Why Every Church Should Have a Diaspora Ministry—And Why Churches Shouldn’t Call It That
The mission field has come to us. We can access closed countries through immigrants and refugees. This is a “kairos moment” in a globalized age. We are rediscovering the missionary strategy of the early church.
You may have heard statements like these and wondered, “What should churches do with people scattered outside their homeland? Should churches have a diaspora ministry?”
As a missionary “returnee” who’s currently working among displaced refugees, I want to try to answer that question. Let me explain why I believe every church should have a diaspora ministry—and why your church shouldn’t call it that.
Why Every Church Should Have a Diaspora Ministry
1. Obedience to the Great Commission
If diaspora ministry merely means making disciples of people who live outside of their home country, then of course every church should have a diaspora ministry where possible. Christ commanded the church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20)—whether we go to the nations or they come to us.
The Great Commission encompasses more than just sending missionaries overseas. After all, different ethnic groups may already live across the street. Some of these groups might even be from closed countries. So aspiring missionaries can begin practicing cross-cultural ministry before they’re deployed, and returning missionaries can continue cross-cultural ministry after they return. Not every church will have diaspora living next door, but every church should be ready to make disciples when they show up.
2. As a Result of the Great Unification
Obedience to the Great Commission doesn’t just mean carrying the gospel across ethnic lines—it also means gathering disciples into local congregations that are multi-ethnic. This is the second reason every church should have a diaspora ministry—as a result of the Great Unification. I call it the Great Unification because of how the Apostle Paul describes the Lord’s work in Ephesians 2–4.
From Genesis 12 to Revelation 5, Scripture teaches us that the Lord is building a multi-ethnic people whose unity displays his manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). Maintaining multi-ethnic unity as much as possible is part of what it means to make disciples, not only because it edifies the church, but also because it commends the gospel to unbelievers. In this sense, diaspora ministry builds up and reaches out, showing that the Great Commission and the Great Unification are mutually reinforcing. You can’t be obedient to one without being obedient to the other, and obedience to one will strengthen obedience to the other. Because of location and circumstance, not every church will have a multi-ethnic congregation, but every church should desire to be multi-ethnic and unified.
Why Churches Shouldn’t Call It Diaspora Ministry
I’ve given two reasons why every church should have a diaspora ministry. Now I want to tap the brakes and give two reasons why churches shouldn’t call it that.
1. The Great Commission is Word-Centered
The Great Commission is Word-centered, not missions-centered. Let me explain. Matthew 28 encompasses all nations, but it entails the right preaching of the gospel and right administration of the ordinances—both of which are Word-centered.
Those who see diaspora ministry as the latest-greatest need to remember that the mission of the church hasn’t changed—proclamation of the gospel and gathering into local congregations. Yes, disciple-making should encompass all ethnicities wherever they may be found, and yes, diaspora ministry has a role to play in the church’s obedience to the Great Commission. But the Great Commission is centered on the Word, not on the nations. So the best way to encourage and sustain diaspora ministry in your own local church is to be Word-centered in all that you do.
2. The Great Unification is Congregational
Another potential danger in singling out diaspora ministry by that name is that it could undermine the Great Unification it is supposed to support. To understand how this could happen you first have to recognize that “unity and diversity” is congregational. Maintaining unity and pursuing diversity is the responsibility of every member, not just the leaders and certainly not just a program. In other words, it requires every member gathering on a Sunday and loving each other throughout the week (Ephesians 4:11–16).
The potential risk of starting a specific diaspora ministry is that part of the congregation (probably the part that is already passionate about it) might get behind it while the rest of the congregation could care less. This implicitly communicates to the congregation a “pick-and-choose” view of the church rather than a vision that communicates “we’re-all-in-this-together.”
Certainly, church leaders and members should teach and model cross-cultural ministry, but the best way to support unity and diversity in a local church is not to highlight a diaspora ministry, but to make multi-ethnic ministry a normal part of the everyday life of the whole congregation.
In summary, diaspora ministry—whatever you end up calling it—flourishes when the gospel and congregation are front and center.
One More Reason
Let me end by giving one more reason every church should have a diaspora ministry—catholicity. As you read the book of Acts and the Epistles, you’ll notice that cooperation among churches is often the result of diaspora in and from churches. Diaspora ministry reminds us that the mission of the church and the unity of the church is bigger than any one congregation, and local congregations can do more to spread the gospel when they work together.