In recent years, racial tensions have torn at the fabric of this nation. From city streets to university campuses, an atmosphere of simmering resentment reminds us that we don’t live in a post-racial society. The reality of this is even evident in many of the churches in which we worship.
This became apparent to me personally during my first year as lead pastor of (then) First Christian Assembly of God. It was April 2001, and Cincinnati was burning. The unrest started when police killed an unarmed teenager of color. The city was slow to respond, and the anger spilled into the streets. The local government instituted a 6 p.m. curfew for several days to restore order.
God had been working in my heart for years that our church needed a big change. We worshiped at the geographic heart of our city, just one mile from the fires and breaking glass during that week of unrest. Yet the congregation was a homogeneous 98 percent white commuter church.
Not only was there a demographic dissonance for me, there was a biblical dissonance. Hadn’t Jesus died to create “one new humanity” through the power of the Cross (Ephesians 2:15)? Couldn’t a reconciling Church be the missing component in our nation’s racial strife? Was the racially segregated church unwittingly contributing to the problem? Even worse, were we as the American Church actually devoid of the most compelling evidence that the gospel is true (John 17:20–23)? These questions caused a wrestling in me that led to a major transformation for our church. Those changes didn’t come easily, and there were a lot of things to learn along the way to becoming Peoples Church Cincinnati.
Today, our congregation is rich in stories and testimonies of racial reconciliation. Allow me to share a snapshot of what we’ve experienced.
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We are not the same. We each come from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. Some days it can seem like all these differences are more of a curse than a blessing. If only I was like everybody else, then I would fit in.
But God often uses people who don’t fit to advance his kingdom. He picks the people who do not belong to do what cannot be done. Here are three quick examples.
Moses was a Hebrew raised like an Egyptian. He ate at Pharaoh’s table and dressed in royal garb. But by blood, he was a Hebrew. He was born to a slave. Although he lived like a member of the royal household, we know deep down he still cared about his people. Eventually he lashed out and murdered an Egyptian who was oppressing his people. His fellow Hebrews wanted nothing to do with him. Neither a true Egyptian royal nor an authentic Hebrew, his identity crisis caused him to flee into obscurity for forty years. But God had a plan for him. Moses alone could demand an audience before Pharaoh’s court and claim a shared heritage with the people he would lead. Among the Hebrews of Egypt, he was not the same.
Scripture tells us of an unlikely queen. As a Jew living under the Persian Empire, Esther’s beauty gained the attention of King Xerxes. But even as the crown was placed on her head, her true identity remained a secret to all. No one knew she was a Jew. But when a plot arose to destroy her people, Queen Esther held a unique position of influence and privilege. She alone of all the Jews could gain an audience with the King. She alone could convince him otherwise and thwart disaster. Through her talent and courage, God saved the Jewish people. Among the Jews of Persia, she was not the same.
Half-Greek and half-Jew, Timothy stood out as an anomaly. He may not have been pure enough for real Jews or Greek enough for real Greeks. But when the Apostle Paul came to his hometown, carrying a unique message of reconciliation for both Greek and Jew alike, Timothy was exactly the partner Paul was looking for. To gain credibility for their journey, Timothy immediately endured the pain of adult circumcision. A bi-racial Timothy accompanied Paul to great evangelistic success and eventually shepherded God’s church like very few in the New Testament. Among the Greeks and Jews, he was not the same.
As I look over these three stories, I can’t help but come to a fascinating conclusion: if God wanted us all to be the same, he would have made it so. Instead, he created us differently. He positioned us in unique situations. He made us credible, trans-cultural, and distinct among certain people in certain places. He did this because He has a greater purpose than what we might initially realize.
Some of us have been given an ethnic identity that doesn’t always match our surroundings. We wonder why we stick out. We think we need to become something we’re not to survive. We may at times grow frustrated by a nagging inability to feel at home among our own people. But perhaps what appears to be a disadvantage is part of the plan.
Moses wasn’t like the other Hebrews in Egypt.
Esther wasn’t like the other Jews of Persia.
Timothy wasn’t like the other Greeks.
They weren’t the same and neither should you be.
What do Yolanda Adams (Gospel Artist), Michael Strahan (NFL), Barbara Jordan (US congressional representative), Mickey Leland (Activist and Congressman) and Belvin Perry (former Chief Judge) all have in common? These, among many other notable artist, physicians, judges, politician, US and state representatives, activists, lawyers, and NFL players and coaches, all graduated from Texas Southern University. TSU is a university birthed from a small private junior college that has become one of the most comprehensive and largest historically black universities in the nation. TSU is noted for its law, justice, public affairs, and athletic programs, but how can TSU be known for loving God and spreading the Gospel?
Three years ago, as I was walking past the campus after a school shooting, I thought to myself, “Oh God, What can I do?” Seeing the hurt and fear in the students eyes and knowing that this was only one in a series of incidents that were happening on the campus, I knew that God was the only way that this campus would heal and change. I was just an intern with Chi Alpha at the University of Houston (a university two blocks away) and wondering what could I do that would make a difference. That year I talked to my small group about how much I wanted to see God move at TSU, and a few of the girls in my small group caught the vision. That summer we started doing weekly prayer walks on the TSU campus and having intentional conversations with students. Before the summer was over, almost 15 UH students were meeting weekly to pray for and meet students at TSU. The next year we had six faithful TSU students plugged into our small groups. PRAISE GOD!!! My heart is to see TSU have a Chi Alpha of their own. One that has just as much TSU DNA as Chi Alpha DNA.
The Lord has definitely used this experience to challenge my thinking and the way I minister to students. Am I teaching cultural Christianity or Biblical Christianity? Am I being an active listener? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone when engaging with students? He’s also given me creative ways to meet students and start up Godly conversations. Something I've realized through this experience is the need for minority missionaries and US missionaries that will go outside of their cultural comfort zones to minister at HBCUs. I'm grateful that the Lord is raising up those who are saying “I will go”, and those who say “I will train.” Both are crucial for what the Lord is doing. The Lord has faithfully answered my question and taught me ‘what I can do’: always be willing to learn and serve others. So, in reading this, I hope you will begin to ask yourself the very same question I asked myself three years ago: “What can I do?”
Note: This is written for a Chi Alpha audience, but can apply in any ministry context.
Are you dreaming of the multitude of every nation, tribe, people, and language and longing to see God’s kingdom reflected in your local Chi Alpha group? Over the next three weeks we will expound on three simple and proven ministry truths to begin and to make progress in a Holy Spirit transformation in your community. Our first ministry truth is this: you get what you pray for.
#1 You Get What You Pray For
Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” He wasn’t referring to activity. We are very good at doing stuff on our own. He was referring to fruit, fruit that lasts. (John 15:16) To see eternal change in the lives of human beings, we need the holy sap of Jesus’ life to flow through us, and this requires prayer. The first, second, and last place to accomplish anything of significance is prayer. If you want to be a different kind of group, one that represents your campus and more importantly God’s kingdom, you need divine help. I truly believe you get what you pray for, so pray for…
Pray for revelation. Before we can share the vision for diversity, we need a personal revelation of what it means. Diversity is a word that has many definitions in our world, and though we do not find it in the Bible, we certainly find the model of multi-ethnic, unified communities living out a kingdom ethic. Revelation is the product of prayer combined with reading and study. As you delve into God’s word, pray for revelation for yourself, your fellow staff members, your student leaders and every student in your group.
Pray for deliverance. There are reasons our churches are racially and ethnically segregated. Some have to do with preference and tastes, but much has to do with sin. The sins of greed, lust, and power birthed the sin of racism in the United States. We cannot build communities that reflect God’s kingdom without deliverance, and we will not experience deliverance without repentance. Repent for your own prejudices and racism. It is also Biblical to repent on behalf of your nation (people group) and country (place where you live) (Daniel 9:3-19). Pray for deliverance from strongholds (entrenched ways of thinking) that influence many of us without our knowledge. Pray for freedom from the world’s ways of thinking, to no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). Instead pray for new ways of thinking (Rom 12:2).
Pray for kingdom-minded hearts. Many who love the vision of kingdom diversity don’t act on it for fear of what will happen in their groups or churches. How will my leaders and congregants respond? In a homogenous group, everything is tailored to the dominant group. How will that group feel when confronted with unpleasant truths and eventual changes? It is vital that you take the time to pray for kingdom-minded hearts. Pray in faith knowing that as you undertake your own journey of allowing God to renew your mind and transform your perspectives, you will be sowing seeds for transformation to happen in others.
Pray for protection. If there is one thing I have learned as I work to see our Chi Alpha groups accurately represent God’s kingdom on campus, it is that it is a battle. Anything you do, even if all you are doing is praying (and believe me that is enough), is a direct confrontation to entrenched spirits who have controlled our country for centuries. They have kept people and more importantly Christians separated. This separation, besides maligning the name of Christ, has limited the church’s effectiveness in world missions, reaching cities, executing justice, and yes, this is true even on our campuses. Your confrontation to these powers and principalities will not go unnoticed or unopposed. Pray for protection of your relationships (for this is where retaliation tends to come), your unity, and your community. Guard all your relationships and don’t give way to misunderstandings, wounds, pride, and any kind of unforgiveness.
Pray for wisdom. In addition to prayer, there will be things you will need to do and changes you will need to make to see God’s vision for your group come to pass. You can read books and get counsel, but deciding what to do and how to do it will require divine wisdom. These can be difficult waters to navigate. Everyone has an opinion on “diversity issues” and pretty much thinks theirs are right. Confronting strongholds, acting out our repentance, and making intentional changes in what you do, all require enormous amounts of wisdom. Take heart! God promises wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5).
Pray for partners. Transforming a group from homogenous to multi-ethnic is spiritual work--a work of the Spirit. It is something He alone can and does do. But he also uses vessels like you. However, you alone are not enough. In this case, the goal is also the strategy. Your goal is to see a multi-ethnic body on campus. You must find partners from underrepresented ethnic groups. How? Pray. Pray specifically for what you need and remember you are not praying for something you want, more importantly you are praying for something our Father desires. You are praying as Jesus taught his disciples, “Let your kingdom come and your will be done.” For this is his kingdom and this is his will.
You have a dream, a vision, a driving desire to see our Father’s kingdom reflected in your Chi Alpha group. I am ecstatic! I know that our Father is also pleased. After all, it is his kingdom we are representing. And that is what we must remember. It is his kingdom. He is the one who builds it, we are merely his partners and that partnership begins in prayer. This is the place we receive revelation, deliverance, wisdom, kingdom-minded hearts, and protection. This is where we pray for these for others and where God releases others to partner with us. Pray in faith! You get what you pray for.
One new humanity. There are many ways that I could come at this topic. There’s the story of our church, Peoples Church Cincinnati. There’s the theology of it. There’s the societal need for it. There’s the need of the Church itself, to become who she is called to be to accomplish what she’s been purchased for, by His blood. And oh, how the earth would be different, and will be, different. All of these are different angles from which we could come to the content of this blog post.
But let me start with the story in Acts 20. We can all see that for ourselves. Paul calls for a meeting of the elders of Ephesus. He’s on his last trip back to Jerusalem. His last time ever. But on the way back he has the ship pull into the harbor at Miletus, and from that coastal town calls for a meeting of the Ephesian elders who come down from 20 miles or so north. It might be good that you take a minute to read the story.
Paul pours out his heart to the elders. He reminds them of all that he has taught them. The complete plan of God, the whole will or counsel of God. He warns them with all intensity; defend what you’ve been given! People will try to tear this up. Don't let it happen!
What was it that so drove Paul to make such an energy-consuming stop to make sure he had this final meeting with the Ephesian crew that he’d already lived among and taught so earnestly for three years? What was this “complete plan” that Luke has Paul referring to in Acts 20:27?
Before we drive into the answer to that question allow me to share another story. The story of two temples, starting with the one in Ezekiel.
If you're like me, you’ve always wondered what is this temple? After all, it’s never been built. And yes, we have made some attempts at fitting it into certain eschatological frameworks, but at a very basic level, it’s just confusing! No one knows what it means!
Why has God gone to such detail to have Ezekiel describe this never built temple? Not only has it never been built--it’s not Solomon’s temple, nor Ezra’s, nor Herod’s--but it seems to pre-figure a temple in the New City, the Revelation 21-22 new Jerusalem, both with living water flowing from them with trees on both sides of the river for healing. There’s just ONE PROBLEM: Revelation 21:22 says there's NO TEMPLE in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple!
So, what is this temple in Ezekiel? Could it be a prefiguring of the temple of the Lord in the New Covenant, the people of God? I was studying Ezekiel 43:10 and seeking the Lord in preparation for writing a book. I couldn’t leave Ezek. 43:8-11 for several days. Then this happened:
As I was prayerfully meditating over Ezek. 43:10-11 for the dozenth time or so, “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple--its arrangement, it's exits and entrances--its whole design and all its regulations and laws,” suddenly this hits me: He's not talking about a physical temple in physical Jerusalem, He’s talking about His people, the temple of the Lord. I immediately felt prompted to look at Ephesians 2:21, “In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” Both Ezekiel and Paul are speaking spiritually about the same thing!
Now, I was stunned. Two major inspirations were converging...Paul’s Acts 20 Ephesian elders meeting on the beach at Miletus (the complete plan of God talk) and Ezekiel’s 43:10-11 temple description. The Lord was telling Ezekiel, “make known to my people the whole design” of the temple, make known its perfection, and Paul was also saying, “I gave you the whole plan/counsel of God,” with tears and trembling, night and day over 3 years! Later, in his book to the Ephesian church outlining the plan in detail, Paul calls them a temple (Eph. 2:21).
And both temples lead to living water rivers, in Ezekiel 47 and in Revelation 21-22, with trees on either side for the healing of the nations. For Ezekiel, it’s from under the threshold of the temple. From Paul and the New Testament “temple,” or Bride, it’s from under the throne of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who “are its temple” at the center of the Holy City (Rev. 21:22), the city also called a Bride (Rev. 21:9). Somewhere Jesus said, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.” John 8:17
Now, again, if you’re like me you need some time to think on this and look at these scriptures for yourself. As you do, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate to you what you are reading. He does that for us. He will do that for you. And if what I’m thinking is wrong, thanks for reading this blog post! Obviously, you can just ignore the rest of what I will share. : )
So what are we talking about?
I’m glad you asked. I believe scripture reveals a comprehensive plan/purpose of God for His Church. How it’s designed, what it’s to be and what all it will do. I believe it’s a specific design set. And He refers to it as One New Humanity, a temple, a building, a Body, a Bride, and a Holy City. I also believe we’ve inadvertently, or sinfully, missed it. REALLY MISSED IT.
So, in the blogs to come, we will unpack these things:
After the worst summer of her life, Bethany Baldwin decided her sophomore year to find a place where God could heal her broken heart. She then found an old Chi Alpha flyer. Hungry for God and for community, she knew just from the piece of paper that Chi Alpha was the place to be. The first service she attended changed her life. She quickly got connected with a small group and began reading the Bible on her own.
Determined to attend grad school, she toured several campuses but didn’t feel God confirming her decision. At a West Coast SALT conference, she realized God had a different plan for her life: campus ministry.
She began raising support and preparing to move 2000 miles to do her internship in Raleigh, North Carolina, but support raising proved to be a significant challenge. Bethany is from the Navajo reservation. She never attended church growing up.
Most of her support initially came from other Chi Alpha friends. Struggling to finish her budget in time to begin the internship, her campus pastor told her about the Minority Mobilization Fund (MMF). After applying and being approved to receive funds, Bethany’s needs were met!
Today she directs the XAi program at Northern Arizona University. She also has a heart for seeing Chi Alpha established in Las Vegas. This past Spring she led the first prayer team to UNLV where some doors are beginning to open. As she continues the work God has a called her to do, Bethany also gives back to the MMF knowing that those resources can help more missionaries fulfill their call.
The MMF connects minority missionaries to their calling through anchor level support during their intern year. Not only does it help them raise their full budget, but it also instills a confidence that they can lead a lifetime of campus missions and are valuable to our movement. Thank you for supporting the MMF!
As a new freshman walking across the Sam Houston State campus, Joe Sedillo was invited to play Capture the Flag. During the game, he was invited to Chi Alpha where he soon became involved with his first group of Christian brothers. It wasn’t until he attended a Discover the Nations conference that Joe began to feel a deep burden to disciple students from the nations and a call toward campus ministry.
Receiving help from the Minority Mobilization Fund (MMF), Joe was able to complete his first year of the internship in a financially healthy place. The growth he experienced that year set him on a path toward a lifetime of campus ministry. Now after four years on staff at Sam Houston State, Joe and his wife Nicole are preparing for their next adventure.
Along with their newborn daughter Quinn, the Sedillos are leading a Chi Alpha planting team to Buffalo State in New York. They plan to start in January 2019. Their team will be one of the first Chi Alpha plants in the Empire State, home to almost a million college students.
It’s hard to think of a better investment of resources than in people like Joe who are taking the gospel to uncharted campuses around the country. Our MMF dollars have an immediate and eternal impact by equipping and sending minority laborers for the Kingdom of God. Thank you for making the MMF possible and joining in the pledge drive this month!
More about the Minority Mobilization Fund....
As a commuter student, Tien didn’t have many friends when she started college. But through some people she knew from high school, she heard about Chi Alpha. Her life was dramatically changed as, for the first time, the love of Jesus was demonstrated to her. Through those relationships, she soon found Jesus and gave her life to Him.
During her time in college, Tien had the great privilege of discipling young women and seeing many come to Christ. During her junior year, she realized that campus ministry was something the Lord was leading her to do for the rest of her life. The challenges of support raising loomed large as most of her Vietnamese family did not support her financially.
This past year Tien received anchor level support from the Minority Mobilization Fund (MMF) as an intern at the University of Houston. Today, you can find her leading her campus worship team, resourcing student leaders, and creatively promoting Chi Alpha on her campus.
Tien sees herself in full-time ministry for the rest of her life. Experiencing first hand the strategic value of university missions, she can’t imagine doing anything else. She credits the MMF in helping her make the transition into a lifetime of missions.
Thank you for helping the next generation of campus missionaries get on the field through giving to the MMF. We’re already seeing great fruit through your amazing and faithful generosity!
I am super excited to be in the midst of the 2018 Minority Mobilization Fund (MMF) Pledge Drive!* I love the MMF because it is helping Chi Alpha to wake the sleeping giant--sending out ethnic minorities into the university mission field. We will not be successful in completing the great commission without EVERYONE's participation! Here are a few reasons why it is so important to have a diverse missionary force--specifically in Chi Alpha in the USA from chialpha.com/mmf.
“Having a diverse missionary team shows the campus that the gospel is for everyone. Diversity opens doors and provides teams a broader voice. It also increases the diversity of gifts within our movement. Culture groups share unique strengths. We need diversity in our staff teams for the same reasons we pursue them in our stock portfolios to protect against potential weaknesses and increase our returns."
Each person is created and uniquely gifted to reach certain people. We need all the gifts of all God's children to reach ALL people. I am so thankful for our Chi Alpha family that is partnering with the MMF to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
*The MMF helps new minority missionaries by awarding Training and Anchor Level Support Grants. Training Grants are awarded to help with one-time costs such as RUI Registration, CMIT fees, and Berean courses. Anchor-Level grants provide fifteen percent of a new missionaries budget.
More about the Minority Mobilization Fund....
As a freshman at Loyola University in New Orleans, Joshua Byrd spotted a flyer advertising a worship gathering at the front of the school. Hoping to make friends, he attended and soon became part of Chi Alpha. Although as a student he felt God calling him to campus ministry and a burden to see students shaped by the love of God, he wasn’t sure what a career in campus missions would actually look like.
When it came time for graduation, Joshua received two different job offers from former companies he had interned at. Instead he chose to become a CMIT to be trained in campus missions.
During his internship year, Joshua was one of the first ever recipients of an anchor level support grant from the Minority Mobilization Fund. He credits his anchor level support as a significant financial help, allowing him in part to be able to raise his support and pay his bills each month.
What started off as one year of missions turned into two. Now each week, he disciples men on his campus and equips students to lead worship. Throughout the year he instructs student leaders and shares in preaching duties. Recently Joshua made an incredible five-year commitment to campus missions at Loyola. This next fall, he will be transitioning into the director role of Chi Alpha at Loyola, the same school where he started as a freshman years ago.
The initial investment made by MMF donors into Joshua’s first year of ministry is continuing to pay dividends for years to come. Thank you, Chi Alpha Nation, for believing in this strategic effort to raise up laborers from all different people’s groups.
More about the Minority Mobilization Fund....