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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How do you talk about Racial Healing in a white Church? Part 1

How do you get a conversation started about race relations and God’s power if you are a white leader in a mostly white church? After 3 years as their pastor, I recently decided it was high time for me to do just that.

Discliamer: After a measley four-week preaching series from Acts, in no way do I fancy myself an expert. But as a friend of mine pointed out, given that most white pastors have absolutely zero experience in talking about this from the pulpit, I’m happy to share my recent experiment, to get the conversation going.

Baby Steps

This series was not supposed to be racial reconciliation 101. It was going to be crossing-cultures 001. We decided to meet our congregation right where they were, as best as we could. Our goal was to start a conversation, not beat them up with how little they knew.

Framing this “Crucial Conversation”

Once I realized that our goal was an 001-level conversation starter series, I decided to steal a page from the book Crucial Conversations: I wanted to start by “establishing mutual purpose.”

My goal in the first few minutes of every message was to build trust and agreement around what we could all agree was broken in the world. That helped us to look at the problem of barriers between people groups as a shared problem that we all wanted to do something about.

Every week I introduced and re-introduced the series with some combination of these key phrases:

We’re talking in this series about God’s power to break through barriers of race, class, ethnicity, culture, and nationality, but especially around what we commonly call race.

In every culture and in every country all throughout history, people have been divided by these same set of barriers

For 5,000 years of human history, there is not one culture, not one people who group that has not had tremendous barriers between people along some of these fault lines

And these barriers have caused untold misery and destruction and pain for people in every culture ever

This is, quite frankly, one of the single greatest, constant, intractable problems for all humanity for all time

Unfortunately, we struggle to have this important conversation in the church.

Scroll through your Facebook news feed and on any given day we can see examples of how much tension and pain and anger and mis-understanding and frustration there is around these issues

But what if the church became that place where we could finally have a good, constructive conversation?

Together, what we’re going to do in these next couple weeks is see if we can start to solve a problem that millions of people before us have been unable to solve. No big deal, right? You up for that?

By framing this up as a global, historical problem it took some of the defensiveness and edge out of the room. This was a problem we were going to tackle and start to solve together. This helped them understand the conversation and “agree” to enter into a difficult topic with me.

God’s Cross Cultural Gospel

The church I serve is a wonderfully action-oriented church that very much desires to be outward-facing.

So when I was running the idea for series by a much wiser man than myself (thanks, Doug Schaupp), he suggested that I frame the series as God’s culture-crossing Gospel, with a clearly missional focus. I knew that would resonate with my action-oriented, outward-facing community.

Over the course of four weeks, we walked through three different passages in Acts but each week we started by putting Jesus’s final command to his disciples in front of us: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”-Acts 1:8

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.

And I played off our church vision and even our name: in order for us to BE Chatham COMMUNITY Church, a church for the whole community, and not just one slice of our community, we’re going to have to break down the same walls that those first disciples had to break through.

By entering through the missional door, they could see and agree that this is an important four-week series, even if it would push them out of their comfort zone.

How do you feel about giving white Christians baby steps, or a 001 warm-up to this important conversation?