My friend Trillia Newbell has written a needed and helpful book called United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. In United, Trillia explores the importance of pursuing diversity in the church by sharing her own unique experiences growing up in the South and attending a predominately white church. She champions the theology of diversity from the Scriptures, providing compelling reasons to pursue diversity. A timely book in any age, it is especially needed in light of recent events.
She was gracious enough to allow me to interview her today.
Brandon Smith: You write in United about your friendship with two girls of other ethnicities. How do you think the friendship, accountability, and discipleship helped you feel a part of your local church?
Trillia Newbell: There is something unique about really getting to know someone. We can walk into the doors of our churches and never build deep friendships. I was thankful to have met Amy (white) and Lillian (Chinese) early on. We decided to begin meeting together every other week to do accountability. The Lord used those girls in profound ways. First, it was so nice to have friends. When you are in a new place, as a new Christian, it can be scary to navigate your place in the church. But having friends like these helped ease that tension. Second, we had older women to bounce things off of and then we also had each other. We could ask pointed questions and pray for one another. It was a rich season of fellowship which taught me how to engage in fellowship with other members of the body.
B: You became a Christian in your 20’s. Tell us about your conversion and how important evangelism is in the pursuit of diversity.
T: I was sitting in a hotel room with another gal when she popped open her Bible. I was there to lead a cheer camp and she was my assistant. We had never met each other before but the Lord had divinely appointed this meeting that would change the whole course of my life. I remember putting up a guard and asking her what she was doing. She said she was going to have a quiet time. By the end of that time I was sitting on her bed and we were both crying while she shared the gospel with me.
It took two years and two broken engagements before I finally submitted and committed my life to the Lord. He was faithful to draw me to himself and to save me. It was and remains amazing to me. But what if my friend, who is white, had decided not to share with me because I am black? What if she shrunk back in fear because of our ethnicities? The gospel transforms the way we think of ethnicity. The gospel empowers us to share cross-culturally because it is the Good News that all need to hear. Jesus charged the disciples to make other disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). This mindset is important to the pursuit of diversity because we could find ourselves otherwise reaching out to only those like us. God paints the beautiful picture of disciples of all nations, all tribes, and all tongues. He most often uses his people to accomplish this goal.
B: How important do you think discipleship is as churches seek to pursue diversity?
T: Perhaps you or your readers have experienced this… a person comes to your church for a little while but after a few Sunday’s they stop showing up. We might assume that they decided they didn’t like the teaching or worship. Maybe. But I wonder if they got to know anyone? I would wonder if anyone said hello and then invited them to lunch or showed some sort of hospitality and interest beyond a “Hello.” Discipleship typically starts with relationship and relationship begins with intentional care. In other words, we have to pursue one another first and then we have the opportunity to teach one another the Word. But there is almost no doubt that if we begin to pursue one another and teach one another then we will build churches that reflect the Last Days.
There isn’t a guarantee, of course. But I do think it’s worth the effort. God gives us a picture in Titus 2 of what it could look like for the whole church to be involved in discipleship. I think this model helps us to build into each other and build the church. I am confident that if I didn’t have people who genuinely cared for me during my early days attending my old church, I would not have stayed. I’m sure of it. But because there were people who showed love, care, and interest, I stayed and built relationships and was discipled.
B: You’ve shared often that United isn’t so much about diversity as it is about love. Could you explain?
T: When people hear the word diversity there is a temptation to automatically put up a guard or to assume we are talking about quotas. It is a bad assumption but one that I completely understand. The word diversity has been politicized and causes many to cringe at its sound. But the Church is made up of people, made in the image of God, equal in fall and redemption. We aren’t talking about, as C. S. Lewis puts it, mere mortals. This is why the pursuit of diversity in the church is about love. Jesus came and died for the church, for His bride, for people. John 13: 6, God so loved the world that he gave his son, isn’t a cliché, it is the glorious truth of the gospel. Diversity is about building a church that reflects who Jesus died for: all nations, tribes, and tongues. And we pursue this because Christ first loved us. And we pursue others because he has called us to love our neighbor as ourselves.