Missing the Point 02: Race

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Race
We missed it. We missed an opportunity to speak life and hope; to walk with people through their questions and grief and suffering. We missed it.

This past Sunday many churches all across the country were packed. Some of them experienced “Easter-esque” numbers in their church attendance–and in the middle of the summer! (For the non-pastor/clergy among us, this is a really big deal. Typically church attendance numbers are paltry in the middle of the summer… it has been deemed the “summer slump”.) Tweets and Facebook posts rang out with, “The church is packed today!” “There isn’t a single seat available!” “Hurry up and get to the 11a, the 9:30 was full!” There was an expression of both shock and excitement. Where are all of these people coming from?! And rightly so, this is seemingly unprecedented!

But we missed it. On July 10, 2016 churches weren’t randomly full. People had come looking for spiritual guidance and wisdom for how to respond to the horrific tragedies of the past week in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. People went expecting the church to speak words of healing and unity, to create a space where dialogue could begin, to experience a space that sought God in the midst of such chaos and confusion. But instead, they experienced silence.

Silence.

We missed it*. We remained silent. We remained indifferent. And all of those people who came looking for healing, and dialogue, and widsom will turn somewhere else other than the Church.

We have lost our voice in society for no other reason than we fail to use it. When the stakes are high, when the words of Jesus need to be applied to our current cultural situation, and in the few times when people are looking to the Church for answers, we climb into a hole or hide behind the pre-determined sermon plan and say, “We’ll talk about it another day.” But we don’t. And we won’t. We have abdicated our responsibility. We remain indifferent and we misuse the platform that Jesus has given to us. In many ways I do wonder how this indifference, this abdication of responsibility mimics the one-talent servant in the parable of the talents.

If as a church you offered up A Sunday Prayer or something similar, that is a start but it is not enough. If you incorporated a line or two in your Sunday sermon and believe that’s enough, or if you said nothing at all I want to encourage you: Today is Monday but Sunday is coming. It’s not to late. We may have missed a moment, but it’s not to late to enter into the conversation. The first place to begin is to simply say, “I’m sorry.” Be a true leader and apologize for remaining silent this past Sunday. Chuck your sermon plan for this week and the following–you can always come back to them later–and do something to engage the conversation. Invite voices from the “other side of the tracks” to participate in your service. Listen to their stories of pain and suffering. Learn from their experiences.

In The Imitation of Christ Thomas à Kempis wrote:
“But if Christ is amongst us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace [read: shalom or wholeness or complete unity]. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore trust not too much to thine own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

White Christians, we must drop our opinions and our limited understanding of what is happening to our black brothers and sisters. We must listen first and we must listen carefully. We need to hear their experiences and their stories. We need to turn our ears towards them with love and care, seeking after understanding. We can no longer sit idly by in silence and in indifference. It was Elie Wiesel who once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Let us not be indifferent to our black brothers and sisters.

Church, we may have missed it. We may have remained silent but we don’t have to stay that way. It won’t be easy. This conversation will offend many white people–just as this post certainly has–but as church leaders we were never promised an easy faith or an easy road. We were called to carry the cross of Christ. And yes, the cross of Christ is offensive. Let us not lay down the cross when it matters most to our brothers and sisters of color, but stand with them arm-in-arm walking with them through their pain and suffering until change can come.

* I fully realize that there were many churches that did walk into the deep end of the conversation regarding race. There were several churches that put together spaces for healing, where fruitful dialogue happened. This is beautiful, and if you are a part of one of these churches you should be proud of your church and your leadership. You should champion them, encourage them, and write them a note of thanks. But unfortunately, these churches were few and far between this weekend.

“What Two Books Would You Recommend for Young Leaders?”

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Leadership Books

The other day a friend asked me this question: “If you could recommend a young leader two books on Leadership, what two would you recommend?” What a great question! But TWO? Really? That’s it?!

That made a great question really difficult to answer considering there are so many great books from which to choose!

As I let the question roll around in my head and as I noodled on it a bit  I thought, “What are the two things young leaders need to learn/know/be more than anything?” Well, that makes answering the question a whole lot easier. And so I couched my answer in those two realms.

Realm One was the easiest: Jesus. A young leader needs to center themselves and their leadership around Jesus, plain and simple. Henri Nouwen does as good of a job as anyone in talking about this in the short book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.” Nouwen writes:

My own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”


“Do you love me?,” Jesus asks.  It is from there that everything flows. If your life is not built upon a foundation of love for Jesus, then your ministry will be all about you, your platform, your popularity, your power. This book hit me hard when I first read it 15 years ago, and it still speaks to me today. In fact, it’s why this is one of the books that I read every single year.

Realm Two was a bit more difficult, but pretty self-explanatory: Know Thyself. A young leader needs to know who they are, and also whose they are–which Nouwen gets into in a second book called Life of the Beloved (not the book I’m recommending in this section, but well worth your time!) Parker Palmer walks the reader through an intimate relationship of listening to the Holy Spirit and understanding your true self in the short book “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.” Palmer writes:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. . . . Trying to live someone else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail—and may even do great damage.”


One of the greatest struggles of leaders and especially young leaders, is to model themselves after someone else and not be true to who they are, who it is that God created them to be. We keep the unique nature of our true self locked deep within as we dress ourselves with someone else’s uniqueness. Leaders, we must be true to who we are and honor that God-given nature that is groaning to be released. This is also the reason why I have read this book every year since I first encountered it 12 years ago.

I’d like to pose this question to you, the reader: What 2 books on leadership would you recommend to a young leader?

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Focus on the Positive

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church planting

Creating something out of nothing is never easy, and that’s part of what makes church planting so difficult. Thankfully there is a plethora of new books, resources, and conferences available to help the church planter navigate the models, strategies, and networks that can help you bring a new church into existence. However, what often times gets left by the wayside is the other side of church planting, equally as difficult and perhaps more disastrous if left unattended: YOU.

Before launching IKON, one of the cultural markers I wanted to create in a new church was a culture of encouragement. The impetus being: encouragement and a positive outlook will propel your church forward with greater momentum. A culture lacking encouragement and a focus on the positive will stall out, focus on the wrong things (major in the minor), and find itself in a hole at best and a tailspin at worst.

I thought that I had learned my lesson. After a prior stint as a lead pastor, I wrote in my journal:

“I wish we would’ve celebrated our wins… instead, every meeting started with the problems and issues we were facing (and they were a multitude). Everyone left these meetings feeling down and out.

The solution, I thought, would be to start every meeting by highlighting the positive. This one simple act would help craft the culture I sought. I relied on this one “trick” to create encouragement and failed to take the next steps required to craft a true culture of encouragement.

Focusing on the positive and crafting a culture of encouragement requires proactivity. Relying on the “trick” at the start of meetings may be a good start, a good way to share with a group stories and conversations everyone may not have been privy to, however, if you (the leader, the pastor) are spearheading the conversation there are unintended consequences that can occur that ultimately short circuit any hopes of crafting a strong culture of encouragement.

  1. You will be viewed as only wanting to hear about the positive. This can (and in my case did) close off a valuable feedback circle. It can alienate you from some of the real needs within the church because you are seen (whether fairly or not) as only wanting to know about the good things that are happening, brushing the challenges and problems aside.
  2. Relying on this “trick” makes it harder to discover other positive stories. When relying on this space, you stop actively pursuing the beautiful stories that are taking place in the church. You expect these stories to “come to you” and forget it is important to be proactive in seeking out the stories of your church community. And when the stories don’t “come to you”, discouragement can quickly overtake you.
  3. The “trick” can put others on the spot, creating a culture of competition or withholding. One of the thoughts that can circle the room in these moment:”My story isn’t as good, so there’s no reason to share it…” Unfortunately this devalues the good, no matter how “small” it may seem. Sometimes, the “small” stories are the great stories! If the “trick” is the only space for sharing stories, then you’re not actually creating a culture of story-telling within your church. And if you’re not creating a culture of story telling, then stories never get heard and fade away. When you come into a space where the “trick” is employed, no one is there to champion your story and share on your behalf (because they never heard it in the first place) leaving you questioning the value of your story.

There are certainly more unintended consequences, but these are three I directly experienced in our church culture.

It is vital that as a leader, you focus in on the positive for your church. We have to celebrate the amazing things that God is up to in our midst. There are many beautiful stories happening all around us, every day, but we must be proactive in discovering them if we truly want to create a culture of encouragement. Meaning, it must be a point of conversation in every interaction with others. Seek out the good that God is doing, don’t expect it to come to you.

At the same time, however, your conversation needs to be balanced. You have to be open to hearing about the needs of the individual and how you, as a pastor, can walk alongside them. A culture of positivity and encouragement is only possible when balanced with genuine interest and care.

I failed at the balancing act and tended more towards the “trick” instead of nurturing a culture. As a result I missed some of the tell-tale signs of impending disaster. I became the guy that only wanted to hear about the positive, not the challenges lurking around the corner. This posture secluded me from what was really happening beneath the surface.

Creating a culture of encouragement is easier said than done. It is a difficult balancing act that must be walked wisely. However, I believe it is one of the most important cultural distinctive’s that must be nurtured for longevity and health in a new church.