I grew up in a small town tucked away in the mountains of Pulaski, Va. This beautiful Appalachian upbringing provided great vistas and wonderful childhood memories. However, it did little to prepare me to be a ministry leader in an increasingly diverse context.
After 35 years of pastoral ministry, I wonder if anything could have prepared me for what I encounter today.
In early 2010, my wife Glenda and I moved from our predominantly monocultural neighborhood in the suburbs of Indianapolis to our new church, First Baptist Church, Duluth, Ga. This quaint Southern town outside Atlanta is diversifying at an astonishing rate.
Longtime residents can recall when Duluth amounted to a single road with a single stoplight. But in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Duluth became a residential hot spot in suburban Atlanta. Professional athletes, CEOs, and wealthy entrepreneurs built massive homes, and the standard of living soared.
A colossal event in 1996 changed the trajectory of this community for the next generation: Atlanta hosted the Olympics. The nations came to our city. International leaders had a delightful first experience in the mild climate and robust economic atmosphere of Atlanta’s suburbs. As a result, people from a variety of nations began to populate Duluth in record numbers during the early 2000s.
When I arrived in 2010, Duluth was on its way to becoming one of the most diverse cities in America. In our mayor’s “state of the city” address that year, I heard a startling statistic that has motivated me ever since.
Mayor Nancy Harris illustrated the changing nature of our community with one statement: “There are 57 languages spoken daily at Duluth High School.” I wrote this down and challenged the mayor afterward. Surely she had misspoken! I didn’t think there were 57 languages in the entire world, much less at our local high school.
I left that event pondering, “If First Baptist Church is going to be relevant in this community, we have to learn to carry the life-changing truth of the Gospel to 57 different language groups.” I spent the next six months forming a biblical strategy that I shared with the church in a Sunday morning message.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press