Okay – this is the last article in the series about the DFW Church, my home church! There will be at least one more article in the series, one that shares what another congregation has been doing to promote better understand and closer ties between those of different races in their fellowship. If others would write me about what they are doing in their churches, we could continue the series even more, sharing ideas and helping disciples to deepen their relationships within their local fellowship. You have my email address at the top of the page – please use it!
The reason I have written as much as I have about my Dallas church is because I think it provides a good example that will hopefully encourage others. I do not believe that we are perfect in what we are doing, but I do believe that we are making significant efforts that should be imitated. Two details are exciting to me about what is happening here. One, it has nothing to do with me. Some might assume that since I started this blogsite on racial issues, I must be a catalyst for what is being done in Dallas. Not true at all! The reverse is true. What the leaders started here was my catalyst to begin the blogsite. If you start at the first blog post and read the early ones, you will understand just what the sequence has been.
Two, the impetus to begin dealing openly with racial issues in this church predated the current strong emphasis on racial issues in the United States. As I mentioned in a previous post, Todd Asaad, our congregational evangelist, started the ball rolling on the topic at least four years ago. Since then, much has happened to garner attention to all things racial in our society. The problems were clearly there prior to the last couple of years, but now it is receiving national attention in a way I’ve not seen since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. I’m proud of Todd for realizing the need and being proactive, although the focus here has been sharpened and made more urgent through these current events.
Speaking of these current events, I just watched a video of my good friend, Guy Prince, addressing these issues in a sermon delivered in South Carolina. Among his many good observations and spiritual applications, he described a group discussion he had participated in as the only white person present. He said it reminded him of what must have been taking place around dinner tables in black families for decades where racial issues were the topic. In other words, the discussion he was included in was an unfiltered and totally honest session about what life really felt like for the black population in the US.
He then commented that our present rapid escalation of such discussions in every imaginable venue was the result of our black friends taking those table talk sessions out of the house and into the public. Astute observation, that. He then pleaded for Christians to seek education and participation designed to promote understanding and empathy among us. It was an excellent sermon, and certainly well worth the 38 minutes of listening. You can watch and listen to it under “Media” on this church website: http://www.colachurch.org. You can also find a number of other lessons by different speakers on the same general topic there.
An Overview of a Foundation
The DFW Church is planning to continue with the Diversity Workshop approach, taking it next to the general membership. Just when and how that is to be done has not yet been announced. However, when it does occur, it will simply be the latest layer added to a foundation that has been built much earlier. Making real diversity a part of a diverse membership has been an ongoing process for some years. The rest of this article will call attention to several aspects of that foundation for diversity.
Some time back, I wrote a three part series for this blogsite entitled, “Racial Diversity in the Church – An Honest Look.” The first part candidly noted that our fellowship of churches began as “white church,” and in many ways is still that in spite of having a membership that is diverse racially. That being true in our earlier days is understandable, but it is no longer understandable or acceptable. We have to keep learning, growing and changing.
Diversity in the Church – An Honest Look
Probably the primary focus of that first article was on having a diversity that reflected the population where a given congregation is located. We should not be mainly one color, whatever it may be, unless such is a reflection of the population itself. On that note, the DFW Church has a fair mix in its racial makeup, although it is not totally reflective of the surrounding population. That being said, one of our three regional groups is a great example of a diverse makeup. Not surprisingly, it is the group into which I was first invited to speak on the topic of race. Our Southwest Region is led by Mark and Connie Mancini, and according to Mark, is about 50% white, 40% black and 10% other non-white in composition.
The second article in the series addressed the need to have our racial diversity reflected in the leadership of the church, plain and simple. The third article addressed several aspects of diversity: fellowship in the church assemblies; diversity in our worship music; and fellowship after our assemblies are dismissed, inside and outside our meeting places. It would be worthwhile going back to reread those three articles (or read them if you haven’t yet).
The SW Region of the DFW church is an excellent example of the points in the first two articles. Here are photos of their ministry staff and of their eldership. The ministry staff is shown here forming a panel for some sort of a leadership program, and the shot of the two elders and wives is one I took after a service in which I did the teaching. Interestingly, the elder families were in Boston during many of the years that I was, and now we are all together in Dallas. In both photos, the racial balance is almost exactly 50/50 (one less white person, actually).
The Southwest Ministry Staff
The Southwest Elder Couples
Diversity in Worship and Fellowship
My observations here come from my own experience in my home church region, Dallas East. These observations address part three of the article series mentioned above. Our worship leader in the Dallas East Region is Stan Hallowell. His mother is a professional gospel singer in Chicago for predominately black churches. Needless to say, he is quite conversant with this style of church music. In my earlier article, I mentioned that we typically have three styles of music in our churches: traditional hymns, contemporary popular style (Michael W. Smith and Chris Tomlin being examples of this style) and gospel choir. I failed to include what I call the “clappy-happy” type, which I often label “gospel aerobics” (not my favorite type, in spite of its popularity)!
The gospel choir approach, with small groups or solos (having more “soul” in them) added in, are characteristic of the music in many predominately black churches. Thankfully, this type of music is also a part of our worship services in both the DE Region services and in our occasional full congregational services at the Irving Convention Center. Thank you, Lord, for sending Stan and Nita our way! (By the way, my oldest grandson took their daughter to the prom – she’s a cutie!)
Although I posted another picture of Stan leading the DE Region singing, complete with gospel choir, here’s a more recent shot. The choir is much larger in the combined congregational services.
I once asked Todd if any of the older white members ever complained about some of the music not being “reverent” or “worshipful.” He said no, which shows that whatever foundation for diversity in music had been laid, it had been laid long ago – thankfully!
Then we have the issue of fellowship before and after worship services – do we only hang out with “our” kind, or are we truly a family? The old adage, “birds of a feather flock together” is quite accurate in prisons, so I’m told, but if it is true in our fellowship, we are failing to appreciate God’s creation of diversity and are thus failing to be like God. One day after church services ended, I just grabbed a good racial representation of my church friends and had this next photo taken. I think it captures most of the racial variations in our group pretty well. I have either been in each of these brothers’ homes or they in mine or both. If you don’t have friends like these, you are missing out on so much fun, and are not reflecting the family of God as he intended it.
Fellowship, Fun and Love
You can never develop close friendships just by attending church together. We are called to “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) – and that is a learning process. It will not happen unless we spend meaningful time together, having honest dialogue and also fun. I have so many exciting stories about my relationships with non-white church brothers, but I cannot take the space to share many of them. I’ll just stick with a couple of recent ones.
Here is one story about my relationship with a greeter at church named James Williams (affectionately called Mr. James or Mr. Williams by the younger folks). I’ve always had fun talking with him before and after church, but after I started my blog, I realized that I really didn’t know his life story much at all. Knowing he was an Oakland Raiders football fan, I called him one evening last fall to ask if he were planning to watch them play a game on Monday Night Football. He said yes, so I asked if I could join him, and he said yes again.
Once I arrived at his place (he lives alone), we started watching the game and sharing our life stories, particularly as it applied to racial issues. It turned out to be his 70th birthday, so I’m glad God had me invite myself along that very night. Anyway, he was raised in Mississippi and then taught middle school there until he retired. His experiences as a black man during those horrid Jim Crow days were about as I had observed them in my home state of Louisiana. James didn’t pull any punches about such issues, nor did I. We had an open, honest, very helpful and enjoyable conversation. It was a memorable night for me, and I think for him too. He looks a bit serious in the photo, but he is a very warm, friendly guy!
When a white guy initiates a conversation about race and is really concerned, that willingness communicates quite clearly almost without words. I have such a difficult time understanding why some of my white brothers and sisters find doing such scary. How can you love deeply without first knowing deeply? Conversion stories move the heart when shared; life stories, complete with their challenges, move the heart as well. Why not have yours moved – often?
Don’t Forget the Fun!
Stan, our music director in my part of the church, loves fishing. I kept inviting myself along and finally our schedules meshed. He takes five at a time (counting himself) on a pontoon boat to fish for catfish. The day I went, the other white guy scheduled to go had to cancel. I asked the other brothers if I were a “token white” that day! Then I caught the first four or five fish, so I asked if that were another example of white privilege! No, that type of verbiage probably isn’t politically correct, but among friends and brothers, it works just fine. I wouldn’t begin to share some of what went on in the Big Black Brothers Club days in Boston. Most outsiders who heard us were shocked, Christians and non-Christians alike. Being real friends breaks down many barriers and removes weirdness.
We caught lots of fish that day and Stan cleaned them all while we talked and just enjoyed being brothers. Then, as is his custom, he has an annual fish fry which is attended by people from in and out of town. Although I ate too much and had indigestion most of the night, it was a blast! I couldn’t imagine life without my brother brothers (black brothers who are Christians). Here are the photos of the guys on the fishing trip and then of some of those present at the fish fry.
I am so grateful for God’s amazing creation of diversity in nature, but even more grateful for the amazing creation of diversity in his supreme act of creation – humans. Satan hates everything good, and he hates love most of all. When he is able to make us humans hate, he has accomplished his ultimate damage. When he is able to keep us from developing and enjoying the deep love for which we were designed, he is almost as successful. It has been said that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy. Let’s make some decisions and do some repenting and take action. After all, it is by our love for one another that the world is impacted most! Let’s help answer Jesus’ prayers of John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-21!