Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations has no exceptions. This ambitious call to mission moves us physically and spiritually out of the confines of churches, cultures and communities. Transformative mission connects us with people and places that are vastly different than our own. Meeting Christ on the mission field will inevitably cause us to confront the challenge of racism which darkens the very light we strive to share with the world. As leaders how do we prepare ourselves and our congregations to unmask the untruth of racism while meeting on the mission field?
In these dark and challenging times here are three strategies that may lead us closer to the light:
- Don’t wait for the crisis
The impact of race is sewn into the very fabric of our society. Whether it’s our Constitution, criminal justice system, educational institutions, housing, legislation, healthcare or even the church- racism’s stamp can been seen and felt. The difficulty for spiritual leaders is that speaking or organizing missions to respond to these issues may not happen until “something” happens. Yet, this approach denies two irrefutable truths: something is always happening and transformation requires evolution and not an event. We need to hear the “certain sound of the trumpet” in our pulpits, at our administrative council meetings and in our ongoing outreach before others deem it important. We are called to prophetically and proactively equip ourselves and our congregations with tools that name and dismantle racism in systems and in ourselves. We cannot wait for the crisis- we must speak truth to power through our words and outreach with sincerity and regularity.
- Name it for what it is
Race is hard to talk about. It steps on toes, it digs into deep seated wounds and causes tears to flow. To avoid the landmine of honest and frank conversations on race we often retreat to discussions or outreach on “diversity or multiculturalism”. Those words and concepts make us feel less defensive or exposed but, they do not strike at the heart of the real challenge: racism. If we are to effectively lead and equip others in these critical conversations or mission ministries, we have to boldly name racism. We have to put it on the table in all of its complexity and ugliness lest our efforts remain polite but not productive.
- Start with the personal but don’t end there
When we do take on the risk of tackling race we often begin with personal story and invite others to do the same. This approach seems helpful as it allows us to share our own stories and connect to others’ experiences. However, after years of trainings and inter-group dialog facilitation. I have seen how this approach can derail movement to tangible action. We can dwell in the story of ourselves or others and despite the best intentions- fail to move beyond those personal experiences to what we can do as a community or congregation to dismantle racism. While stories are important and should be shared, we must utilize them as a springboard to systemic change.
I am already praying for the bold and risk-taking spiritual leaders who are and who will confront the enduring ghost of racism until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
We’re in this together,