The Church

Thoughts from a Black Reformer

Alyssa Miller

If you are black and Reformed, your church most likely falls on this spectrum: contextually African-American, multi-ethnic, or contextually white.

I have attended each in my 30-something years, the bulk of those years being in an African-American context. I met and married my white husband while attending a multi-ethnic congregation. For the last seven years, our family has attended a contextually white church. This past year, in particular, I have asked, “Why are we still here?” Maybe you are in a similar boat. I want to share my story with you.

If Your Church is Like Mine…

If your church is like mine, it is healthy. The Word is preached soundly every Sunday. The worship is bible-inspired, classically trained, and beautiful. The resources for Bible study, discipleship, and missions are plentiful.

If your church is like mine, it sits in the middle of one of the most diverse cities in America. African and Middle-Eastern immigrants inhabit the surrounding neighborhoods, a Native Indian reserve is down the road, and there is an established Hmong and African-American population.

But if your church is like mine, hardly any of its membership actually reflects this diversity. It is a suburban commuter, transient church, of which we are culprits. Corporate worship and programming are catered to white majority-minded thinkers and the traditions that lie therein.

If your church is like mine, you may hear these conflicting statements from members around you:

We need to pray for our country’s leaders…We don’t mix politics with pulpit here.

We want to taste the rainbow of heaven…Race is a construct; color shouldn’t matter.

We want to reach people in the culture…I don’t have a culture.

We are called to go and make disciples…I’m not sure why people of color won’t come here.

The lack of cultural awareness and intentional inclusion of the nations make you ask regularly, “Why do I still come to this church?” In light of the past two years—and the peacock feathers strutted by many white evangelicals at the polls—you may feel a need to disassociate with your white church context more than ever. This is where I was about 9 months ago and I battle those feelings even now.


If your church is like mine, you may be hearing more talk about becoming multi-ethnic. My initial sentiment was simply disbelief. “Does my leadership really want to be multi-ethnic or do they just like the idea of it?”  Or “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I was woke, but I wasn’t doing anything to share my wokeness. I wasn’t helping or challenging. In fact, the thought of it was exhausting. “Why do I have to be the educator anyway? Ain’t nobody got time…”

For Such a Time as This

Your reason for staying may vary. Maybe you’re invested relationally or in service, so you stay. Maybe you have kids who benefit from the thriving youth ministry, so you stay. Maybe your significant other really likes it, so you make it work. Maybe it’s just easy to slip in and out and that’s all your season allows right now.

Last Spring, while my husband and I wrestled with why we were still attending our church, I considered Mordecai’s exhortation to Esther: “For such a time as this.”

So, I began discussions with our women’s ministry leadership, regarding the inclusion of women of color at the planning table. And without seeing it coming, they pulled me up a seat. A few months later, I held a discussion on race and culture with my church mentorship group. A month or so after that, I put out a few feelers to my white lay sisters who were willing to thoughtfully research, listen, and process racial tensions of the day. I invited them to my home. We talked about our “whiteness” as a church. We discussed our blind spots—personally and corporately. We prayed that God would show us how to bring change.

Then I wrote a letter to our pastors, briefing them on the last gathering, and asked them to respond to our questions regarding the lack of diverse ethnic inclusion at church. I asked them to wrestle these questions with us and lead us practically in diversity and inclusion within our ministries.

And you know what? They responded to me. They pulled back the pastoral leadership curtain and invited me backstage. This is what I found…

Your Leaders Might Be Praying for You

My pastors, in their times with God, feel deeply convicted on poorly living out the second greatest commandment in their organization. They are seeking God on how to begin redeeming lost time, breaking down ethnocentric tendencies in church life, and welcoming marginalized people groups in by speaking their cultural language—figuratively and literally speaking.

They are praying for help.

They are talking strategy in staffing, to express diversity. They are diversifying their news feeds and theological resources to inform themselves of various perspectives. They are repenting in their hearts of racialized thinking that has become pervasive in white evangelicalism.

But they are slowly wading in this new awakening. They have yet to get to practical steps that shake up how church life is actually done on Sundays and Wednesdays. They don’t know how best to partner with people of color who have been hurt by the wear and tear of white everything. They’re scared to single out persons of color without…well, singling them out. But they know they can’t speak for them. So leadership remains stuck, talking in circles a bit…waiting for clarity.

It’s Worth the Try

My letter seemed to blow needed oxygen into a small flame. Months have passed since that letter. Our head pastor has publically repented for ethnocentric tendencies and he shed light on ethnic exhaustion. We have held all-church panel discussions on majority culture implications in church life and made space for people of color to lament. Our pastors attended the MLK50 conference and simulcasted it for our members to spur practical ideas for change. A small group has started on race and culture. A curriculum is being reviewed to train our small group leaders in cultural sensitivity. Our church librarian has published a working resource list to encourage self-education on ethnic groups, institutionalized racism, and contextualized ministry. There is also increased discussion and brainstorms on neighborhood outreach and partnerships.

Honestly, when I first approached my women’s leader on diversity and inclusion, I was just waiting to be shut down, so my husband and I could switch churches with a clear conscience. “Well, I tried,” I could say, dusting my sandals off. For some readers, this is or will be your sad truth and your sandals will need to be dusted. But if your church is like mine, it’s worth the try…for the glory of God, and the joy of his bride.

17 thoughts on “Thoughts from a Black Reformer

  1. Brooke

    I am just now discovering this article after taking a break from the witness for a bit, and boy did I need this a few months ago when my husband and I were in the “Should I stay or should I go” camp. Thankfully, Praying, talking to each other, and asking ourselves some questions helped us to decide that we are to stay for now. It basically boiled down to “why do we think God may have put us here in the first place”. Thanks for the encouragement as we continue to persevere!

  2. Trish

    Thank you, Alyssa for stepping forward with your concerns and helping us from the white majority to see and hear you and others from minority cultures. We / I have a lot to learn. Glad to be part of the Body of Christ with you!

  3. neale davis

    Thank you Alyssa. I am an older white Christian man at a white majority mega church like you have described. I appreciate hearing about your journey and I’m grateful that you persevered. I am trying desperately to understand and hear from my minority brothers and sisters. I know it’s a challenge for you to see people look past your as if you don’t exist. Your article has inspired me to pray more clearly and listen to the Lord more intently. Thank you for your patience with we white majority folks. Eager to see change in the church and dedicated to not just hear you, but to listen to you. It’s awkward for us as whites, and many still struggle to “get it” but I’m so grateful for your kindness and patience.

  4. klinik aborsi raden saleh

    Thank you Reverend James and may God add a blessing to your elucidative manner of conveying of His Word.

  5. Stephanie

    I so appreciated this article and find it refreshing and encouraging! Thank you!

  6. Renee Warriner

    Thanking God Alyssa for your voice among us at Bethlehem! May God move us toward gospel centered unity with people of color while tackling deep-rooted issues of oppression. When discussion of racialized practices and injustice stops at the church door, the result is an unbearable dissonance for many believers. The church has to be a gospel witness for truth-telling and reconciliation. May the Spirit empower us in demonstrating to one other how Christ gives those who call upon His name, every reason to make room for and welcome all His image-bearers. So, so looking forward to God’s work in the body and in my own heart.

  7. Alyssa Miller

    XOXO @Samm
    Praising God for the unforeseen joys in this, like building deeper bonds with sisters in Christ. Never did I imagine I could care so much about the sisters in our church.

  8. Alyssa Miller

    Thank you, Beth! Yes, looking forward…

  9. Alyssa Miller

    Yes, Dayna. Press in. Trusting God will give you great boldness and humility to match!

  10. Alyssa Miller

    Amen, Denise. Thank you for the encouragement and blessing. Grace to you

  11. Alyssa Miller

    “I think this is often less a case of the fears being realized, and more so, the challenge that our perceptions will be confronted and have to adjust too.”

    Yes. I have seen my pastors lovingly walk me through bigger implications to my ideas that I thought should happen right away. I am learning to appreciate the many layers to a large church, respect process, while still trusting God to bring some immediate change. Knowing they are signed up for the long haul makes all the difference. Thank you for your thoughtful questions and insight.

  12. Samantha Poteat

    What a joy and privilege it is to be in the same congregation with an opportunity to learn from this dear sister. Thank you, thank you, Alyssa, for your courage, for your patience, for your love for all the saints, for your partnership in the gospel.

  13. John H Sather

    This is an outstanding article and we pray often that our church will change for His glory–as well as my own heart! Thank you Alyssa Miller!

  14. Beth Nordquist

    I’m so grateful that you’re with us. Thank you for staying, and thank you for engaging. Looking forward with you to seeing these good conversations lead to real change.

  15. Dayna

    I really loved this article! Thank you for writing it. I am currently attending a similar church and am processing the very same question- should I stay or should I go? Still in the midst of processing and this really encouraged me to continue to bring it before the Lord.

  16. Thomas W.

    Excellent article. Many do not try. They assume. They let the fears of rejection, what they believe will happen, or is going on behind the scenes, keep them from seeking evidence of the reality. It’s much easier to assume and keep our fears than to challenge them. As you put it, it’s exhausting. I think this is often less a case of the fears being realized, and more so, the challenge that our perceptions will be confronted and have to adjust too.

    One thing I would encourage that I see lacking in this article, experience, and from many people is the question, “Where does God want me/us?” I think that helps shift the focus off of the excuses we often make for leaving churches or worship being unappealing to our own wants, or even dusting our sandals after 7 years even when one is met with a different response from leadership. Had they have rejected you, would you really have left? (I mean that as an honest question that can still be answered rightly as, yes. My point, as a comparison to missionaries, is that if they left the field one the first rejection or two, we wouldn’t have many missionaries. Sometimes the Lord entirely wants us where we don’t want to be or go, and without the initial happy ending we would prefer).

    The reality for predominately white churches (in multi ethnic neighborhoods) in the tension of modern noise and cultures is that they need those like you to be willing to peek behind the veil and get involved. They want to step rightly, but often are too scared to move without. The intention of breaking down these barriers has to come from both/all sides. Otherwise, we’re no better. Thank you for having the courage to peek behind, to approach with wisdom and humility, and to continue to serve your church. May the Lord give you plenty of energy and banish any exhaustion.

  17. Denise Armstrong

    I love the spirit and practicality of this Alyssa. You have served us well. This mindset and example equip us to go and serve our pastors and congregations as He leads in these knotty areas. Blessings!
    Denise A

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