Yesterday wasn’t an ordinary Sunday at New Vintage Church…and I love our “ordinary” Sundays. Yesterday, I postponed the sermon I’d prepared on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that I’ve wanted to preach for 15 years… and our church replaced it with a frank, fair (we hope), unscripted conversation from the stage on racial reconciliation in the wake of the tragedies of last week. As Rudy Hagood (our Discipleship Pastor who is also African-American) said when we decided to do it, “I’m not sure it’s smart…but it’s the right thing to do.” Well said.
That’s how I feel this morning after the fact. It was the right thing to do…not in every church…but in ours. I hope you won’t let the opportunity to shine the light of Christ during these divided time pass.
Here are some learnings from our experience if your church is interested in doing something like this. We did not do this to make a splash or make a national impact—though if the redemptive influence can extend beyond our corner of San Diego—God be praised.
Trust the Church. We could have the conversation we had because I knew we could trust the relational integrity of our church. Our church is passionate, but not angry. Our church is full of joy, multiracial marriages and relationships. They aren’t nitpickers. Our church doesn’t have a critical spirit. I knew they would grant us some grace for a day to have a tough conversation—knowing we might need it before the day was over. I believe in our church completely—and I told them that before we stared (unfortunately, I believe those comments were cut from the audio).
The participants were myself and Rudy Hagood—two people who have a lengthy, obvious, pre-existing friendship and work together closely on staff at our church. The church’s anxiety level was lowered because they knew we already loved each other. And, we did…which is what makes honest conversation about race possible. Don’t pick the two biggest racial advocates in your church. Pick the two best friends. It’ll likely go better because the conversation will be rooted and established in love from the get-go.
Ours was a conversation rather than a sermon. There is nothing wrong with sermons—I’m a big fan J However, on this occasion, we chose teaching through role-modeling of constructive racial dialogue rather than preaching how we needed to have more understanding or make changes. Both are valid choices…we chose the conversation approach because there’s a lot of “preaching” going on in media around us—and not a whole lot of civil dialogue. I’d add the conversation medium is a great way to communicate otherwise potentially boring information (budgets or missionary reports—interview the missionary instead). There was no issue with boredom here. What we needed was love on display—not a teaching on love…though I hope we did that through role-modeling, as well.
Honesty and Fairness. We didn’t want it to be a conversation that dog-piled on either law enforcement or the African-American community. There’s a lot of blame to go around…but none of that changes the fact that 7 people were killed last week. It doesn’t bear fruit to blame people in a vacuum or an unfair way. Giving only one perspective the microphone often leaves a lot of people feeling as though how they feel was never heard—and facilitates the further burying of how they actually feel. If we label people racist or militant simply for saying how they actually feel—we don’t change how they feel or know how they feel—they just bury it and lose trust in those trying to facilitate positive change. Though Rudy and I agree on most things when it comes to race, those who didn’t get the microphone needed a voice as well.
Let emotion happen. Before the dialogue and earlier in the service, we prayed for the victims BY NAME. They are not people groups or nameless, faceless, generalizations. They. Are. People. Fathers. Sons. Boyfriends. Friends. We also shared some painful experiences from our own lives that were likely to be felt emotionally by people. The aim here—THIS IS MORE THAN AN INTELLECTUAL, STATISTICAL OR POLICY ISSUE. It’s about people. If people don’t care about people—we’ll get nowhere.
Unscripted. This could have been the most foolish part of what we did—but I’m not sure I’d change it either. We chose not to script it for two reasons: 1) we didn’t have the time to script it well. 2) True conversations aren’t scripted. Again, this took a lot of trust in one another and a stomach for risk. However, it also allowed us to legitimately seek the grace of the church—which prepared them for us to mess us in an atmosphere of grace.
Let people know about the conversation on the front side. We told the church via email and Facebook what we were going to do. They didn’t need to be blind-sided. It also gave us unforeseen positive publicity and we ended up with lots of new people from the community and kept many of our marginals from ditching church to go to All-Star Weekend or the other million things one can do in San Diego on a flawless Summer weekend. Another benefit—our church was awesome about mentioning what had happened on social media after the fact—giving Jesus a good name in their social circles.
This is getting long—so I’ll stop there. In essence, we tried to be sensitive to where the church was at…and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He graciously got us through it and I believe God was glorified—even through our clumsiness.
What did your church do? I’d love to hear what you preached on…prayed over, etc. Leave it in the comments, please!
You can listen to the audio of our conversation here via the NVC website or on ITunes here. Video should be available soon (preferred so body language, etc.) can be seen. Photo credit: Jessica Petrenscik.