With current events, I’ve been motivated to write a short blog post about how pastors and church leaders might be able to lead their churches to have more open conversations about race and racial inequality in hopes of combating the problem with a gospel-centered focus.
Discussions about racial inequality or other such social justice issues often fall prey to unfruitful political banter, and I believe the local church can combat this by hosting regular, honest, God-glorifying conversations.
I am a 25-year-old white male with no formal pastoral experience, which may disqualify me from writing about this topic in the eyes of many potential readers. But, in recent conversations I've had about the church and racial inequality, from looking at the data, and from what I understand in the Scriptures, here are three principles (of many) pastors and church leaders may want to consider as they lead their churches to care about racial inequality:
1. Include non-white people in the discussion.
Every church is different, so depending on your context, this may be difficult or easy for you to do. A rural church in Ohio may have a harder time including non-whites in discussions than a church in downtown Birmingham simply because of context. But, as much as you can, pastors and church leaders, you must include non-white congregants in your discussions about racial inequality.
In the past, I have written about the importance of including all kinds people in church leadership and on the stage if you ever hope to reach people who look differently than you. The same principle applies here. Pastors and church leaders, if you ever hope to have constructive conversations about racial inequality, you need to include as many non-white people as you can, because, quite frankly (and as the data from Tuesday shows), non-white people are less likely to be equipped to converse about and combat racial inequality.
Also, if your church is in a context that is perhaps more rural and you are struggling to find non-white people to include at the table, find other non-white people in the community, such as other pastors or church leaders, who would be willing to visit your church and partner with you in leading your church to confront racial inequality.
2. Learn to listen before you speak.
I am, often, not good at this in any realm of discussion, no matter how trivial or important.
Proverbs 18:13 says, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."
James 1:19 says, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger."
Unfortunately, conversations about racial inequality, specifically in the United States, have often been married to political conversations. This is unfortunate because even the most mild-mannered of us can have a difficult time listening before we speak in political conversations.
As a result, conversations about matters of race, racial inequality included, often devolve into Republicans making ill-informed assumptions that all discussions about race are about the welfare system and Democrats assuming all Republican legislation they dislike is racist. This hurts the Christian witness.
Pastors and church leaders, especially if you're white and have no personal experience with racial inequality, you must learn to listen to those who have more experiential authority on this and speak only when you have listened fully. As you lead your church to have more conversations about this issue, encourage your congregants to maintain a similar posture.
3. Model gracious humility.
Truly, the point above is the fruit of this one. Pastors and church leaders, you must model gracious humility as you try to have honest conversations about racial inequality in your churches.
In Philippians 2:3, the Holy Spirit tells us through Paul, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."
Indeed, as you lead your church to care about various injustices that plague our communities, racial inequality or otherwise, "count others more significant than yourselves."
Never will there be a time in which we wished we had pursued selfishness en route to sanctification. May we guard our hearts against the self-righteousness that tempts us away from selflessness.
Conversations about racial inequality will be anything but easy. But pastors and church leaders, you must not let the intimidation of difficulty distract you from the necessity of restoration.
Pastors, are you unsure of where to start? Here are a few resources you may consider consulting as you work to address matters of race and racial inequality in your churches:
United by Trillia Newbell
Bloodlines by John Piper
Divided By Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz
A Tale of Two Sunday Schools: Why Black Lives Have to Matter to the Church (A sermon by Trevor Atwood of City Church, Murfreesboro, TN)