God Does Move through Cross-Racial, Cross-Cultural Appointments!

December 5th, 2016

In 1968 The United Methodist Church in America consisted of 94% white people and 6% people of color. Ironically, in 2013, though America was browning, the demographics were still 94% white and 6% people of color. When our inside numbers are compared to the outside demographics, there is a dismal gap. What’s happening? Segregation in America is still an active evil, especially on Sunday at 11am in the North American United Methodist Church. The reality is that there’s a lack of available churches for people of color (although leadership giftedness is also a consideration), so clergy of color are often the only ones considered for cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments. Although these are all good reasons to do cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments, we should do them because we are a baptized and reconciled people of Christ, called to the ministry of reconciliation.

In order for our Methodist family to thrive in these rapidly changing demographics, we must move from standing in front of the mirror looking at ourselves to moving over to the window where diversity is already a reality and multiplying at a fast rate. Cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments are gaining momentum, often as a response to or strategy attempting to address the lack of minority congregations for people of color. But do cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments effectively advance the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments have a greater chance to work when the . . .

Vision Is Clear!

Alignment for transformative cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments must be grounded in the reality of God’s kingdom and guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus created this movement as a means for advancing the gospel, but also for inviting people to reimagine church as a bridge-building movement. Vision for a cross-racial, cross-cultural church is part of the DNA of the leader and an expectation of the congregation. Jesus taught us to pray, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matt 6:10 CEB).

Values Are Intercultural and Connectional!

One area of tension for cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments is the desire for leaders with a competency for engaging “others”—what is known as “intercultural competency.” Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 CEB). A cultural competency for connecting with the concrete, “neither/nor” realities gathered together in Jesus’s name is key. It’s what Tex Sample calls “walking the walk and talking the talk” appropriate to the multiple cultures we are called to lead and serve.

Jesus was the chief of intercultural competency. Deanie Brown, associate chancellor for access and equal opportunity at the University of Illinois, Springfield, offers a solid definition of intercultural competency: “the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures, through awareness, empathy, and intentional efforts to avoid violating the contexts created by the other culture.”[i] Cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments call for a courageous spirit and leaders who are willing to walk beyond the doors of the church and across the street, community, and four corners of their immediate city. So start here. Making connections with others is critical for cross-racial, cross-cultural proficiency.

Relational Nonnegotiables Are Discipleship and Diversity!

Effective cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments realize that discipleship and diversity must be viewed as essential signs of a vital church. For The United Methodist Church to recover a twenty-first-century version of its original Wesleyan fervor, normative indicators for vital congregations will have to include diverse disciples of Jesus Christ. The future of The United Methodist Church is not in mono-racial, mono-cultural, and mono-class congregations, but rather in multi-varied congregations. Segregation in congregations—especially those with cross-racial appointments—is no longer tolerable. If we are going to participate in the Great Commission, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. . . . Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matt 28:19-20 CEB), then the message of discipleship cannot be separated from the gift of diversity.

Risk Leads to Loving, Listening, and Learning!

Cross-racial, cross-cultural appointments demand a high level of risk as we love across race and class barriers. Find a table and spend time with someone culturally and racially different from you over a cup of coffee. Listen to their story first, be intentional as you actively listen, and practice this patiently and often. Starting with holy scripture opens our hearts to what God is saying and doing. This invites us to a level of vulnerability required for healthy relationships. Then tell your story. The integration of loving, listening, and learning leads to compassionate, faith-forming, and relational discipleship.

In my experience, for cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments to be vital, the spiritual leaders must work as a team, guiding people to experience and embrace the love and grace of Christ. When that level of reconciliation happens, the multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-class diversity and reality of God’s people becomes a here and now in our church reality. Congregations that are willing to explore and embrace the biblical mandates of the Great Commandment and Commission will reflect a faithful fruitfulness and experience the God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven!

Stephen Handy is the senior pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Stephen earned a BA from Dillard University, an MBA from Tennessee State University, and an MDiv from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

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