“What do I Do Next?" The Race for Reconciliation

Let’s face it; while America has made strides towards racial reconciliation she has a long way to go. I believe that God has given the church an opportunity to model for the world what the love of Christ looks like as the church embraces her ordained identity to be marked by ethnic diversity and inclusion. That is, God has called us to be a community of differences (ethnic, cultural, gender, age etc.) that supernaturally lives the abundant life together. Our churches and fellowship should be seen as strange and radical by the world because, like Paul in Colossians 3:23, we say there is no longer: Black, White, Asian, Arab, Indian or Latino.  I certainly recognize that our churches have more divisions than just racial divisions. We see issues of classism, sexism, ableism, and ageism, to name a few. But due to the limited scope of this blog, we will focus solely on taking next steps towards racial reconciliation in predominantly white congregations.

Shepherding Yourself

We all must continue to ask the Lord to reveal prejudices in our hearts so that we can repent and continue to grow in loving others.

@@Racial reconciliation will never take place in our churches if it hasn’t first taken place in our hearts.@@ The next steps of reconciliation start with you.

You must have a biblical conviction for multi-ethnic, multi-cultural churches. Fads will come and go, but the Word of God, on which we stand, will remain forever.  When we read the Bible from the proper lens we see that God ordained for his family to be made of people from all ethnicities. His Bride is colorful. We’ve been called to make disciples of all nations, and in heaven we see that the worship service will be packed with glorious diversity, all equal before his throne. It is this biblical conviction that should challenge each of us to do the hard work of heart work. We all must continue to ask the Lord to reveal prejudices in our hearts so that we can repent and continue to grow in loving others. Our positions of leadership do not preclude us from dealing with the sin of racism that exists within us. In Galatians 2 we see that Cephas, Barnabas and James are all lead astray by ethnocentrism, though they were leaders of the church. This heart work may include owning the parts of your story that deal with race—the good, the bad and the ugly—and sharing your experiences with another pastor (or minority). As we continue to grapple with the divisions in our own hearts, we must step out in faith and pursue multi-ethnic, multi-cultural lives. Only as we model the way can those in our congregations follow us.

Shepherding Your Church

How then do we shepherd our churches on this race to reconciliation? These are steps that I believe can benefit any pastor and church; some of these recommendations are harder than others, but I think all are beneficial in the race to reconciliation.

Shepherd with complete patience

@@We must shepherd our people patiently towards this multi-cultural vision, loving them all along the way.@@

Patience is the most important aspect of the race to reconciliation. Not only is it a long race, but it’s a hard race. People will be critical of you and any changes you are making. People will leave your church. People who are faithful Christians will be surprisingly more racist than you could’ve imagined (maybe even some of your elders), but as pastors we must shepherd our people patiently towards this multi-cultural vision, loving them all along the way.

Make it a goal to reflect your community

In his work The HD Leader, pastor Derwin Gray asserts, "If our churches are situated in communities of diversity, we are mandated by the gospel to be intentional about reaching everyone in all of the cultures around us." @@The demographics of our communities should serve as guidelines for the demographics of our churches.@@ If your church is settled in a monoethnic community, then I would encourage you to pursue partnerships with those who are settled in multiethnic communities, figuring out how to labor together for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

Diversify your leadership

@@A diverse leadership team also sends a clear signal to the church that diversity is not just a goal but a value.@@

Diversity in leadership is a catalyst for moving a church forward in diversity. In order for this to happen, the church has to be intentional about discipling men and women from their community and finding qualified minority leaders. As we diversify we must do all we can to avoid tokenism; hiring a minority leader without fully empowering them is little more than a PR move. When we diversify our leadership, we must do so with humility, realizing that change will happen and must happen. A diverse leadership team allows you as the pastor to see different perspectives and care for people in ways that you may not have known to. A diverse leadership team also sends a clear signal to the church that diversity is not just a goal but a value.

Diversify your pulpit

I would encourage you to have a minority to preach (at least) quarterly at your church. Your members need to see Asian, Hispanic, Arab, and Black men exposit the word of truth. If you don’t expose them to a broad range of ethnic expressions and traditions in the pulpit you passively promote ethnocentrism. Black pastors need to have non-blacks preach in their pulpit and white pastors need to have non-whites preach in theirs. After all, we all have the same Father and have received the same gospel.

Educate your people on minority's contributions to Christianity

As embodied beings, we can only know or experience Christianity from our perspective unless we are educated by other perspectives. The faith that started when our Middle-Eastern Messiah died, rose, and ascended was handed on to uneducated Greek and Hebrew-speaking Middle Easterners. It was then carried out to the world by a converted terrorist (Paul), sustained by the dark-skinned North African Church (the Church Fathers). This is anything but a “white-man’s religion” that American Evangelicalism has become. When we only share examples from white Christians, our churches are being malnourished. Our people need to be educated on the contribution of minority’s to Christianity, whether this be in Sunday school classes, community groups, or examples from the pulpit. Your people need to know who people like George Lisle, Nat Turner, Richard Allen, and Garden C. Taylor are. God’s Church has been multi-ethnic from day one; our churches should know that.

Listen to the minorities in your congregation

If you want to pursue diversity in your body, you need to hear the voice of those minorities who are currently in your midst. One of the most challenging yet fruitful things we’ve done at Sojourn Midtown was host a focus group of 30 minority members. We simply asked them three questions: (1) How did they come to faith?; (2) What has their experience of race been in America?; and (3) What has their experience of race been at Sojourn? The hurt and pain that was shared, even in our own church, was hard to hear, but it was important for our leadership to hear and wrestle with. It also proved to be cathartic for our minority members who were able to participate. If the idea of hosting a focus group overwhelms you, then simply sit down with some of your minority members (whether they’re in leadership or not), and allow them to share their experience with you. As you continue to pursue diversity, giving your minorities a voice in the process is a necessary step to pursue diversity in a healthy manner.

Conclusion

If we’re going to liken reconciliation to a race, we must remember that the finish line is not earthly, but heavenly. The finish line for the race to reconciliation is pictured in Revelation 7:9, where before us will be “… a great multitude that no one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It is this finish line that we labor towards with hopeful expectations.


Jamaal Williams is the lead pastor of Sojourn Midtown in Louisville, KY. He is a native of Chicago, IL. Jamaal received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University. He has a M.A in Church Ministries and is currently pursuing a D.Ed. Min from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Amber, and they are the parents of Nia, Josiah, Kayla, Micah, and Judah. You can follow Jamaal on Twitter at @jamaal711.