I’m a racist. That’s way I need people of colour in my church.

This is an edited portion of a talk I gave at the New City Conference on 6 October 2017

I have a confession.  I am a racist.

In response, you could say, “But your wife is black and your kids are mixed-race.  You’ve been living multi-ethnic neighbourhoods and working in multi-ethnic churches for over 25 years. What are you talking about?”

What I’m talking about is that I am a sinful man who thinks my way is the right way.  Now, I didn’t say the “white way is the right way.”  I would never say something so blatant as “ White is right.”

But the reality is that it’s pretty easy for me to think that my understanding of the world and my understanding of the church is right and yours is wrong.  It’s even “natural” for me to question someone’s opinion just because they differ ethnically from me.

And our society reinforces my tendency to be a prideful man.  I’m an American man.  My skin is white because my ancestors came from Europe.  In so many ways – often subtle ways – this gives me an advantage day to day.

I’m reminded me of Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he writes about his lineage in chapter  3: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

Paul’s society would recognize his credentials.  And when Paul tells his story, he doesn’t omit his heritage or his ethnic background.  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers.”  (Acts 22:3)

I’m thankful for my ethnic background and my personal story. But I know there are challenges with being a white American man. Those of us from the majority culture might even think that God’s goal is a colourblind world.  “Don’t think of race or ethnicity! We should all just be one, worship Jesus and not worry about that stuff.”  But that’s a statement which can only be made from someone like me, who comes from the dominant culture.

Ethnic minorities must think about it! Maybe not all the time, but it does come up in the course of daily life.  If your ancestors come to the UK from Russia or Spain, you’ll slide right into British culture after a few generations.

But if you’re grandparents came from Jamaica or Korea or India, there will be times when you will be considered part of the other “ethnic” groups in our society.  Race and ethnicity can’t be completely disregarded by non-white people in the UK.

Theologically, we know that we serve a God who both recognizes and honours our ethnic background because He created us!  We look forward to the day with every tribe and tongue praises Jesus around the throne of grace. This means there’s going to be ethnic groups in heaven!

By recognizing and engaging with my brothers and sisters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, my understanding of God and his desires for us as his people is enhanced. When I “do church” with people who are different from me, together we encourage each other up to grow in Christ in ways that just can’t happen when we worship apart.

I need to be challenged by my brothers and sisters of colour at times when my pride shows itself in ugly ways.  I need help opening my eyes to the fact that our society privileges my white skin.  I need my application of the scriptures enhanced by theologians from Africa and Asia.

And it’s not just that I need to bring my power and my education and my privilege to help “those people”!  No!  I am deficient without the full body of Christ.  We come into the church as mutually dependent brothers and sisters unity by the Spirit.

But because of my personal history and the way our society has developed, white men like me, need to take serious care when we come together in church. The benefits are glorious but the dangers are real.

May God have mercy on us all as He builds his multi-ethnic church.

(A helpful book on this subject is Daniel Hill’s White Awake: An Honest Look at What it Means to be White)

Current & Future Reconciliation

Recently I took a week-long class at Trinity Seminary in Chicago called Studies in Reconciliation by a Korean-American, Dr. Kang.  Initially, the class focused on the reconciliation that God has made possible to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then we moved on to think about how this “vertical reconciliation” inherently works out with “horizontal reconciliation” between various human groups.

During the week, I was reminded that our human reconciliation has an eschatological component. That is, we look forward to the day when all conflict will end. We look forward with hope that God has not only ended the conflict we humans have with our Creator through the work of Jesus, but He is also working toward the day when all peoples will be reconciled together. God is taking us to a place of full healing in which our humanity is restored as He intended in the very beginning.

I see glimpses of that future now at my church, New City, each week as we come together from various ethnic background to worship Jesus together. Brazilian, Nigerian, American, Korean, Macedonian, Italian, Kenyan, Iraqi, and more share life together as followers of Jesus at New City.

This reconciliation is not just an absence of conflict. As far as I know, there’s never been a conflict between Brazil and Korea and Italy (other than the football pitch!) But now, as people from these countries worship Jesus together, their lives are enriched in a way that just can’t happen while living apart.

This way of “doing church” isn’t always easy or simple. Sometimes it would be easier if everyone at New City was just like me. But, just as our taste buds would be less colourful if we missed out on Korean kimchi, Brazilian BBQ, or Italian pasta, our lives are less colourful without the variety of cultures we have at New City.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to build New City into something more colourful than any of us could ever imagine.

And may Jesus get the glory as we worship, live, and enjoy each other together as the body of Christ called New City Church.

5 Essential Characteristics of Church Leaders

This month, I have the privilege of teaching a class on leadership to potential elders and deacons at New Life Church in Roehampton in South West London.

As I prepared for our look at Paul’s description of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, I remembered John Stott’s writing on church leadership.  The former rector (minister) of All Souls Church in London groups the characteristics into 5 categories.

The 5 essential characteristics of church leaders are:

1. Self-controlled and mature – verse 2 affirms that leaders should be sober-minded, self-controlled; then in verse 3 Paul lists not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money and verse 8 he states not indulging in much wine and not pursuing dishonest gain.

2. Family – verse 2 states that the elder should be the husband of one wife and then verse 4 we learn that he must manage his own household well; verse 12 lets us know that the deacon as well should be a one-woman man.

3. Relationships within church – not quarrelsome in verse 3 nor slanderers (vs 11) as divisive talk is a cancer in any church; they must also be tested first declares verse 10 as it takes time for the congregation to know who they are.

4. Relationships with outsiders – verse 2 informs us that an overseer must be above reproach and verse 7 lets us know that they must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

5. Deep faith – verse 9 says they must keep hold of the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

Elders must be able to teach as stated in verse 2 which is the primary difference between the two offices.   Deacons are responsible for works of mercy and service.  They support the elders in caring for the physical needs of the congregation and the running of the church for the glory of God.

These are characteristics that I hope all of us would attain to.  The elders and deacons’ lives should be a model for everyone on how to live the Christian life by the grace of God.

May the Lord raise up leaders for His church!

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