Should church small groups be filed exclusively under the rubric of “Stuff White People Like”? That’s the provocative question that Leadership Journal‘s Out of Ur blog recently posed. The ensuing conversation raises some interesting questions about faith, race, and the role that culture plays in shaping our ecclesiological practices.
Should church small groups be filed exclusively under the rubric of “Stuff White People Like”? That’s the provocative question that Leadership Journal‘s Out of Ur blog recently posed. Riffing off an interview with leaders from River City Community Church, a multiethnic congregation in Chicago, writer Sam O’Neal wondered aloud if small groups are primarily “a white way to do church.” And the conversation among River City’s leaders does raise some interesting questions about the role that culture plays in shaping our ecclesiological practices.
“The fact is small groups aren’t as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people,” says Arloa Sutter, River City’s pastor of community life.
Adds senior pastor Daniel Hill: “White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically, more relationally.”
Panhandlers and beggars seem to bombard us in the city. They wash our windshields at stoplights and then come to our windows expecting payment. They cling to ragtag cardboard signs and approach us with forlorn faces. Some are missing limbs. They sit in wheelchairs holding dirty cups. Some are in obvious need. We can tell by looking in their eyes that they truly are blind or hungry or ill.
What should we do?
As the leader of a large organization that specializes in ministry among the homeless, let me give you my expert opinion: I don’t know!
I think God gives us these dilemmas to cause us to rely on the compassion of Christ he has implanted in our hearts. Coming face to face with someone who asks us for money is an opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit, instead of being driven by guilt or obligation or the desire to bolster our own ego as a “generous person.” There is no simple answer.
Jesus said in Luke 6:30 that we are to give to everyone who asks of us. Most of us are hesitant to do that because we are afraid that we will be taken advantage of. Perhaps the recipient of our charity will use our hard-earned cash for booze or drugs. Surely giving to someone who would use our money for those purposes would not be in anyone’s best interest, would it? Yet, the directive is clear. We are to give without question and without judgment.
While we don’t want to contribute to someone’s addiction, it is helpful to understand that people who are living on the street usually do not have access to appropriate pain medicine, mental health counseling, or the gentle pacifiers such as chocolate and ice cream that we turn to when we need a lift. Who are we to judge them for how they spend money? I certainly have not always made the best decisions with the money that God sends my way. Yet God keeps giving to me.
On the other hand, our gifts do not always have to be cash. I urge people to give financial gifts to organizations that specialize in wise care for the under-resourced — like Sunshine Gospel Ministries, Circle Urban Ministries, or my own Breakthrough Ministries — and then get involved by volunteering to help those ministries. Then, when asked for cash, we can respond like Peter and John did when confronted by the crippled beggar. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:1-10).
A financial gift to a mission or an organization that provides opportunities for the homeless will help men and women who have been crippled by life get back on their feet and — in the name of Jesus Christ — walk a new walk. As stewards of the resources God entrusts to us, we want to make sure our gifts to the poor are invested wisely.
Instead of giving cash to people on the street, we can give directions, or perhaps a ride, to the nearest ministry that provides loving care in the name of Christ. Like the Good Samaritan that Jesus described in Luke 10, we can transport those who are battered and broken to the nearest rehab center and pay for their rehabilitation.
I have a friend who always gives people exactly what they ask for. If they ask for change, he gives them change. If they ask for a couple of dollars, he gives them a couple of dollars. He says that in the grand scheme of things, considering his budget for giving to the poor, the amount of money he hands out is actually relatively small. He thinks we make a bigger deal of being taken advantage of than we should. After all, Jesus let himself be stripped, beaten, and hung on a cross unjustly to show his great love. It is not likely that we will ever experience that much injustice in our giving to the poor.
The June 13th entry in Oswald Chambers’s great My Utmost for His Highest reads, “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” So, again, we are asked to let the Spirit guide our practices when we come face to face with someone asking us for money.
One thing I am quite certain about is this: When I stand before God in the judgment, I don’t think he is going to drill me about how smart and frugal I was when I was face to face with someone who asked me for money. I doubt that God will point out how proud he is of me that I didn’t let myself get scammed by someone who was lying to get a few bucks out of me.
God is more likely to say something like this: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Today marks President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed bailouts, stimulus bills, budget battles, Korean rockets, gangbanging pirates, Michelle’s arms, a dog named Bo, and most recently an international outbreak of swine flu. Given the magnitude of issues facing our nation right now, 100 days seems hardly enough time to measure a presidency.
Still, right or wrong, we view those initial 100 days as the first significant benchmark of a U.S. president’s effectiveness. And there clearly are important things that we can glean about the man from watching his progress out of the gate. That’s why we asked a variety of urban pastors and ministry leaders to share their impressions of our new president on the occasion of his 100th day. Read their critiques, and then let us know what you think.
ERIC REDMOND: At 100 days into office, a significant decision of the President has been to attempt to make life as normal as possible for Malia, Sasha, and Mrs. Obama. Scenes of the Obamas walking Bo on the White House grounds are visible indicators of his endeavor to fulfill this goal. Hopefully President Obama will continue, as often as possible, to enjoy dinner and conversation with his family, play with his girls, and hold nightly his First Lady. This will strengthen the country beyond 100 months from now, when he is no longer President, but still a husband and a father.
Rev. Eric C. Redmond is senior pastor of Reformation Alive Baptist Church and Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at Washington Bible College, both in Maryland. He is the author of Where Are All The Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church and blogs at A Man from Issachar.
CHRISTOPHER BULLOCK: President Obama has proven to be a visionary leader with an ambitious policy agenda. One of his greatest challenges is the Middle East. The stakes are high and complex. Issues of war and rumors of nuclear war and achieving a two-state solution are preeminent. The Holy Land is the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; yet it is consumed with so much unholy activity. In Obama’s pursuit of sustainable peace in the Middle East, he must toil relentlessly against racism, poverty, and militarism in the name of justice …with the prophetic hope of studying war no more.
Dr. Christopher Alan Bullock is pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, Delaware. He founded the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, which brought national attention to inadequate healthcare in Delaware prisons. He previously served as senior pastor of two historic churches, Eighth Street Baptist Church of Wilmington, Delaware (1990-98), and Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago (1998-2004).
ARLOA SUTTER: As I watched the election returns on Nov. 4, 2008, my Westside Chicago neighborhood was unusually silent. The moment the announcement was made that Barack Obama had won, the neighborhood erupted in glee. People ran into the streets and danced. It was a time of great joy. We saw an immediate transformation in the kids in our afterschool program. They now hold their heads high and speak of their dreams. They identify with Sasha and Malia. Someone who understands them is in the White House. The change in their hearts and aspirations is beyond policies and legislation. They have hope. That said, I hope President Obama changes his mind on reducing tax incentives for charitable donations. We need both private and public funds to tackle the challenges we face in impoverished communities.
Dr. Arloa Sutter is the executive director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago. Breakthrough supports men and women who struggle with homelessness by offering food, clothing, and shelter along with many holistic services. Breakthrough also operates a thriving program for youth and their families in East Garfield Park, one of Chicago’s most impoverished communities, providing sports and arts programs, academic assistance, and Bible studies. She blogs at arloasutter.blogspot.com.
HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR: The first 100 days of the administration of President Barack Obama further expanded our sense of him as a man of vision and reason. He projects the type of diplomatic outreach necessary for the United States to be a “chief among equals” in world leadership, and he possesses a compassion for “the least of these” that frames his reform agenda for healthcare, education and the economy. But vision alone cannot serve as the total package for any president. President Obama’s greatest challenges will be to move from vision to statecraft, the actual art of governing in a democracy of checks and balances.
While the Senate moves toward a 60-40 Democrat majority, there will still be areas where the President will have to negotiate with the legislature around issues such as how to fund healthcare reform, appropriate resources for access to higher education, and manage the many moving parts of the recovery act. Political scientist Robert Smith argued persuasively in his book We Have No Leaders that African Americans must not be satisfied with symbolic politics — they cannot view office holding in and of itself as victory. Rather, the highest dignity is afforded Black politicians when we hold them to standards of effective statecraft, what Smith calls “political deliverables” that reflect decisions made and executed for the good of the nation, and especially its most vulnerable.
President Obama has the vision, without which a people perish. History will tell if the Red Sea will part at the lifting of his staff.
DAVID ANDERSON: It was a dark night on the open sea when the bullets ripped across the air with precision, killing three Somali pirates who held hostage an American captain. Barack Obama was indeed tested in his first six months, just like Joe Biden predicted. The retort during the campaign was whether Obama had the judgment to handle conflicts internationally. Within four days, victory for the president’s first use of military force answered the question about his judgment in his first 100 days.
In addition to judgment, the sheer volume of work has been enormous as the Obama administration accomplished more work on Day One than any president in recent history. Obama continued to state during his campaign that a president must be able to do more than one thing at a time. Has he ever. From international travel, rebuilding damaged bridges with countries that had come to see us as arrogant bullies, to a badly broken economic system, Obama has been up for the task.
No one could ever accuse the new president of being a lazy man. So far his work ethic has been strong, his wife has been graceful, and his candor with the American people has been ongoing. The president is communicating almost daily through news conferences, public appeal, and the Internet, making the American people feel informed and connected to his administration.
While some hope he fails, there are many more who are hoping — and praying — that he and our country succeeds.
CHERYL SANDERS: President Obama’s greatest success during his first 100 days has been to demonstrate his personal and political prowess as a world leader. He has taken full responsibility for addressing the challenges of a failed U.S. economy and two morally questionable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far he has proposed bold policies to remedy these and other pressing matters without denying the complex realities involved. My prayer is that he will have the vision, the focus, and the stamina necessary to guide our nation in the crafting and implementation of credible solutions to our current problems at home and abroad.
Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders has been senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., since 1997, and is Professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity where she has taught since 1984. She has authored several books, including Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth & the Poor (1997) and Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996).
RANDY WOODLEY: “It was the worst of times.” I had great hopes for the American spirit when President Obama was elected. That election night I told my 10-year-old son, “You can be anything you want now.” In spite of Obama’s conciliatory demeanor, the worst of conservative partisanship has surfaced to disrupt America’s move forward. This powerful rip across the pages of the American Myth of Homogeneity has exposed a concert of attacks on every move forward. America’s best hope has unwittingly unleashed unholy hosts (Limbaugh, Hannity, Boehner, Cheney, and others) who launched a great spoiler campaign. Pray for America.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian lecturer, poet, activist, pastor, historian and Professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Oregon. He is the author of Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity.
THABITI ANYABWILE: The most important thing President Barack Obama has done in his first 100 days is continue to love his wife and children. I’m among the many who find wonderfully refreshing encouragement and joy in watching the first family. The most important thing he hopefully will continue to do in his presidency is love his wife and provide his girls attentive love and a godly example of manhood. The incomprehensible irony, of course, is that his greatest policy failure is the creation of an atmosphere and agenda that prevents so many families, daughters, and sons from ever entering the world. One prays for life-affirming consistency.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. He was previously an assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Pure Church and is the author of The Decline of African American Theology.
RODOLPHO CARRASCO: He’s growing on me. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t agree with many of his policies and prescriptions, whether domestic or foreign. I think he’s trying to re-engineer American society all at once, and it’s not going to turn out as he and his allies hope. But I think he’s taking his job seriously. I think he wants to do a good job and serve many people. I pray he will listen to things which, at present, he openly opposes. I pray for him and his precious family regularly.
Rodolpho Carrasco is the executive director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California. Harambee provides afterschool programs and a private, Christian school that emphasize personal responsibility and indigenous leadership development. He blogs at UrbanOnramps.com.
LEROY ARMSTRONG: Leadership is solution oriented. I highly commend President Obama for courageously confronting the manifold problems facing our nation with salient solutions. I also commend him for seeking to make our government more transparent to the American people, so that we can get a better picture of what really is happening in Washington. With his affection for President Lincoln, I pray President Obama will, in similar fashion as in 1863 during a time of national crisis, call our nation to prayer and fasting, and to quote Lincoln, “… humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Rev. Leroy R. Armstrong Jr. is senior pastor of The House of Hope Church in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, Texas. He is also president of . He previously served as pastor of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and St. John Missionary Baptist Church of Dallas. Early in his ministry, he also served as Executive Pastor of Christian Education at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, under the late Dr. E. K. Bailey.
NICHOLAS ROWE: President Obama’s election, received warmly and seen as iconic, was a significant event here in South Africa given this country’s past. However, the glow wore off quickly amid the fears of the global economy (and the American role in it). Americans are regarded warmly, but their government and its designs on the continent still raise suspicion. The president will get a hearing (especially given the deep unpopularity of the last administration), but South Africans are waiting to see how Obama will do on two fronts: how his leadership will affect global economic issues, and how he will deal with other suitors for African attention, especially China and India.
Dr. Nicholas Rowe is Head of Humanities and Education at St. Augustine College of South Africa. He is also involved in peace-building and reconciliation efforts in Africa as director of Reconciliation Projects for . Previously a professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, he now lives in Johannesburg with his wife, Sheila Wise Rowe, and two children.
SHERON PATTERSON: President Obama’s first 100 days gave America and the world the opportunity to see freshness, innovation, and confidence at work in one person. He shows us that walking in your anointing looks like. Whether he is tackling the budget, torture in Guantanamo, embryonic stem-cell research, or the struggle in Afghanistan, our president does not allow himself to be rattled or shaken by the haters.
I do have one request of our leader, however. I understand that he has assembled a group of clergy that he prays with and seeks counsel from, yet none of these clergy are women. If this is true, I say, “Please, Mr. President, don’t forget the clergy sisters; we know how to pray too!”
Dr. Sheron C. Patterson is the senior pastor of Put on Your Crown: The Black Woman’s Guide to Living Single. Visit her at .in Dallas. An author, columnist, and health and wellness expert, her books include
KEN FONG: One hundred days ago, Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office facing unprecedented crises. An economy in free-fall. A severely compromised justice system. Two impossible-to-win wars. A bloated healthcare system that leaves millions of Americans without basic coverage. An environment teetering on the brink. And as our nation’s first African American president, Obama took up these challenges under intense scrutiny, as the press and people wondered if he truly has what it takes to sit capably in one of the world’s hottest of seats.
As he demonstrated on the campaign trail, President Obama has continued to come across as cool under fire, thoughtful about complex issues, unafraid to search for the best minds and the best advice. I have been taken aback by how starved I was for a president who was clearly erudite, even-keeled, and not just articulate but inspirational as he has shown himself to be. History must wait awhile before it can legitimately issue him a report card — one hundred days is far too short a period to determine whether his solutions to our nation’s problems were the right ones. However, one of the things I believe he has clearly done well already is to begin restoring the good name of America in the rest of the world. Who knew that simple gestures like a warm handshake, a genuine smile, or refraining from speaking in disrespectful and dismissive ways could so quickly thaw our nation’s relationships with other countries, especially those that have been declared our “enemies”? At a time in our history where both problems and solutions clearly require global cooperation, it is reassuring to have a person in the Oval Office who obviously grasps this.
Rev. Dr. Ken Fong has been the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles since 1996. He has been a trustee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Westmont College, and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. He has taught at Fuller Seminary, Haggard School of Theology, and is an adjunct at Bakke Graduate University. He has authored two books, including Secure in God’s Embrace: Living As the Father’s Adopted Child.
NORMAN PEART: It’s clear from his first 100 days that President Obama is committed to change. Some change I’ve applauded — like aggressively continuing to address the financial downturn in America, correcting gender-based pay discrepancies, shifting military focus to Afghanistan, and bolstering health coverage to children. But some change concerns me, such as expanding embryonic stem cell research, supporting domestic and overseas abortion rights, and expanding government while increasing the national debt.
Yet I continue to pray that this determined president will allow the Lord to direct his steps. There are three clear evidences that will reveal this guidance. First, President Obama will change his status from that of absentee to regular attendee in a Bible-teaching church. As the kings of Israel were instructed to lead with God’s Law always before them in order to gain a higher wisdom, so he will need the same divine counsel.
Second, he will reject the typical protocol for those in power — this protocol was evidenced in the Obamas’ glamour makeover resulting in the media’s hype of “a return to Camelot” — and encourage change by modeling humility and restraint in a time of economic uncertainty.
Third, he will draw from his unique insights as a minority to change the top-down agenda of most world leaders’ gatherings to include the needs of the devalued of the world — whether sexually exploited young women in America’s inner-cities or orphaned children in Darfur, Africa. My prayer is that he, like the prophet Habakkuk, will echo concern for the lowly masses of the nations who are treated as insignificant pawns by the powerful.
The change that has begun will continue, but may we remember our role and responsibility in guiding its course. Let us pray for the change we need.
Dr. Norman Peart is the senior pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary, North Carolina, and the author of Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church.
MARK DE YMAZ: As last year’s historic race for the presidency now overwhelmingly confirms, demographic shifts have brought change to America. And whether for or against his policies, one must agree that Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office represent the reality of a new era in which diverse people must learn to walk and to work together as one.
Likewise, Christ-centered leaders can no longer afford to overlook the implications for themselves personally, or for the diverse people they must lead in the future. Failure to recognize the changing landscape or to adapt in accordance with Scripture may soon render their work or, worse yet, their message irrelevant.
Dr. Mark DeYmaz is lead pastor of Mosaic Church, a multiethnic and economically diverse congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. He blogs at www.markdeymaz.com and is the author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.
Now, let us know what you think of President Obama’s first 100 days and these commentaries from our 15 leaders.