Seeing Inside Out

god-sees-the-heart 01

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Perhaps you’ve heard that verse before.

We use it to tell other people to stop judging us. “God knows what’s in my heart.”

We use it to judge other people, because although they look good God, and I, know what’s really going on in their hearts.

Sometimes we use it to include people who have a lot of tattoos, or whose clothes are shabby… “the Lord looks at the heart.”

Sometimes we use it to excuse our laziness and lack of action. “I know I could have cooked a meal for that person who just had surgery. I’d have liked to but just didn’t get around to it. Well, God knows my heart.”

In reality, we all judge on appearance more than we’re usually willing to admit. Although we know and quote 1 Samuel 16:7 we often live in opposition to this principle.

We make all sorts of judgments about people based on appearance:

  • Football fans – we like people more or less depending which team they support;
  • Professional attire – we presume people are more educated and capable the more formal their dress;
  • Skin tone – we all tend to more quickly trust others who look more like us;
  • Hemlines – women in general are more regularly judged by appearance and people associate values with clothing choices us as the length of a woman’s dress.

Because we know people make judgements based on appearances we then begin to accept them and play along. We may even try to use those judgements to our own advantage.

donald trump 01“It’s not a coincidence that many politicians wear red-coloured ties with light shirts and darker suits.

“Red is the power tie,” said Mark Woodman, a trend analyst who studies colour in Laurel, Maryland, in the US. “There’s something about red that always comes back to strength and passion.”” [quoted from HERE]

When it comes to playing along there’s not much we can do about our skins. We all ‘play along’ to some degree in regards to clothing, but accepting skin colour as a reasonable basis to make judgements about a person is dangerous. Viewing a presidential candidate as passionate because he wears a red tie pales in significance compared to initially regarding someone with dark skin as dangerous or assuming that someone with white skin would ‘fit in’ better to our office atmosphere.

It’s difficult to see people inside-out when society, and perhaps our human nature, trains us to see others outside-in. Notice in the opening verse that God states that it’s completely natural for even the great prophet Samuel to judge people by appearance. But as we grow in spiritual maturity we must desire to see others as God sees them.

The apostle Paul expresses the same thought this way:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation     2 Corinthians 5:16-18

Reconciliation as described here has many different applications. Primarily all humanity needs reconciliation with God. But given the history of the United States no one can claim to be reconciled with God while neglecting racial reconciliation. Given the tragedies we’ve witnessed around this country recently, the church can’t preach forgiveness while standing on the sidelines pointing fingers at violence and injustice in others.

Christians should be leading the way in practicing reconciliation because we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

  • Can we continue to describe churches as black and white if we no longer regard others from a worldly point of view?
  • Can we tolerate education systems with disparate graduation rates running along racial lines?
  • Can we remain silent while African-Americans fill our jails at a disproportionate rate?

Do we really believe that in Christ the old has gone and the new is here? Or is it too easy for us to rationalise the points above? Do we really see people differently because of Christ, or have we just memorised a couple of feel-good Bible verses?

Steps to See Others Inside-Out

  1. Remind Yourself Frequently: When you find yourself saying, “Typical, black drivers are always cutting me off.” or “Well, that’s no surprise, Indians are taking all our jobs.” Find ways to talk back to yourself. Remind yourself that each person is an individual with struggles and bad habits just like yours. Remind yourself that God loves them too.
  2. Understand that skin color is more than skin deep. People of different ethnicities experience the world in different ways. When we intentionally try to ignore skin color we ignore important aspects of that person’s life. Seeing people inside-out means acknowledging that a black male will most likely have different thoughts about dealing with the police than will a white female. The outside influences the inside. [I’ve written further on this topic HERE.]
  3. Ask Questions: Spend time with people from other ethnicities and cultures. Don’t tell them what the people in the news are doing wrong. Listen to their experience with the issues that interest you. Don’t argue! A simple ice breaker might go something like this, “What’s something about your experience living in the US that you think would surprise me, or I wouldn’t experience?”
  4. Make New Friends: If you live in a racially diverse community, and all your friends come from the same race as you, it’s time to develop some new friendships. It’s hard to demonstrate that you’re an agent of reconciliation if your friends are all one color.
  5. Be Color Brave: Encourage your church to address issues of racial reconciliation. If you live in an area with single race churches, then speak up for unity services and other forms of cooperation. Don’t pretend that race-based churches provide an acceptable status quo. Push for your church to embody the truth that “the Lord looks at the heart.” [Check out a great TED talk and other thoughts HERE.]

It has taken the United States centuries to reach this point in race relations. While prejudice may never disappear from our society, Christians have an opportunity, and responsibility, to demonstrate a better way. We can show the world what a difference it makes to move through life Seeing Inside-Out.


This summer I’ve been participating in a Summer Blog Tour with some excellent bloggers. Our theme for the summer is “[         ] Inside Out“. You can follow their work on my primary blog: www.ozziepete.wordpress.com. This post will also be shared on their sites in the coming weeks.
Church Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

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Worship Without Borders : part 3

SVCC_KipThis is the final post from an interview with Kip Long, the worship minister at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN. In 2015 Kip and the Sycamore View Praise Team produced an album titled Without Borders that broke from their usual repertoire of hymns and contemporary Christian music. (Part 1 & Part 2)

As I’ve been thinking about this topic over the last couple of weeks I’ve realised what  challenge it is for churches to learn new music styles. I attended a Gospel Meeting at a local African-American church last night and it dawned on me that even if we ‘borrowed’ one of their song leaders occasionally, our congregation wouldn’t necessarily know how to sing in that style. We’re trained in western classical and choral music to follow the leader, while in the Gospel genre the congregation needs to know their part because the leader is doing his own thing.

While there’s some benefit to having a black worship leader, if he’s expected to simply sing songs in the usual style, it’s really just window dressing, not multicultural worship. To allow all members to express their souls we must encourage their styles of worship music, even if the majority don’t readily recognise it.

I appreciate Kip addressing some of these challenges below.

What advice would you give smaller churches seeking to move to a more inclusive worship style where song leaders often don’t have a great deal of training?

 If a smaller church is diverse and desires for its up-front leadership to reflect that diversity, I would say

  1. Begin with prayer, continue with prayer and end with prayer. Ask God to help you!
  2. Even though you can find plenty of diverse songs, you need to determine if your church is ready to adapt its worship culture. Different ethnicities sing in different ways. Although there is a lot of common ground in theme and style, I have discovered that predominantly white congregations and predominantly black congregations have a few differences when it comes to church music:
    • Predominantly white churches are generally accustomed to following the song leader like a choral director. He sings the melody line and the church sings what he sings when he sings it. The church will usually sing “by the book”- meaning that they will follow the melody, harmonies, verses and choruses that the sheet music dictates.
    • Predominantly African-American churches may be quite comfortable singing one thing while the worship leader might sing “fill ins” and “ad-libs” along the way. The congregation will sing some amazing harmony, but it may not be what is written in the hymnbook. They may also enjoy singing the chorus a few more times than is written.
  3. If you feel like your church will benefit from a more diverse style of worship, invite some of your black brothers and sisters to lunch or dinner to discuss new music and the worship culture of your church. You will most likely discover common ground along with many new opportunities to deepen your church’s worship culture.
  4. Begin listening to different radio stations and search for more black gospel songs.
  5. If you are able to arrange music, you can add to your list of congregational songs. If you aren’t able to arrange music, I know a lot of arrangers who would be willing to help.
  6. As a worship leader, you may feel unable to credibly lead the church in this style of music. If you just don’t feel capable of this, ask God to open your eyes to leaders among you that might need someone to open the door of leadership to them so they can use their gifts to bless their congregation If there is no one among your congregation who can help you create a more inclusive worship style, perhaps you can ask other churches if they have gifted worship leaders who would be willing to lead worship for you on occasion. I firmly believe that God will provide the leadership the church needs when its leaders are open-hearted about leading his people.
  7. I don’t know a lot of training opportunities like this, but I am always open to listen and offer help in any way I am able. You can reach me at klong@sycamoreview.org.

 How much fun did you have recording Without Borders?  As we close are there any stories you want to share?

The greatest blessing of this project was the people he gathered together to create it.   I’ve always had talented background singers and soloists who have blessed each recording, but this time we discovered a few vocal gems!

It’s no secret that Steve Maxwell is an amazing vocalist. He sang with Acappella and is now the worship leader at North Atlanta Church. It’s a blessing to be a part of the congregation when he leads worship, but it was an awe inspiring moment when he recorded Every Praise. He came in, put on the headphones, got a sound level and proceeded to record it all in one take with no tuning or alignment needed. He was literally in and out of the booth in 4 minutes and it was golden. That was a moment I’ll never forget!

Another treasure is Kimberly Heard. She and her family were already an important part of Sycamore View, but to see the way the church responded to her solo on A Little More Jesus was unforgettable. She has a beautiful voice and a wonderful gift from God. This CD gave her a platform to give a gift to the Church that continues to bless.

Another one of my favorite treasures is Reginald Williams, who isn’t a part of our praise team. One Sunday morning we sang “Lean on Me” as our final song and Reginald came up to me after worship and started singing “You just call on me brother when you need a hand…” and I loved his voice.  I asked him if he would consider learning a song called, “Count it Victory” to go on our new CD. I’ll never forget the child-like look in his eyes the first time he heard the finished product. He asked, “Is that ME?” and then he would listen for a few more seconds and ask again, “Is that really ME?” I loved to be able to say, “That’s you and you are going to bless a lot of people with your song brother!

I loved hearing Julie Sanon sing Mansion, Robe and Crown, Candice Goff sing Oceans, Derek Byrd sing Starts With Me. I am still moved by Eric Wilson’s spoken word piece called “And We Waved.” And our kids singing “Thrive” always makes me smile. I loved how our entire team worked so hard together to create a gift that calls us to unity as we celebrate diversity.

I just got a call from a brother in North Little Rock who received Without Borders as a gift from a friend who visited one of our worship gatherings. He called me to say that this CD has meant so much to him and many times he has been brought to tears as he listens to it.  As our conversation moved to more personal levels, I shared my journey in creating this CD. He then shared his journey and how he grew up in an African-American church and went to a Harding University where he discovered different songs of worship and a different way to worship among the white churches and various campus devotionals he participated in. He said he came back home to share some new songs he learned only to find that his church wasn’t really interested in learning “those” songs.

He has since stepped out on faith to be a part of a church that is trying to blend black and white worship styles so that more people can  find unity in worshiping the Father. After I hung up the phone, I was grateful to know that God used our little CD and how He is moving among our churches to begin some much needed conversations about diversity in music that will create more unity in churches. May God bless us as we continue the conversation.

Without Borders music

Without Borders is available for streaming HERE. You can also order a CD of the album by contacting Kip: klong@sycamoreview.org.

Worship Without Borders: part 2

SVCC_KipLast week I began a 3 part interview with Kip Long, the worship minister at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN. In 2015 Kip and the Sycamore View Praise Team produced an album titled Without Borders that broke from their usual repertoire of contemporary Christian music.

One of the great challenges for multi-ethnic churches is designing ways for each culture to express themselves in worship. So I was curious to learn from Kip what motivated the production of this album and the process of reflecting cultural diversity through music.

You can read Part 1 of the interview HERE:

How are the song choices on this album different from previous compilations?

            The song choices were different than previous compilations primarily because their sources and style were different. I spent time searching for songs suggested by my Hope Works class members and a few brothers and sisters who were familiar with urban contemporary gospel music and it opened a whole new appreciation for other artists. These songs were a stylistic departure from the previous songs because we had never recorded much gospel music before. We touched on a few songs on our Hymns CD which featured Jerome Williams, but never to this extent.

I understand that you took a sabbatical and did some research in preparing not only for the album but to adjust the worship style at Sycamore View. Can you describe that process?

            After 7 years of ministry, each minister at Sycamore View gets a sabbatical to not only unplug from ministry, but to make deeper connections with God. During my time with God, I needed Him to help me discover ways to be the worship leader for a congregation that continues to grow in diversity. I am a 46 year-old white male who leads worship for a multi-generational, economically diverse, and multi-ethnic congregation. I knew we were planning to make a few stylistic changes to the next CD, but beyond that I wasn’t sure how much change was needed in our worship gatherings.

            So I attended predominantly African-American congregations across the city to experience first-hand the similarities and differences in worship styles. I observed and learned a lot.  I met with black worship leader friends and though I don’t have the same past experiences with Gospel music that they have, I was willing to learn and they were willing to teach. I met with many of my black brothers and sisters at Sycamore View who could help me gain new insight in this area and I was pleasantly surprised to find that most held a great appreciation for our music ministry and had discovered many new and wonderful songs that they had never heard before coming to Sycamore View.  By the end of my sabbatical I felt:

  1. No wholesale changes in worship style were needed, but our music style would need to reflect the congregation as it grows in diversity.
  2. This CD would help many members and guests gain a greater appreciation for Gospel music. Without Borders would be a good first step.
  3. God was training our hearts and ears to hear his voice among different styles of music and culture.
  4. Peace in knowing that God is shaping us into the church he needs us to be on his time table.

 What’s the racial makeup of your church? Have you received criticism for introducing songs from a different culture than many members are accustomed?

            Our church is about 77% White, 20% Black with a few other ethnic groups among us. The bride of Christ at Sycamore View is truly beautiful. After the CD release, I received a few comments from people who do not prefer this style of music, because it was a little “too busy” for their ears. But most of our members fell in love with new music they might have never heard had we not chosen these specific songs.

            As we move forward, I intend to seek out more congregational-friendly songs (for CD’s and for worship) that have roots in the African-American community. I am praying that God will continue making our praise team even more diverse and as we grow together so we can lead with credibility and integrity. I keep asking God to guide this process and open the doors that need to be opened. My prayer is Philippians 1:6, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God started this journey and he will guide our church to a place where we can all experience worship gatherings with the style of worship that is right for us.

Many of the resources I know on the topic of multi-ethnic churches emphasize the importance of expressing the cultural diversity of the membership in our worship services. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a worship leader in a larger church?

            As we prepare worship each week, we pray that the leadership on the stage reflects the diversity in the pews, but not every Sunday will be as diverse as our congregation. We lead with those who are available to lead and celebrate when it happens to be a diverse group. Our prayer is that God will continually help us open doors of leadership to all people in our family so that various generations, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels would be represented.

Continue to the final part HERE.

Without Borders music

Without Borders is available for streaming HERE. You can also order a CD of the album by contacting Kip: klong@sycamoreview.org.

Worship Without Borders : part 1

SVCC_KipI met Kip Long during my first year  in the United States (1999/2000). A small church in rural Mississippi had asked me to work with their teens a few hours each week. This is how I found myself at a youth rally in Senatobia, MS. Kip was a youth minister from Memphis and worship leader for the weekend. He could also throw the football further than any of the other teens in the parking lot that weekend.

Today, Kip serves as the worship minister for the Sycamore View Church of Christ located in Bartlett, Tennessee, just outside the city limits of Memphis. As a worship minister he leads the church’s primary worship gathering each Sunday, coordinates the praise team, plans musical events and produces worship CDs. In the bigger picture he seeks to help people live a life of worship that will attract others to the Lord.

One of the great challenges for multi-ethnic churches is designing ways for each culture to express themselves in worship. In early 2015 I stumbled across a new worship CD recorded by the Sycamore View Praise Team titled “Without Borders” that attempted to address this challenge. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kip about the motivation and process of producing this album.  I’ll be sharing this interview with you in three parts over the the next three weeks.

How long have you been the Worship Leader at Sycamore View Church of Christ?

            I’ve have the privilege of leading the Sycamore View Church in worship for 13 years.

 How many albums has your worship team produced over the years?

            We just released our 9th album, Seasons of Worship Volume 3 in November 2015

 What prompted you to start recording these albums?

            When I began work at Sycamore View in 2003, there were several new songs that the church had not learned and I needed a way to teach them. We were also searching for ways that each ministry could share the Good News of the Kingdom.  A few months later, Seasons of Worship Vol. 1 was born and we were able to share music with members and guests.

You recently released an album named “Without Borders.” Can you explain that name?

            When churches sing about God’s power, the Spirit’s guidance, the Savior’s sacrifice or any of the major themes in worship, we are formed, informed and transformed as we worship. Although we find ourselves in agreement over the content of our worship songs, we discover some disagreement when it comes to the style of songs. On all popular secular radio stations, you will hear the same basic content: I love you, I hate you, Go away, and Come back (Over-simplistic…but close, right?) So why do we choose one station over another? It is because the style of music is what we prefer.

            In my car, you will find my pre-set radio stations are Christian, Gospel, Rock, Pop, Classic Rock and Oldies because these reflect my preferred style of music.  When my 14 year old daughter gets in my car, she hits a button that takes the radio to FM2 pre-sets, where 4 of the 6 stations are Country. Because I love her, I am willing to listen to her music even though Country music isn’t my preferred style. But over time I have discovered a few songs that I truly like-songs I would have never heard otherwise.

            Do you have a pre-set style of worship music?  Does your church? What if our love for brothers and sisters caused us to expand our perspective and discover different styles of music? This project was an attempt to invite our church across a few stylistic borders to discover new ways to praise God.

What motivated you to move in this direction?

            hopeWorks-signI have the opportunity to teach a Bible class at Hope Works (www.whyhopeworks.org). It is a joy to share scripture with under-resourced individuals in the Memphis area who need skills to break out of the poverty cycle. I need to let you know that this class was mostly African American. As a part of my class I usually play songs that help deepen their connection with God and many times I use our praise team CDs. One Thursday I was preparing to share another one of our songs with the class, so I was letting our CD play as students entered. The only other person in the room at the time was an older African-American woman who was looking over her notes from the previous class. As I walked by her she said, “Excuse me Kip. I like your music, but I was wondering if you have…(long pause)…any music that WE like?”

            I didn’t really know how to respond. I had every opportunity to find offense. After all this wasn’t just any music, this was MY music. I was thinking, “What’s wrong with my music?” Thanks to the Spirit’s guidance, he helped me close the door of offense and open the door of understanding. I simply asked, “Hmm….well… I’m not sure. What kind music do you like?” Her face lit up as she started naming all these artists whose music blessed her life. I can honestly say that of the dozen names she mentioned, Kirk Franklin was the only name I recognized. And so when the class began I asked everyone, “What Christian artists draw your heart to God?” And for 20 minutes we discussed Christian artists that I had never heard before. They played songs from their phones and most began singing along. It was a holy moment…and I felt like an outsider.

            After class, I got in my car and sat for a few minutes in silence. I prayed, “God, thank you for opening my eyes today. Thank you for my brothers and sisters who love you and for the Christian artists who bless them. But what does this mean for me? Why have I never heard of these Christian artists before?” Then I envisioned my congregation and thought of my black brothers and sisters at Sycamore View. “God, do my S.V. brothers and sisters feel this way? What do I do now? Do I change everything? Do I change anything?” As I started my car, I found Hallelujah FM (a Gospel Station) and locked in a new pre-set.

CONTINUE READING PART 2 OF THIS INTERVIEW HERE AND PART 3 HERE.

Without Borders music

Without Borders is available for streaming HERE. You can also order a CD of the album by contacting Kip: klong@sycamoreview.org.

 

 

America, We Have A Problem

If your spouse tell you, “We have a problem.” How do you respond?

You can try to convince him that he’s wrong. You can tell her that she’s taking everything the wrong way. You can suggest that you’re not the problem in the relationship. You can argue that the relationship is better than it used to be. You can deny, deny, deny. But that just means you’ll be surprised when you find yourself sleeping in the car.

Alternatively, you can ask questions to understand the problem. Perhaps it turns out to be a misunderstanding that can be remedied by talking. More likely, resolution of the problem will require a change of behaviour.

White America, we have a problem.

We know this because black America keeps telling us.

We know this because of Ferguson.

We know this because of Baltimore.

We know this because of Charleston, South Carolina.

And we know the issues are complex, partly because of Rachel Dolezal.

We know this.

A couple of days ago I attended a one-day workshop featuring Dr Christena Cleveland. The workshop involved five hours of lectures. The first three hours were spent describing the need for reconciliation. She covered topics including:

  • Segregation within American cities (admit it, you know the “black” parts of town)
  • Perceptions
  • Discriminiation
  • Implicit Prejudice (take this research test from Harvard to gauge your own prejudice)

She also spend considerable time discussing and describing “Privilege”, which must exist whenever one group of people experience prejudice.

We spent so much time describing the problems that before we broke for lunch I raised my hand to ask if all this groundwork was necessary. “Don’t people already recognise there’s a problem?

Dr Cleveland responded that until these issues are resolved, there’s an ongoing need to keep them in America’s consciousness.

During the lunch break a white woman at my table shared that her (white) church had someone make a presentation to them recently where much of this material was presented. She said it was new to her at the time and she needed to hear it.

Yesterday, I was talking to another woman who would describe herself as a non-Christian, social liberal in her 50h’s and she told me, “I don’t know any black people. I work in the city. I’d like to do something to address the poverty issues I see as a I drive around. But I don’t know any members of the black community or what to do.

If you’re reading this blog you already know there’s a problem.

You drive around on a Sunday morning and you see the vast majority of churches segregated by skin colour. You read the news stories about the shooting this week in Charleston, and see that the description of the church as an “African-American” church reveals a spiritual issue of which this shooting is the most recent manifestation. Sometimes this segregation reflects the neighbourhood demographics. More often it reflects the comfortable ambivalence of the members.

So what can be done to fix this problem?

Centuries of division demonstrate the stark reality that no answer will be simple or easy. But here’s part one of the solution: Convince people of a problem.

I’m not a World War 2 history buff, so I won’t attempt to make exact statements about why it took the United States so long to enter World War 2. What I do know is that US involvement increased dramatically after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I’ll suggest that one element of that increased involvement was the widespread recognition of a problem. Once the problem was clearly identified, people were willing to sacrifice for solutions.

As long as people convince themselves that race relations in the United States were solved in the 1950’s & 60’s by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the process of school desegregation, we’ll never resolve the issues that continue to confront us today.

If you’re a church leader, you have a platform to peel back the band-aids and expose the continuing sores of racial prejudice, both implicit and explicit, in this country. Your church needs you verbalise the problems. Your community needs you to speak against prejudice. Your God expects you to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard. So speak.

Most Christians Don’t Speak English

Myopia is a medical term for nearsightedness. Sadly, many Christians suffer from social and spiritual myopia.

We can see the things and people that are close to us very clearly. The people that are further from us culturally or ethnically, or by wealth or education we don’t see as clearly. Sometimes we walk right past them and don’t see them. Sometimes we look around our community and only see people like ourselves.

In this short but excellent video Russell Moore encourages mono-cultural churches to ask why they’re monocultural. But don’t look around a room and ask people like yourself. You need to go outside the church building, into the community and have those conversations with people of other races. Is there a reason that a Black, Hispanic, or Chinese family wouldn’t come to this church?

Is it possible that churches filled with white Americans have come to view ourselves as the definition of a Christian? That our standards should be universal standards? That our beliefs should be universal beliefs? That our “way” of doing church is the “right way”?

This mindset decreases the likelihood that a church will make changes in order to accommodate others. We’re more likely that even when we acknowledge different perspectives of time flexibility between cultures we’ll still demand that African or Latin-Americans keep a schedule that we’re comfortable with, rather than adopting looser start and finish times. Because the way we do things is the right way.

We might convince ourselves that four-part harmony is the “reverent” way to worship God, oblivious to the roots this style of music has in European culture. Because this is the right way to worship, we expect others to become like us, rather than us learn to appreciate Japanese or Indian musical worship genres.

The way we define “normal” is crucial for churches wrestling with the challenges of multiculturalism. Life in a multi-ethnic church must challenge our myopia. We also need to acknowledge our tendency toward myopia and be alert for its symptoms.

I’ll leave my commentary there and I hope you enjoy this video.

So Many Questions

Over the years I’ve engaged in numerous discussions regarding the role of the church in social and political issues. As an Australian I have zero expectations that the government will reflect Christian values, at least, not because they’re Christian. When a Christian is elected to parliament it’s nice to see and I hope they vote according to their conscience. However, I don’t look to politicians to further the kingdom of God. Faith cannot be legislated.

I also struggle within myself regarding the extent to which churches should engage social issues. I am not a proponent of abortion, but the role churches have played in publicly and loudly condemning abortion seems to have done little more than produce a harvest of guilt in women who’ve made that decision.

We don’t need to look very far to see the other side of the coin. I’m sure most (all?) of my readers are aware of the role the church played in the United States’ civil rights movement and the prominent voice of Dr Martin Luther King. This upswell of Christian and broader social pressure transformed American society for the better.

mondaysThe pursuit of social causes by churches also creates dilemmas:

  • Which cause should a church pursue?
  • Can a church of 100 or 500 immerse itself in ending sex slavery in the community and/or around the world, and supporting teenage girls who find themselves mothers; and fighting AIDS or malaria in Africa? Churches need to make decisions and it seems whichever need we prioritise we’ll be criticised for overlooking another.
  • How do we balance these legitimate needs with the need of people around the world to hear the Gospel for the first time?

Then there are more significant systemic issues.

I’ll confess that since I work with a multi-ethnic church (mostly bi-racial: black/white) I view the events in Ferguson and Baltimore differently than I otherwise would. I now ask how my brothers and sisters that I worship with each week feel about these conflicts. I want to make society better, not just for people in general, but for the people I talk to each Sunday. I want the future to be brighter for the children with whom my daughter plays.

I think about the unrest in these cities. I think about the role of the news media. I think about the role of churches in those communities. I think about the role of my church in my community.

I see black church leaders take a public stand against policy policies and behaviours that discriminate against African-Americans. I see black ministers marching with protestors calling for justice. I see black churches functioning as voices for the black community and I wonder, “What is my role as a white minister in a biracial congregation?”  (For example watch this video.)

I recognise that God has given the church a role of calling empires to practice justice. I recognise that when the news media finally leaves Ferguson and Baltimore the root problems have not been solved. So…

  • Should my church lobby for reform in the education system?
  • Should we have signs on the lawn highlighting the disparate rates of incarceration between the black and white communities?
  • Should my church offer education programs for employers to promote equal hiring practices?
  • Should church members seek to strategically join committees and organizations promoting racial harmony and equality?
  • What difference can a church make to these institutional systems that have been in place for decades?

Do issues of racial justice automatically take a higher priority than sex slavery because my church has African-American members? What if the church was evenly divided between black, white and Vietnamese? Would my position require me to equally champion black and Vietnamese rights?

Or should I simply focus on preaching the death, burial and resurrection to anyone I meet? Should I focus on baptisms, not legislation? Should I point people to Jesus then allow individual members to take whatever action they deem best on these issues?

I am aware that in posing these questions I have established a divide between the church, politics, and social causes that is artificial and not necessarily helpful. But I believe that this is the starting point for most leaders in multi-ethnic churches facing these issues for the first time.

What do you think?