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 7 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 right 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 these feelings even now.
If your church is like mine, you may be hearing more talk of becoming multi-ethnic; rumblings from a remnant, I like to say. 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 our 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—for right or wrong.
It’s Worth the Try
My letter seemed to blow needed oxygen into a small flame. Four 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 two, all-church panel discussions on majority culture implications in church life and made space for people of color to lament. Our pastors will attend the MLK50 conference and simulcast it for our members in hopes 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. And, there is increased discussion and brainstorm 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.