Reggie Joiner spoke these words last night and struck me to my core. I very nearly broke down in tears as I thought back on my own failure in this area. I am by no means racist. I think that the many people of color that I have worked with, worshiped with, ministered with, or just been friends with would agree with that. Still, I think back to a very specific time in my life and ministry that I was guilty of not doing all I could to unite the people in my city of different races.
I sought out people like me.
Almost two years ago now my family moved from Alabama back to our home town in Florida. This was after just a year of living and serving in Alabama. During this season I didn’t know where my ministry was going or what I was supposed to do. I knew I had much experience in children’s ministry and that I had something to offer other churches in my area because of that experience. So, I reached out to other churches in my area and offered my help. As I look back on it now I realize that I only sought out churches filled with people that looked like me.
What am I doing now?
Sadly, it is only in looking back that I see the ways that I failed in that season. However, at that time, I did feel a strong need to connect with my community, to serve my city, and to connect with people that were different from. So, I prayed for such opportunities and ended up being part of a great organization in my town called Haines City Unity in the Community.
This group started as a group of African-American pastors in our city, hoping to unite to better serve their communities. They soon realized that Unity was about much more than just them. So, they began to connect with business leaders and even local government officials. Eventually, I heard of the group and started attending their meetings. After a time, they invited me to join their board of directors as the secretary.
I felt so honored to be included in their group. I was so awesome to actually be doing ministry along side people that looked different than me. It was awesome to be serving people that looked different than me. Heck, it was even awesome to attend meetings in the churches of these other pastors. Churches that, sadly, most white people would never enter. Truth be told most white people have probably never even received an invitation into a predominately black church. Please hear me, this is not a condemnation of my African-American brothers and sisters. This is something that we are all guilty off.
It’s only natural… at least on some level.
Truth is it’s natural for people to be drawn to other people like them. This is true of all races. Men tend to hand out with other men. Women tend to hang out with other women. Musicians tend to hand out with other musicians. Artists tend to hang out with other artists. I think you get the point.
Heck, we even see this in nature. Dogs tend to be drawn to other dogs. Cat’s tend to hang out in groups. You can have a pasture of many acres and most of cows will tend to all be in one area. It’s just natural. But, that’s not an excuse. Rather, it means that we have to work even harder to move beyond this natural tendency.
It’s note a one sided thing.
The rhetoric in mains stream media and even much of what is posted on social media would lead one to think that this is a one sided thing. I have even heard some go as far as to say that this is a WHITE issue. I would push back against that. The truth is that the only way that this sort of thing gets fixed is for ALL of us to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to people that are different than us. We ALL need to invite open and honest conversation about the things that bother us. The things that we feel. Our pains and our joys.
After all, the Bible only talks of ONE Kingdom of God. In THAT Kingdom we are all ONE PEOPLE. We are all children of the SAME Father. If unity is the goal, then none of us can sit back in our own churches, or neighborhoods and point fingers at others s
What am I going to different moving forward?
Truth is I don’t know all the opportunities God is going to give me to connect with and minister to people that are different from me. However, I know that I am going to seek out ways to connect with and serve people that are different than me.
Just like I reached out to churches that ARE like me, I’m going to reach out to churches that look different from me and see if there is some way I can help them minister to kids. AND, I want to minister to the kids in their church and in their neighborhoods.
I want to attend their churches. It’s not comfortable. That’s why so few people do it. But, God has allowed me to connect with many pastors of African-American churches. I will be visiting their churches on Sunday mornings. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I don’t know what that’s going to feel like. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I know that it will effect ME.
More than just the way we talk.
I hear many people talk about racism in relation to the things we say. They talk as if the key to fixing racism is to change the way we talk. Certainly we need to be sensitive, but improving race relations is so much more than about how we talk. If we change the way we talk, but we are still only talking to people that look like us then what difference does it make? If we change the way we talk, but never LISTEN to people that look different than us, who difference does it make? YES, be sensitive when you speak, but if it ends there, then what difference does it make?
What are you DOING about it?
If talking is not enough, then what needs to happen? I can’t answer that for you. YOU have to pray through it. YOU have to look around you for the opportunities. YOU have to step outside your comfort zone to connect with other people. YOU have to make a commitment to connect with, to reach, to get to know, and to serve people that look, think, and even worship differently than you do.
When you do this, I’d love to hear the stories. If you’re already doing this, please share your stories below.Matt Norman
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