Disclaimer: These lessons have involved a lot of stumbling, fumbling, and kicking the ball; yet even in spite of many obvious missteps there have been a lot of kingdom victories.
1. Building friendships across ethnic and cultural lines is essential.
There is no shortcut to any reconciliation. It requires love, time, sacrifice, breakfast, lunch, dinner, prayer, tears, Bible study, conflict, forgiveness and a lot of listening.
In 1985 Bob and Tina Daniel and their children walked into our all-white church. Over the next three years, Bob and I met weekly and developed a close friendship that has endured over 30 years. In the end, Bob and Tina are the real heroes of this story. Without their relational velcro we would not have made this journey. Reconciliation will only occur with courageous people pursuing it.
Warning: don’t make people your projects. We must genuinely pursue them as friends and do life with them. When you love someone, you start to care about the things that are important to them; that is our calling.
Pastoral takeaways:Ask God to bring one new friend from another group into your life. Be intentional in really loving them. Genuinely loving people is 90% of the road to reconciliation.
2. Understand the 75% issue.
If you ask blacks, “Is there racism in America?”, 75% will definitely say “Yes.”. If you ask whites the same question, 75% will definitely say “No.”
Make it your mission to understand the other 75%.
The only way to do this is to get to know their stories, their struggles, their anger and their fears. Here are a few of the ones I’ve heard:
I played football with a group of young black men who would not cross a city boundary line into the neighboring white suburb. Their fear was based on how cops had treated them in the past.
Margaret is an extremely friendly and gifted woman who attended our church. She has two advanced degrees in food science and received a patent for a process for Dunkin Donuts. Yet she could not get a job in a neighboring town because she was black. The doctor interviewing her told her his patients would not want to be treated by a black nutritionist.
Connie, another woman in our church, felt she could not move up in her job because she was black so she had to switch jobs.
My black neighbors had the “N” shouted at them as a car drove down our street.
Pastoral takeaways:The most important words on this journey are “Help me understand.” Listen for a few hours before contributing to the conversation.
3. You need a good friend to help you remove your blinders.
Blinders are used on horses to limit seeing the whole picture. They are helpful for horses but not for pastors seeking to build multicultural churches. It is absolutely necessary to have a trusted and honest friend.
Many years ago I enjoyed a delicious BBQ meal cooked by my wife. At the end of the meal she told me, “You have sauce all over your face; you’d better wash it off.” I became distracted and forgot to do so. I went to three stores that afternoon and at each store people snickered. No one shared with me what was an obviously a blind spot. It wasn’t until I got home that my wife told me the truth. In the same way, pastors need someone to tell them the truth about their own prejudices and ignorance of racial issues.
One day I was feeling rather content that I was making good progress on the journey towards reconciliation. I was talking with Bob about the possibility that I might one day have black grandchildren because my adopted daughter is biracial. Bob firmly asked me, “Scott, did you ever consider your (white) sons might marry a person of color?”
That possibility had never entered my mind; I had blinders on.
Pastoral takeaways: We need to have friends who will point out the racial blinders we have on that limit our view of the world.
4. Sharing power is essential for unity.
Promise Keepers was a phenomenon in the church during the 90’s. And while not all their practices and objectives were missional, they did one thing well. They had their platforms reflect Revelation 7. They put people from every nation, tribe, people and language in leadership roles. We have adopted this as one of our core values at Grace. We have a multicultural leadership community, multicultural pulpit supply and make it a point to have people of all ethnicities participating in the service.
Pastoral takeaways: Your church is going to become what is on your platform and in your leadership. Be sure to have multicultural, multigenerational, and both male and female representation up front.
5. Hard work is essential for unity.
Satan has owned racism for millenniums; he is not going to give back this turf without a fight. If you lead your church towards the Revelation 7 goal, you will experience conflict, push back, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It is important to have a clear conflict resolution strategy in place.
Everyone needs to agree ahead of time what is going to occur next when you have cultural selfishness rear its ugly head.
Pastoral takeaways: Your church is going to have conflict regardless of what you do. Why not pick the worthwhile battles that God is calling us to?
6. Celebrating diversity every week is essential.
The pursuit of a multicultural church is not a once-a-year effort. Every week intentionally celebrate the different tribes that are in your church.
Pastoral takeaways: Here are a few ways we practice this.
Sing the whole music spectrum…. hymns, choruses, gospel music, Latino songs, children’s songs, etc
Sing part of a song in a different language
Have testimonies from around the world
Pray for the nations of the world
On Pentecost have every tribe in your church read part of Acts 2 in their native tongue and end with a few verses read simultaneously in all the languages
At Christmas share the different ways nations celebrate the day
Host an International Sunday and encourage folks to come dressed in their ethnic clothes
Have an international potluck and ask everyone to bring dishes that reflect their culture
7. The Gospel is our only hope.
The work of Christ alone changes us from the inside out. In the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put him together again.
While governmental laws and policy are mission critical for justice, the gospel is mission critical for reconciliation. Unless Jesus changes our hearts, we will never experience reconciliation.
Pastoral takeaways: Pastors wear many hats in churches. One of those hats must be Chief of Reconciliation. Don’t expect anyone to step up and lead the charge. If reconciliation is going to happen in your church you need to research it, champion it, live it, and keep it as a top priority.