Not by Sight, Not by Comfort: Encouragements for Those Integrating Churches
As an African-American male who’s grown up in a predominantly white church, I was struck by Lou’s article about his son, Curtis. Now, no neighborhood “welcoming committee” has ever called me the “n-word.” But like a harp plucked by worn fingers, my heart’s strings empathetically rang in tune with Curtis’ church struggles.
I suspect I’m not alone in this.
Like Curtis and me, many African-Americans are members of churches with a racially and thus radically differing majority culture. And this membership is a good thing. But specific questions and challenges arise for folks like us.
“Why does hardly anyone here look, talk, or dress like me? Am I somehow not as Black because I’m not in a predominantly African-American church? Aren’t I just that token black person?”
The questions abound. But so does Scripture in its rich truths that can help Christ’s people bear and over come these difficulties. So here are some encouragements rooted in Scripture that I hope spur minorities in majority-culture churches.
Consider How You’re Serving Your Fellow Church Members
Christians are those bent on serving others. We are called to serve others as Christ has served us (). So my minority brother or sister, it will help to take your magnifying glass off your own life and consider how God is using you in someone else’s. Is not your presence in your church but a small, testifying imitation of what Christ did for you? He – who was the form of God and left all that was divinely comfortable – crossed a cosmic cultural gap and died a death he did not deserve for those who would believe, those like you!
Your dying to self is legitimate. It is painful. But it is not wasted. It is bringing more glory to God than you can see now. It is resulting in someone else’s good (). It is for your good – your becoming more Christ-like – that the Lord uses you this way. We reflect and model Christ in our service, and our service – which includes trying church membership – molds us to his image.
Look To Christ For Your Identity, Not The Enemy’s Lies
In , Paul promises Christians that they are being transformed into Christ’s glorious image. But Paul uses a plural pronoun, ‘we’, for those being transformed. Understand from this that though God transforms individuals, his is ultimately a corporate transformation; it’s redemption of a new people, not just a new person. Ours is a sure, blood-bought uniting identity.
“Ours is a sure, blood-bought uniting identity.”
Understanding our new corporate identity fends off disunity by reminding us, the body of Christ, where our unity truly lies – in Christ. Disunity births strife. And, as Thabiti says, “continual strife is one of the most serious problems facing the church.” Satan wants Christians dwelling on their old identity in the flesh – even on the color of their physical flesh – more than their new identity in Christ.
But make no mistake – though your skin may be brown, you’re covered with the same crimson tide flowing from Calvary as your Christian brothers and sisters, whatever their skin color. This is the beauty of the gospel, and understanding this is the seed of loving church unity.
A church’s unity does not express itself by all the members submitting to all the members’ preferences. Rather, a church’s unity manifests in all its members laying down their preferences as they submit to one Christ-exalting preference. And this glorifies God, however unlovely it may feel, however unlovely the words Satan (or others in sin) hurl at you.
So take heart in the freeing words that define your new identity: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ.” Christ defines you – not stereotypes, slurs, or Satan.
Remember: You’re Not Alone
“In Christ.” Christian, that phrase reminds us of a simple truth: We are not alone. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us. Rather, “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” ().
Christ was misunderstood. He was rejected. He was despised. He was deserted. He was alone.
So, my minority friend, take heart that your savior shared your loneliness. And your loneliness brings you further into what he went through for your sake. And like he, you will be vindicated from your suffering in the Father’s timing for the Father’s glory.
But if you’re still in the midst of your struggle, realize that other members in your church may be trying – albeit in a blundering fashion – to love and understand you. And as you do the same for them, assuming the best on their part, you may love other parts of Christ’s body that you never thought possible. With any growing organism there’s growing pains. But we have a bond that sustains us through these pains – the blood of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.
Earlier in this article I suspected I’m not alone. In Christ, we know we’re not alone.
Abide In The Objective, Assuring Promise Of Christ
So though you may be a minority in your church, you are not a minority in Christ. You are purely his. But what is the proof of that fact? makes it clear: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ is your testimony that you are in fact Christ’s. You testify Christ’s ownership over you to the world, your church, and yourself as you love those who look, talk, and dress nothing like you.
This love proves trying, especially if you see little to no fruit despite your efforts. But a wise pastor once told me to not overestimate the change that can occur in one year or underestimate the change that can occur in five. We walk by faith – not by comfort, not by sight. Take heart, minorities, and fight the good fight of faith.
“This loves proves trying…”
But what about you who stand in the majority? Part of the joy of serving as The Front Porch’s editor are the sweet emails I receive from brothers and sisters of other ethnicities asking how they can better love their African-American kin in Christ. It’s encouraging that many seek this conversation as they try to better carry their crosses.
While this is far from exhaustive, I do have a few concluding suggestions.
Continue Seeking The Conversation
People are different colors. And ignoring that fact – maybe in a well-meaning but ignorant attempt to have spiritualized “colorblindness” – is unloving. So to put it positively, you can love your African-American brothers and sisters by asking them questions about their culture and how it intersects with their faith, difficulties, and joys. Strive to not ask with the kind of curiosity as if the person you’re talking to is a museum object. For more on this, see Trip Lee’s helpful piece written following the Trayvon Martin case.
Enter Into Our Experiences, And Invite Us Into Yours
Why not let your conversation end on an invitation to your home? Why not say “yes” when African-Americans invites you over even if their neighborhood doesn’t look like yours? Appreciate the customs of our culture without assuming ill moral simply because it’s different as we try to do the same. Mark Dever deeply encouraged (and entertained) me when he recounted visiting Thabiti’s home, predominantly Black church. To love someone in a real way, you must really know them and let them really know the real you
Focus On Our Oneness In Christ
Lastly, remember the words of that I referenced earlier. White Christian, like minorities – there is no condemnation for you in Christ. If you are in Christ, ‘white-guilt’ is not your legal declaration – innocent in God’s sight is. Of course this does not condone trite insensitivity as you attempt to love your African-American brothers and sisters. But it also does not condone paralyzing fear of them. Remember, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
Let’s pray that many churches, by God’s grace, would be characterized by his love. Then let’s act on it.
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (ESV)
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (ESV)
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (ESV)
35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)
8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (ESV)