In this same month that a movie on Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball years before the Civil Right Act is released, a high school in the state of Georgia has its first racially integrated high school prom (google it, if you don’t believe me, I saw this on a cable news and entertainment station, Headline News this morning). This is happening in a nation that some claim to be post-racial. Think about this, students in Wilcox County, Georgia had to fight for an integrated prom. They received backlash from some and some of those folks held their own White Only Prom.
There are many of my evangelical Christian Brothers and Sisters that don’t want to deal with race, believing that we are either now in a colorblind and post-racial reality, or think that talking about race is only about bringing on “White Guilt.” My purpose in dealing with issues of race is four fold-
1.) To show that race is unbiblical and was never from a Scriptural standpoint, God’s idea for defining humanity.
2.) To show the race structure and racism individually and systemically for the sin and demonic force that it is.
3.) To create healthy ways to raise awareness and have discussions about race, so that the church can be fruitful and effective in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural mission field.
4.) Through ministry initiatives of reconciliation and righteousness, create a movement of Kingdom Community.
This mission will be difficult for the church if evangelicals on one hand want to promote the Jackie Robinson movie, “42″ as great, but are silent about segregated high school proms in the Bible Belt. We can’t have real movement around Kingdom citizenship and community if there is still a great fear from some Christian White families that their daughters are at risk of being asked to prom by a Black or Brown young man. Why else would you want a prom to be segregated? I also wonder if the same churches in the Bible Belt that are silent on segregated proms are still practicing the homogenous principal when it comes to church planting and revitalization?
I realize that there are many churches that are striving to be Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and reconciling communities. I think of church like Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi and Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. There are many others in the Bible Belt that are champions of developing Reconciling Churches. At the same time there are still too many evangelical leaders denying the reality and impact of race in the United States and beyond. Because of this the church is not having the Kingdom impact it could on issues such as immigration, incarceration rates, and disparities in the areas of housing, employment, and education. The issues of race at the end of the day are much bigger than the high school proms that will take place around the country this weekend.
I have been in conversations over the past few months about the need for better urban and multi-ethnic representation at youth ministry conferences, training events, and within journals and magazines. These conversations have led me to reflect deeper on why the professional youth ministry training and resourcing world in the US remains a predominately Anglo and male world when it comes to executive leadership. The same is true when you look at the senior leaders of most large para church organization such as Youth for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Young Life. Out of those three, I believe Young Life is doing the best job at becoming more multi-ethnic in their staffing structure.
The professional youth ministry resourcing world remains predominately Anglo and male, while adolescent youth culture is becoming more multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan. There are a few exceptions such as The Urban Youth Workers Institute founded by Larry Acosta. But, for the sake of the focus of this post, he’s not African-American. Check this out-
* In 2010 the Anglo births in the US dropped under 50%.
* By 2023 Anglos under 18 in the US will be less than 50% of the adolescent population.
Even with these statistics, youth ministry training and resourcing on a national level mostly comes from a suburban, upper-middle class, and Anglo perspective. To a degree, this makes sense because professional youth ministry as we know it in the US was birthed in a European-American, mainline and evangelical context, during World War 2. I will leave it to Asian and Hispanic leaders to talk about where their churches are when it comes to caring about the further development of professional youth ministry. I will focus on the African-American Church.
Does the African-American Church care about a professional approach to youth ministry? At this point, with the experiences and the evidence I currently have, I would say, “no.” There are way too many reasons why, that this post won’t take time to deal with, but let me deal with a few. Let me also take a moment to define what I mean by professional youth ministry. A professional approach to youth ministry is when a church values youth ministry enough to hire at least one paid staff person focused on this area of ministry, preferably full-time with benefits. You could also include that youth ministry is also a priority when it comes to a generous budget for youth ministry programming and for the professional development of the youth pastor for long-term effectiveness.
One could argue that the African-American Church since its inception has been forced to deal with the sinful and oppressive social issues surrounding it from slavery and Jim Crow in the past, to mass incarceration, failing public school systems, and economic disparities just name a few today. This would make sense why a professional approach to youth ministry has not been at the top of the ministry development list. But even with this reality, I would argue that the issues the African-American Church is dealing with makes an even stronger case for the need for a professional approach to youth ministry.
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and not one African-American Church in my city had a full-time youth pastor on staff when I was a teenager and when I became an adult, not much had changed. Even the largest African-American Churches with the resources, seemed only interested in paying for a part-time youth pastor. Now when you see an African-American pastor wearing the best suits, driving a luxury car, but won’t push their congregation to hire a full-time youth pastor, what message does that send to urban youth disconnected from church and more connected to Hip Hop culture?
I know of African-American Churches over 3,000 in weekly attendance that are only willing to pay a youth pastor a part time salary. This creates a culture where African-American youth pastors are in youth ministry mainly to develop their preaching skills and bye time until they get the opportunity to become a Senior Pastor. Others end up working for para churches such as Young Life and Youth for Christ. And still others, create their own non-profit ministries, hustling to raise the dollars to keep it going and in too many cases, fail.
I think one of the reasons many African-Americans don’t value professional youth ministry at the level they should is because they never were professional youth pastors themselves. Anglo mega church pastors such as Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Ray Johnston are all former youth pastors, hence their churches have a high value on a professional approach to youth ministry.
Let me end by saying I know of a number of African-American Churches around the country with full-time youth pastors, but they are far too few. I believe the African-American Church cares very much about youth, but not so much about a professional approach to youth ministry that includes resourcing, theological training, denominational leadership, and the development of national African-American led para church movements. I love the African-American Church so much. I’m a product of it. It’s why I had such a difficult time writing this post.
As college basketball fans (like me), prepare to watch the Final Four this weekend, it’s a good time to think about the bigger picture of big time basketball. College basketball is both good and bad, divine and demonic, beautiful and ugly. As a former high school basketball coach years ago in Minneapolis I have a different take on all the March Madness.
I can still remember in 1996 when I was sitting in a classroom with eight urban, African-American, and middle school boys. I asked them what they wanted to be when they became adults. They all wanted to play professional basketball. They had worked this all out in their minds. Two of them even had plans to both play college basketball for North Carolina and then go on to play for the Chicago Bulls. Basketball had become a religion for these boys and Michael Jordan was the almighty savior. I believe around this same time a documentary (I am probably mistaken on the year), which still get airtime on ESPN Classic called, Hoop Dreams was out. Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two Chicago African-American young men with dreams of going to the NBA. Neither one of these young men fulfilled those dreams. Basketball can be bad, ugly, and demonic because it can use up African-American young men, whose dreams become nightmares. Some get so caught up in their hopes for the NBA, that they don’t even take advantage of a free college education. Many of these Hoop Dreamers want to be what’s called, “A One and Done.” To play one year of college basketball simply to audition for the NBA. The NCAA and the head coaches of major universities like Kentucky and North Carolina make millions of dollars no matter how the future unfolds for many African-American young men growing up in poor urban and rural communities.
What is good, beautiful, and divine about basketball is when you meet coaches who use basketball as a tool to transform lives. Two of my favorite coaches that represent just that are Tubby Smith, Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Minnesota (as well as the winner of a National Championship while at Kentucky) and Holy Angels Academy (Richfield, Minnesota) Boy’s Coach, Larry McKenzie. When I was the h]Head Boys Coach at Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School, he was my assistant. In our first year together, we made it to the State Championship game, saw players on the team come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and helped some go on to get college degrees. Coach McKenzie eventually became the Head Boys Coach at that school and I took the Head Girls Basketball position there. He went on to win four state titles. He’s more than just a good basketball coach though.
Coach McKenzie is a Christian, coach, mentor, and father figure to many. He is used by God to transform lives and I encourage you to read about his story. Please get his book, Basketball: More Than Just A Game.” This book puts basketball in its proper context. Coach McKenzie is also an excellent speaker and I encourage you to bring him to your school, church, business, or community center. He will inspire you and with the issues surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin impacting our nation right now, Coach McKenzie can serve as a voice of reconciliation, reason, and clarity. Let’s get beyond simply March Madness. There is real madness in our urban communities and beyond that must be addressed.
“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)
As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.
The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?
My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.
I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.
Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
The Bible is full of stories of God using young people to do incredible things. In 1 Samuel there is the story of a boy named David who defeats the giant, Goliath. None of the adults trained for battle were willing to take on this task. There is a whole book in the Old Testament named after a girl named, Esther. Even though she didn’t know her biological father or mother growing up, she became a Queen who was willing to risk her own life for her people. In one of the books of Kings in the Old Testament as well, we read about Josiah who becomes king at 8 years old.
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about a young prophet God uses to speak truth when the adult prophets were unwilling. In the New Testament, a teenager named, Timothy is mentored by Paul to become a church planter and leader. Throughout the Bible, God uses these young faith heroes to advance the Kingdom of God.
In our more contemporary history young people are found at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and the movement to realize freedom in South Africa. Even now in Iran, it’s youth and young adults who are protesting an unjust political process.
Children and youth are not too young to make a difference for God. We must be willing to see children and youth the way God does. We must encourage them to know that they can make a Kingdom mark in the world. They can be Gods’ agents of truth, transformation, compassion, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The church must be a training ground for the equipping and empowerment of young heroes for God.
I remember as a kid, going into my backyard in the summertime and pretending to be a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the Hulk. I wanted to save the day with super powers. I thank God that when I became a Christian in high school, I had adults in my life, who believed I wasn’t too young to make a difference in the world. I know that this had a direct impact on the ministry call that I’m living out as an adult today. Consider the young people around you, do you see them as the young hero they can be? Do you pray that they realize this potential? Do you speak this into their lives? If you are a young person and reading this blog entry, I hope that you would allow God to use you in an amazing way. You can make a Kingdom difference in the world among the lost and the poor.
This morning as I was running on the treadmill, I was also watching CNN. A story came on about a shooting in Washington D.C. The police chief was speaking with the mayor of D.C looking on. She stated that, “people are just ready for acts like this to stop.” I didn’t get a chance to see who was involved in this latest incident of urban violence, but it led me to reflect on the violent acts committed in my own city of Minneapolis involving young African-Americans in most cases. This statement raises the question, “How do we stop the violence in our inner-cities?”
On one level we must address this issue from the standpoint of individual responsibility. Churches and other ministries must develop ministry initiatives, which deal head-on with the issue of violence as the primary means for solving conflict. Peace and nonviolence cannot be seen as an outdated strategy of Hippies and those who participated in the part of the Civil Rights Movement directed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many young people in the city lack a strategy free of violence to deal with loss, anger, stress, and not being able to have what you want immediately. Ministries to children, youth, and families must contain initiatives dealing with conflict resolution rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus has something to say in Chapters 5-7 about conflict resolution and specifically on how to deal with enemies. These biblical principles must be contextualized for today. We can also look at chapter 3 of 1 John. Within this chapter John reminds us of what happens if our souls are not being driven by the love of God by pointing back to the story of Cain and Abel. What led to Cain killing his own brother is today at the root of violence in the city as well as the suburbs. The lack of being filled with Gods’ love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a major factor in the ability to attempt to take the life of another human being. It’s also easier when you don’t see the other as just as much Gods’ beloved as you are. Sometimes the ability to attempt to take the life of another begins with not seeing oneself as the beloved of God.
The second factor that must be dealt with in order to deal with violence in the city is being willing to deal with the realities of class and race. What is behind so much violence in the city among so many African-Americans? There is a connection between poverty, race, relationships, and violence. To deny this is to ignore some root causes that go along with individual responsibility. Inner-cities are the way they are on purpose. The White Flight of the 60′s and 70′s play a role. The Educated Black Flight of the 80′s play a role as well. This is not a guilt trip for those in the suburbs for I live in the suburbs myself. The issue is figuring out how to live in the suburbs and still have a heart for the city. This was the place of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It broke his heart to know the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and he took some of the responsibility for why this was the case. We must acknowledge the systemic issues behind urban violence and take responsibility as well. Those living outside the city must take responsibility and work with those in the city to be salt and light.
Nonviolence cannot be an ancient social strategy that was just good for a season. We must raise up an generation who are able to experience, “a peace that passes all understanding” that it might, “guard our hearts and minds.”
Last night I had the awesome opportunity to speak at CHIC. CHIC stands for Covenant “Higher-s” in Christ. I know, as someone who has only been apart of the Evangelical Covenant Church for six years, I don’t really understand the name either. This national high school conference of the Covenant takes place every three years. The last few conferences, like the one this past week, has taken place on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This week over 5,000 students gathered under the theme, “Undone.” We are undone human beings in an undone world, but the good news is, God desires to transform our lives through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we might advance the Kingdom of God.
Just so you know this wasn’t just a conference of speakers, bands, and workshops. That all took place, but the young people also packed 100′s of 1,000′s of meals to address hunger around the world. They also raised over $100,000 for Evangelical Covenant Missions efforts. That’s straight cash out of the pockets of a many times called, consumeristic generation. I was able to connect one on one with many of the young people and I sensed a heart for God and to make a revolutionary difference in the world. I have spoken at many youth conferences, but this one is very special. I know what you’re thinking, “of course he’s going to say that, it’s your denomination!” Yes, that’s true, but I’m not one to give props like that.
CHIC is incredible to me for a couple of reasons. One, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America is one of the smaller denominations, so to put on a conference that draws 5,000 youth makes a statement. I realize that numbers aren’t everything, but these youth show up because so many adults, whose lives have been impacted by CHIC years ago have been praying for this generation. Second, CHIC is not just about good music and speaking, many Christian youth conferences do that. It’s about equipping young people to realize the potential they have to lead a Kingdom building movement for God. The connection between evangelism and social justice is the key to me, which unfortunately is still not dealt with as much as it should be in evangelical youth ministry. I don’t mean connecting coming to Christ with missions trips. I’m talking about connecting an intimate, life transforming relationship with Jesus with His call to address the sick, hungry, and incarcerated. To address head-on issues of race and the empowerment of women. For more info about CHIC and the impact made this week go to www.covchurch.org