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multicultural reality, it is more and more obvious that the Black and White matrix of the American Christian Church is outdated.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.
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.
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.
I encourage you to read and have a time of deep reflection upon the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this text Jesus is speaking through parables to His disciples. Today, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this includes you as well. Jesus is presenting key points about the Kingdom of God and how you and I are to participate in its mission and value system. This is so that we might say yes to the invitation to advance the Kingdom of God in the world through the empowerment, which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
He begins the chapter by speaking of two groups of bridesmaids, one wise and one foolish. This parable lifts up the need to have a sense of urgency and anticipation for the return of Christ. This anticipation though should not lead us to a state of privatized religion. The position of a Christian fundamentalism rooted primarily in individualism and judgement is not how we wait on our Lord to return. We must use this time, which we know not its limit, to be used by God as vehicles of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, transformation, and reconciliation. We are to be salt and light in the world while we are waiting in anticipation.
Next, Jesus shares a parable about a Master, who presents talents to His servants. These servants or slaves to be more specific are in this position because they owe a debt to the Master. But it seems in this parable that the Master forgives the debt owed Him and instead gives talents or resources to the servants. Because of sin, we owe God. We have created spiritual debt in the economy of the Kingdom of God. But, through Christ Jesus not only are our debts dealt with, but we are given resources to steward for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are called to take the gifts God has given us and multiply them. The question becomes how? This question is answered in the final parable of Matthew 25.
Jesus speaks of a King, that takes the people of the world and divides them into two groups. He looks at the first group and speaks of being hungry and this group feeding Him. He speaks of being thirsty, sick, a stranger, naked, and in prison and this group addressing these issues. The people respond in confusion, not knowing when they did any of those things. The King responds to the confusion with the Kingdom call to compassion, mercy, and justice. He says that as it is done to the least of them in the world, it is as if it was done to Him.
Our God in heaven calls us today out of a religion of individualism into a life of Kingdom advancement which includes evangelism, compassion, mercy, and justice.
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.
In all my years of watching Presidents speak before congress and a national television audience, I’ve never known a member of the house to shout out, “you’re a liar” to the President. In just eight short months, I’ve heard our President called a racist, unpatriotic, hitler, a socialist, and the anti-Christ. The real sad news here is that some of those using these terms to describe President Obama are Christians. Some of those who are called biblically to be, “ambassadors of reconciliation” are turning out to be, angry name-callers influenced less by Jesus and more by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Now, there were some mainline Christians doing the same thing during the Bush presidency, which is no better. Why can’t we have ideological differences and still show some sense of intellect and maturity? Today, going to a town hall meeting can be a very dangerous place.
You might not like this next statement, but there are some who believe that the fire of anger against the President of the United States of America has been turned up for more than just ideological disagreements. Here’s the question some people don’t like, “is this about race?” Uh Oh. Why did I have to go there?
When George W. Bush was in office and he said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no one yelled at him during a speech before congress, “Liar!” This was the case even though it turned out he wasn’t telling the truth. We won’t call him a liar, we’ll just say he didn’t have all the right information Fox News Commentator, Glenn Beck believes President Obama hates White people and White culture. I guess he forgot what color the President’s mother’s side of the family is. You might not want to deal with it, but the reality could be that if you’re the President and happen to be Black, you can’t expect the same level of respect.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…” (Areatha Franklin)
R-A-C-E, find out if it’s really still playing a role in our behavior (Efrem Smith)
A few years ago, I attended the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Dallas, Texas to promote my second book, The Hip Hop Church. After doing a book signing and some other promotion, I had a chance to speak with a staff member of the NRB.
She told me that in their research, they found out that the largest viewing audience of Christian television are women in the 60′s. I’ve been reflecting on this as I’ve watched Christian television more intently over the last few weeks. In these challenging economic times with consumerism probably being the number one addiction of those living in the United States of America, the majority of television preachers haven’t let up in their call for viewers to sow a financial seed into their ministries. A financial seed that they claim will provide escape from the claws of the economic recession. Remember the majority of those watching are women in their 60′s. Some of these women may have already been duped by shady financial advisors just to now be duped by another one in the name of Jesus. It is a shame that the economic times as well as spiritual signs of our day haven’t called for a serious critique of the Word of Faith Movement and the prosperity theology in particular. To provide a real critique one must truly understand the practical science of biblical interpretation, as well as the foundational theories surrounding economics.
Through the philosopher Aristotle, economics begins simply as the ability to attain the products and resources needed to maintain one’s household. The rise of the economic system known as capitalism leads eventually to going beyond meeting our household needs to consumerism. This is about taking what I want and making it a need. An addiction or enslavement to consumerism is about losing the ability to prioritize or tell the difference between the things I want and the things I need or even the things I crave in my flesh. This addiction to the fullest, driven by the flesh is what leads a parent to choose crack cocaine over feeding their children. It’s what leads one to buy alcohol over paying the rent. Well, what does this have to do with prosperity theology and Christian television?
Prosperity theology (the most preached theology on Christian television) makes it difficult to see the difference between a Kingdom of God economic system and what is simply the capitalism and consumerism of the United States of America that at least right now is failing. Please know though that I’m in no way calling for socialism. I’m calling for a true biblically rooted Kingdom of God economic system which includes addressing the issues of the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor. I’m calling for an economic system that calls the church to start health clinics and schools in the poorest inner-city communities in the United States of America. To be honest, I don’t think the United States needs much more third-ring suburban mega-churches, but it needs more faith-based community development corporations dealing with healthcare, housing, education, and employment.
Christian television through many of its prosperity preachers are preying on women in their 60′s to sow seed into ministries based on the abuse of agricultural-rooted parables spoken by Jesus (i.e. sowing and reaping) that have more to do with the Kingdom of God showing up to the poor in spirit and body thru compassion, mercy, justice, and life transformation. These parables are being misinterpreted and mixed with capitalism and consumerism by too many television preachers so that they can fly in private jets, ride in luxury cars, and build their own ministry empires. Don’t be duped by a pimp dressed up as a preacher. Until this unfortunate use of God’s Word is lessened by the addition of more expository preaching on Christian television, I say we don’t watch it. At the end of the day the Christian revolution won’t be televised anyway.
I’m taking a class this week called, Biblically Based Soci0-Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church. This intensive is a part of the Doctor of Ministry program that I’m currently in at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though I pastor an urban and multicultural church that also has a faith-based community development organization connected to it, I’m really being pushed and stretched in some great ways this week.
In some ways this class taught by Dr. Sam Rima, is helping me revisit my ministry roots. Since I became a Christian during my junior year in high school, I’ve been heavily influenced by Dr. John Perkins, Tom Skinner, and Tony Campolo. I grew as a Christian at an Evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban United Methodist church in South Minneapolis. Early on in my Christian life I was convinced that church should be Christ-centered, multicultural, and about social justice. I never bought into the church being divided between the evangelical church and the church of the social gospel. In the Evangelical Covenant Church we see this as connecting, coming to know Christ as Savior with expanding the kingdom that Christ proclaimed and participated in. These roots in my faith walk of connecting evangelism and social justice were my on-ramp into ministry.
The other way in which this class is pushing me is around what Biblical economic justice and reconciliation should look like today. What should it look like in the North Minneapolis area where my church is located? What does it look like in Chicago, Atlanta, or Johannesburg(South Africa)? My friend Neeraj Mehta (former program director for the Sanctuary CDC) said to me a couple of years ago that, “dealing with poverty is about dealing with disconnected relationships. I agree with this, and I would add “relationships of empowerment and humility.”
I’m being pushed this week that I can be an even stronger advocate and voice for the marginalized and poor. My church is doing some cool things in this area but I believe we can be even more innovative. I’d love to hear from others on what they’re doing individually and corporately to forge biblically-based socio-economic justice in their local communities and beyond. To learn more about what we’re doing go to www.sanctuarycov.org.