This post was written by Jennifer Cronk, a member of the INCM Blog team.
Our world is in the middle of a “kairos” moment. Have you ever heard that word before? It’s Greek (no, literally—it’s Greek). The best definition, in English, is: “a propitious moment for decision or action.”
The world is at a decision point. Maybe you made the decision years ago. Or maybe this is all new for you.
But all of us are now faced with a critical question: How will you respond to the staggering loss of black life?
There is, of course, a personal call to action.
Hopefully, all of us are asking ourselves good evaluative questions and sitting in the honest answers. That is absolutely necessary.
But there is also an essential ministry decision we must make: How will I make room in my ministry for families of color to feel safe, loved, and included?
Changing Church Culture
I work in a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church.
It was historically white for much of its 150+ year history, but about 13 years ago, our Senior Pastor began a cultural revolution.
Our church culture had become increasingly white, while our neighborhood had become increasingly black.
Our church culture didn’t reflect our actual geographic culture.
The challenge wasn’t to make our church “more white” or “more black,” but instead to make our culture “more heavenly.”
Our church didn’t use those words, but the idea they were expressing was that we needed to be a group of worshippers that looked more like the Church pictured in Revelation 7—all nations, tribes, and tongues, worshipping together in unity.
Growing Pains & Prizes
Now, of course, that’s more easily said than done.
When we bring multiple cultures together, there can be culture clashes and growing pains.
My church has lost some of our people in the growth process—they either didn’t share the same vision or were not willing to make the sacrifices it took to get there.
But, I’m proud to say, many of our folks hung on. They did the hard work. They had raw, real conversations.
And, thirteen years later, we’re still doing it. We are receiving the prize for the hard work of racial reconciliation.
Of course, we still have misunderstandings and cultural clashes.
But those are normal in any family.
Part of being a family is being committed to work through those clashes—because you love one another, and you are committed to each other’s well-being and maturity.
After college, I spent two years in East Asia doing mission work.
One of my teammates and closest friends was African American.
We talked (and laughed) about everything under the sun. That was almost 20 years ago.
He only recently told me about a culturally-frightening experience he had during our U.S. training time.
He was driving to the conference center with some of our teammates, and they encountered a truck with a large Confederate flag, as well as several large shotguns.
Having grown up in the North, this wasn’t a common sight for my friend.
That flag, coupled with the large guns, was a terrifying sight. He had a visceral reaction.
Of course, I would have been appalled if I had known that at the time, and would have done everything I could have to make sure he felt safe.
But he didn’t know me then.
He had no reason to share this with me or even to trust me.
And I was clueless about what he had experienced.
The reason I’m sharing this story is that, for some families of color, just attending your church might be a scary experience for them.
As a children’s pastor or director, how can you be a part of the solution?
Below I’ve given you a list of some simple, practical measures you can implement in your ministry.
But you will have to lead this effort by example. Jesus told His disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).”
Pray that God would give you the deep, sincere love you need to motivate your thoughts, affections, and behavior as you begin (or continue) the work of reconciliation and inclusion in your church.
Let’s do the best we possibly can to create safe, warm environments that allow our friends of color (new or old) to know they are welcome and valued in our faith communities.
Here are just a few ways we can do that:
- Intentionally recruit, thoughtfully train, and strategically place volunteers of color. I aim to have at least one volunteer of color in every classroom. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s important to me that our children see leaders that look like them, so they know they can serve in the church, and be like these awesome leaders, someday.
- Creating leaders doesn’t happen by accident or in a vacuum. Let’s make sure we’re inviting all different colors and types of gifted folks to grow in leadership and service.
- Watch your art. Is Jesus white in all your classroom pictures? Or is your art very mono-cultural? Are all the children white in the curriculum you use? What do you think this subtly communicates to children of color?
- What books do you offer? Most younger classrooms offer books for children to read during free play. Are there children or adults of color in these books? Do they reflect other cultures? Do they show that children of color are chosen and beloved by God?
- Ask good (and respectful) questions of your families of color. These questions should reflect your level of intimacy with a family, meaning the more you get to know them, the more “permission” you’ll have to talk about harder things. You need to earn the right to talk about deep things of the heart.
- Develop friendships with people who don’t look like you. These friendships will bless you, and they will help you to see “blind spots,” areas where you may need to grow in Christlikeness, in your thoughts, words, and/or actions. Ask your friends of color to be honest with you, and demonstrate a spirit of humble listening and repentant action. The Scriptures say we all fall short of God’s glory—which means we all desperately need for Jesus to change us from the inside out.
- Observe in your classrooms. While this is a good practice for many reasons (not the least of which are safety, and theological stewardship), it’s hard to know what our leaders are teaching (verbally or non-verbally) if we don’t pay attention. Just like doctors perform wellness checks on children, sit in on your Sunday school classes to make sure they are healthy. Assume the best of your leaders, but be prepared to respond if corrections are needed (large or small). Speak the truth in love to your leaders—we’re all growing, and we all need a little loving help, from time to time, to better know and reflect Christ.
- Nip misunderstandings in the bud. The best of intentions doesn’t prevent misunderstanding. When it happens, respond quickly and graciously—don’t let the sun go down on anger—yours, or someone else’s. It’s hard to be mad at someone offering you a cup of coffee (or tea)!
Of course, Pray
Above all else, PRAY!
The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy….but Jesus comes to give, restore, and heal.
Ask God to protect and purify your ministry.
There will be threats to your unity.
Jesus promised us it would happen: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Someone once said, “the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.”
We need to run to the Cross. And keep running there. It’s only the Spirit of God that can bring unity where it wouldn’t naturally exist.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6
May He be praised and glorified as we seek to do this hard, important, necessary, KINGDOM work together.
You were made for this, friend!
Make the most of this “kairos” season.
He has given you everything that you need for this work (2 Peter 1:3).
Love people like Jesus did, and still does!
Jennifer loves showing families the beauty of the Gospel. Her undergraduate education in Child & Family Studies, and graduate work in Educational Ministry, combined with a lifetime of watching her teacher-mom open minds, has put a passion in her heart to see the stories of the Bible brought to life in children’s hearts.