In a January 2016 Rasmussen report on race relations in America, this was the opening paragraph. “Confidence in race relations in America continues to fall, with hopes for the future at their lowest level yet.”
The Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 50% of American adults now think race relations in this country are getting worse, up from 44% a year ago and 30% as recently as January 2014. Only 20% believe race relations are getting better, a new low that compares to 38% five years ago. Twenty-six percent (26%) say race relations are staying “about the same.”
With such a decline in race relations, it appears even more likely the dream of a church that reflects heaven is impossible. Tensions today are so high and trust in our fellow man of a different race and ethnic background so small. How can we come together?
I am still not sure why God designed me the way he did yet. Nevertheless, from an early age, I seemed to live my life in two worlds. My first school experience provided me the unique opportunity to attend school with Anglo children in a Lutheran grade school. If my memory serves me correctly, there were never more than three African American students on that campus at the same time. By day, I was around white German Lutherans. I will give you some insight into my background. It is the foundation of my education. We were taught to read and write by people who were born and raised in the Midwest and called to serve this Deep South school in the heart of Louisiana. Our unique southern dialect was not allowed, so you could say it is in this place I learned to articulate. My southern accent was discouraged, and replaced by a more Midwestern dialect. As a person who by the grace of God, am blessed to live my life in two worlds, let me share with you some observations.
By night, I was around my family, all African American. Being from the South, we had no mixing of the races in my family yet. I lived in a black neighborhood and had black friends at home and white friends at school. Those two groups never mixed. I had to learn at an early age to navigate between these two worlds, but not just navigate it…at times I had to interpret it.
You are now entering a series of blogs that I pray will open the lines of communication for the church and maybe race relations in general. I will take you on the journey I traveled. Through the trip, you will see people, differently than you see them today. Today I am still living between these two worlds and translating the behavior and intent of two cultures that struggle to understand each other. Today the groundwork is laid. Every Tuesday on my blog will be another in this series until God says it’s time to move on. I pray you will join me on this. I am dying to see what God does with it. Peace out for now.
These are the blogs in this series on diversity.
The Times-Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, reported in September 1985 a celebration of a New Orleans municipal pool. The party around the pool was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at the New Orleans city pool. In honor of the occasion, 200 people gathered, including 100 certified lifeguards. As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season.
We have made community outreach so complicated that the church is so busy talking about it, planning to implement it, that it fails to actually do any of it. Consequently, we miss the fact that the very people we are trying to reach outside our church buildings are dying without knowing the salvation we proclaim inside those life-saving stations.
By now you should know that my goal in writing this blog is not to be critical of the church, but instead to provide simple, practical, easy to implement processes to aid the church in carrying out its mission and purpose. The church is the one place where true hope and healing can be found in a broken and at times, hopeless world. Armed with this challenge, here are two things that every congregation can do that will have a kingdom impact on its community:
Small Enough to Care For Those Around Us.
Compassion is a natural characteristic that defines the church because it defines its leader. The Bible is littered with accounts of Jesus Christ taking time out to notice the broken, the outcast, the downtrodden, the person on the margins in his midst. He displayed compassion on those outside the margins even when a dear friend, Lazarus, had more pressing needs. For the church that Jesus left behind to carry out his work, what are those characteristics that we can expect to find in a caring congregation?
Caring People are Christ-Centered
5…adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. Remember: Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God; But He poured Himself out to fill a brand new vessel; a servant in the form and a man indeed. The very likeness of humanity, He humbled Himself, obedient to death—a merciless death on the cross! So God raised Him up to the highest place and gave Him the name above all. So when His name is called, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and below. And every tongue will confess “Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,” Philippians 2
Human nature says to focus on yourself, place your needs above all else. However, Christ would have us strive for so much more. He would have us treat others as he treats us with the kind of love that sacrificed self for the greater good.
Caring People have learned to be attentive to the needs of others
3 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. 4 Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. Philippians 2:3-4
Like the bumper sticker says, “Start seeing motorcycles”. We, through the eyes of faith, need to “start seeing hurting people” and when we see them respond with a caring heart and provide for their needs.
Caring People Living in Vibrate Community with One Another
The writer of Hebrews does an amazing job of painting a picture of how a vibrant community lives out the faith.
Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:22-24
Large Enough To Dare To Do Some Great For God’s Kingdom.
When Jesus gives us a mission, he also gives us the power to complete that mission. So the church needs to be bold in its witness to the communities in which God has called it to serve. I will leave you with the words of Paul in Romans 8:
If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.”
Churches, you can do great things for God because God has placed within you the same power of the Holy Spirit the Apostles received at Pentecost. So be strong, be courageous, be mission-driven, and empowered by the Spirit of God.
In a magazine for pastors [Pulpit Helps, August 1997] one fellow had written one of those “you know you’re in trouble when …” types of lists. This one is, of course, addressed to preachers and is called “So Long, Pastor You Know It’s Over When…”
Why Do Things Blow Up?
Congregations who are facing a crossroad in their ministry need to be cautious. Leaders usually are gifted with the ability to see things others don’t yet. While that is a huge blessing it can also create the elements for the pending explosion.
Avoid the Explosion.
The warning for leaders in a pastoral vacancy is to clearly assess how open the congregation is changing. Before you decide if the church is ready for a major change in direction, consider this:
Where are the majority of your members on the “openness to change scale”? To make a huge shift in direction without understanding where the majority of their members are can be dangerous. So the results could look like this: the leadership calls a phenomenal man of God. The leaders cheer him on, empower him, and encourage him to go full throttle making radical changes all the while, not realizing that the very changes they are seeking are too far ahead of the majority of the population. So, at some point, you reach a critical mass and then the explosion.
When push comes to shove, the leadership tends to take the road of least resistance. When they begin to field calls from disgruntled and angry members who blame them for the disaster that ensued, the leaders abandon the change they were seeking. The pastor who was called to lead this change is now looking for a call wondering what happened. Right idea, but moving too quickly, a ministry is laid waste, shrapnel is all-around.
You can minimize this by clearly reading the congregation. Pray for discernment in the call process that God sends a man with the heart to build a relationship in the middle of change. Finally, remember all change is hard, so be compassionate.
On deck tomorrow the next in a series of blogs on Generation Z. This one is discussing how to communicate with a generation of teens that grew up able to send a text before they could write the alphabet.
I love this quote, “Our Youth are not only the future but God’s gift to the Church and society today.” With a group that numbers at nearly 2 billion strong around the world, they are every brand’s next best customer. One major challenge connecting with this group will be trying to break through the extreme digital clutter of their lives. Between SnapChats, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, finding a pathway through all that won’t be easy. However, even with all those barriers, as this next generation makes their mark on the world the church should be encouraged. Before we go much further, let me describe this group.
From an article From Intervarsity Press:
According to Greg Jao, “Generation Z is the population that grew up after 9/11. So the 9/11 reality of a world that’s filled with war and terrorism [and] collapsing economies has been the only reality they know.” Members of Generation Z are digital natives, Jao says. That means they have grown up in a world where they’ve always read from screens and always expect to.
“If this group of students, for example, didn’t grow up in an era of economic prosperity but have always been defined by the economy collapses…, what is the word of hope that we offer them? It’s not going to be the American Dream, and it’s not going to be just ‘find a good spouse and a good home and a good community and a good job.’ But they’re students who actually know that there’s real pain, real suffering, and real injustice in the world. And I believe that’s an entry point to the Gospel because the only solution to those issues is Jesus Christ working through the Church to transform our culture.”
Gen Z shares the entrepreneurial spirit of millennial innovators: About 72% of current high-schoolers want to own their own businesses, and 76% hope they can turn their hobbies into full-time jobs.
Armed with this information the question is “How do we engage this generation?”
“This is a generation that you cannot capture their attention merely by being gimmicky, by attempting to be trendy, or hoping for something to go viral. I think what will capture this generation’s attention is a true community, where they encounter real people and real conversation,” Greg Jao
In my previous post about Millennials and now this Generation Z there is a common theme. Both are seeking authenticity. They both are seeking real relationships, desire a real community, and engaged in real conversations. So the Church can pump the brakes on trendy, edgy marketing approaches that drove the church growth movement and get back to be real and relevant. We get to dig deeper into God’s word and allow that powerful, living Word of God to shape our discipleship, transform our minds and worship as Paul describes in Romans 12:2 “Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.”
What an amazing opportunity to connect with this new generation of leaders, who want authentic relationships. We offer them an authentic Savior in Jesus Christ.
This group understands that no matter what happens to this world, there is a greater power in control in, God. While other generations suffer from the distraction of seeking a nation, political figure or movement as their savior, not so with these young realists. They know that is not the case, this may be the factor that drives them back to church. Studies show they will be more faithful church-goers than the Millennials. However, before you get too excited, the partnership between knowing the reality of pain in this world while being immersed in a digital world creates a challenge for those trying to spread the Gospel.
Here is the landscape God is laying before us: these young people are your current youth groups students. The road ahead is challenging, but hopeful.
Next week look for the continuation of this series on Generation Z.
Tomorrow: the blog provides valuable insights on Generation Z. A group of young people that will impact the world in a powerful way since they are 2 billion strong.
A quick thought for the day: Be careful not to put all your emotional hurts and pains on Facebook and social media. The honorable thing, the biblical thing, is to talk with the one who has wronged you.
There are a lot of imperfect people in the world, they say bone-headed things, they do hurtful acts with little regard for anyone else’s feelings. People can be selfish, self-centered, very inconsiderate, and need a corrective intervention. Now those are just my faults, forget about all the other fallen people in the world. If all the people I have hurt in my lifetime posted their comments on Facebook or some other social media to tell the world what a jerk I am, or God forbid, if my family posted their thoughts about me, I would never work again. Social media has become a great place to vent all of the emotional pain and hurts we are experiencing. However, you need to ask yourself “…is that the best forum to share all my rants and to be totally transparent?”
James, the Brother of our Jesus has a wonderful message about the benefits and the dangers of the tongue. If he were writing today he might add to his message the benefits and the dangers of social media.
The Dangers of using Facebook and other social media outlets as our voice:
“And do you know how many forest fires begin with a single ember from a small campfire? The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices. The tongue is unique among all parts of the body because it is capable of corrupting the whole body. If that were not enough, it ignites and consumes the course of creation with a fuel that originates in hell itself. Humanity is capable of taming every bird and beast in existence, even reptiles and sea creatures great and small. But no man has ever demonstrated the ability to tame his own tongue! It is a spring of restless evil, brimming with toxic poisons.” James 3:6-8
Nobody wants to confront the person who has hurt us, but we want to make sure everyone knows we are hurting. That is understandable, the pain you are feeling is real. It is deep. You want that pain to go away. In your mind expressing it or opening up, is the first step in moving beyond it. However, James wisely counsels us that the instrument, the tongue, is a very dangerous weapon whether in person or these days via social media. It is capable of causing enormous damage. It has destroyed careers, relationships, even resulted in the loss of the most precious gift, life itself. Unchecked, untamed, uninhabited it can lead to unimaginatively catastrophic results, all because we feel someone has wronged us. But we seldom take the time to seek reconciliation and forgiveness. It is so easy to just let the tongue and keyboard become our springboard for revenge.
The Benefits of the tongue, Facebook, and other social media:
More wisdom from the brother of Jesus.
“Despite its immense size and the fact that it is propelled by mighty winds, a small rudder directs the ship in any direction the pilot chooses. It’s just the same with our tongues! It’s a small muscle, capable of marvelous undertakings…. Ironically this same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God’s own image.” James 3:4,9
There is so much hurt and pain in the world do we really need more people adding to that on Facebook? Would it be a much better use of our time and energy to use our tongues and our keyboards to offer words of encouragement, to be salt and light in a world overloaded with pain and darkness? Imagine the impact you could have on your social footprint if everyday people who follow you get pointed back the Jesus. What a blessing the tongue and Facebook could be.
Lyman Beecher Stowe, in “Saints, Sinners, and Beechers,” tells of one occasion when Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at Plymouth Church, Brooklyn. Many curiosity seekers came to see and hear Henry Ward Beecher. Upon Thomas K. Beecher’s appearance in the pulpit, the sightseers started for the doors. Thomas K. raised his hand for attention, and made this announcement: “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”
In this blog post, we want to examine what Millennials are seeking in the area of spirituality. I am avoiding the term worship because first it is a loaded word these days and Millennials are finding ways to grow in their faith outside of the Sunday Morning worship experience. There is a paradigm shift among Millennials, they have very little interest in the worship wars Baby Boomers have waged for decades. For Millennials, their focus has centered on new areas of importance in their spiritual formation. Thom Rainer, who researches church life and effectiveness for an organization called LifeWay, recently commented in a blog post, “What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials,” on the three things that matter most to Millennials with regard to worship. Rainer points out that “style” of worship is not their focus.
Millennials desire music that has rich content and reflects deep biblical and theological truths.
Consider what Leadership Journal Managing Editor Drew Dyck identifies as the potential point of connection:
“Millennials have a dim view of the church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well” (from the blog post “Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God”).
In our attempts to attract Millennials we often water down the music. It has at times become repetitive and shallow. For Millennials, this is not hip, it’s not trendy, and it is not working. They want music that stands on a foundation of deep biblical truth. Millennials want music that stood the test of time, that has deep theological roots. For the historic church, this is good news, we already have that.
Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service.
We don’t need to “gen up” emotions. The power of God’s word and his presence in worship is all we need.
Millennial blogger Ben Irwin wrote: “When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.”
This large generation wants a quality worship service.
Blogger Amy Peterson puts it this way: “I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”
Quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, as is adequate preparation by the worship leaders both spiritually and in the amount of time they use to prepare. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.
To further explain, Millennials are particularly sensitive when the people worshipping on Sunday mornings and the pastors leading worship are just going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether. A major challenge we face with a liturgical format is that it is very easy to get complacent and take for granted proper preparation. The love we have for serving God in the historic liturgy should be evident in the manner in which we lead God’s people into His presence through that worship experience.
It is apparent that a church that preaches the Word of God with depth and substance should connect with this generation. They are seeking a bigger God, a deeper faith, they are looking for strength in the risen and reigning Christ. That is the Church’s foundation, preach that with boldness and confidence that salvation is found in Christ alone. We have that truth, we have the Means of Grace we don’t need to try to be hip and flashy.
An interesting article from a Millennial: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html
Here is an example of music that is connecting with Millennials:
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