am also convinced that if real systemic change is to take place in any organization, the newer members of the organization must not only be welcomed into the building but must be welcomed into our hearts, lives, and homes. They must be fully integrated into the body-life of the church. Together, we must join God on His mission. Having a seat at the leadership table and envisioning what God has for us to accomplish for His glory is essential.

Today, Hope Church is more diverse, richer, fuller, and more engaged in the community than we have ever been before. We still have a long way to go, but God has also brought us a long way. Currently a Chinese Christian church and Arabic church planter are also partnering with us and sharing our facility. Language barriers and cultural differences are real, but with love and hard work, bridges can and must be built. I can’t wait to see what God will continue to do in us and through us for His Glory over the next thirty years!

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