#GospelChallenge, Part 2

#GospelChallenge, Part 2

In my previous post, I proposed that when it comes to discipleship in urban areas of this country, there is a major obstacle that cannot be ignored. That obstacle is racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and our present, which makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, develop trust, and grow together. 

Check out part two of this series and please share your thoughts…

In 2013, an amazing film was released to theaters called, “12 Years A Slave.  The film was based on an autobiographical book written in 1853 by the same name. The book told the story of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840’s New York. The film allowed audiences to catch a glimpse of the horrific conditions of slavery and this man’s struggle to regain his freedom. It was a gripping story, shining a light on the brutal system of slavery. 

Beyond what it teaches us about history, there was a huge theological thread woven throughout the film.  In the film, we saw two images of Christianity and neither of them were especially pleasing.  On one hand, we saw Christianity presented as a tool of the slave master used to coerce and keep slaves obedient to their masters.  You see the slave masters preaching to their slaves about obedience, as if that were THE central message of the scriptures.  When I think about that, I recall an often-quoted thought tossed around by some who dismiss Christianity. The saying goes, “If your faith comes with instructions of how to treat your slaves, you need a new faith.” It’s not enough to simply dismiss that as rhetoric.  The other image of Christianity that we see in the film is that of Christianity being used by the slaves as a coping mechanism to survive this ruthless system.  This is not to say that their faith was not authentic. I believe the very opposite to be true.  Even so, it’s unsettling to think that some may have come to faith, primarily, for the sake of numbing the pain of their lives.  

Here’s how this is relevant for us today: When churches engage urban communities, the question that is directed at you, either verbally or nonverbally, is: “Which Jesus are you selling me?”

  • Is it the Jesus that keeps me weak, docile, and controlled?


  • Is it the Jesus that is only good enough to get me through my week? 

For far too many people in urban communities, the church is not trustworthy, on one hand, and has no real power, on the other hand. We have a #GospelChallenge!

So have I lost hope? Am I saying that we should throw in the towel and give up our efforts to reach urban communities with the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ? 

Heck No! 

Even with these vast and far-reaching challenges facing us, there remains what Reinhold Neibuhr calls “a resounding cry, calling the Church back to her mission & purpose.”

Two things are absolutely clear to me: 

  1. We, The Church, must address our troubling past when it comes to race, culture, & ethnicity.   
  2. We, The Church, must begin to reimagine what it means to be “the people of God” in urban areas. 

I feel a clear and profound calling to help the church figure out what those two things could look like.  

In the third & final post of this series, I’ll share a bit of my story, highlighting what may have brought me to this place.  Finally, I will offer up some practical insights of how we might move towards this challenge together!   

QUESTION: When you think about iconic portrayals of the Christian faith in film, past or present, what do you recall as some of the more memorable ones? Have those portrayals shaped how you see the church at all? 

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#GospelChallenge, Part 1

#GospelChallenge, Part 1

This summer, I took part in an amazing conference hosted by CRU Inner City. It was called the Creating Options Together Conference and took place here in Minneapolis.  The aim of the conference was,  “To come together to declare God’s glory, to lift up and empower the church, and to demonstrate the power of the gospel to create options for those in poverty…fresh options that address real needs.”  It was humbling to share a stage with noted leaders like Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Carl Ellis.  It was also  incredibly meaningful to spend time hearing from new leaders (new to me) like Pastor Adam Edgerly and the brilliant Karen Ellis.  I was a speaker and presenter, but I learned much more than I could have ever imagined!

I have realized over the last few years that I have some pretty unique and varied groups of friends and colleagues.  I also realized that they often don’t interact with each other.  That means that the conversations that I have with one group of friends doesn’t always get carried over to another group of friends. It happens sometimes, but it’s not guaranteed.  Additionally, I’m hardly ever present with friend group A and friend group B at the same time.  I’m constantly looking for ways to bridge that gap. Hopefully, this blog has been and continues to become one of those ways.

To that end, in my next few blog posts, I’ll share some of my messages from the Creating Options Together Conference 2014.  I hope that it sparks a dialogue between my different groups of friends and leads to some deeper connections.

The title of this particular talk was #GospelChallenge: Addressing Racial Strife as a Threat to Your Ministry.

Here’s Part 1 of 3…I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(July 2014 – Bethel University Underground)

Good Afternoon,

Friends, you may have noticed a social media trend over the last few months. I’m referring to something called the #GospelChallenge.  #GospelChallenge is where one person is “called out” by another and given 24 hours to record a personal video singing a gospel song. The videos were everywhere, and some of them were excellent!

Unfortunately, for every one singer with actual talent…There were 100’s upon 100’s of singers with voices that only their mothers could love…There were others with voices that were made for sign language or for a tightly sealed, soundproof shower…There were many others that gave new interpretation to the verse, “Jesus Wept!” As funny as some of these videos were and as inspiring as some the others were, I wasn’t invited here today to talk about THAT kind of gospel challenge but about another reality that we are called to be aware of and respond to IF we really desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ reach the inner city, take root, and bring about kingdom transformation.

Later this week, each of us will leave the comfort of this conference and head back into our communities, cities, and neighborhoods, and there, waiting on us, will be a troubling reality. Waiting for us in each of our cities is a challenge that is as old as this nation itself and is entrenched in the fabric of this great experiment that we call America.  I’m talking about racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and even today, that makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, trust, and grow together. Friends, I wish that I could talk about this racial strife from a strictly historical & sociological perspective and say that this is an issue that exists strictly in society.  I wish that I could stand here and describe this as a situation where the Church is poised to step in and correct what is wrong, but the reality is that when it comes to racial strife, American society and the American church share matching scars. These are matching, ugly scars that cannot simply be ignored.

The reality is that when it comes to racial strife, the church, has “dirty hands,” and those dirty hands stand as a challenge to the Gospel.

At best, the church in America has been “impotent” when it comes to being an effective agent for healing racial strife. At its worst, the church in America has been an active accomplice, a tool, used to create and maintain racial strife and artificial racial divides. Even without looking too hard, the very people that we would seek to engage and minister to in urban communities, ESPECIALLY BLACK MEN, can see that the church has not always been a trustworthy institution.

So what exactly am  I talking about when I refer to our #GospelChallenge?

When I say that we have a #GospelChallenge, I’m saying that our history, even our present existence as the church, has become a stumbling block, an obstacle to the spread of the gospel among the lost and hurting in urban areas. I contend that we cannot simply ignore the church’s history and expect it to simply go away. Instead, I propose that must we repent of our brokenness and intentionally rededicate ourselves to the work of reconciliation. Doing so is a critical first step towards creating space for the healing of racial strife, and it must be a part of any Christ-centered strategy for seeing the Gospel reach every corner of every urban area in America.

Question: Would you agree that racial strife has been a “stumbling block” for the American Church? I’d love to hear your thoughts and explanations.  As always, feel free to disagree!

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365 Days…4 Things I’ve Learned

365 Days…4 Things I’ve Learned

A few days ago, I celebrated one full year of serving on staff at The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.  I came into this season with some very high expectations and, honestly, I was also carrying some baggage. I needed God to heal some of the disenchantment and skepticism that had built up inside of me concerning the Church. I needed to see that living as followers of Jesus still meant something.  I needed to see fresh, vibrant expressions of the Kingdom of God.

The last 365 days have taught me a lot…here are 4 lessons learned:

Spiritual Discontent is Acceptable; It is often the Holy Spirit’s operating system. 

That inner whisper that says that this is not God’s Best for you, whether personally or as a community, is not some emotional brokenness.  That discontent could very well be the Holy Spirit pointing you toward’s God’s standard, a standard that is higher than what you’re currently experiencing. Don’t ignore it.  “Harden not your heart,” as King James might say.  Instead, look for ways to move with purpose towards that higher place without settling.

Biblical Reconciliation is not a passive journey. 
If the goal of a multiethnic church is simply getting 2-3 races of people to sit near each other in a worship service, that cannot be accurately called reconciliation.  In fact, I’m not sure what you would call that.  True biblical reconciliation is an active, intentional journey where people’s lives intersect with the lives of others, made possible and spurred on by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It won’t happen by accident…our natural tendency is to flock to our own tribes, those like us. The challenge is for reconciling churches to intentionally invite people into those intersections, leading by example, and affirming over & over the biblical mandate of reconciliation. I’m excited to be a part of that work at The Sanctuary.

Ministry to Families matters more than we can imagine. 
There are countless areas of concern for the future of the Church, but this one is particularly critical because it affects generations.  If we fail at ministering to parents and others who are leading families, we will negatively impact the spread of the Gospel in this generation and the next.  Parenting is an incredible blessing, but with it comes challenges that are unimaginably complex.  The idea of being responsible to care for, protect, shape, and develop another individual causes great anxiety, pain, even anguish at times.  Healthy churches will regularly and intentionally look for ways to pray for, encourage, equip and empower families.  Similarly, healthy families will prioritize and take full advantage of opportunities available to them through the church, believing that Godly wisdom is essential.

Passion without commitment and community is fleeting. 
Few things have become clearer to me over the last year than the fact that a part of my calling is to be a blessing to young adults that cross my path.  Like never before, God has opened my eyes to so many young brothers and sisters who have serious needs and serious questions about faith and life.  Here is a troubling reality that I see, though: a troubling number of the young adults that I see are overflowing with passion, ideas, and will, but many of them struggle in the area of commitment & connection. How does that play out? Often it materializes in passionate displays of concern for any number of issues & causes, as long as the cost is low. As the costs associated with engaging that particular issue rises – time, resource, regular participation, accountability, etc. – there seems to be a genuine struggle for many young adults to pay those costs. I’m speaking in generalities, of course. There are many young adults who are passionate, reliable, consistent, and disciplined.  The challenge, especially for the Church, is that we must rethink the ways that we engage, minister to, and commission young adults to serve.  In the coming year, I’ll be sharing more thoughts on how we can do this.

Honestly, I cannot explain how incredible these last 365 days have been! I’ve been able to realize dreams that I carried inside of me for years.  I’ve felt an amazing amount of support and freedom that I had not known previously.  I’ve never had so many people walk up to me and pray for me on the spot! It’s been a tremendous encouragement.  I’m looking forward to the next 365…I’m expecting that God will exceed even my greatest expectations!!!
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