Categories
Culture

Race in America

“We need to talk about race in America.” 

I’ve heard that phrase often. Whether it’s a political candidate stumbling over whether or not to disavow an association with the Klu Klux Klan or a pastor of an almost-all-white-church stumbling through an awkward conversation… it’s something you say that makes it seem like you’re really interested when in fact you aren’t.

“We need to talk about race in America.” 

For me, I see this as a placeholder phrase. It’s slightly better than saying “uh, I dunno.

I think a lot of people truly are interested in cultivating change about race, but they just don’t know where to start. For me… it is intimidating because I am mostly ignorant of the way that society has privileged me. I find myself afraid to say the wrong things and consequently say nothing.

So perhaps instead of saying, “We need to talk about race in America” I should start saying, “I need to listen better about race in America”?

HABIT 5: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?

source

I can’t understand until I listen.

I can’t change until I understand.

Categories
Christian Living

The Prize

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24

Ah, the prize! I am wired to win the prize. Well, sometimes I am.

Can I be honest? I’m better at running really hard than I am at knowing what the prize even is! Paul continues, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Yeah, I’m certainly not beating my body about anything. (In the literal sense.)

I’ve never met anyone who is truly up to that challenge. Sorry Paul.

This passage, as familiar as it is, confuses me. It’s really clear what Paul’s prize is– winning souls. (v. 19) But that passage isn’t prescriptive and the language isn’t inclusive to assume that the prize/goal for every Christian is to preach to win lost souls.

It’s confusing because it is so direct yet so ambiguous.

Yet for the rest of us. For those who aren’t apostles. For those of us who aren’t hard-wired as preachers or evangelists… we want a prize, too!?! 

Get Your Prize!

I’ve learned to love Paul’s ambiguity. While 1 Corinthians describes this prize, Paul life had times where other prizes were his muse. The point wasn’t that his prize was THE prize it’s that God gave him a pursuit and he went after it with his all.

Let’s us cast off the silliness of prescriptive, exacting prizes and recklessly chase the prize God has laid on our hearts for today.

Don’t chase Paul’s prize. Chase yours.

Photo credit: Daniel Coomber via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Want more posts like this? Subscribe via RSS.
Categories
Church Leadership

Leading Your Church to Reflect its Neighborhood

It’s been more than 40 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. quipped, “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.

If we are honest with ourselves– churches are nearly as divided today as they were 40 years ago. We call it culture and we call it personal preference. But the truth of the matter is that we just don’t want to rock the boat. (We like the comfort, staff members like their paychecks.)

So we allow racism, sexism, and a lack of cultural diversity to run rampant in our congregations.

It’s time those of us called to lead, lead our churches into a new paradigm.

And it starts with a sober assessment of where our congregations are at.

Simple measurement tool

Make a written observation the demographics of your congregation this Sunday morning. (Age, marital status, socio-economic status, race, gender) Then compare what you observe at your church against what the data set of your churches zip code as provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Does your congregation reflect its neighborhoods demographics?
  • Does your church staff reflect the demographics of the zip code?
  • If there is a disconnect, is your church leadership making serious, active efforts to close the divide?

Cutting to the chase: While most evangelical congregations don’t have white, middle class theology. They predominantly attract white, middle class congregations. And it’s scary how many church staffs are filled with white, middle class males. (Go ahead, look at the staff pages of 10 of your favorite churches.) That disconnect you observe should lead you to make changes!

Changing your behavior: If you are like me, a child of the 1980s, you were raised in a dogma of multiculturalism.

From kindergarten I was taught that all the cultures in my community have value, deserve equal rights, and should be given access to the same things I am given access to as a member of the dominant culture. That value may have been taught to me from a secular perspective, but I believe it also reflects a biblical perspective on how Christians are to live in society as well!

If you want to express that same value on Sunday morning you need to take some steps (maybe radical ones) towards that value.

In other words– Maybe you need to change churches? Maybe you need to stop funding something that doesn’t reflect your values and start funding a congregation that does? Maybe you need to lead the way and stop waiting for church leadership to lead you?

Personal testimony– This is what I’ve done. For the past 2+ years my family has been a part of a congregation that works hard to reflect its neighborhood. At times, it is simply beautiful and at other times it is wholly awkward. But it’s been a radical transformation for my walk with Jesus. So, know that I’m not just pushing an idealism, I’m encouraging you to participate in something that I’m finding tremendous joy in.

If you are a church leader who is taking a serious look at bridging the divide between the Sunday morning demographic you have today and the one you’d like to see in 12 months, may I suggest some action steps?

5 Radical Steps Towards Becoming a Congregation which Reflects its Neighborhood

  1. Hire staff members that reflect the demographics of your zip code. (Race, gender, marital status, age)
  2. Require all paid staff, from the janitor to the senior pastor, to live within the zip code of your congregation. (Give them a few months to move, make it financially possible, remove staff members who won’t move within 12 months.) Take it a step further by requiring all board officers to do the same.
  3. If you live outside of the neighborhood, lead the way by moving into the community your church is trying to reach. Don’t contribute to the disconnect– lead the way!
  4. Get involved in neighborhood issues. Lead the way on issues of justice, advocate for the poor, let your congregation be a voice in the community. (Here’s 10 suggestions for your church to be good news to the neighborhood)
  5. Adopt a local public school. The local schools are the access point to the people your church is called to reach. Get involved, not as an agent of adversary, but as a community partner. (Here’s 10 suggestions for your church to be good news to the local schools)

Is this a magic growth formula? Of course not. But as you take these steps you will earn the trust of a community who has learned to ignore you. When you care about what they care about and when you reflect who they are, you will be amazed at the social currency this will earn your congregation.

I recognize that these steps may seem extreme. (And I’m certain someone will tell me that firing staff for this is unbiblical) But that’s the nature of leadership, isn’t it? Sometimes God asks you to push past what you are comfortable with or what feels right to do what is right. Remember the rich young man in Matthew 19? He asked Jesus how he might enter the Kingdom of God, but he left disappointed because the cost was too high.

The reality is that if those in leadership don’t take radical positions so that their actions reflect their theology, the church will never change.

We simply cannot survive as a viable faith if we continue to act as agents of discrimination on Sunday morning. The church cannot be the most segregated place in our culture. It is time that the church take a good, hard look at who they are in their community and make some radical changes.

It’ll never get any easier or cheaper to do so than it is today.