5 Tips for Shepherding Your Church on Race

People lifting their hands in prayer and singing.

In this excerpt from Dr. Walter R. Strickland II’s Mobile Ed course, he offers guidance for pastors shepherding their church on race.

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It is always difficult to shepherd people but especially shepherding in the aftermath of a highly racialized event. Unfortunately, on this side of the kingdom, there will always be many difficult issues to lead people through as a Christian leader. The hesitancy in leading in these moments is a desire to do the right thing that does not jump into an unnecessary conclusion too soon. There are some ways that you can lead amid this ambiguity in a very powerful way.

Public and corporate prayer

First, lead with public and corporate prayer. We’ve already discussed how corporate prayer is a wonderful part of a worship service, but specifically on issues that are highly racialized, it’s very important to understand that when you pray, you can do it without taking sides.

For appropriate responses

The response can be to pray for how the nation responds or how a community responds to a certain action. Pray that Christ will be honored in how people respond. You can also pray for those upholding the law that God will give them wisdom to bring about peace in these situations because it’s always going to be the burden of law enforcement to act wisely in these scenarios. Pray for wisdom for them.

Also, in the aftermath, you can pray that peace and understanding would reign. In the hearts of all sorts of people viewing these instances—from a variety of perspectives, cultural backgrounds, personal histories, and communal histories—it’s going to be tense or a challenge for people to understand how peace can reign. So pray to that end. Lead prophetically in that way.

Using biblical rather than political language

In addition to prayer, the second thing is to lead with biblical and not political language. [People need to pray] for the humility to listen. Often we want to say that we want to listen to people from a certain perspective—be it political or activistic—but how about if we use the biblical language of [praying] for the humility to listen.

This is always something that each of us needs to do—being slow to speak and quick to listen. Especially in these very polarizing moments, we need to pray that we’ll be willing to listen to somebody. And listening does not necessarily mean you always agree with everything that they’re saying but that you want to affirm them as a person, as an image-bearer.

The Lord's Prayer by Wesley Hill, brought to you by Lexham Press

For long-suffering

Also, as it pertains to not using political language but biblical language, we can pray for long-suffering to understand the issues that we don’t understand. There is always going to be something that we don’t understand in these very contested situations. So pray that God would give us insight—either through a person or through the power of the Spirit or even through the Word of God—that we would be able to have long-suffering to understand these dynamics.

Confessing apathy

[We must also confess] hard-heartedness and apathy toward those who are hurting. Often, as human nature goes, we’re prone to think, “That’s their problem over there. But in the Scriptures, it says we mourn with those who mourn, we weep with those who weep, and we . . . hurt with those who are hurting because that’s the heart of Christ for them. Confessing that hard-heartedness and apathy is vital to moving forward. [Praying these things and confessing these things are] very good things that every Christian ought to be working toward.

Modeling humility

And then lastly, you who are a spiritual leader ought to be a model of this for your people— confessing sin, praying for long-suffering, using humility to listen, [and] exercising that. So as you are leading prophetically—as you’re leading in these moments where you’re trying to send a message not only to the community that’s watching the church but to the people in the church—this is important for us to understand.

Direct statements

[T]here might be a call for a direct statement to be made in some extreme cases. And for something that’s in direct contradiction with theological beliefs, there might be a need for a church to make a clear statement on these issues.
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Conclusion

[In summary, you can shepherd your people in the aftermath of these events] through corporate and public prayer, through biblical language and not political language, and . . . sometimes, in extreme cases, through direct statements [while seeking] wisdom from the Spirit and other like-minded people. [This will help you] make statements that honor Christ and bring clarity to situations.

Explore

Suggested reading

See also

  • Chapter 2: “The Racialized Society I’ve Seen,” from Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Buy the book || Open in Logos
  • “John Edward Bruce (1856–1924),” from Essential Writings of the American Black Church. Buy the book || Open in Logos

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This post is adapted from Biblical Principles for Diversity and Reconciliation in Ministry by Walter R. Strickland II, a 5-hour course from Logos Mobile Education. Pick up the course now!

The Lord's Prayer by Wesley Hill, brought to you by Lexham Press

Comments

  1. I want to thank Almighty God for what He is doing in our time right now. The scriptures let us know that God in His mercy & long-suffering is giving humanity time to recognize and repent. I’m 64 years of age and what some would call me is bi-racial, though I identify myself as a believer in Christ, but in regards to orientation as Black. The inability of God’s highest creation to treat one another as they would want to be treated as human beings is a direct proof in our face of our depravity since the “Fall of man”. It also reveals the hypocrisy of modern/post-modern city that humanity has evolved to some higher capacity. No, we humans are just as wretched, sinful & ungodly as we were from the Fall. Though I am encouraged by the awakenings I witnessed in the 60’s & 70’s and now. I am thankful for the demonstrations and also witness of American leadership revealing even more the deterioration and fallacy of Western Democracy; and because whatever succeeding generations will design or come up with will eventually reveal the same conclusion the effects of the Fall will continue until our LORD & Savior Jesus comes again and destroys this world and entirely does away with the god of this world and all of its corrupt influences. The new heaves and earth where Christ the eternal SON will reign with an iron fist of love & compassion over all. Come LORD Jesus, come!

  2. Good tips for the church