ARISE: Overcoming Barriers
August 19, 2016.
A historic theatre in South Florida.
An artist sharing Jesus in his own hip hop style.
Over 100 youth and adults hands up, dancing, smiling, laughing.
Three dedicated youth pastors of different races, genders, and denominations all encouraging the next generation to take another step closer to Christ.
Sound good to you? It was!
It was a great event full of Christian brothers and sisters of different races and denominations coming together to enjoy each others company and lift of the cause of Christ.
Except… did we?
Rewind to November of 2014. I accepted a position at a church in South Florida. When I began telling people where I was moving many of their comments included questions such as, “Really? Down there? That’s really the mission field? Isn’t it mostly Hispanic people there? Why would you move there?” (More on this later.) Now, to be fair, when I first entered into conversations with this church I did look at a map because I wasn’t sure how far south it was and my first thought was… “it’s like living at the end of the world!” My concern was less about who else lived there but more about how far away it is from EVERYTHING else!
Through the process of moving and getting to know our new home and the surrounding areas, God and I had a few conversations.
At first, I was not sure why God would call me to this area. I did not speak any other languages and my ministry to that point had been in mostly white middle to upper-class churches. In reality, all through my time in youth ministry I always felt that it was important for me to teach and model being open and accepting to all people who came through our doors. Most churches were ok with that message, but somewhere along the way I began to realize that there were so many hurting people who needed to know the hope that comes through Jesus, but the hurting people, the people who looked or dressed differently, were not coming to our church and we had to go to them.
This is usually where many ‘church people’ and I part ways.
I am not trying to say all church people are bad and that we should all abandon the church. Actually, I believe just the opposite. We are supposed to meet together to encourage each other to love each other and most important to worship God (Acts 2, Hebrews 10). Most of us are comfortable worshipping on Sunday morning with the same people we worship with every week. I will admit sometimes I get comfortable too.
Here’s what is different for me- when I go out from the church and see the homeless or hear stories of people who are in need, even if the need comes out of their own poor choices, I am afflicted with empathy for the person. The parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep play over and over in my mind. There are so many lost coins and lost sheep around us, why are we afraid to look for them? Yes, afflicted. My heart is troubled over the situations I see around me that I feel powerless to do something about.
My affliction does not end with those outside the church.
When I was first starting out in youth ministry sometimes I would think about what it would be like to be a missionary. I would travel to some far off place and embark on a never-ending mission trip. The thought kind of makes me laugh now because I have come to realize that in some ways I am a missionary. My mission has been within the walls of the church.
Growing up in a white, middle to upper-class church, I look like you, I talk like you, and I know your songs and traditions. I have worked in several churches, seen a lot of church drama, but nothing seems to upset the church more than asking them to get involved in ministry with another church, especially if that church has a different style of worship or has people of a different race or heaven forbid a different denomination. Only one time in my 15-plus years of ministry have I been in a community where the youth ministries were able to reach across denominational lines to work together for the cause of Christ. (I am sure some of you will have examples of churches that do work together, I am just sharing my experience.) How can this be? Are we all united in Christ? We are supposed to be.
I am beginning to understand God’s purpose in moving me to South Florida.
It’s the same as it has been in virtually every church I have been connected with: speak the truth about unity in Christ, model it in ministry and in my own life, and challenge the youth to be examples to the church by supporting ideas and activities that further the cause of Christ.
It hasn’t been easy. Inviting other groups to attend events on your turf is scary for them and for us. What happens if the youth don’t get along? What if the visiting group does not feel welcome? Taking our youth to visit another group is scary too for all the same reasons. It’s uncomfortable. What if they sing songs we don’t know? What if I don’t like the food? But, what if you do and what if you realize that we all are God’s creations? What if you meet life-long friends who will be with you and help you on your journey with Christ?
Fast-forward back to the present and back to my question… did we?
Did we lift the cause of Christ? I pray that we did. I believe we took a step in the right direction.
Do we still have work to do? Definitely.
Becky Gilbert serves a Youth Pastor at First UMC of Homestead. She resides in Homestead, Fl with her husband, Larry and three kids, Hunter, Hudson and Harlowe. When she is not working with youth, she spends time exploring as many beaches in south Florida and the Keys as possible!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.