Join us this new year in celebrating how God is working in and among our fellowships. To download and print the January Prayer Guide, click on the image below. (For a copy in Spanish, click here.)
Brochures and postcards are effective ways for congregations to make their presence known in the community and connect with visitors. Below are two GCI-branded templates for postcards, and two for brochures. Click on each image to download a template and instructions for use. To download GCI’s standard type font (GCI), click here.
Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
At the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to serve others in like manner. He then said he was giving them “a new command.” I’m sure that perked their ears. He already had talked about the two great commandments of the law—to love God and to love others as yourself—but now he introduced something new:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
You can be sure the disciples paid close attention to what Jesus said, and we should as well.
Jesus’ new command poses an important question: If we are to love others as he loves us, how exactly does Jesus love us? The simple answer is that Jesus loved us by coming and meeting us right where we are. He shared his life with us, died for us, included us in his ascension to the Father enabling us to join him in worship, and now lives in us through the Holy Spirit.
The greatest gift we can give others is to follow Jesus in laying down our life for them. We do so in many ways, including by sharing with them the faith, hope and love of Jesus given us by the Spirit. What is our motivation for doing so? Note what the apostle Paul wrote:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…. (2 Cor. 5:14-16)
As followers of Jesus, we no longer live for ourselves. Motivated (“compelled”) by our Lord’s sacrificial love, we reach out to others. As a congregation we engage the community around our church. We do so knowing that these people are God’s beloved—though most don’t know they have a Father who adores them, an elder brother who has paved the way for them, and a Holy Spirit who teaches and comforts them by pointing them to Jesus.
Our outreach, along with our worship and discipleship, occurs within and through what we refer to as the three venues of ministry: the love venue (witness), the hope venue (worship) and the faith venue (discipleship). By venue, we mean the environment where a particular aspect of congregational ministry occurs. Taken together, the three venues constitute the whole of what we hope to see in our churches through their expressions of love, hope and faith.
The three venues are interconnected, with each being an integral part of the whole that makes up a healthy congregation. Rather than functioning independently, the three venues work together in unity, being integrated into a congregation’s overall participation with Jesus in his disciple-making ministry in fulfillment of the Father’s mission to the world.
The imagery of love, hope and faith speaks loudly to the nature of the Christian journey, including the way a healthy local body engages its community with acts of love, as it creates an inclusive celebratory Sunday environment that inspires and brings hope, and as it creates an environment for discipleship where participants grow in faith. The word venue thus speaks to the whole of what we do, where we do it, and who we do it with (thus reminding us of why we are a church).
The love venue
Love is the foundation of everything we do. When we consider faith, hope and love, love is the greatest. The love venue is about our witness. It includes our outreach and other forms of missional work. It helps us identify our target community and build relationships through missional activities and events. The venue for sharing this love starts outside the walls of the church and continues inside.
The hope venue
As we build relationships and become known within our target community, we want to offer hope to our new-found friends. The hope venue is about our worship. Because our hope is in Christ, our worship services are centered on him. In healthy churches, worship services don’t just happen, they result from intentional, thoughtful preparation. In the hope venue the focus is on inclusive gathering and includes being intentional about making guests feel welcome and appreciated. Within the hope venue we offer inspirational worship services that focus on proclaiming Christ and his gospel in word (scripture reading and preaching) and sacrament (the Lord’s Supper and baptism). The focus of this proclamation is on inspiration that leads to transformation more than on mere information. The scope of the hope venue primarily involves what goes on within the church walls.
The faith venue
New and existing members need to be discipled. The faith venue is about our discipleship—it is where teaching takes place through new member classes, Bible studies, youth and family ministry gatherings, small groups, and various missional activities. All these involve building within people the faith of Christ. The activities and programs within the faith venue occur at church, in members’ homes, and at other discipleship locations.
All three ministry venues are vital for healthy church. For an infographic that provides a detailed summary concerning the three venues, click here. We will explore the details beginning with the April Equipper.
Is the leadership in your church pastor-led, team-based; or team-based, pastor-led? Though the difference between these two models of congregational leadership may seem to be semantics, as we’ll see, there’s more to it. Here’s a related question for lead pastors: is your approach to leading your church primarily hands-on or is it primarily eyes-on?
Pastor-led, team-based churches
Most GCI pastors have been primarily hands-on in leading their churches, utilizing a pastor-led, team-based model of congregational leadership. With this approach, the pastor worked under a heavy burden of responsibility, some of it imposed by old denominational paradigms, some imposed by the pastor. If the church succeeded, the pastor received praise. If attendance or income declined, the pastor was responsible, and received blame. Reaching out to the community was the pastor’s responsibility, as was anointing the sick, visiting members in their homes or in the hospital, answering all questions and leading Bible studies. Many pastors took responsibility for the worship sequence, planning special events such as Christmas and Easter, and putting together and printing the weekly bulletin. No wonder many of our pastors have been in danger of burnout!
Note: the description of the pastor-led, team-based model is general. There is no intent to assign blame or to infer bad motives. Rather, the intent is to give a general picture of what this approach to congregational leadership looks like.
Believing a team-based approach was good ministry practice, some pastors formed teams to help them with the work for which they felt responsible. Deacons and deaconesses (now called ministry leaders) were set apart for works of service. Elders were ordained to aid in visiting, preaching and teaching. Some larger congregations assigned someone to be the youth pastor. In a few congregations, an elder served as the associate pastor and others served as assistant pastors.
While these teams were helpful in many areas, the pastor still carried the burden of responsibility and felt the need to be intimately involved (hands-on) in every aspect of ministry. Ministry leaders, elders and worship leaders still needed the pastor’s approval for most of the ministry initiatives and programs they planned.
In a pastor-led, team-based model of leadership, the pastor, being hands-on, likely put the worship team together, determined what outreach should be done, lead most of the discipleship classes and Bible studies, and had his or her hand in every aspect of ministry. A clear sign that this model was being utilized was that everyone felt they needed the pastor’s approval for any new idea or ministry initiative. There was an overall fear of disappointing the pastor or, worse, getting on the pastor’s “bad side.” In business terms, this is referred to as micro-management.
Team-based, pastor-led churches
This is the leadership model we urge GCI congregations to use. As shown in the infographic below, though the lead pastor still leads, they do not micro-manage. With this model, the pastor is much more eyes-on than hands-on. Yes, there are times the pastor needs to be hands-on, but a healthy pastor is eyes-on much more than hands-on. In other words, the pastor’s primary role in a team-based, pastor-led church is to provide an overview for the elders and ministry leaders to follow, rather than dictating their every action. We want our pastors to set the pace through this overview by helping their congregations achieve health through what we refer to as the three venues of ministry:
- Love venue (witness)—mission and outreach—identifying a target community, building relationships, missional events.
- Hope venue (worship)—the Sunday worship service—intentional preparation, inclusive gathering, inspirational worship.
- Faith venue (discipleship)—discipling people in the faith—small groups, discipleship classes, Bible studies, missionary activities and events.
For an article in this issue on the three venues of ministry, click here. We will expand on this material in future issues of Equipper.
In a team-based, pastor-led congregation, there will be multiple ministry teams, with each one led by a ministry leader who is commissioned to build a team to provide services related to a particular area of responsibility within one of the venues of ministry. Though the lead pastor provides each ministry leader with clear guidelines for how they are to carry out their responsibilities, the pastor does not micromanage.
The pastor works with and encourages the team leaders to stay true to the congregation’s core values, vision and mission. Providing this sort of eyes-on (vs. hands-on) oversight frees the ministry leaders and their teams to creatively use their gifts and talents in serving the church.
The infographic above shows how team-based, pastor-led leadership functions in a healthy church. Note the connections between the lead pastor and the three venues, and also among the venues themselves. Note the calendar in the background—it’s a reminder that it takes time to build healthy ministry teams. Note also the piggy bank—it’s a reminder that team-building must be a priority in the congregation’s budget.
In the team-based, pastor-led model of congregational leadership, the primary role of the lead pastor is to Engage, Equip, Empower and Encourage. We’ll discuss these roles in detail in the February Equipper. In the meantime, click here to listen to a GC podcast about team-based leadership with GCI Superintendent of North America Michael Rasmussen.
To help you use graphic communication in building unity within your congregation, GCI Media produced the three PowerPoint templates linked below. Clicking on each image will start the download of a PowerPoint file (give it time, these files are very large) . You can then add information about your congregation to each template. Click here to download GCI’s branded font.
Sending a thank you card or note is a powerful way to enhance connection within a congregation. Once sent to a visitor lets them know their presence is appreciated. One sent to a donor or church worker lets them know their generosity is appreciated. Below are four options for GCI-branded thank you postcards—click on each one to download an infographic with a template and instructions for use. To download GCI’s branded font, click here.
In “The Trinity, Creation and Pastoral Ministry,” Graham Buxton notes that church leaders and teachers need “a more sympathetic engagement with those in the scientific community in order to combat the (sometimes substantial) residual prejudice in the minds of many Christians against the contribution of the natural sciences to an understanding of what it means to live as human beings in God’s world” (p. xv). In the article below, GCI Elder Santiago Lange asks and answers a related question: Can science, the Bible and faith be reconciled, or are they hopelessly at odds?
Defining the issue
Some Christians feel that to uphold Scripture, they must reject many of the claims of science (particularly ones related to origins and the age of the earth). Conversely, many non-Christians (and some Christians) believe that to uphold modern science, they must reject at least some of what they understand Scripture to say. Is there no possibility of reconciling science and Scripture; science and Christian faith? Let’s see what we learn when we address this topic through the lens of a Christ-centered worldview.
Dealing with our preconceptions
Let’s begin by noting that both sides in the science vs. faith debate tend to bring to the table preconceptions concerning both science and Scripture that flow from the particular worldview they hold. Some Christians bring preconceptions rooted in what we might call a fundamentalist Christian worldview—one that tends to see science (evolution in particular) as hopelessly God-rejecting. On the other side, some scientists come to the table with a philosophical commitment to a materialistic-naturalistic worldview that sees the Bible as primitive and anti-science. This latter group tends to view the first 11 chapters of Genesis with particular skepticism, even derision.
Using an exegetical method in reading Scripture
Thinking with the mind of Christ, let’s lay aside our preconceptions as best we can, and go to Scripture to see what it says, using an method of reading the Bible that is advocated by many conservative Bible scholars, including John H. Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.
Dr. Walton warns against bringing false notions (preconceptions) to our reading of the Bible (the Old Testament, in particular). He notes that though the Old Testament was written for all humankind in all eras, it was written specifically to Israel, not to us. He explains the implications of this understanding:
[The Old Testament] is God’s revelation of himself to Israel and secondarily through Israel to everyone else. As obvious as this is, we must be aware of the implications of that simple statement. Since it was written to Israel, it is in a language that most of us do not understand, and therefore it requires translation. But the language is not the only aspect that needs to be translated. Language assumes a culture, operates in a culture, serves a culture, and is designed to communicate into the framework of a culture. Consequently, when we read a text written in another language and addressed to another culture, we must translate the culture as well as the language if we hope to understand the text fully. (The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 7)
Like most conservative Christians, Walton embraces the exegetical principle that a passage of Scripture can never mean something it did not mean to the original author/audience. This principle is grounded in the understanding that God works through authorized human vessels, and we must be careful to not interpret biblical texts on the basis of private interpretations grounded in contemporary experience. To rightly understand Scripture, it is vital that we understand the particular text’s context. Walton illustrates this point by saying that when we read the Old Testament we are in a way reading “someone else’s mail.” Though the authors of the New Testament interpreted Old Testament passages in fresh ways, they did so uniquely, having been given God’s authority to do so. Walton comments:
Biblical authority is tied inseparably to the author’s intention. God vested his authority in a human author, so we must consider what the human author intended to communicate if we want to understand God’s message. Two voices speak, but the human author is our doorway into the room of God’s meaning and message. That means that when we read Genesis, we are reading an ancient document and should begin by using only the assumptions that would be appropriate for the ancient world. We must understand how the ancients thought and what ideas underlay their communication. (Walton, p. 15)
Genesis 1:1 says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This has rightly been called one of the most profound statements ever made. It sparks our curiosity regarding some fundamental questions. However, as Walton asserts, the Bible is not a textbook on science. Instead, it is a book about redemption, emphasizing the concept of Immanuel (God with us). Walton recounts the primary flow of Scripture—starting in Eden, continuing to the Tabernacle, then the Temple, on to the Incarnation, then Pentecost, and finally the new heaven and new earth.
In this progression, Immanuel theology becomes clear. God’s presence, which Walton defines as “sacred space,” is to be guarded, maintained and expanded by the human race as bearers of God’s image. This is humankind’s appointed priestly role, with Adam and Eve serving as archetypes for humanity. God’s plan of redemption declares the way out of a disrupted, disordered and alienated world. The supreme concern within God’s heart in giving us the Holy Scriptures is that we might understand what goes on in the human spirit, affecting everything we do, and that we might understand God’s great desire to dwell with us in relationship.
Understanding ancient cosmology
Walton also emphasizes that the creation accounts in Genesis are embedded within the cultural background of ancient cosmology. Genesis does not describe cosmology in modern terms, nor does it address modern scientific questions. Instead, God gave his message to Israel within its context, which included the accepted cosmology of that era. Walton writes,
Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old-World science of antiquity. By the way, there is no concept of a “natural” world in ancient Near Eastern thinking. The dichotomy between natural and supernatural is a relatively recent one. (Walton, pp. 14-17)
Understanding the cultural context and worldview of those who wrote the Old Testament leads to a more accurate understanding of its message. Walton comments:
The Bible’s message must not be subjected to cultural imperialism. Its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture. This was God’s design and we ignore it at our peril. Sound interpretation proceeds from the belief that the divine and human authors were competent communicators and that we can therefore comprehend their communication. (Walton, pp. 19–20)
How old is the earth?
A primary question that arises in reading Genesis has to do with the age of the earth. “Old earth” proponents understand it to be some 5 billion years old—an understanding based on physical evidence derived from scientific observation. “Young earth” proponents understand it to be 6,000-10,000 years old, inferring that understanding from statements in Genesis. But this is only an inference, for as Walton notes, Genesis does not state the age of the earth—it simply refers to “In the beginning”—a period of time, not a particular point in time.
According to Walton, the creation accounts in Genesis are not about material origins (though he does acknowledge that God created the cosmos out of nothing), but about God setting up functions and order out of pre-existing matter on earth. This understanding fits with the ancient Near Eastern cosmology embraced by much of the world (including Israel) at the time God communicated these accounts to Israel through Moses. Thus to read into Genesis chapter 1 a discussion regarding the age of the earth is, in Walton’s view, a “category fallacy.”
Two complementary facts
Genesis begins with two great and complementary facts. The first is the existence of an ordered universe (“The heavens and the earth,” Gen. 1:1). That fact, made known by observation, is linked with a second fact, made known by revelation: the existence of a God who has a plan of redemption and wants to make his home with us.
What meaning do these two facts have for Christians? Two things: 1) nature is designed to teach us certain facts about a supreme, divine Being, and 2) divine revelation is designed to lead us to the very God about whom both nature (observable facts) and Scripture (revealed facts) testify. These two books—the book of God’s works and the book of God’s words—properly understood, are complementary in that they complete one another. As Walton notes, there is no real war between science and Scripture.
The ancient cosmology in the Old Testament
Walton identifies several passages in the Old Testament(including the creation accounts) that reflect the ancient cosmology that forms the basis for how creation is described throughout the Bible. The diagram below illustrates that cosmology—click on the image to enlarge it.
God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (Gen. 1:6-8, KJV)
In a similar way to the idea of the firmament (seen in the diagram above and sometimes called the vault or expanse), day two addresses the regulation of earth’s climate. Ancient Near Eastern cultures viewed the cosmos as featuring a three-tiered structure: the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. Climate originated from the heavens, and the firmament was seen as the mechanism that regulated moisture and sunlight. Though in the ancient world the firmament was generally viewed as more solid than we would understand it today, it is not the physical composition that is important, but the function. In the Babylonian Creation Epic, the goddess representing this cosmic ocean is divided in half by the god Morduch to make the waters above and the waters below.
The water cycle
He draws up the drops of water, which distil as rain to the streams. (Job 36:27)
Though some modern interpreters have attempted to read this verse as a scientific description of the condensation-evaporation cycle, the context is clearly operating from a different perspective (e.g. Job 36:32, where God fills his hands with lightning bolts that he throws like spears). The two verbs in this verse speak of a process of drawing out or refining (as precious metals would be drawn out in a refining process). It was believed in the ancient Near East that raindrops came from a heavenly stream or ocean, a great body of water that enveloped the earth, and from subterranean waters. Thus, there were waters above and below the earth. It was these waters from which God is seen as drawing out raindrops.
The circle of the earth
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. (Isa. 40:22)
The picture of the universe described here is the common cosmological view of the ancient Near East. As shown in the diagram above, the sky was a dome that arched over the disk of the earth, which sat on top of a primeval ocean. Under the ocean was the netherworld (sheol), virtually a mirror image of the space above the earth. Thus, the entire universe was an enormous sphere, cut in the center by the earth. Nevertheless, in Isaiah 40, the earth itself is described as circular. In Babylonian literature, Shamash is praised as the one who suspends from the heavens the circle of the lands. Likewise, in a prayer to Shamash and Adad, Adad causes it to rain on the circle of the earth. The circle simply reflects the curvature of the horizon, thus disk-shaped, rather than spherical (for which Hebrew uses another word). In the ancient world, the earth was consistently regarded as being circular.
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. (Ex. 24:10, KJV)
Some first-millennium Mesopotamian texts speak of three heavens with each level of heaven described as having a particular type of stone as its pavement. The middle level is said to be paved with saggilmud stone, which has the appearance of lapis-lazuli (NIV, sapphire in the KJV). This was believed to give the sky its blue color. The middle heavens were where most of the gods lived.
“This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)
There is no Hebrew word for brain, and neither the Israelites nor any of the other ancient peoples knew what the brain was for. Egyptian priests who in mummifying bodies carefully preserved all the important internal organs, discarded the brain. For the ancients, the heart was the seat of both emotions and intellect.
Though this article has only scratched the surface of a large topic, hopefully what we’ve looked at here will help us all to take another look at both science and Scripture, recognizing that neither one of them (rightly understood) is in conflict with the other. If you’d like to read more about this important topic, see the suggested resources below.
Suggested for further study:
- For a list of books by John Walton, click here
- For a podcast from Scot McKnight titled Reconciling Science and Scripture, click here
- For various resources see the Biologos website at biologos.org/
- Here is a lecture from John Walton on Christian options for reconciling Scripture and science (including the science of evolution):
(on YouTube at https://youtu.be/JwvFR3uPBM8)
- Here is a lecture from Dan Rogers titled “Understanding Biblical Imagery in Order to Better Understand the Bible”:
(on YouTube at https://youtu.be/meCr2y3HFlU)
GCI’s Statement of Values says this: “Scripture declares that all hatred and prejudice is contrary to the Christian life. We are committed to furthering racial understanding, forgiveness and healing.” Living out this commitment is a great challenge in a world where there continues to be a great deal of racial prejudice along with the divisions it creates. The following article from Jeffrey Broadnax (Generations Ministries national coordinator) addresses this important topic as part of our series on worldview conversion and whole-life discipleship.
When we get to heaven, there will not be a white section, a black section, a Latino section, an Asian section and a Native American section. (Albert Tate)
Turn on the nightly news, pick up a newspaper, listen to talk radio or surf social media and it’s a pretty good bet you will experience a constant stream of economic, social, judicial, political and relational division with racial prejudice and division served up as a primary cause. News segments on everything from police/community relations to immigration, unemployment, mass incarceration, voting, drugs, and yes even Christianity, show caustic intersections of white, black, brown, yellow and red peoples. These often-toxic interactions are strategically highlighted to expose systemic inequities in power and dignity that have continuously existed throughout America’s 242-year journey as a nation.
Racial, ethnic and power divisions are not unique to America. Though called by different names, these cancerous divisions are found everywhere humans are gathered. It is precisely because they are individually and systemically common that they must be challenged. Historical blights such as Nazism, ethnic cleansing and the intercontinental slave trade expose a myopic racial worldview that seems woven into the fabric of human history.
Though common in our world and, sadly, in the church, the false belief that some races are innately superior to others is incompatible with both science and the Bible. Worldviews that embrace or foster human divisions based on race and ethnicity must give way to the Christ-centered worldview that embraces the gospel truth that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).
The Lord’s Prayer
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20b-21)
Jesus prayed that his disciples would reflect a heavenly oneness that would convict the world that he was the Messiah sent from the Father. He prayed about the ignorance, persecution and rejection his followers would experience as they lived as witnesses of his life and teachings. He didn’t offer them a worldview built on political and religious extremes but the worldview of the Father who “so loved the world” (John 3:16) that he sent his Son to reconcile the world to himself, bringing to humanity salvation, rescue and healing.
Six decades after his ascension, Jesus unveiled for the apostle John a vision of the throne room of the Father where John beheld
a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)
Note the diversity of these people. No image obliterates the idea of racism and racial separation better than this innumerable, multi-ethnic crowd of people in heaven. According to what John saw and heard, they stand together before God’s throne singing this song of praise:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9)
Because of the healing, transforming sacrifice of Jesus, distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender and culture are celebrated in heaven as wonderful aspects of God’s good creation. The challenge to us on earth is to do likewise.
Diverse, yet one
What we learn from both Scripture and science is that though we are diverse, at our core as humans we are one—one blood and of one race (the human race). Dr. John Perkins makes this point in One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race, where he argues that the racial division that continues to plague our world is not primarily a community or national issue—it is a spiritual issue:
The problem of reconciliation in [America] and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin with the minds of men. This is a God-sized problem and only the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal. It requires the quality of love that only our Savior can provide. (p. 16)
To buttress his declaration of one blood/one race, Perkins cites the conclusion of the Human Genome Project, which found that all humans are 99.9 percent the same genetically. You and I are only one tenth of one percent different from any other person on earth, no matter what race they are. To devalue (even destroy) another human over racial, ethnic or cultural differences is as ludicrous as possessing $100.00, yet then doing harm to someone over a 10-cent coin.
I’m acutely aware of the truth that we are all of one blood. Twenty years ago I, an African American man, was blessed to donate some of my bone marrow to an Ecuadorian man who was dying from leukemia. Not only was I better matched to him genetically than were his siblings and children, we are of different blood types. This rare combination of factors, a miracle from God, not only united our two families, it brought together two cultures, races and ethnicities. Despite our racial-ethnic differences, it was determined that we were genetic brothers.
In Genesis 11, due to humanity’s arrogance and lack of faith, God separated humankind in speech, understanding and geography. Beginning with the fall in the garden of Eden, human relationships had continued to spiral away from God’s design. Separation became humanity’s natural (fallen) state. But this sad state of affairs is overcome in and through Jesus. Note what the apostle Paul said in addressing the Areopagus in Athens:
From one man [i.e. one blood] [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
Paul’s declaration has both spiritual and physical validity. Spiritually, there is only one “man” (Jesus) through whom all people can “find” God. Physically, all humans have a common genetic origin—we all are descended from Adam.
Speaking of the oneness of humanity, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brothers’ brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” What would happen if this Spirit-led worldview would be embraced by all people; by all Christians? The fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians provides a road-map for us to journey in that direction.
When Paul wrote the letter we know as 2 Corinthians, the city of Corinth was rife with the behavioral, economic, ethnic, religious, leadership and identity divisions so common in our day. The Corinthian Christians, having repented of these divisions, were beginning to live in accordance with Christ’s worldview. Paul seeks to help them make further progress by equipping them with the antidote to the poison of racial and identity division. Let’s reflect on Paul’s instruction.
Be compelled by love
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
Since first partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we humans have consistently sought our own way apart from God. Our hearts deceive us, leading us to embrace a self-centered worldview. Though we understand love, and sometimes stumble into a response that is more altruistic than self-seeking, when we find that our own interests are being jeopardized, our natural inclination is to protect ourselves and our interests even to the detriment of others. As we walk this path of self-protectiveness, our worldview slowly but surely becomes insular, discriminatory and biased in favor of ourselves over others.
With Jesus it is not that way. He showed in his death that he would not live for himself but for those he created. He could have rightly chosen his preservation over ours, but in order for us to learn to love he lived that love for us and offers it freely to us. Jesus, by the Spirit, now compels us who have received his love to abandon a self-centered worldview and live for others without barriers. In doing so, we will grow in the love and oneness he prayed that we would find.
See no one through human eyes
So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:16-17)
In the lexicon of Christ, “all lives matter” the same to him. Human distinctions based on physical characteristics or even behavior must be seen through the lens of Jesus’ completed work of forgiveness on the cross. To hold this viewpoint does not mean ignoring systemic abuses, blatant discrimination, or historical exploitations of any person or group of persons. Instead, it means facing those human crimes with a thirst for Christ-like forgiveness rather than a hunger for human justice. Embracing and then living out a Christ-centered worldview is not easy but it is mandatory for followers of Jesus. We must study and immerse ourselves in the teachings of our Lord on confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Participate in the ministry of reconciliation
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2Cor. 5:18-19)
In One Blood, John Perkins defines Biblical reconciliation as “the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship” (p. 17). He notes that this reconciliation is grounded in God’s declaration that he has reconciled the entire world to himself in Christ. In Christ, every broken relationship is restored, made whole. As followers of Jesus, Christians are invited to share with humanity the truth that they have been forgiven and that their sins and acts of separation are not being chronicled in a condemnatory list in heaven. Given this reality, how can we, regardless of hurtful offenses and mindsets, not serve as agents of truth, justice, equality and love filtered through the finished work of Jesus?
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:19b–20)
Jesus has invited us to join with him in his ministry of reconciliation. He empowers us to do so through the Holy Spirit who gives us the words we are to speak—words by which we re-present Jesus, making his appeal to all who will listen. That appeal is that they will embrace and live into their true identity as beloved children of God.
We do not have an option about sharing this message, and we must be careful to speak of the reconciliation that comes in and through Christ, not a reconciliation that is based on humanly-devised approaches. We must teach that there is only one blood, one race in Jesus. Then we must model that oneness through transparent reflection, confession, forgiveness and actions that foster restoration. These words and actions must flow from a heart that has been transformed by Christ. This is about the Lord’s own appeal to the human race, and he chooses to make it through us.
Conclusion: keep looking in the mirror
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
Because a Christ-centered worldview does not come naturally, we must seek it from its Source. We do so by submitting our hurts, pains, insights, wisdom, histories and efforts to Jesus who takes our efforts and transforms them by the Holy Spirit. It is only through what Jesus has done on our behalf and continues to do by the Holy Spirit that we are able to experience the true, loving reconciliation that overcomes all barriers.
Sadly, many approaches to racial reconciliation are more about self-will than about Jesus’ other-centered love. Let us prayerfully ask our Lord to wash our hearts and grant us the ability to faithfully share with the world his good news concerning the spiritual unity that is available to all humanity in, through and by him.
Suggested for further study:
- GCI Speaking of Life video: “The Church Should Include All People”
- GCI article: “A Place Where Everybody Belongs”
- Gospel Coalition article: “Racial Reconciliation: What We (Mostly, Almost) All Agree On, and What We (Likely) Still Don’t Agree On”
The links below connect to the Ministry Toolbox on GCI’s newly-launched Resources website. The tools found there are designed to assist congregations in pursuing our healthy church vision.
Healthy church results from several factors, including the two addressed below: healthy leadership and healthy ministries.
Healthy Leadership (REAL Teams)
Healthy church leadership is pastor-led and team-based—what GCI refers to as REAL teams. For an infographic explaining what this means, click here. For videos that give additional detail, click on these links:
- Introduction to REAL teams
- Relationally connected
- Enthusiastically engaged
- Liberating leaders
Healthy Ministries (Faith, Hope & Love Venues)
Healthy church ministries are achieved when there is vibrancy in three areas (venues) of disciple-making ministry: the love venue (incarnational connection), the hope venue (inclusive gathering), and the faith venue (intentional discipleship). Health in these three venues yields Christ-centered, Spirit-led relationship. For an infographic that addresses the three venues, click here. For infographics specific to each one, click on the links below.
Love Venue (incarnational connection)
- How to Identify Your Target Community – connecting with nearby, unchurched people.
- Missionary vs. Missional – developing “missional rhythms” within your congregation.
- Greeter Ministry – mobilizing a team that extends hospitality to guests and members.
- Connection Card – for building relationships with guests and visitors (includes a template for making your own branded connection card).
- Thank You Postcard – a tool for building relationships with visitors, donors and volunteer workers (includes three templates with instructions for making GCI-branded postcards).
Hope Venue (inclusive gathering)
- Order of Service – for a Christ-centered, gospel-shaped worship experience.
- Countdown to Service- tips for a smooth transition from fellowship to starting the service.
- GCI-Branded Powerpoints – 3 branded customizable powerpoint templates to connect members during the worship service.
- Teacher vs. Preacher – preaching in ways that connect, uplift and transform.
- Receiving the Offering – why and how to participate in the offering during the worship service.
- Parking Lot to Pew – tips on ways to improve your assimilation ministry.