How Racism has Changed My Ministry Over the Past Decade
Race has always been a topic of discussion in my youth ministry. For the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of being a pastor at a multicultural church where 55% of our students can’t claim a single race since their parents and/or grandparents are not from the same race. As a multicultural ministry, the topic of race has been a necessary one that has led to the growth of the students, leaders, and the ministry.
After all, as our senior pastor often says, “conversation leads to comprehension.”
The last decade, however, has led to deeper conversations that occurred in the midst of greater emotions and rightfully so. With the killings of young black men at the hands of police officers making headlines, the election of Barak Obama followed by the election of Donald Trump we find ourselves in time of great division. So what have we done during these times of division to help our students see race from a Godly perspective? Good question. I’m glad you asked.
We have intentionally engaged our students in conversations about race and racism.
The truth is that students are having the conversation anyway. When they learn about a racial incident the discussion starts on social media, in the halls of their schools, on the sports fields, and at their jobs. The difference is that when we help students have these conversations in our ministries we can help them sort through their emotions and give them the grace and time to communicate how they are feeling as well as providing them with a helpful framework to explore the subject. These guided conversations allow students to be heard and to properly process what they are experiencing.
We have intentionally leaned into community.
While the world around us seems to choose a side and alienate themselves from others we have decided to choose each other. This commitment to continuing to do life together and learn about what other cultures are experiencing is vital. It is amazing to see students learn about the challenges another student has had to face because of the color of their skin. Beauty arises out of empathy and deeper bonds are created across the racial divide. It is life experienced together through difficult times that leads to deeper understanding and friendship.
We have intentionally taught on issues of justice, that God has placed and sees high value in every life, and that it is God’s desire for his followers to be unified.
Teaching on Justice helps the students see there are things in life that they need to stand up for. Standing up to do the right on behalf of someone else is powerful, can come at a great cost, and is worth it. Students can learn what justice looks like in their lives and that in seeking justice they can help bring about restoration.
Teaching on the value God sees in our students is a regular subject in most youth ministries. However, I don’t believe that it is often attached to race. The truth is God has created us all in his image as masterpieces with purpose and yet in our world, some people are treated as less than others. Once students see everyone’s value they can then more clearly see the inequalities in the world and work to part of bringing unity.
Teaching on what God desires for his people helps students see the body of Christ as the multicultural worship chorus we see in Revelation chapters 5 and 7. Jesus’ heart is seen clearly in John 17 where he prays to his father for his followers to be one. Jesus’ death on the cross was for ALL (John 3:16). Jesus has called us to make disciples of ALL nations. We are to take his message to our own countrymen, to people from places we don’t like, and even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The first church that we use as an example of what our churches should be like was extremely diverse and bridge the divides caused by poverty (Acts 2). We see in the end all those who follow Jesus will be joined together in heaven as one multicultural body of worshipers focused on giving praise to the one who unites us (Revelation). There is an abundance of scriptures that paint a beautiful diverse picture of the unity God desires for his followers.
Unfortunately, it is confusing for students to learn this and then look at a majority of churches around them and see them divided by race. The fact is that Sunday at 11 am is still the most segregated hour of the week, just as it was when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made that statement in 1963.
So, yes the racism that had been boiling under the surface in previous decades, and raised above the surface during the last decade, has changed our ministry. It has caused us to be more intentional and that is my challenge to other youth workers.
A multicultural ministry that builds bridges of reconciliation will not just happen. It requires intentional leadership.
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.