Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Help III - The Church: Lord Help Us!



Okay, okay. I know I promised to turn a corner here on Sojourner of Truth, but I'm feeling like I've left a huge stone unturned. There's some unfinished business that I'm needing to tend to. So hang with me here, and I promise that soon and very soon I will begin my next series of blogs about people that have, and continue to, change the world.

On Thursday my husband Anthony and I had the privilege of participating in an online discussion of The Help with our directional pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, Mark DeYmaz. A leader in the multi-ethnic church movement, Mark discusses issues of race and the church every Thursday at noon CST through Mosaix, a network of church leaders in pursuit of a multi-ethnic church for the sake of the gospel. (Click here to listen to this program) It was fast-paced, exhilarating -- and a little unnerving in the beginning -- to be perfectly honest. But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and our discussion brought up a lot of interesting points.

The issue that we continually revisited was: so what can -- and should -- the Church of Jesus Christ do about this issue of race?

I'm so glad you asked. In last Saturday's post, The Help: Let's Talk About It, I shared a few thoughts on the church and its response to the issues of race brought to the forefront in The Help. Well, I'd like to add to those thoughts.

I'll begin with the obvious point that members of my current church, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas and my former church Strong Tower Bible Church, would wholeheartedly agree with. First of all, we've got to address the issue of segregation in our Christian churches. Now, let me begin with saying that I applaud any church where Jesus is uplifted as Savior and Lord and where the Word of God is taught unashamedly. I hope to be the last person to bash any godly church body, or pastor, for that matter.

But who are we kidding, folks? Our churches are still largely the most segregated entities in our country. Our government is diverse. Our public schools are diverse. Our businesses are diverse. The entertainment world is incredibly diverse. And although there's lots more room for minority people in all these arenas -- especially in the back offices of owners and decision-makers -- they are still pretty diverse.

However, if you walk into the majority of churches today, you'll be hard-pressed to find a person that looks different from the majority of members. If you do, they are usually a very small minority. And that's true in African American churches, Caucasian churches, Hispanic churches and Asian churches.

Check out the point Ed Stetzer, Vice President of Research and Ministry Development for Lifeway Christian Resources, makes in his blog post entitled, "Race Relations, Affirmative Action, and the Church: More Reflections on the Help."
The church is trailing society in an area where we should be setting the pace. Followers of Jesus Christ, for whom there is "no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" should be leading the nation in racial reconciliation, not being dragged kicking and screaming by unbelievers into a life the Kingdom anticipates. Too often, the church trails the culture. For that matter, too many "Christians" were holding the hoses at Selma, not standing for equality. The church still trails.
So instead of leading the trend in diversity, the Church is sadly lagging behind. Stetzer reports (from statistics compiled by Dr. Michael Emerson, author of Divided By Faith) that over 92% of churches in the US are racially segregated, with 80% or more of the congregation comprised of a single race or ethnic group. I believe this grieves the heart of God.

So what am I proposing? Should all churches become heterogeneous? Is it sinful for a pastor to lead a church with 85% or more of its members belonging to the same race? Is it sinful for you to belong to this kind of church?

I don't believe so. Like I said when I began this discussion, I praise God for any church boldly teaching the Word of God and encouraging its leadership and members to live according to the Word. So no, my desire isn't to bash homogeneous churches.

But I do believe there are things every church should be doing in the area of racial reconciliation. I do believe that every believer must examine his or her heart, asking God to expose any residue of the racism prevalent in our country's history. I do believe there's room for repentance for most of us.

I do believe that every church can make major strides in the multi-ethnic movement through intentional actions, such as:
  • Have an open heart to people of different races, excited and welcoming when they visit and pursue membership.
  • Tailor the worship service in a way that people of different races may feel more welcomed there. And this especially includes the music. It's not impossible. I've seen it done in two churches now. People of different races sing on the worship team together, where the music selection includes various musical genres. Trust me. This can be done!
  • If there is at least a handful of people of different races, prayerfully seek out people of the minority race to serve in leadership positions, such as deacons, elders, worship leaders, etc. This kind of leadership search must be intentional. People identify with leaders that look like them.
  • Reach out to another church in the same town with a different racial mix. Host joint potluck meals -- held in both churches. Hold prayer meetings together. Share in a service project or missions trip. Nothing bonds people quite like the mission field, be it around the corner or on the other side of the world. Visit a Civil Rights historical site together and encourage open dialogue afterward.
  • Encourage your members often to be open and intentional about beginning relationships with people of a different race. In 2011, there are still people -- Christian people -- that have never had a close friend from a different race. They've had coworkers and neighbors of different races, but not friends. Encourage and model for the members genuine relationships with people from different cultures and backgrounds. And pray for authenticity, so there's a desire for this kind of relationship. Over time it should become a lifestyle, not a "church program."
I have been blessed to belong to churches where this kind of ministry isn't just preached, but practiced church-wide. I've been blessed to have a husband who preaches about this kind of ministry as often as he gets a chance. And I'm truly blessed to have friends of different races and cultures. For the first half of my life, I missed out on the joy of these kinds of relationships. I wouldn't go back for anything.

I believe if the Church is going to be effective in this 21st Century, we've got to display the diverse Kingdom of God more than MTV and Dancing with the Stars.

To bring it back home to The Help, we've got to break through prejudice, past offenses and our painful history to change our future. Like Skeeter, we've got reach out to those that just happen to be darker in skin color. Like Aibileen, we've got to grasp the hand of those that just happen to be lighter in skin color. It works both ways. No one's off the hook on this one.

So what's it going to be? Will you help me change the future?

Speaking The Truth In Love,

Carla

4 comments:

  1. Carla, thank you for the suggestions on how to have a church welcome people who are different. We have been fortunate to have the opportunity of also attending churches that were ethnically diverse, Mosaic and two others. In both Virginia and Puerto Rico I used search engines to find "multicultural church"; which led us to two wonderful churches that loved Christ and showed it in how they treated others.

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  2. Thanks for your comments Jan! I wasn't sure how this blog would be received, so I appreciate your positive feedback. So glad to be doing this kind of ministry @ Mosaic with wonderful people like you!

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  3. Carla -

    Found your blog through a friend and I am so glad - I work at Fellowship North, another central AR church that is working towards becoming a multiracial church - so I loved reading your thoughts about that!

    I also blog, and love knowing about other local bloggers. I wrote about The Help here: http://thedramatic.com/index.php/2011/08/19/the-help/ and as I read your posts I was saying 'yes!' as I went along. Really enjoyed your perspective.

    I'll be keeping up - glad to know you are out here, changing the world by picking up your pen. :)

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  4. Carla I hope you don't mind. I shared this with my "Blended Soul" sista's!

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