This morning started with an uncomfortable conversation with my son. On the second day of school, his personal clothing choice was a bit sloppy and involved a hoodie.
It shouldn’t have been a big deal.
But it is.
My son is an African American young man.
We talked about the tragedy over the weekend. A young black man died. According to witnesses, his hands were raised in defense. He was unarmed. Now Michael Brown’s name joins others like Trayvon Martin.
We don’t know what led up to the event of the shooting. We might question why the officer shot Michael so many times. The reaction to the news is even worse. It’s heartbreaking to watch peaceful protest become violence in the streets. It becomes disconcerting to see the militarization of a police force trying to curb the chaos. From a distance or even on the ground, we may never understand all of the moving pieces.
As Christians, we should be praying for one simple thing: Justice. Not the type of justice that equates an eye for an eye or a life for life, but justice that is real and comes bundled with mercy and forgiveness. We need the justice Jesus brings. The situation in Ferguson requires it.
Please remember: Racial tensions still exist. In many urban and suburban environments, there is a palpable tension that sits right below the surface. It takes very little to set off a powder keg of pent-up emotion.
The argument that the racial issues marring our national history are over is false. They still exist and are often spurred forward by the web and other social media cloisters. Yes, we have an African American president and Attorney General. That does not mean racial hatred is over.
Don’t wrongly hear me. There is progress. But don’t be fooled. These tensions are very much present. I have personally been called names and even had to leave a Missouri restaurant because of our unique family. Unfortunately, as a father, I must inform my sons that in many contexts, as African American young men, they will be deemed guilty until something overwhelmingly proves to be the opposite case. And sometimes that’s too late. One needs to look no further than the recent settlement of the “shopping while black” case by the retail store Barney’s.
What changes this situation?
In her poignant book The New White Nationalism in America, Carol Swain argues the only hope for healing in this is the church. Where should all races come together in one place as equal before their creator? The church! Where should we find solace when chaos breaks out? In the church!
Please hear me: I am not attempting to give a trite answer here. These are complex cultural issues with a long historical presence in our nation. The conversations addressing racial issues have multiple levels and are hard to solve. That being said, no other social structure can bring the unity of a local congregation when that body is living the claims of Christ. When churches begin to sacrifice preference for the Gospel, changes in a community begin to happen. Have we already forgotten the amazing events surrounding the Jena, Louisiana revivals? In the midst of intense racial tensions in this small Louisiana town, churches came together and the tension diffused completely and even led to the repentance of the chief of police for his part in escalating the tension.
But we don’t have to wait for events like this to happen. We can be proactive! We are Gospel people after all! If your congregation is in an urban or suburban context, what are you doing to bring healing in your midst? Are you seeking to reach those of different races and cultural contexts? Are the racial proportions of the general populace in a five-mile radius of your congregation even remotely reflective of your membership? Instead of Sunday being the most segregated hour of the week, let’s be the true body of Christ!
As I reminded my son, Ferguson is not the last place these issues are going to arise. Next time, it could be our community. He needs to continually be mindful of how he conducts himself with authorities and others. When the heart of humanity is broken by sin, the only hope for ourselves or our community is found in the Savior.
It’s nothing new for Christians. In fact, Jesus warned us.
Persecution is real.
There’s never been a generation since the time of Christ where Christians have avoided it. Yes, often it is regional and not global, but that’s always been the case – even for much of the early church.
Over the summer, those of us in the West have seen and heard report after report of the collapse of the Iraqi national army and the rise of ISIS. This has led to what some are calling a new holocaust. Christians who have been present in the region of Iraq and Eastern Syria for over 1900 years were ordered to leave, pay a fine or be killed. Those who chose to pay a fine and seek peace found their wives and daughters taken from them and claimed for the ISIS troops and their sons murdered. It takes a simple Google search to find images of children of Christian parents beheaded with their heads on pikes in the park. This weekend, the vicar of the Anglican church in Baghdad reported that a father in the church saw his 5 year old son cut in two by soldiers.
What are we to do?
1.) Weep. As I read the story of the five year old killed because of his father’s faith in Christ, I could do nothing else. Is you heart breaking over what your brothers and sisters are facing?
2.) Get educated. Join the Voice of the Martyrs website to understand and know more about what is happening on a global scale. While Iraq captures the attention of many due to the gross excess of ISIS, the same tactics are being used in Africa and other locations. Persecution is a global reality and it’s time we were educated on this.
3.) Be an advocate. Our representative form of government in the US gives you a unique opportunity to put leverage on your congressman or congresswoman to make a change that could bring some help. Considering it took major news outlets significant time to catch on to this story, we can be grateful for the action of President Obama to authorize air strikes, but more significant action will probably be needed. You can express your solidarity with fellow Christians and contact your representatives. In addition, be an advocate in your congregation for prayer and meeting the needs of believers globally!
4.) Fast and Pray. This last week, a friend of mine in Texas appealed to his friends for a day of prayer and fasting for the persecuted church. He hosted an early-morning prayer gathering in his home and encouraged individuals to come. What could happen if we took time from our small groups and our services to simply stop and pray for the persecuted church? What if we gave up a meal or two in order to remind ourselves of the pain these families are feeling? We can go before the very throne of God and make appeal for our brothers and sisters!
5.) Give. Don’t give to assuage some misplaced form of guilt. Give because it matters and it saves lives. Baptist Global Response has been called up to provide specific and targeted relief for those displaced by this tragedy. Because of the unique funding structures of Southern Baptists, 100% of gifts go to the relief cause. You can give by going to the Baptist Global Response page or right now you can give $10 by texting imbrelief to 80888
We live in perilous days yet we can make a difference. Let’s get involved for our brothers and sisters in Christ!
“These kids were born into a digital TV land,” Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom Inc.’s Nickelodeon Group, stated in a New York Times article this past Sunday. The challenge is clear. How do stations like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon compete in an era when kids “barely distinguish among a television set, a laptop, a tablet and a mobile phone?”
Have no fear. Kids still watch TV. It’s just consumed differently. Kids use every device available to get at the same content. In the same New York Times article, readers are given Neilson’s Cross-Platform Report for the first quarter of 2014. On average, kids are consuming 111 hours and 47 minutes of content per month (or almost 4 hours a day if you’re counting).
While we could discuss parenting or other factors that relates to children’s consumption of shows, concepts, worldviews, etc. over those 4 hours a day, I have a different question: How do we relate to these children in our ministry structures? Are we to begin to morph our ministries into cross-platform theo-tainment venues where children are inundated with more of the same, but with Jesus and better morals?
I would argue that in a cross-platform, entertainment-driven culture, we need to up the ante, but not through the development of new religious programing or Gospel-centered apps. Instead, our communities of faith hold the key to reaching the next generation for Christ.
How? There are seven main ways your congregation can still reach digital citizens without capitulating to the same methods.
1) Gather a phenomenal team. Passion matters. You want young adults, senior adults and college students who long to see children encounter a living God. Their enthusiasm should be contagious to those the parents they encounter and the children they teach. This creates an environment of joy that overcomes almost every negative stereotype projected of flannel-graph toting, bun wearing, frown showing Sunday School teachers that make people recoil in horror.
2) Resource your team. Your kids ministry should be the most exciting place on earth to serve. Love your volunteers. Train them. Help them understand just how essential their place of service is in the overall kingdom! They need not feel as if they are biding their time in kiddie purgatory! Stoke those fires of creativity and listen to the gifts and skills of your team as they seek to make a difference.
3) Create a safe environment. Safety is paramount. Please – I know it costs – but PLEASE background check every volunteer and worker in your kids (and youth) ministry. Institute a tag system for all kids in your ministry. Most of these are available through the data-management software that your congregation is already using. Use it and train your team in using it. Be safe. Keep the kids safe. In the wake of ministries in the news lately, please take steps to protect every child in your care.
4) Help families worship together. Kids need to see mom and dad worshipping God. If we want children to connect with the truths of Scripture, every kid needs the opportunity to worship God in the context of the broader community of faith. They will be loud, they may bug their parents or those around them, but get them in the service. How else will they know what it’s like to see people moved by the power of the Gospel or understand the calling of Christ in their own life. Corporate worship is essential. If mom and dad don’t attend, have families ready to sit with them in service.
5) Give families opportunities to serve together. Moms and dads should be serving with their church in fantastic places. Kids should also have ownership over some ministry aspects where they can serve the congregation at a developmentally appropriate level. Maybe as part of the greeter team or helping with check-in to the kids ministry along with trained adults. In addition, try to create a church-wide, family mission trip each year where your 3rd-6th graders can serve in your community with mom and dad. This is life altering for many kids.
6) Don’t short the Bible. Kids should have fun in your ministry, but they also should learn. They should be connecting to the truths of Scripture week in and week out. In churches I have pastored, we have used great curriculum from David C. Cook that helps parents teach the lesson before the kids arrive on Sunday encouraging home discipleship. I also really like the approach of the Gospel Project for Kids where they can get the main ideas of the Scripture. Both worked well. Both emphasized a meaty lesson for kids. Both brought the Gospel and connected it with real life. Both built into the heart of children the disciplines of Scripture memory.
7) Jesus must be the center. Point each child to Christ. Make sure your team is well versed in Evangelism. They should be soul-winners in their personal life and intentional about sharing the Gospel with kids as they come into contact with your ministry. But not just the kids! Parents need the Good News of Jesus as well!
Increasingly, our reality of engaging kids each week will become more challenging, but your church can still exercise creativity and accomplish what God has called us to do!
In what ways are your church engaging the kids in your neighborhood?
John Mark Yeats