LEAD LONG…LEAD STRONG
Do You Recognize Your Family?
By Scott Hagan
When Jacob and Esau lost their empires and found their brotherhood, it not only released something inside them, it released the people around them. It brought them out of the shadows. It defied gravity. Then Esau asked Jacob, “ ‘Who are these people with you?’ ” (Genesis 33:5). What an indictment. How do you not recognize your own family? Esau was an uncle to most of them.
Millions of Christians in America cannot locate each other because, like Esau, they cannot recognize each other. They are trapped and invisible behind leaders who are not experiencing the broader design of God’s family as our Creator originally inspired. But an ideal and long-awaited shift is happening in America. It is happening because pastors, churches, and believers are finally awakening to the oddities of a masked and incomplete church.
Many pastors are weary of the ethnic reconciliation message. But weary or not, there is a massive ethnic shift engulfing both rural and urban America. Building a strong multifaceted, multigenerational, and multiethnic church used to be a niche leadership initiative; this is no longer the case. Becoming a strong multiethnic church is now the core passion for many growing churches in America.
A thriving church in America today must have a strong sense about its multiethnic mission or it will remain largely unnoticed by its community. Those pastors and leaders who press in and develop strong healthy multiethnic ministries will be the leaders and influencers to this generation. Without it, they have a diminished voice.
There is an eerie similarity between the church we see today and what Nehemiah beheld as he surveyed the fallen walls of Jerusalem. Some 94 years after the Jews started rearranging the rubble, Nehemiah saw the stony disarray and said, “Enough is enough.” King Cyrus granted Israel its freedom after seven decades of captivity so the Jews could return and rebuild. But as the years passed, there was no discernable improvement. The broken walls remained just that: broken. Over time those in Jerusalem forgot about God’s dream and just accepted incompleteness as a way of life. That is, until Nehemiah arrived.
The Lord filled his mind with new paradigms that would produce new progress. Those broken walls that unnecessarily lay in waste for nearly a century can be compared to God’s ever-present dream of His church walking in unity — a dream that is still, for all intents and purposes, broken and buried beneath the ruins of denial, laziness, and bias. There is progress, but God has called us to completeness, not mere progress. Breaking down barriers requires a miracle of the heart — that inner awakening that changes a person’s core notions and attitudes about himself/herself and about those who are culturally different. The miracle of the heart moves a person from the valleys of isolation and ignorance to the plateaus of openness, dialogue, and acceptance, and then finally upward toward the peaks of genuine joy, where he experiences ongoing side-by-side friendships with people who are different from him.
Peter and Cornelius were the first in the Early Church to experience this miracle of the heart (Acts 10:34–11:18). It had been over a decade since the Day of Pentecost, yet the church was still oddly exclusive. Having never captured the spirit of Jesus, the church was primarily about converting Jews and few others. But the Holy Spirit convicted these two men about their indifference to difference. A bond formed between two men who never would have chosen friendship because their paths were institutionally separated. For churches to break down the barriers and become noticed by their communities, pastors must model their own personal necessity for friendships with people outside their cultural scheme. Otherwise, their congregations will see their attempts as mere token experiments to market their struggling churches.
Unless we allow the Holy Spirit to perform a personal miracle of love in our hearts, then the church will pull back toward predictable safety that includes only people like themselves. Acts 11:19 is a sad commentary on the Early Church. “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled … spreading the word only among Jews.”
Many churches are doing the same, convinced they are best equipped to reach only people like them. But thankfully, the next verse declares, “Some of them, however, … began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Inside the context of the persecuted church, the idea of the invisible church is theologically compelling. In every other context, it is an offense. Change begins with taking notice of the world directly in front of you and seeing people as Christ saw them. Here are three effective ways to shift your atmosphere at the local level.
1. It begins with celebration, not toleration. Most people can immediately tell when we are tolerating them. Heartfelt enthusiasm for people and their stories goes a long way when it comes to modeling the love of Jesus. Discrimination is denying someone the right to have. Segregation is denying someone the right to belong. Jesus didn’t die so we could have things; He died so we could belong. Communicating that sense of belonging is the responsibility of pastors and the church.
2. Make it happen in a house. Until we begin breaking bread with people who are different from us in our homes, we will not have reconciliatory breakthrough. Your home is your sanctuary far more than your church. Having someone in your home is worth more than a hundred meals at a restaurant.
3. Say, “Help me understand.” Passion flows like gravity. People in our churches feel dismissed from the journey when they see their own leader lacking a personal passion for reconciliation. We each need solid and safe relationships where we can ask someone from a different background to help us understand. The problem with the church is that everybody is an expert and no one is a learner. But three simple words can change our lives and communities: “Help me understand.”
America is a broken nation. That brokenness is low hanging fruit spiritually. The hope for a sweeping infusion of Christ is everywhere. The sea change in our nation is not political, but prophetic. Nothing has caught the Holy Spirit off guard. Nations gathered at the doorstep of the Upper Room during the Feast of Pentecost by God’s grand design. Once again the church is poised. The world is poised. May God grant by His Spirit a visitation between us once more.