What I’m Learning About Building a Racially Unified Church

shuler.jpgI’ve had some interesting conversations lately about Christianity and racial unity. The first was a couple of months ago with a couple who have adopted a bi-racial child. They were part of a church who heavily emphasizes racial reconciliation and shows it with action. This has been a dream of mine, but honestly, until recently, it has seemed near impossible to accomplish.

The typical scenario is this: (1) White church wants to be more diverse. (2) They engage in tokenism by hiring a black person to either do music or be a community pastor with emphasis in reaching black folks and trying to get them to come to the white church. (3) He fails. (4) The church abandons the endeavor while patting themselves on the back for trying.

The last thing I would want to do is to duplicate this scenario in another church. And I do think that this happens with people who have the best of intentions but are unable to change the core DNA of the church. The black minister fails to achieve results because the church doesn’t recognize that the problems are much deeper than musical style and black faces on the stage. The root of the problem is that the power structures are still white, the church is still white, and no one can overcome those odds without fundamental cultural shifts within the church community. This rarely happens.

This is the part where I start to despair and feel like it just isn’t possible. This is also the part where God reminds me that he can and will accomplish what he purposes to do. Another couple friend of mine and Laura’s, however, are very passionate about this as well. They forced my hand. My conversations with them have revealed to me that I must decide now about what type of church I would like to start. The husband loaned me this book, Winning the Race to Unity by Clarence Shuler. This book is honest. So far, I love it. Here, Shuler recommends some ways to bridge the distrust and build a church that will be effective at racial diversity.

1. You have to be totally committed. This can’t be a program to be brought out along with Upward Basketball and Vacation Bible School. It has to be integral to the core DNA of the church. That means now, during the formative stages where I’m still just dreaming and planning. I must consider race with nearly all decisions.

2. You have to include minorities in the creative phase and not just wait for the executive phase. If you’re church is white, your music is white, your politics is white, you think and talk about issues that only relate to whites, then guess what? You’ll have yourself a white church. One cannot expect to bring in a black guy at this point to be the token minority face on the Easter mailer. Rather, now is the time that I need to be talking to African Americans to plan, organize, create, lead, and implement strategies that demonstrate a unified front of love, trust, and interdependence.

As a side note, I’m very excited about Dr. O. B. Yates of Union Baptist Church because he has demonstrated a willingness to be a partner and sponsor of a new church. He brings racial credibility to the table and can shepherd me through these tumultuous waters.

3. The leadership team needs to be diverse. Of course, skin color is not in Paul’s list of qualifications for elders and deacons. Therefore, I need to look for biblically qualified elders in diverse areas. This means partnering with, praying with, and ministering with both whites and blacks and trusting God to raise up a team of diverse elders. Many church plants will borrow elders from established churches when they’re too young and small to have their own. In this case, I need to find elders of diverse races to submit to for Godly counsel and leadership.

This is my Church-planting Christmas list. I’m sure there are many other things that I’ll need, but at least these are key.

Can you think of any others?

  1. D. Michael, I’m glad I found your blog today. It’s encouraging to see you struggling with this so-called impossibility.

    Someone who works at a major Christian publisher emailed me today expressing his opinion about efforts to ‘integrate’ the Christian publishing world.

    He wasn’t trying to be malicious but his words cut … ‘It’s an issue that seems beyond us a Church right now.’

    I don’t agree and it’s encouraging to see you don’t either. These are ‘racial’ and ‘cultural’ mountains in America. Sure. But we know God. He’s promised to help us move mountains. Books like the one you mentioned can/do help. Have you read any by Dr. John Perkins, Dr. Raleigh Washington, or Glen Kehrein? CCDA.org gives a lot of resources and success stories.

    Take care and keep moving mountains.

    –Linda Hargrove
    author of The Making of Isaac Hunt, a story of racial reconciliation, adoption, and new faith

  2. Michael,

    Our church here in Florida is pretty ethnically diverse, but we have more of an hispanic influence here. A good half of our church is hispanic and a good bit of the rest are bilingual. (How did a white boy from central Kentucky end up here!?) It’s great to see the diversity in the body of Christ, the different ways of expressing the one faith. We are unique in our ethnicities but unified around the common purpose of encouraging one another in the faith and sharing the gospel with all of the world. In order to maintain that “cultural DNA” we have to encourage Christian unity from the start, and keep encouraging the church in this task. This is the foundation of racial reconciliation; it’s only Christ who can heal the wounds and unify those who were once enemies. There won’t be any true peace or reconciliation until we’re all unified around and reconciled to God through Christ. And don’t get discouraged and think that it’s impossible, just look at Saul…I mean Paul. Just proof that God can change hearts to love Him, and by extension to love all others, too.


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Racial Unity in Church Planting