1.) Become more of a movement than an institution.
2.) Become multi-ethnic.
3.) Proclaim and practice a deeply biblically-rooted strategy for compassion, mercy, and justice.
4.) Have a high priority and passion for evangelism.
5.) Involve large churches as a resource, but don’t lift them up alone as the highest model of a healthy and missional church.
6.) Affirm and train up men and women for the offices of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet based on biblical principles.
7.) Increase the number of women in pastoral leadership.
8.) Become students of how the Kingdom of God is being advanced in Africa, Central America, and South America.
9.) Expand the missional church conversation to include experts within the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic, and Native American Church.
10.) Develop strategic Kingdom partnerships beyond your particular denomination.
This past June, we as the Evangelical Covenant Church, approved a Resource Paper on Compassion, Mercy, and Justice at our Annual Meeting. This act further guides our denomination into being a Kingdom advancing movement. If one surveys the Gospels, you see Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Not only does He proclaim this truth, He also performs the mighty wonders of this new community.
Jesus performs these mighty wonders through the forgiving of sins, the raising of the dead, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and the empowerment of women. In Matthew 25, he speaks to Kingdom advancement including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, being hospitable to the stranger, and visiting the incarcerated. The advancement of the Kingdom of God is done at the intersection of evangelism and justice.
The evangelism part of this advancement is the new covenant brought and bought by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The justice part is a continuation of the Covenant established by God as he brought the Hebrew people out of bondage and oppression.
In these days of economic crisis, broken families, addiction, ethnic and political divisions, war, and lost souls, the church must increase its urgency around Kingdom advancement. The Evangelical Covenant Church and all denominations that desire to be biblically rooted and culturally relevant must become catalytic and prophetic resourcing ministries. We must do this by equipping the church and developing leaders to be Spirit-led and missional in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality.
Last night I watched the major cable news channels’ coverage of the deal to address the budget crisis within the United States of America. The President and the Speaker of the House both announced that a deal had been struck to keep the government from defaulting. This deal for many critics is too little and too late in terms of action. There is still a long way to go in terms of a longterm solution. Add to this that the dysfunctional division and extreme ideological politics of the two major parties continue to be a problem. Right now the Tea Party and the Congressional Black Caucus are two groups that could throw a monkey wrench in the whole process of a real solution. To try avoiding major cuts in expenses in the budget and the raising of taxes on the most wealthy of Americans is hard to understand. An ugly situation is going to take ugly answers that include major compromises. Looking at all this political division and dysfunction led me to some thoughts about the church. My thoughts began with questions.
Is this the right time for the church to do what government can’t? Is there a need for a reconciling church like never before? Here are the thoughts at the core of these questions. One, there is a need for Christian evangelicals and mainliners to do what Democrats and Republicans can’t or won’t. Evangelical and mainliners need to come together and forge a national faith-based agenda for life and community transformation. This agenda must remind our country that first and foremost that church is about life transformation. It also must show a connection between life transformation and community development. The community development portion of the agenda must have measurable outcomes addressing issues that are concerns in Scripture such as the poor, the lost, the stranger, and the marginalized. The church could become a major Kingdom force in America like never before thru such a move. Second, the increase of multi-ethnic and missional churches must become a top priority of every major Christian denomination as well as evangelistic organizations. The political division in this country is connected to historic racial and class divisions. The church has no credibility if it continues to be the most segregated institution in the nation.
There is a great window of opportunity for the church as both the government and economic institutions live in crisis and dysfunction. This move would also be the solution to the crisis that the church of the United States of America is currently in.
Last week I had the honor of speaking on main stage at the Ichthus Music Festival. I spoke right after a very powerful performance by Holy Hip Hop artist LaCrae. Earlier that day I was on a panel with LaCrae, Trip Lee, and Pro speaking on the influence of Hip Hop and Urban Culture on all of youth culture today. These artists are all apart of Reach Records. Some of you may remember a post I did not long ago on the “Odd Marriage Between Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism.”
In this post I shared my concerns about Holy Hip Hop being dominated by Calvinist theology without the balance of Reconciliation theology, Liberation theology, and Black theology rooted in the history of the Black Church. My point was not to say that Calvinism has no place in Holy Hip Hop, but to say that Calvinism alone makes Holy Hip Hop no Hip Hop at all and limits its ability to be a true transformational and evangelistic force in urban America and beyond.
First let me make one more point about my concerns on a Holy Hip Hop movement dominated by Calvinism. Calvinist theologians and pastors have not fully dealt with a theology that has ties historically to the economic structure of capitalism, the replacement theology connected to colonialism, and the unbiblical development of the race structure and imagination dealt with by theologians such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account). What this means is that historically, Calvinism has had moments when it was not on the side of the liberation of African-Americans, especially during slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This does not mean that there weren’t some Calvinists that would have been against slavery or on the side of the Civil Rights Movement. We can say though, that evangelicals must own a sketchy history at best around issues of race. We’ve truly come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived as a truly reconciled people. This is why the Reconciliation theology of Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung is needed within the Holy Hip Hop Movement.
With all that said, I need to give much love to the Ministry of Reach Records. I especially need to show much love to LaCrae. As I sat on the panel of with the artists of Reach Records and witnessed the ministry of LaCrae on stage, I was moved by his gifts, character, and theological depth. I’m also honored that these artists have so much respect for me and my contributions to the Holy Hip Hop Movement. My last post on this subject was in no way meant to dishonor these artists. My heart is to serve as a Hip Hop theologian and to see this movement have a significant Kingdom impact in Urban America and beyond. I pray for LaCrae and the ministry of Reach Records that God would bless them in a mighty way.
(I will present here a writing that I developed for both an evangelical newspaper and journal I used to write for. I say, “used to” because both publications refused to publish, without major edits, what you are about to read. I ended up deciding to longer write for either publication. I admit that I now look back on that decision with some reservations. I really miss having an on-going column in a evangelical publication. At the same time, I don’t like being censored just because some extreme conservative evangelicals aren’t willing to deal with discomfort. Without absorbing and processing this discomfort, the ability to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and urban reality will be hindered. Well, here’s what I wrote back in 2008. It should be noted that I have expanded on the writing since that time.)
With the legitimate presidential candidacy of Barak Obama, we now see that the United States of America is potentially ready for what I call post-black leadership at the highest level. With the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Oprah Winfrey, we are already in the age of post-black leadership. Post-black leadership is the reality of both the dominant culture as well as a broader multi-ethnic culture embracing being led by African-American leaders. Barak Obama is not the first African-American to run for President of the United States. Shirley Chisholm, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Reverend Al Sharpton all ran before him. The difference is that they were seen as Black leaders, mainly representing Black people and Black issues. They all tried to present themselves as being able to lead the whole nation, but their resumes all screamed, Black leader!
European-Americans or Whites rather they realize it or not, have historically marginalized African-American leaders as Black leaders. In the 1950′s, 1960′s, and 1970′s within professional football as an example, there were major questions about whether an African-American could be a quarterback. For this to happen, it would have to be accepted that an African-American could lead the European-Americans on offense. Also, the quarterback was seen as the most intelligent position on the team. In politics, there was a time in this country when you would never think of an African-American being mayor, governor, or president. In the corporate sector, there was a time when you’d never think of an African-American being the CEO of a major company. African-Americans for many years were marginalized to being the pastor of a black church, CEO of a black business, principal of a black school, or president of a black college. What was being said by the dominant culture was that Blacks can only lead Blacks.
Well, praise God, a lot has changed. whether you agree with his political ideology or not we could see the nations’ first African-American president.
(remember this was written in the summer of 2008)
But, Barak Obama is not the first post-black leader. Oprah Winfrey has a large multicultural following. She truly is more than a black leader. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are truly post-black political leaders. African-Americans are now heads of major companies, large universities, and yes professional quarterbacks and head coaches in football. As excited as I am about this, when I think about the body of Christ, I begin to grieve. The church as an institution in the United States of America is way behind secular society when it comes to post-black leadership.
Within the Christian world, Whites lead predominately White denominations and Black lead predominately Black ones. I can’t think of one major evangelical university, Para-church organization, or denomination with a post-black leader at the head of it. In most Para-church organizations African-Americans are mainly in urban and multicultural ministry positions with very little if any influence to speak into the direction of the organization. It seems that the body of Christ is not as ready as secular society for post-black leadership. Shouldn’t the church be the leader of a leadership development strategy that looks like the Kingdom of God and is not enslaved to the race structure of black and white?
I don’t put all the blame for this on European-American evangelicals. There are many African-American pastors and ministry leaders that have no desire whatsoever to be a Kingdom-minded, post-black leader. I believe that there is a way to honor the heritage and current impact of the black church and also become Kingdom leaders. I believe that God has placed some things within African-American leaders that are meant to be a gift to all of the body of Christ.
(I need to note that since I originally wrote this, Barak Obama became President of the United States and I was elected as Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This is the largest region within the denomination. Before my election, African-Americans Jerome Nelson and Robert Owens were elected respectively as Superintendents to the Central and Southeast Conferences of the same denomination. I can’t post this and not recognize progress that has been made. But within the larger evangelical movement, we still have a long way to go. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t get this writing published.)
In recent years I’ve heard some notable Christian leaders say things like this regarding the current political landscape in the United States-
“The conservatives have lost their hearts and the liberals have lost their minds.”
“One political side represents Socialism and the other, Empire.”
Regardless of if these quotes are true of the current political state in the U.S. of not, I have great concerns that political ideology has many Christians held captive. I’ve talked to Christians who religiously listen to political commentators who aren’t even Christians themselves. If someone critiques one of these commentators or disagrees with them, it’s as if they disagreed with Paul in the Scriptures or maybe even Jesus. I’m saddened by Christians that are set on fire by political shock jocks getting wealthy on the extreme edges of conservatism and liberalism. These same Christians don’t seem to be set on fire in the same manner by the Savior who proclaims that, “the Kingdom of God is now at hand.”
Now, I know that these Christians would passionately disagree with me, but that is because they see political conservatism and evangelical theological conservatism as the same thing. Others believe that biblical kingdom justice and political progressive ideology are the same thing.
We cannot allow fallen political ideologies and structures to limit the possibilities of true Kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. The Kingdom of God as proclaimed in Scripture is supreme over and against any earthly government, including the one I like best. This means that though I believe democracy as worked out historically and currently in the United States is a better government model than others around the world, it doesn’t compare on any level to the truth, justice, compassion, transformation, reconciliation, and unity that comes forth from the Kingdom of God. And even though I believe what I do about democracy, I also believe that our government structure in the United States is currently broken, because every man-made structure in our world is fallen. Since all humans have fallen short, so are the ideologies and structures that we’ve created.
The Christian church is the vehicle which God has chosen to express the values, power, and outcomes of God’s Kingdom. The values of this Kingdom where communicated by our Savior Jesus Christ within Scripture. The church from this foundation ought to be presenting a Kingdom alternative and transforming solutions to the challenges we face today within the family, education, economics, community, health, and even tougher issues such as immigration.
But, because the church in many cases is being held hostage by extreme political ideologies from the edges, many outside the church don’t know the difference between God’s Kingdom and empire or God’s Kingdom and socialism. Now here is the challenging truth though; there are parts of the value system of God’s Kingdom that sound socialist on first listen and there are parts on first listen that sound like empire. But, when you look at all that is the Kingdom of God now and into eternity it is so much more than any earthly government could ever accomplish. Within the Kingdom of God value system there is the individual responsibility found within the necessity of new birth and the communal call to care for the poor. One must take ownership of their own spiritual development and be willing to share the first fruits of their resources to help the hurting thru the mission strategy of a local church.
No matter if you believe in big or small government, you can’t deny a big God who desires to love the lost, heal the broken, and bring justice to the oppressed thru the church.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.
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?
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.