Friday, June 26, 2009

How can I get black people to come to my church? pt.1

This has been a question that has been asked to me quite a bit over the years. Most of the time this question is asked by sincere men who feel like their churches don't reflect their communities or the heart of the pastor asking. This has always been a humbling question to me for many reasons. One being that these men are asking me for my perspective. Two that these men are asking. I think that it requires humility to desire this and then pursue input on how to accomplish it. With the history of this nation's racism, even with a black president at the helm, the silhouette of past racial grievances remains. At best it may be gone but not forgotten. Even then some would say that it is not gone but has simply slid under the radar of political correctness and "intelligent denials." Having acknowledged the reality that the past still has some affect on the present, the desire for people to have the church racially united is a huge step toward humility and honoring the Lord.

I have, in the paragraph above, used the word humility twice as a description for racial integration on Sunday. Why? The main reason is that I don't think the people who are asking know exactly what they are asking. And in order to get the result they are hoping for it is going to require humility, not just from them but from those in their churches.

Normally with this kind of issue the blogger or whatever he or she is gives some historical ramifications mixed with some theological ramifications to make a simple point that usually doesn't answer the above question, "How can I get blacks (African Americans) to come to my church?" I will not spend anytime on this not because it is unimportant but because I want to address other consequences to this question and actually try to answer it.

Thoughts to consider for those asking:

Black people are not monolithic

Though it sounds like a "duh" statement many have not actually considered this and can assume that all black people will respond to the same things. Older generations of black people may have more difficulty with going to a "white church" because they can remember more vividly the church's lack of intervention in this country's racial history. There may be still waters but they may also run very deep.

Another aspect of this is that black people do not define themselves by the same standards. So the question is who are the black people you are trying to reach? There is an unfortunate measurement that we have for each other and it is basically this. The more ghetto you are the more black you are. This standard would be dominant in my generation but not so in my moms. They make think the more you break the stereotypes or are aware of your history the more black you are. While there are a few ways black people are defined amongst themselves I believe that my generation's evaluation of true blackness is the most influential today. This viewpoint which I have historically agreed with has had detrimental effects within the black community and has made the integration of whites and blacks together in churches difficult to achieve.

Mainstream society is also aware of and embraced this view of "ghetto=black." You will often see ignorance in speech as a defining characteristic in media when black people are portrayed. This is sad but true. So are you trying to reach "ghetto blacks" or middle to upper class blacks who could be considered sell-outs for marrying, hanging around, educated with and have the mannerism of white people? Personally, even though I am a pastor in Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is a predominantly white family of churches, I currently maintain a lifetime "hood pass" because my background qualifies as ghetto enough and I still keep to my "black mannerisms" when appropriate. lol.

Does your church have the heart that you have for blacks coming into your church?

This is important because it will be the people in your church that will determine if blacks or anyone for that matter feel welcome at your church. I have seen and talked to a lot of guys over the years that desire this and have assumed their churches were on one accord with them only to find out the hard way that their churches are in fact happy with being "white churches."
You cannot reach anyone if your church has not the heart or desire to do so. Black people may come, they may like you but not like the people in your church and you won't see them again. Lead your church, get them on board with your vision and it will make a HUGE difference if black people show up.

Is your church in proximity to a black community?

Another "duh" question but you would be surprised how many ask the above question and have the heart but don't live close enough to really make a difference. I don't got no black folks humpin' all the way somewhere to go to church. lol.

What sacrifices are you willing to make?

This question is probably the biggest for a couple of reasons. You do not bring individuals of a different race to your church, you bring individuals of a different culture and worldview to your church. Most if not all churches have their own cultures within culture itself. This can be an adjustment that the dominant culture of a church can minimize in desiring to fellowship with a subservient culture. Usually any dominant culture that is willing to allow others to enter into that culture expect or at least assume that those entering in agree with and will conform to the culture. However, that is not always the case and it can cause the opposite effect and create more work for those hoping to unite in the gospel.

So the question what sacrifices are you willing to make gets at the heart of the humility that I have spoken of above. You cannot expect to have black people come to your church be immersed into a different culture both racially and theologically and assume that all they are they will sacrifice and all that you are they will embrace. WRONG! While some do happen this way most times it can be the subtle arrogance or ignorance of the church to assume assimilation over appreciation. This alone can leave a bad taste in black people's mouths.

The key phrase here is don't expect but respect! Don't expect people to have no issues with the way you do things but respect that they may have a differing perspective that you can really learn from and possibly incorporate. That is a part of the humility process you must undergo when pursuing black people to come your church.

So what are some of the sacrifices that may need to be made?

There is no exact or exhaustive list in considering something like this but I will give a few suggestions. Before doing that let me make one serious qualification about these sacrifices that you should consider. Churches of different sizes are going to apply these things differently. A church of 1-500 can be way more flexible in what it does than a church of 700 plus. Some of these suggestions may fit well some may not. At least let them function as a guide to get you to think about what would work with your church.

The sacrifice that I think is the most important and would be the most helpful for you (and whomever else with you) is to go to an all "black church" and worship one Sunday or mid-week service. Most times white people don't have to experience what it is like to go to a church of a different culture and worship the Lord. It would benefit you to go and see what it is like to feel awkward; To adjust to a new rhythm; To sit under an unfamiliar preaching style; To see how this culture experiences God on a Sunday. This will give you a small understanding and hopefully an appreciation for what you are asking black people to do. If white people had an idea of how that felt I believe it could promote the kind of understanding that will help their church embrace blacks as they come. It's not about assimilation. It's about appreciation.

Normally dont put this stuff up but I had to give this dude his props

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

one of my biggest fears when public speaking!


Friday, June 19, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A humble brother's question and my response

Greetings bro,

Sorry to bother you, my name is Jose and I had a question. I was trying to get a hold of your first album, but I was having trouble doing so, would you happen to know? i tried going to your website, and to no avail. Also brother, I wanted to thank you for your service bro. It's encouraging to me,my favorite song you have written and composed will always be "Contemporary Job" great song. Also, just wondering, do you think the orchestration of music (the organizing of tones, rhythm and what not) has a moral quality to it? Inyour song "Contribution" you stated "It's the heart of the man, not the style of the mic" to which there is truth, I do believe God is more concerned with why you are doing what you are doing.

But what about issues of association? For example, in houses if ill repute, you will not hear amazing grace playing, but bump and grind music, why is that? I think it is because that kind of music caters to the mood, makes you feel the "vibe". I just wanted to share some thoughts with you, just because I am searching these things out, and I do like alot of your music, and lyrically by God's grace you're very sound. It's just i figure, why not ask someone who creates music for God, and see what they have to say? I am by no means judging you brother, it is not my place. you will have to stand before God, and give an account, so i have no worries there. Also, I believe you are a true Christian, as far as I can tell, and you Love Christ, and He through the work and ministry of the Spirit has changed, is changing, and will continue to change you further into the image of Christ (Imago Dei :-)

So as a brother in Christ, I esteem you, and I am just curious about what you think my brother. Anyways, go with God brother. Hope to hear from you, and Forgive me if I have been unloving or unChrist like in anyway, for it was not my intent.



My Response:


Brother thank you for your humble question. I can see you have thought this through. I wouldn't have the time to go into all of the details of an issue such as this but I will attempt an answer to your great question.

I think the key issue here is not musical notes and their moral quality. I think the issue is regeneration and what does God do in the heart of someone he saves. Is God capable of redeeming someone and there music preference; to then use that preference as a vehicle to reach those that are lost within it, or edify those who are saved but still enjoy the artistic quality of the art form? To use your example of houses in ill repute and the bump and grind music playing is missing a doctrine of sin perspective. There are serial killers and rapists who listen to classical music while they attack their victims. Should then classical music be deemed as unfit bcuz there are some who are unregenerate that listen to it for sinful purposes? Rap is not the first and only art form to be created with an emphasis on self-glorification rather than God glorification. I know people who sing Amazing Grace that are not saved or people that listen to black gospel and even cry when listening to it that are not saved. The issue is not external its internal. What is in the heart of the individual? While there are DEFINITELY things that must be given up on as a believer I don't think beats are one of them, particularly when used to honor God.

At the end of the day I still stand by 1 Corinthians 10:31. Brother I so appreciate your humble thoughtfulness in this. We may both be wrong but we both serve the right God and for that I am thankful.

Old But True!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Better Testimony

Don’t you love to hear a good testimony?  I mean, if you’re a Christian, a testimony can really be used to encourage you in your faith in who God is and what He’s doing in the world. Sometimes you cry with the person telling it, and others you laugh as you relate to aspects of it. Often, testimonies include everything from the grandiose to the mundane. But regardless of how dramatic the story, its details should share one aim: glorifying God. 

However, testimonies can have the opposite effect and can actually breed jealousy or an ungodly discontentment.  In my travels across the country speaking and performing I’ve come to realize that even the story of what God has done in one’s life can become a subtle battleground for sinful comparison.


The Problem with Testimonies

          One of the great joys I used to have was being able to share my testimony. Upon request, I would share the details of my life that involved guns, drugs, murder, betrayal, prison and eventual salvation. My life, to some people, was the stuff of movies, but for the most part I believed the emphasis of my story was on God and how awesome He is.

          I learned the skill of highlighting the aspects of my testimony that would be helpful to my various audiences. For example, an audience that could relate to the circumstances of my life was more impressed with how I changed, while an audience foreign to this kind of life was more impressed with the depravity and boldness of my sin. I could always tell which was which by the questions asked afterwards.

         Over time, my audiences began to look the same.  More and more I found myself speaking to audiences of a different culture than my own.  Because of this, many of my life experiences were only visible to them through the media, which glamorizes sin.

         I would address thousands of people at a time, and you could hear a pin drop as I shared my experiences in the underworld of pop culture, where danger is cool and death is a badge of honor.  I would talk about my lowest lows only to end with the highest highs of redemption accomplished and applied. People would roar with applause as if the grace of God was more evident in my life than their own. Almost always people would come up to talk to me afterwards and thank God for His work in my life.

       What would follow was more the usual than the unusual.  One after another people would ask me questions about my life, and then they would begin to share the details of their own lives. Here is where the problem with testimonies began.

       A common statement, especially for those who grew up in a Christian home, would go something like: “My testimony is pretty boring. I never did the stuff that people like you did. I am not even sure when I became a Christian. I just kind of grew up into it.” Then they’d wish they had a better testimony, maybe some Apostle Paul, Damascus Road experience. Maybe if that had happened, they’d be more grateful for their faith and maybe even a more dedicated believer. There were many that actually said and hoped for this.

      It was then that I began to realize that there can be a real problem with testimonies. I decided if I was going to share my story with people who would compare their salvation with mine, I needed to find out what God thought so I could encourage them.


The Great Misconception

            I have often wondered, what is a testimony that pleases the Lord? And also, how does a person who has not sinned grievously against the Lord realize they still have a testimony? Two thoughts came to my mind.

           The first was a passage in Luke 18:15-17. It reads: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”

           There is a lot that you can learn from these verses but I don’t plan on fleshing out all the sermonic details. I do want to highlight something from this passage, though, and it’s the fact that God desires children to come to Him. God is pleased when children glorify Him from the earliest ages. Jesus even says the kingdom of God belongs to them.

           This means the belief that God-glorifying testimonies must involve dramatic pursuit of sin is a great misconception. Those who follow God from a young age likely won’t have the experiences I did. These people would have testimonies like those of the Christians I meet who, underneath it all, appear to wish they had sinned more.

          My second thought was that when you have the perspective of “I never did the stuff that people like you did,” you are actually saying your sins aren’t severe enough to warrant Christ’s death on the cross. And that only those “serious sins” required His substitutionary sacrifice.


         What sins are excusable to God? Did lying to parents, disobedience and idolatry of music, people and possessions somehow escape God’s notice? Has anyone who grew up in the church or in a Christian home loved the Lord with all his or her heart, soul, mind and strength? How many have continuously loved their neighbor as themselves? What Christians, who grew up into their faith, call rebellion and “not that bad” God calls sin, and all sin is worthy of His wrath.

         Apart from His grace, a holy and perfect God has never looked favorably upon anyone who has sinned, even one time. Whether you have grown up in the ‘hood or the woods, I guarantee that you and I fall into that category, incurring the wrath of God for all eternity. Yet, because Christ died on the cross for that sin, you and I instead fall into the category of forgiven.


A Better Testimony

           Lastly, I would like to take a moment to encourage those who do not have the dramatic stories of conversion. I want you to know that if there is such a thing as a better testimony, you’re the one who has it. Think about it like this: We live in a world where sin is greatly encouraged and promoted. Sex outside of marriage, drug use, immodesty, lying, pride, anger and anything you can name beckons to us from all sides. In this society it is much harder to not sin than probably ever before. Sadly, a virgin is novel. At its best, humility is called being “down-to-earth,” while gross sins have cool names such as “an affair” or “alternative lifestyles.” This is the fallen world we live in.

          So, how easy is it to pursue sin? How easy it is to sell or use drugs, or do any of the sins that make up a dramatic testimony? The answer: too easy.

           In this day and age, honoring your parents and being pure, humble, patient and honest are powerful miracles. I would even venture to say it is abnormal to not sin in “dramatic” ways.

         Which is the better testimony? The person, like me, who was easily and whole-heartedly in the world, or the person who didn’t do those things even though they are heavily encouraged? I think it is more powerful to say you haven’t done much then to say you’ve done it all.

          I recently told a group of college students, who have mostly grown up in the church, that I wanted my son to have their testimony instead of mine. I would rather him say he hadn’t experienced much of the “grotesque” sin that his dad did than to say he sinned so willfully and wickedly against God. At the end of the day, that is all having a dramatic testimony means. I have sinned against God more than you. No rewards for that. 

          If it is possible to have a better testimony, then to me, the one with the least amount of sin has it.