Using the Book of Acts to get a White Church Talking About Race, Part 2

How do you get a mostly white church to grow in our willingness to cross cultures in the name of Jesus? We decided to use the book of Acts, and emphasize God’s missional call. We framed it with something we can all agree on, Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In order to do this job and be on this mission it was going to require that Jesus’s disciples break through barriers that had separated people from God and from each other for centuries.

We believe as a church that we’re participating in this same mission: to be his witnesses to our entire community.

Baby Steps: The 001 Series Outline

Week 1: Learn to Listen (Acts 6)
Week 2: Be Like Cornelius. Get off your Moving Walkway (Acts 10)
Week 3: Be Like Peter. Repentance is a Good Word (Acts 10, pt 2)
Week 4: Let’s Lean into our Antioch future (Acts 11)
Week 1: Acts 6—Listen

The key take-home here: when there was a complaint along racial and ethnic lines, the (Jewish) apostles did not ignore it or rationalize it or push it away. They listened.

Without listening to people who are different from us we will never break through the barriers that divide us. The importance of being a listener became the refrain for the whole series.

And here’s a good example of the discipline of doing an “001 Series” kicked in: in this passage there are so many great, important application points about power dynamics, race, and authority that we did not talk much about at all. It was week one of an 001 series, we just wanted to invite folks to have a listening posture.

Week 2: Acts 10—The Moving Walkway

We did two weeks in Acts 10—week one we looked at it from Cornelius’s perspective. Our culture operates with moving walkways that will divide and separate us along these same fault lines of race, class, nationality, all we have to do is stand still and we’ll be herded by our racialized society.

The only way break-through happens is if we’re intentional about getting off of the moving walkway and going in the opposite direction.

Cornelius as a Roman centurion does this by sending for Peter and submitting to him, even though Peter’s a measly conquered Jew and Cornelius is a man of authority and power.

This message was about passive racism. I never used that phrase, just wanted people to start to see that we didn’t have to be hood-wearing KKK members to be participating in and cooperating with a racially dysfunctional system.

Week 3: Acts 10—The Hardest Part of Breaking Through

The Greek word for repentances is “metanoia” which literally means to change your mind. In the Acts 10 passage, Peter goes through a massive ‘mind changing’ experience from the unclean “picnic” offered to him in his prayer-trance to standing in Cornelius’s house declaring “I now see that God does not show favoritism” between Jew and Gentile.

This week, I pushed a little bit harder to invite us to recognize that racism wasn’t just “out there” in the culture but in our own hearts as well. The hardest part of breaking through racial barriers for many of us is acknowledging and repenting of the racism that’s within us. That message set up a very powerful communion experience of recognizing our need for the cross.

Week 4: Acts 11—Antioch: A Community that Breaks Through

Here we talked about the combination of human intentionality and the unpredictable, uncontrollable work of the Spirit that is always much more interested in reconciliation and breaking through barriers than we ever will be.

Four weeks, that was it. Near-zero push-back. Lots of great conversations started. If you’re an over-achiever, you can check out the Breaking Through sermon series here.

And as an aside, during the course of the series we had three new ethnic minority families start coming to our church. Not because they knew anything about the series. I think the Lord just said to us, “Alex, now I can trust you with these my children whom I love.”

Amen, may it be so.

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3 thoughts on “Using the Book of Acts to get a White Church Talking About Race, Part 2

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’m curious about what you are doing as concrete follow ups to help the church act on what they’ve learned? The two most common questions I hear from White church leaders and members are “how do we teach people about these issues” and then “therefore how should we respond”. Thanks!

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  2. Hey guys, sorry to be slow to get back–I’m just getting back from an extended vacation and was good to stay away from anything internet related.

    We hosted an open discussion session the 3rd week of the series. I was kind of bracing myself for it to be a bit heated but it really was all about this question: what do we do next?

    What’s happened since the series is a white guy has really taken this issue on and wants to start an intentionally mixed-race small group where they talk about race and culture and issues together. He’s meeting with a local African-American pastor to discuss the forum and get some coaching and input and maybe even some curriculum from him. I’m working with him some as well–I made him read “Being White!” 🙂 He’s hoping to add a Latino presence to the small group as well.

    This is still in development mode, so it might not get off the ground. And I wish I could say that this was all part of some grand strategy. But instead I think it’s what the Spirit is doing in this man and in our community. And I think that’s maybe part of the ‘rub’ with the ‘what next?’ question–it’s going to look different in each church and in each town/city/community.

    But some things that I’m doing with folks that show interest in this:

    -Reading/book discussion

    -Meeting together to talk about what a next-step might look like (initially there was another person in the church who was involved in the start-up of the small group but she decided to step back)

    -Networking cross-culturally. The African-American pastor that he’s meeting with is a friend of mine. This has been a great opportunity to see the Lord use the relationship he started with us be used to shape this man in his own journey of wanting to move cross-culturally.

    In all the messages that I gave, I encouraged people to take specific action steps that week. All of them were at an individual level (“listen this week across racial or ethnic lines”), but giving them specific action steps along the way really started some good conversations.

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments, guys! Doug, I’d love to hear if you’ve got further thoughts on the ‘what next’ question.

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