Loritts sits down with Cormac Parker, Executive Director of The Kainos Movement, to talk about his new book: Right Color, Wrong Culture.
I was at a recent conference when I introduced myself to a pastor who said, “I know who you are. You are that guy that is developing that program that is helping the undocumented people who are breaking the law. Why is the EFCA helping law breakers? Why is the EFCA being mentioned in the same breath with liberal organizations who are trying to circumvent ‘the rule of law?'”
My answer was simple: “I want to multiply transformational churches among all people.” For me, the EFCA mission statement is not a bumper sticker or a t-shirt slogan. There are 40 million immigrants in America.
Consider these facts:
- In the last 50 years, the immigrant population has quadrupled.
- The percentage of immigrants in the population in 1960 was 5.4 percent. In 2011, it was 13 percent.
- Two in three immigrants living in the United States arrived before 2000.
- If we were to add up all the first generation immigrants, it would constitute the 26th largest country in the world.
They are a mission field within our borders. (Acts 17:26-27) Continue Reading…
In my work with Immigrant Hope, anywhere from a quarter to half of my time is spent preparing for and running our biannual week-long immigration law class.
Right now, I am sitting in the sanctuary of Communion Chapel, an EFCA church in San Antonio, Texas, with a group of 32 students listening to an attorney describe how the government screens for fraud in marriage-based immigration cases. It’s not what I expected when I signed up as a missionary with the EFCA.
After the presentation, I tapped the speaker on the shoulder as he sat down in his seat. The presentation was on cultural trends and, during his talk, he mentioned how he was hindered by his “whiteness.” He grew up in a middle class, lily-white suburb and knew very little of the world outside that lens. I offered to spend some time with him during a break.
As we sipped coffee together in the break area, I asked him a simple question, “Are you aware that all the faces on your slides are white?”
How ironic in a presentation on cultural trends, where the biggest trend of all is our changing demographics. The reality was that both his slides and presentation demonstrated a white person’s view of the world, exclusively. He was quiet for a moment.
We went on to discuss his comments, during the presentation, about hip hop. The musical genre had captured his attention, so much so that he thought seriously about pursuing it as his next academic research interest. He suspected that hip hop has the same, if not more, impact on culture as postmodernism.
During a conversation with a very influential Christian leader, he told me—point blank—that race isn’t that big of a deal. “The culture has moved on,” he said. If I said his name, most of you would know it, but his attitude is not uncommon.
We live in a paradoxical world, one where there is racism without racists. What do I mean? Although racial divides exist in our neighborhoods, churches and other institutions, nobody owns it.
There have been many similar statements made about Ferguson. Before that it was said about Trayvon Martin. I heard them when in 2001 I started a church in the middle of a race riot in Cincinnati. Really, those type of statements are not helpful. Here’s why:
When we do work in the ministry of reconciliation, it is important to remember that the kingdom of God is not a physical place, but rather a way to describe God’s reign on this earth. Wherever king Jesus went, there was the kingdom. And regardless of how large or small some of His actions were, they always brought forth fruit.
Mark 4 uses the image of a mustard seed to describe God’s kingdom. If you have ever seen a mustard seed, you know they are tiny. I think as ministers of the gospel we assume that the bigger a ministry is, the more impact it is having. That is not necessarily the case.
There are times things look bleak when you are rowing against the grain in a violent community, or it may seem like you are spitting into the wind trying to cross racial lines. During these times it is important to grasp the concept of mustard seed faith.
On the surface, many of the things we do look to be trivial, but in reality will have eternal impact. Our job is to not grab headlines, but to do our ministry quietly and faithfully. As we do, like a mustard seed, God’s reign will take hold within both ourselves and our communities.
Years ago, when I served as Director of Ethnic Ministries for Cincinnati Christian University, I struck up a friendship with one of the best communicators I have ever encountered. He was a very winsome guy who had a heart for the ‘hood.
Through this relationship, I invited him to preach campus chapels, as well as at my church, and every time he did he knocked it out the park. The preacher’s name: Bart Campolo.
So it saddened me when I found out recently that this good man, who was immersed in ministry aimed at seeking justice for the oppressed, decided he was no longer a Christian after being injured in a bike accident in 2011. I say saddened, but I don’t say surprised.
One of the most practical steps a ministry can take to embrace reconciliation is that of cultural adaptation; to recognize that culture shapes lives and willingly make the adaptations necessary to further the kingdom.
It’s not a foreign concept. Youth pastors, for example, regularly adapt Christian values, attitudes and beliefs to cultural forms that youth understand. For some reason, when it comes to race, social class or gender differences, we often do not follow the same principle. In those cases, we’re concerned that adaptation is instead showing preference.
Most differences, based in cultural backgrounds, are not inappropriate, just different. For example, years ago when I was a pastor, I noticed that most of the people we served in our food pantry wouldn’t attend our Sunday services. The whole point of us giving them bread was to introduce them to the “Bread of Life.”
After several interactions with these guests, I realized the reason. We were an urban white-collar congregation, and our food-pantry clientele was intimidated by that. So we made some changes.
We set up a “spiritual station” at the food pantry, staffed by members of our church. After receiving groceries, people were encouraged to go there for prayer and/or encouragement. Meeting someone face-to-face eliminated the fear factor, and after several months, our friends at the food pantry began to attend our worship services.
How did our white-collar church make a cultural adaptation? We brought two aspects of church life (prayer and encouragement) to them on their terms (at the pantry) rather than on ours (a worship service filled primarily with white-collar people). When we started building relationships, they realized, “Hey, these are nice people; I might visit their church.”
Cultural adaption is the art of building a bridge over the barrier of cultural unfamiliarity, supported by a long-term commitment toward knowledge gain, character formation and relationship-building. Are we so different that my social concerns cannot become yours and vice versa? Can’t we learn from each other and adapt to each other in the church?
The EFCA West Hispanic Pastors and Wives retreat, September 11-13, was set in the San Jacinto Mountains covered with pine forest. It was a far cry from the city jungle and heat that is typical of most Hispanic ministry. It was the perfect place to call out the pastors and wives to get away, regroup and begin to develop an identity of what they can do together. The retreat was the first to bring Hispanic pastors and wives together to build into them.
A retreat is a common experience in most church life, but it is not typical in Hispanic work. Many of these pastors and their wives labor in their area and rarely get away, much less know that there are other laborers also working the Hispanic field not far away.
One of the highlights of my year is to attend the annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) national conference. Each year, it draws close to 3,000 people from around the world to share in best practices of Christian community development. This year, it was held in Raleigh, N.C., where the theme centered on how to build flourishing communities.
What sets this conference apart is its “guide on the side” philosophy. Most conferences operate under the “sage on the stage” mentality, where everything revolves around ministry stars. Not here. Yes, there are champions, but they are as accessible as all the other attendees.
Hundreds of practitioners teach workshops around important topics pertaining to justice, and plenty of time is given to network. Credible resources are offered and stimulating speakers challenge perceptions about what it means to minister to those in poverty and cross-culturally. Continue Reading…