How Race Impacts Outreach
For the past few months, the United States has been in turmoil over the issue of race relations. Video footage, protests, and a flurry of interaction on news channels and social media have reminded us that there is still a great divide when it comes to race.
Our churches and the outreach efforts that stem from them are not immune from this either.
It is clear from Scripture that believers are called to “bridge the gap” regarding race. However, racial division in the church still exists. A recent study found that 81% of protestant and evangelical churches are composed of one racial group. Even today, Sunday can often be the most segregated day of the week.
Why does this issue persist in our churches? I would suggest one of those reasons is we have limited the scope of our outreach to those who look like us.
This makes it an opportune time for the church to address this issue head-on and lead the way regarding racial reconciliation. After all, Jesus frequently challenged the racial barriers of His day in His teaching (Good Samaritan) and outreach (Canaanite woman, woman at the well). The book of Acts is full of examples of the disciples taking the gospel to other races. And Paul himself declared in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
When race becomes a barrier to interaction or we hesitate in interacting because of it, we miss opportunities from the Lord and are disobedient to Him. It prevents us from seeing and loving others the way God does. Also, it is straight up sin. Just as James condemns those who discriminate because of income, the same can be said of those who discriminate because of race.
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as a transgressor.” James 2:8-9
The first step in confronting partiality and racism in the church and in evangelism is to confront it in our own hearts. In doing so, here are some points to ponder:
Examine your heart, mind, and life.
Racism is sin and we need to constantly search ourselves to expose, confess, and repent of it. The problem is that when we think of racism, we think of the KKK or neo-Nazi groups. We go to the extreme in example in order to avoid further inspection of our own lives. However, racism at its core is thinking about or treating someone of a different race negatively based upon that racial difference.
Before you immediately dismiss any possibility of racism in your own heart and life, point to those more racist than you, or give 100 reasons why you are not racist, I challenge you to mirror David’s prayer to the Lord in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
We all have our blind spots regarding sin in our lives. Because of that, we need believers in our lives who have a different perspective than us who are willing to point out sinful patterns in our lives and churches.
Now is the time for us to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not the same race as us. Some of us may be tempted to think that there is no racism going on in our churches, but how do we know that if we have not walked in someone else’s shoes who may be on the receiving end?
I wholeheartedly encourage you to listen to pastors such as Tony Evans and my own pastor, Conway Edwards, on this issue. Regardless of your race, what you hear may be painful and might step on your toes, but temporary pain can lead to long term gain in becoming more like Christ and sharing your faith in the manner He has mandated – to all.
Confront the fear and lies of racism with God’s word.
Let’s face it, we have all heard racist rhetoric used over the years, either from others or even in our own hearts. The moment we think a racist thought, no matter how subtle, we need to aggressively “take the thought captive” and address it with the truth of Scripture. The same goes for when we hear racist comments from other people, especially believers. If you found out your believing friend was cheating on his wife, would you lovingly confront him? In the same way, we should “speak the truth in love” and confront racism whenever we can with the truth of God’s word.
Be prayerfully proactive.
Ask God to empower you to see people the way He sees them and to show you tangible steps to take as an individual and as a church regarding this issue. God answered those prayers in my own life two years ago and led me to join a church and small group where I am in the clear minority. It has been challenging yet refreshing to get out of my “comfort zone”, hear other perspectives, confront issues together in community as we serve one another. The experience has broadened my worldview and scope of ministry and evangelistic outreach.
I recognize that those steps look different depending on your situation. However, I do challenge you to examine your own heart before the Lord and offer yourself to Him regarding this issue. May your prayer be that of Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.” And may your heart be the same as Jesus’ – for ALL to come to Him and find salvation.
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