Three months ago while in Kenya, I visited the town of Dandora. Dandora has the second largest concentration of extreme poverty in Kenya. The town is basically built on a trash dump. As you go into the town you see mothers, children, and pigs on a mountain of trash digging for food and other necessities. There are families in the town that are so poor, that when they have a child born they take that baby to the trash dump to die.
In the midst of all this though, there is a church in the center of town. I met the pastor and some of their ministry staff who work in partnership with Compassion International. They have a motto that says, “we find God’s treasures amongst the trash. I met a young man who had been rescued from the trash dump years ago. He now is in college. I will never forgot this trip. It has forever changed my thoughts on the poor, God’s Kingdom, and the mission of the church.
Last weekend, I was in downtown Los Angeles. Rolling Hills Covenant Church is one of the churches in the conference which I serve. They sent a Kingdom army of close to 600 people from their congregation to Skid Row. Skid Row contains about 60,000 homeless people in downtown LA. You don’t have to go all the way to Kenya to see poverty. Rolling Hills partnered with the Fred Jordan Mission to put on a tremendous service of hope. I had the privilege of preaching with the senior pastor of Rolling Hills to hundreds of the homeless of Skid Row. But, we didn’t just preach. People were fed. People were plugged into programs for life change and were extended the love of God.
In the area of Kingdom Compassion, Mercy, and Justice there is yet still much to do. Churches around this country and around the world must put themselves in a position to hear God’s voice calling us still to love the poor. We must find our local and global place of mission and transformation. My trip to Kenya three months ago and my visit to downtown Los Angeles last weekend has my spirit so hopeful of what God will do thru us, His beloved children.
Because I’m very fortunate to speak at a lot of christian churches, conferences, and other events, I get a chance to hear a lot of christian music. In general, christian music can be broken down into the following categories; contemporary christian, gospel, southern gospel, urban gospel, holy hip hop, and traditional hymns.
To be more specific though, you can break christian music down to black christian music and white christian music. Many people don’t want to talk about this, but that’s the current state of christian music and it’s been that way for a long time. It’s race-based and is mostly influenced by places like Nashville and Detroit in the United States. Even when I preach at a Latino church, the praise and worship is mainly contemporary christian(white); it’s just being sung in spanish.
Even christian radio is segregated. Rarely, does a ccm station play urban gospel and never have I heard a black gospel/urban gospel station play ccm. As a matter of fact there aren’t very many black gospel/urban gospel stations, but mostly shows that last about two hours weekly hosted by Be Be Winans or Dr. Bobby Jones. Why is it that in this multicultural reality, christian music is for the most part, race music? This shows how far behind christian music is compared to so-called secular music.
Secular music has transcended race. A black artist like Seal to some sounds white, while Pink sounds black. A white rapper named Eminem is one of the hottest artists in what is considered a black and urban genre. Yet, we expect our multicultural, christian youth today to value christian music over secular music. You may want to push back at me (and you’re welcome to), but christian music is held captive by race and we don’t want to seem to talk about it. My theory is that this is done by secular record industry powers to keep christian music a second class genre and we need local church folks to fight against this reality.
Most christian record labels and other companies have been sold to larger secular companies. Find a christian for profit and it’s most likely owned by a company headed by someone who is not a christian. Maybe this explains it. Or maybe it’s because many christians don’t want to have healthy and real discussions about race, business marketing, and power and its impact on christians.
There is hope though. There are christian artists such as Toby Mac, Israel and New Breed, John Reuben, and Kirk Franklin who are being bold enough to cross race lines and create kingdom music. This must be the future. We must move beyond christian music enslaved to race, to a more liberating genre. I will this call kingdom music. Kingdom music is christian music set free, designed for all God’s people, also able to reach all lost people. Can I get a amen? Now what we need is a group of non profit kingdom music record labels that won’t sell out to secular companies. Can I really get a amen?
As we continue to live within the ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, it is more and more obvious that the Black and White matrix of the American Christian Church is outdated. It seems that regardless of the racial and class constructs that exists within our nation and world, God is determined to to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28).
If there was ever a time for Pastoral Leadership with the ability to lead Christ-centerd and multicultural communities now is the time. The reason I say Christ-centered is because leading a multicultural congregation should not compromise biblical truth. Some churches in the United States of America and beyond have sacrificed biblical truth for the sake of becoming multicultural. This Christ-centeredness and belief in the authority and centrality of Scripture ought to lead us to proclaiming truth, righteousness, evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom justice. A true commitment to Christ-centeredness in no way compromises the commitment to biblical truth, because the Word of God is the beginning point for understanding the nature, words, and works of Christ. This ought to be the on-ramp to the next area, which is cross-cultural leadership.
The ministry of Jesus was very cross-cultural in nature. His ministry included the Tax Collector, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, women, the poor, and those of privilege. Jesus Himself walked the earth as both God (John 1) and a multicultural Jew (Matthew 1). His ministry was cross-cultural and He was cross-cultural. Thru the Holy Spirit, He lives within us as Christian pastors and lay leaders. This reality is the on-ramp for our understanding that God desires to equip and empower us to minister in the multicultural reality in which we live daily.
Cross-cultural leadership takes being willing to be informed and mentored by diverse, Christian leaders. If you’re European-American and evangelical for instance, it’s not enough to just have C.S. Lewis, John Piper, N.T. Wright, John Calvin, and Rick Warren on your book shelf. You also need Vashti McKenzie, Soon-Chan Rah, Francis Chan, Howard Thurman, John Perkins, and Anne Wimbley on your shelf as well. You also must allow God to lead you into deep, authentic cross-cultural friendships. God desires to raise up an army of Christ-centered, cross-cultural, post-black, and post-white leaders.
The recent news media reports concerning a well-known African-American Bishop outside of Atlanta brings me great sadness. My first reaction is to pray that the accusations aren’t true. My second reaction is to pray for those young men, who could be very damaged by a church in which they should find hope, love, and transformation. Beyond those two reactions, something that I’ve felt for a long time is still burning within me. A revisiting of a theology of the pastor is needed within the Black Church and beyond.
In my opinion too many mega-church African-American pastors are functioning within a theology of the pastor that seems to be more based on a Old Testament model of Kings, than patterned after the New Testament model of Jesus or Paul. Now please hear me, my reflections are based on my great love for the Black Church and African-American pastors. With this said, I believe the matrix of race and how it impacts the identity of the African-American male in society is driving the theology of the pastor in many Black Church circles rather than Scripture. Let’s take a brief historical look back.
The Black Church is a forced church in America, dating back to slavery. As we move up to Jim Crow segregation, the Negro or Colored pastor is the most powerful position of leadership within the community. Remember, the Negro or Colored man cannot be president of the United States or governor of a state at this time. The Black pastor for all leadership purposes in the black community is pastor and king. Think of this in terms of being taken from a land where your forefathers and mothers were kings and queens. Now let’s move to the Civil Rights Movement, where we see the Black pastor as political leader and social transformer. Let’s move to the 1980′s and see the Reverend Jesse Jackson running for president. Not much love and respect is given to Shirley Chisholm, who as a Black woman and non clergy person, ran for the office years before.
Now let’s look at the mega church Black pastors of today. Celebrity figures living in mansion (temples), driving expensive cars (chariots), and having armor bearers (assistants for a king). Where did Jesus live? What chariot did Jesus ride in? Were the disciples of Jesus merely glorified armor bearers? What about Paul? Did his life look like the pursuit of the American dream? Regardless of the situation outside of Atlanta, one thing is true, the larger a church gets in America the temptation to become a CEO or a King and less of a shepherd is there awaiting. This is true regardless of race.
I’m not here to judge, I have my own inner battles to face as a bishop, author, and national speaker. What I do know is that the integrity of all pastors must be pursued and accountability is a key element. I also believe that Satan would rather have pastors be first and foremost CEO’s and Kings, than humble shepherds. I also believe as well that it is possible to be a mega church pastor, international figure, and humble servant. Perhaps our model should be Jesus and not King David.
I recently spoke to a pastor who made his case for not supporting women as senior pastors. “I’ve asked many men this question,” he said. “As a man, when you see a woman up front preaching or teaching, what’s the first thing you think about? The first thing that comes into your mind is if she is attractive or not. This distraction is one of the main reasons women should not be senior pastors or preach to men”, he said.
I was somewhat shocked by this argument. Not because he believed this, but because he said it out loud and so boldly. He stated it as if it were a biblical truth. To me, his statement was more about the sexism within evangelicalism connected to the sexism within the broader society, than some well thought out theological position on women in ministry leadership.
At least he was honest and pointed to the real issue at the foundation of why many men in evangelicalism struggle with women in ministry and pastoral leadership. Some try to cover up this truth by using the words of Paul in the New Testament. I’m not going to go into all the Scriptures which support women in ministry and pastoral leadership because this has already been done. I invite you to go to the website of the Evangelical Covenant Church (www.covchurch.org) to get information on some insightful resources.
What I will say is this-
Should the words of Paul, which could very well be situational and contextual, not universal and unconditional be used to argue the case for women in ministry? Shouldn’t the actions of Jesus with women and the equipping of women by God speak louder than the words of Paul? To the second question, I say yes.
I believe the bible is authoritative and central for living. Within this belief, I believe the works of God, which includes the works of Jesus, should speak louder than the words of Paul. I don’t in anyway negate the words of Paul or them being from God, but these word of Paul are put in its proper context when put up against and compared to the works and words of Jesus. Why is this important? Because Jesus is God and Paul is not. God speaks higher than God’s servants and God speaks thru God’s servants simultaneously. This understanding is important in dealing with the issue of women in ministry.
What does the actions of Jesus with women in the Gospels tell us about God’s empowerment of women and should this speak louder than Paul’s words, which I present were situational, not universal? Jesus transforms and empowers the life of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus has a woman anoint and prepare him for the cross. Jesus answers the prayers of the Canaanite woman. Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus stands with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gives life to a teenage girl left for dead. A woman is at the tomb first to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus. All of this is not about women in pastoral leadership, but it’s about the bigger issue of God being mindful of the second-class citizenship of women and dealing with it as a kingdom agenda. Jesus challenges the place and role of women to the point that his own male disciples, were annoyed every time they witnessed His empowerment of women.
When it comes to women in ministry and pastoral leadership we should join the position of Jesus and also acknowledge our sexism.
I know that it has been way too long since I’ve last written. I also realize that when I do write, too much time passes until there is another post from me. I guess I should first provide my multiple pre-thoughtout excuses. Yes, they are pre-thoughtout, but they are very real.
One, since the middle of January, I have been in a major transition mode. I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church during that month. This year began a process of making one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I made the prayerful decision to leave the senior pastor position at the Sanctuary Covenant Church and also the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul where I was born and raised.
By April, I was elected as Superintendent and last month I was installed. It’s official and I’ve just gone through the very emotional good-bye to the Sanctuary phase of this transition. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as hard and long as I did during that last Sunday as Senior Pastor.
Second, (should there even need to be another reason?), I’m in a doctoral program in church leadership at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took a class in February called, “A Theology of Leadership in Community.” I’m in a class this very week called, “Personal Well-Being and Ministry Effectiveness.” Last summer, I took a class called, “Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church” and before that, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership.” Now you’d think I would have a lot to write about wouldn’t you? Well, these classes have had such an impact on me personally, that it drove me to some serious inspection of my inner life and it’s connection to my outer practice of ministry. I feel like I’ve gone into some sort of cave for a little while.
The third reason I haven’t been the consistent blogger I should be and desire to be is that I’ve had the blessing of re-engaging the power of personal relationships that have led to me not being as engaged in the, “tech life.” I’ve enjoyed being apart of a men’s study and prayer community, playing the Wii with my daughters, going to movies and concerts with my wife, and hanging out weekly at the neighborhood barber shop. Man, time flies when you invest in face to face relationships.
Well, the in between time of not being the senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church and not yet fully being transitioned to California to serve as Superintendent has brought my desire to share my thoughts, passions, frustrations, and theology back. I hope it lasts even on the other side of the in between so that I stay back in action for a long time this time.
I was recently talking with a European-American friend of mine who is also an evangelical. I am African-American and evangelical. We were talking about the tense debate going on right now about healthcare when he raised an interesting question about race. He told me that his big concern about the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill was a government run health care system, which would lead to bigger government. I responded by agreeing with his concerns, but stating that he should have been concerned about big government militarily during the George W. Bush years as well. I then asked the first question, “why do some conservatives so easily see the threat of big government when it has to do with healthcare, but can’t see big government when it’s running an expensive war in Iraq? Not many conservatives complained about how much money the war in Iraq was taking out of their pockets, but now they’re angry about how much the potential passing of a healthcare reform bill would. Both the management of war and healthcare are types of big government leading to spending money we don’t have as a country in debt.”
My friend responded by asking this question, “why do so many African-Americans trust government with healthcare? Why are so many not concerned about big government in this way?”
I thought this was a great question that gets to the racial divide around how some African-Americans and some European-Americans see government and corporate america from different perspectives. One of the reasons some European-Americans would rather see healthcare worked out in the private sector and not run by government has to do with how this country started. For many European-Americans there was a seeking of independence from European government systems and the pioneering of a new way of living based on democracy and maybe more importantly, the development of an economic system called capitalism. This makes sense why conservatives and many evangelicals today would be concerned about big government.
For African-Americans there is a history in this country which begins with slavery. The African-American begins their experience in the economic system of capitalism and free enterprise as the slave. From there, the experience with the economic system for many African-Americans is within a race-based, sub-system called, Jim Crow Segregation. What opens the door to freedom from slavery and Jim Crow Segregation comes mainly from government. The Civil War, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act are all government led realities.
Could this be the foundation from which, in this society still influenced by race, that there are many European-Americans that are concerned about big government and many African-Americans that embrace it? I believe the church in the United States of America must rise out of being the most racially segregated institution in this nation so that it can lead conversations and forums on reconciliation. At the church where I serve as Senior Pastor, we have a class called, City Matters, which seeks to raise awareness and spark reconciling discussion. We’ve also hosted an initiative called, The Invitation to Racial Righteousness, developed by the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are apart.
We need more churches to lead these types of initiatives. These conversations and forums could help us understand one another better. We need to move from demonizing those with different perspectives than ourselves and seek to understand the historical roots of our differences. It is possible to love God, follow Christ in a radical way, and have conversations about differing perspectives on how we view the role of government.
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