Archive for the ‘church’ Category

In a few days we will be leaving on a plane to Atlanta for a nine day retreat and then on to Pittsburgh,PA.  Yes it is official. .This means I will be out of the blogosphere for a while. That’s until we get settled. Once we touch down and get things in order then I will be back with new posts, contests, and new plans (can u guess them?) since I will be seeking to create a larger platform for the ideas in this blog.

In the meantime, here is a preview of upcoming blogposts. Pick your favorite and I will dedicate it to you. Just comment below and if you have a blog or twitter give me your url or twitter handle and you will get free publicity from yours truly. So here they are:

Racism: Pointing Out the Problem or Being a Solution

Life in the Pitt: Week One

The Book of Ramon Explained

Manifesto of a Race-Transcending Prophet

Black or African American: What’s the Difference?

The Case for Reparations

The Confessions of an Ex-Pastor: Ten things I learned as a pastor

So there u go. Think of it like dedications on the radio except no mushy love song. Just tell me which one is your favorite and if you have a website, blog, or twitter handle I will mention it in my post. If you don’t get into the top 7 don’t worry I will still mention you in later posts.



One of the big differences that I have seen between the black church and the white church involves preaching. It boils down to this: the stated goal of preaching is different therefore the delivery and content are different. The black preacher preaches in order to lift up. He knows he is talking to people who have been down and who face huge obstacles. The white preacher preaches in order to inform and educate. He knows he is talking to people who want to increase their knowledge.

This influences the delivery and the content of the preaching. The delivery of the black preacher is circular and high context. Most people think that black preaching is too emotional and not logical. This is due to not understanding the context of black culture that is sourced in Africa. It is not enough to have a logical argument. There is logic in black preaching but The black preacher knows that it takes more than logic to drive the argument home. This is done through stating the point. Talking about something related to the point and then stating the point again. Repeat and end with a climactic conclusion and you have a typical black sermon. It is very non linear. This is due to black culture being a high context culture. In a high context culture words are not the primary vehicles of communication. Facial expressions, music, hand gestures etc. are also taken into consideration when weighing whether a message will be received. So the black preacher states the point over and over again and this immerses her in the message and what God is saying and the congregation sees that this message must be important and begins to feedback with Amen! Preach preacher! It is the truth and it is conveyed in a non linear fashion.

On the other hand in the white church logic reigns supreme and linear forms of thought and speech hold sway. This is due to the legacy of the Enlightenment and even Greek culture. There must be a beginning and an end point and it must be clear how we got from the beginning to the end. This is due to a low context culture. In a low context culture the message is primarily in the words and the words only. It is enough to state what you want to say. Everything else that comes along with your message is frivolous and unnecessary. Emotion is shunned because it may interfere with the delivery of the truth. In the white church you will not hear feedback from the audience or Amens! from the choir. The true test of whether the message is heard is whether people actually get up and do it.

Most people usually critique black preaching or white preaching based on what it lacks. Growing up as a black pentecostal and then being part of a multiethnic church and a predominantly white movement I have had the privilege of seeing both styles in action. This has led to some soul searching in my own ministry on how to deliver God’s message. Doing both in different contexts I can honestly say that there is no better style but I wrestle with how both of these styles can be combined in order to be a greater benefit to the body of Christ.

  • What do you think? Do you prefer one over the other?
  • Could it ever happen? Has anyone seen it happen?
  • Can you give any examples of preaching that is a mixture of both styles?

I will begin this installment on the sixth principle of emotional health Embracing Grief and Loss with a confession: I have not been myself lately. I admit it. I’m coming apart and that’s a good thing. So much of my life has been invested in being the pastor of VX church that it seems unreal that we are closing. So unreal that I do not know how to be. And that speaks to me. It shows me how much being in this role has defined my life. I have defined myself by what I do. In the past few weeks I have gone from lethargic to hyperactive and back again. In fact the night before I had to preach on this topic I did not sleep at all. I couldn’t place my finger on it and blamed it on too much tea (that theory dissolved after I realized yerba mate has 1/3rd the caffeine of coffee). I have been forgetting things and remembering some things that have been long forgotten. On top of all this I have been trying on more new identities than a pampered rich girl tries on clothes in a Beverly Hills dressing room. To put it simply I have been grieving.

Grieving the fact that relationships will change. Grieving the fact that in a few Sunday morning I will have to choose where to go and what to do. Grieving the fact that I will be on the receiving side of a sermon side and not on the giving side. I am grieving the numerous inside jokes that have developed over the years. I am grieving over the fact that the world will not feel like it’s all on my shoulders and people won’t look to me to help solve their problems. Yes I will even grieve that.

Why? Because it is loss. It is change. In order to adjust to change we have to grieve over the reality that once was. People have been asking what is it like to make a decision to close a church. To be honest when we actually made the decision it was easy because I had prayed and thought about it for months. The hard part came after making the decision. Then my emotions caught up to me. That’s because any loss no matter how much it makes sense affects us in profound ways that we are unaware of. God gives us grieving time for the rest of our self to catch up with reality. I believe that’s why even though Sunday was coming…nothing big happened on the Saturday in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus’ family and friends cried and mourned their loss. The crowds were gone. There was silence in the grave. Saturday was uneventful but profound. In order to really embrace Sunday it was necessary to sit in Saturday. And that’s what I’m doing right now as I search for a new way to be. And the best thing that I can come up with is…be a child of God.

The one thing that has been highlighted to me the most about our church closing is the 5th principle of emotionally healthy churches: Receiving the Gift of Limits.

I believe our whole society is in need of embracing this principle. We have been
saturated with the ideals of “bigger is better”. From supersized value meals to
huge expensive SUV’s we have been overwhelmed with the message that more is
always the right thing. We have been raised to believe like the US Army that we
can be an “Army of One” or have been serenaded by R. Kelly into believing that
we can fly. I have not been immune to this pervasive spirit of the age and only
now have come to a point in my life where I have begun to question, critique,
and ultimately reject it.

All of us as individuals have a God given capacity. This changes according to our life stage and situation and we must adjust to where God has placed us and the gifts and abilities that he has given us. It is up to us to discern our limitations and for me personally after seeing our church get evicted, over half of our leadership team operate in burn out mode, and experience numerous financial setbacks I had to face up to my limitations. For our church to continue would have meant that I dug in my heels and persevered for at least five more years. It would basically mean that we would have to start all over again. Not only was I not up to that task but the rest of our team was not up to that task. Many think the decision is not spiritual and we should have persevered but I think that to look at these things with a blind
eye and continue on is not only unspiritual but just plain stupid!

But receiving the gift of limits is not only for the times
of loss and defeat it is something that we must embrace throughout our
lives-especially in the times of success and abundance. These are the times
when we are most tempted to take on more than we can and to bite off more than
we can chew. This is the Achilles heel that I see for many in church
leadership. It all looks good on the outside but inside all of the duties and
responsibilities, the speaking engagements, and the limelight can be too much
and cause you to die on the inside.

I for one have realized that the senior pastor role has caused me to die on the inside. I have been in ministry for close to 10 years now and it finally hit me that I have spent most of that time feeling tied down with responsibility. When you are pastoring your main responsibility is to show up. When nobody else shows up you are supposed to show up. The problem is I have not always wanted to show up and it has worn me down. Sometimes I just want to take the weekend and go to Yosemite or go to a Les Nubians or Mos Def  concert. Sometimes I want to go to somebody else’s church. Sometimes I just want to divert my creativity to poetry and music. I have felt tied down for too long and I need some freedom. Some people do not need this much freedom and they have been blessed by God to stick with their congregation through thick and thin. This is not my gift. I actually like being around a variety of different people and speaking to different audiences. That’s why one of my future goals is to be a seminary or university teacher. You get a new batch every quarter or semester and they give you time to write and be creative.  It is just how I am wired and if I receive it as a gift it can probably lead to greater blessing than trying to fit the mold of others.

In our time of winding down as a church we have been going through the principles outlined in the Emotionally Healthy Church in order to process and interpret what God is doing and has been doing in our lives in relation to our decision to close. The first principle of Looking Beneath the Surface unearthed the painful reality of our condition as a church. The second principle, Breaking the Power of the Past focused on our history as a local church and how that has affected us up to now and how to break free from the negative effects of that in the future. Now we turn to the third principle…Living in brokeness and vulnerability. This one is going to hurt.

Why does it hurt? Because closing hurts. Because honesty hurts. Because alot of times it hurts even more to admit that you are hurt. One of the things that closing brings up is the fact that we could not do it. We failed. We are broken and we do not have what it takes. This is the truth. The other side of that is God did not fail. He is not broken. He has what it takes.

During the time after we shared the decision to close with the rest of the church I began to read Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved and he divides the spiritual life into four movements: taken, blessed, broken, and given. This is all based on Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper and our participation in the eucharist. One of the things that stood out to me is that Jesus broke the bread which he called his body. As part of the body of Christ I can expect to be broken. The good thing is that the body of Christ does not consist of only me as an individual or one local church. The body of Christ is all of the church in every place throughout the ages. It means that my brokenness does not stop the purposes of God. My brokenness is designed to lead me and to lead the entire church into the next movement of spiritual life-being given to the world. I believe that this close is a good thing. It hurts and it is painful but God has a plan that is much bigger than the maintenance of one local church or one pastor’s ego.

Last spring I took a class called the Making of Global Christianity. What stood out to me about that class is that the church has not always been the church triumphant. The church has also been the church persecuted. One thing people do not realize which Philip Jenkins has so insightfully pointed out in the Lost History of Christianity is that the church is not a solely European phenomenon. The church was a major force from Syria to China. What happened? Persecution, failure, brokeness. It was a brutal reminder that no church is meant to last forever and that every church whether it is declining or closing or bursting out at the seams is in need of God

In past blogs I have let certain fallen preachers have it. As I sit and contemplate the recent death of Zachery Tims and the scandalous mystery surrounding his death (It is still not clear how he died) as well as his past (affair and divorce). I now realize that as angry as I have been at those who have fallen that anger has been misdirected and also sourced in fear. It has been misdirected because it is really a shield to hide my grief. It is a shield to protect me from the sadness I feel when someone I look up to has disappointed me and let me down. Deep down inside I want those who are in leadership to be flawless and perfect. The truth is they are not and that is reality. I have to accept it and grieve it. We as the church have placed our leaders on a pedestal and have not taken into account that they are men. They need to have good character. They need to have integrity. But we go beyond that and make them rock stars/celebrities/messiahs. The problem is when they don’t measure up we kick them when they fall under the weight of being a rock star/celebrity/messiahs.

At the same time my anger also springs from the fear that I will fall as well. It is a fear that I will become like those we see on TV and in the news. This fear is irrational as I am not living a rock star/celebrity lifestyle and precautions have been taken to not go that route. There are people surrounding me and practices that ground me in God. As I think about these things I realize that many of those who have met their ministry demise have not had these things and it causes me to grieve. Yes instead of pointing the finger I grieve…I grieve like David did for Jonathan and Saul:

How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war are perished!
2 Samuel 1:27

David wrote a lament, a song of mourning for his fallen comrades. This includes Saul who had gotten outside the will of God and attempted to take David’s life numerous times. David still includes him because a fallen soldier is a fallen soldier. David also ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow to remind future generations of how these fallen soldiers met their demise. Zachery Tims was a man of God who did many great things and blessed many in the community. No matter what the outcome of the investigation or the sins of his past..let us remember our fallen soldier.

Let us keep the Tims family and New Destiny Christian Center in prayer and as we do that let us not judge; point the finger; or even speculate on the circumstances surrounding his death but let us ask some questions of ourselves: Have we lifted our leaders on pedestals so high that we cannot see their humanity? Have we taken time to grieve over our fallen soldiers? Have we begun to teach future generations to avoid the traps that can lead to their demise?

It has been a long and rocky road but we as a church have decided to close. VX has been my home for about eight years now and I have grown so much as pastor, as a man, and as a Christian through it. This has been the case right down to the wire. I have grown even during the process of myself and the leadership team deciding to close. So many emotions and thoughts have come up during that time:

If I do this then everyone will think I am a failure

What right do I have to make this decision?

People will think that being a multiethnic church is not a good idea

Will I ever do ministry again?

I need to find a job and this is a really bad economy

In the midst of it all I have realized that many of these thoughts and emotions were unfounded and some just made no sense at all.

If I do this then everyone will think I am a failure. This is so not true. Some people may think I am a failure but not “everyone” and in the end if I believe the Bible I may fail but I am not a failure and ultimately it does not matter what people think.

What right do I have to make this decision? I did not make the decision alone. I trusted that we as a leadership team with the help of the Holy Spirit would decide what is best for our local body. We had a right and a responsibility to make this decision.

People will think that being a multiethnic church is a bad idea. The truth is the people who will think that being a multiethnic church is a bad idea will always think it was a bad idea. The truth is that it is not an idea but a calling from God based on what we believe the scripture says.

Will I ever do ministry again? I probably will. This is one chapter of ministry that is closing. How will the next chapter unfold? That is up to God to decide.

I will need to find a job and this is a really bad economy. The truth is there are other folks out there just like me who have found jobs in this really bad economy. It is better to trust God and the decision he has led us to make than to trust in self.

So there it is. I truly believe that God ends things so other things can begin. A big part of maturity is dealing with losing and dealing with failure. It frees you up to be humble, to risk more, and to not take everything so seriously. I believe that now I am not as attached as I am to anything including the ministry that God has given me on this earth. Why? Because in this present age the “now” of ministry will always have to yield to the “not yet”. That’s something that we all must grow into.