Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin met (virtually) with Darrius Hubbard, pastor of community engagement at Antioch Community Church (EFCA) in Minneapolis, to discuss racial injustice and the impact of transformational churches on the lives of communities.
In the small town of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota—about 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis—there’s a turkey processing plant. Because of that plant and the jobs it provides, the otherwise homogenously Scandinavian town of 2,500 now has become fully multicultural, with Hispanic and African-American populations making up nearly half the town’s population. Pelican Rapids has since been labeled as an ideal refugee resettlement community.
For several years after the turkey plant arrived, the different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully enough, but there was still a clear separation. That’s when God began to work on the heart of Pastor Bob Satterlie, who leads Calvary EFC in Pelican Rapids. Bob and a small group of church members began to pray and ask God: “What could we do to start engaging these communities?” And beyond that: “How can we start building bridges and planting seeds of the gospel among these different people groups?"
At that point, the school in Pelican Rapids had more than one-third minority students—Hispanic, Bosnian, Somalian, among others—from immigrant or refugee families. Through a local ESL teacher, Bob and the group were given access to all the new incoming students—many of whom had never attended an American school before. That gave them an idea.
Together, the group pooled money to buy backpacks for these new students. They filled them with pencils, pens, notebooks, folders and a calculator, and brought them to the door of every new student. And each time someone answered, they would say, “We are followers of God in the way of Isa-Masih (Jesus Christ). We’re glad you’re here.”
These past few weeks—with the senseless killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed—have brought issues of racism and injustice to the forefront of conversations. On top of COVID-19—which has disproportionately affected minority communities—George Floyd’s tragic death reminds us of the pandemic of racism that stains our country, and our apathy, ignorance and lack of action toward this important issue.
Although we’ve made statements in response to events like this in the past, all too often, the action stops there. In the evangelical world, we’ve been really good at theological reflection and writing statements, but we’ve stopped short of really asking the question that the Calvary EFC team asked of God: “Lord, what do you want us to do?”
Last month, I talked about the definition of a transformational church:
"A transformational church is a church where people together are becoming more like Jesus and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are extending the influence of Jesus' redemptive work in the lives of individuals, families and communities among all people."
Now, just a few weeks later, the last four words of that definition become all the more important: “…extending Jesus’ redemptive work in the lives of…communities among all people.”
As I wrote in a blog post following Ahmaud Arbery’s death, “We need to acknowledge what’s true: something is wrong… Racism has not ended in our nation. It is here and now.” In light of this brokenness in our world, our humanity and ourselves, how can we, as the body of Christ, make a difference in the places where we live? What does a transformational church look like in a hurting, broken community?
One verse I’ve meditated on during the last couple weeks is from the book of Micah—it’s one I’m sure many of you have seen circulating around your social media feeds lately:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
It doesn’t say to think justly or even to speak justly—God is asking for action. Another translation of this verse translates the Hebrew “do justice.” It’s actively living out our faith through a life of obedience. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. These are all very active verbs. God’s words through Micah make it clear: He is calling us to a life that evidences His heart and His character through action that reflects the gospel (Phil 1:27). His heart is for all people—especially for the marginalized and the oppressed, including our brothers and sisters of color. His character is just. As we affirm in Article 8 of our Statement of Faith, “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.”
If you’re like me, you don’t have it all figured out. When it comes to issues of racism and injustice, I know I have plenty of room to grow and learn. Yet, I encourage you: don’t let that keep you from doing something.
We must act. We don’t need to have it all figured out. We need to acknowledge the painful reality of racism, listen, learn and take action for our brothers and sisters of color. We need to ask God and give Him space to respond. Despite our inadequacies and fears, God calls us to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) and to “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” (Mark 12:31). We may not understand all the details, but we need to ask God, “Lord, what would you have me to do?”
During the past few weeks, churches in the Twin Cities—at the center of all that’s happened surrounding the killing of George Floyd—have asked this question. They paused, listened to the Lord and then took action out of love for their communities.
Here are a couple of examples from EFCA churches in the Twin Cities area:
“As a church, we are committed to not be like the “priest and the Levite” from the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We refuse to look the other way and not get involved. We are committed to be like the Samaritan, who saw the need and helped his neighbor. We're first praying and then searching out places our people can get involved. I drove down Lake Street (in Minneapolis) on Saturday morning (May 30), and it was packed with people cleaning up the streets and multiple food drives. We are joining with other like-minded churches and believers and starting to think long-term: How can we continue to champion justice and peace in our neighborhood and in our city?” (Joel Sutton, senior pastor at First Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) in Minneapolis)
"As an elder team, we sent a message to our members—mourning the death of George Floyd, urging members to stand in solidarity toward accountability and justice for George Floyd, and condemning the looting and destruction. As a church, we responded to the needs of those directly affected with an emergency grocery bag distribution that we are looking to continue weekly for a period of time. We don't know with certainty what the next steps are, but we know we need to take some steps with the Lord as our guide. The plan is to continue to help meet physical, mental and spiritual needs, and to join God in the opportunities He creates to do what seems impossible regarding racism and injustice.” (Darrius Hubbard, pastor of community engagement at Antioch Community Church (EFCA) in Minneapolis)
Earlier this month, Pastor Darrius joined me for a video call to discuss racial injustice and how churches can be transformational in their communities in this cultural moment. You can watch that conversation above, and you can read a full version of his and other Twin Cities EFCA pastors’ stories here.
Whether you’re in a big city like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, or a small town like Pelican Rapids, as transformational churches, our responsibility is the same. We need to wrestle through the question: “How do we take the gospel and its implications into our community?” As Alex Mandes, director of our All People Initiative says, who is the “other” in your community? And what are you going to do, as the hands and feet of Jesus, to bridge racial, social, economic and political gaps with the gospel?
Ask what God might have you do—but don’t stop there. Pause enough to let Him nudge you, to let Him speak to you and put something on your heart. Then, in faith, step into that—or, as EFCA pastor and EFCA Eastern District superintendent Cedrick Brown would say, “Leave the dock.”
In Cedrick’s blog article, “The Unmuted Gospel,” he gives some examples of what this might look like:
“Start by developing authentic relationships with others outside of your homogeneous network of friends. Break bread, have a cup of coffee, just be with each other as family. Start developing relationships with sister churches unlike yours. Create pathways to send your members called to multiethnic ministry. Let them take their time, talents and treasures to serve long-term or lifetime under the leadership of a minority pastor. Start intentionally reaching all nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Intentionally touch all people in your Jerusalem (locally). Don’t skip over your diverse Jerusalem to reach the outermost parts of the world if God has already sent the world to you. And start intentionally developing leaders and influencers of all nations. If God has sent them, it is your responsibility to develop them. Ask God for wisdom on how to move them from attenders to members to servers to servant leaders to decision-makers within your local church. Simply, become a disciplemaker of all nations.” (Cedrick Brown, “The Unmuted Gospel”)
In all of this—racism, injustice and COVID-19—our goal can’t be for “life to get back to normal.” Although many of us are tired of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the last few months, this can’t be our focus. Our desire for comfort can often blind us to God’s calling. But for our African American and other minority brothers and sisters, fighting injustice and oppression isn’t an option—it’s their lives.
I am committed that we as the EFCA prayerfully ask the Lord what He would have us do. ReachNational and All People leaders are prayerfully working on ways we as a movement of churches can act intentionally to address these issues in ways that reflect the heart of God and keep us focused on our mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people.
So, EFCA family, I encourage you: don’t make normalcy your goal. Instead, let’s follow God’s words in Micah 6:8—“act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” With the heart and character of Christ, let’s love and seek justice for our brothers and sisters. And let’s tell them, “We are followers of God in the way of Jesus Christ."
In what ways has God called your church to respond to issues in your community? Let us know in the comments.
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