Leading Your Church Through Racial Tension

You have an unprecedented opportunity to let 2020 be the most pivotal year for positive change your church has ever seen.

The Internet is filled with memes that joke about how 2020 is one long disaster story. In many ways it’s true. We started the year with an impeachment (do you remember that?), piled on a pandemic, took a brief side-tour to murder hornets, and have taken a plunge into racial division.

Yet every challenge (except the murder hornets!) has given us an opportunity to reflect, align our eyes to Jesus, and begin to make long-overdue shifts. You can choose to look at this year as a bummer, or you can see it for what it is: a gift.

James exhorts us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” (1:2-4).

Did you catch the key phrase? Finish its work.

The goal for persevering through trials isn’t to stay the same–it’s to leverage the pain towards progress.

When the pandemic hit, churches knew they had to pivot: move services online, re-think engagement, get creative. But when these racial tensions hit, too few of us have seen the need to pivot. Instead, we hunker down in our prior positions, not fully understanding that our inability to watch, listen, and pay attention have contributed to the tension itself.

Since the release of the George Floyd video, our team has been focused on trying to listen. Particularly, we wanted to listen to church leaders of color that we know and respect. People that we have long respected. To ignore their voices now, when they most need to be heard, would be disingenuous. Secondly, we wanted to hear from white pastors who have been knee-deep in leading well through this issue for years. They’re not johnny-come-lately leaders or bandwagon hoppers. They’ve put in the real work for a long time.

The result of this work is this episode and this article. Our team understands that there are as many opinions about these issues as there are individual Americans in our country. However, our focus is on helping you to lead well.

In the three interviews we conducted for this episode, we began with a simple question: How would you encourage pastors to lead well through this historic moment?

As you listen to the audio below, we encourage you to stop, listen, and learn. Evaluate how you can lead better moving forward. You can watch the video version of this episode on Facebook or YouTube.

Here are three action items from Pastor Ivan Pitts you can apply to your leadership.

Admit there is a problem.

As Pastor Robbie said in his interview, it should not be a difficult leap to believe racism plays a part in America because we know sin is real. As long as sin exists, racism will exist. However, when we acknowledge its existence, we can notice it. When we notice it (in ourselves and our world), we can work against it. When we work against it, we begin to align our communities with the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Get close.

I love how Pastor Ivan said that things feel small when they’re far away. This is so true. If racism feels small to you, it might be because you’re too far away from the sting of it. Foster more, healthy, collaborative relationships with people of color and leaders of color. There is far more that we agree on when it comes to the Gospel than we disagree on, in regards to politics or theology. Find ways to lean in, collaborate, and work together for the cause of Jesus.

Make a plan.

We intentionally interviewed Pastor Robbie and Pastor Matthew because they’ve been leading their churches through this issue for many years. Deep change is occurring in their churches as a direct result of long-term investment. Learn from their lead, and take Pastor Ivan’s advice. See racial reconciliation in the community as a Kingdom issue, as you would any other cause. Find ways to be a part of the solution, and commit to a long-term plan.

All three full interviews will be available here soon.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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