Racial Reconciliation and Faith: A Model for Small Groups
This article first appeared on www.seedbed.com. It is reposted here with permission. (Click here to see original post.)
By Christian Cheairs
God is doing something huge that is transforming the way Americans look at church. It is impacting our schools, our jobs and our families. A growing movement of Christians is expressing a desire to pursue dialogue around racial reconciliation through the model of small groups. Discussing race with faith has resonated deeply with me as a church planter. The church has been wrestling with this issue of how do we get different people to be united around something greater than just their ethnic identity for quite some time.
Racial tensions are boiling within the melting pot of America and it is crucial for pastors to consider how to forge intentional safe spaces of community in which topics of race and ethnicity can be discussed. This will be essential in creating a model of attraction of churches. I am a black pastor devoted to instigating respectful conversations and increase mutual understanding. So I partnered with a white pastor to create together the Samaritan Project. The Samaritan Project has been an experiment in gathering people in the North Huntsville community of Alabama to reach across ethnic lines to pursue friendship.
Do you want to start these type of groups but do not know how to get started? As a person who engages in the life of social justice work the talk around race can become mundane and redundant if not pursued from a place of creativity. Simply Googling a couple of Martin Luther King, Jr., quotes and putting them on a presentation slide will not satisfy the multifaceted work that we are coming up against. To keep our small group model “fresh” my pastor friend and I were intentional about implementing out of the box strategies that were transferable to our millennial sensibilities. Here are some tips on how to develop such a small group model.
Figure Out Your What
The talk of racial reconciliation is very vast. So before you start any small group it is important that you draft an objective that is clear on what you want to achieve and why you are forming your group as a pastor or discipleship leader. I made a choice that I did not want my group discussions to serve as a starting point to spark thought and dialogue. We did not want to come together in order to fight a cause or solve a problem, but we wanted to engage and fellowship in order to heal and create an avenue of understanding. Your group might want to expand or take on a different character. This is okay, but its imperative that you are clear on what your aim is upon starting. The objective needs to be more defined than simply “ending racism,” taking on a goal that you can be measure or accomplish.
Find People Who Want to have the Conversation
I know this is a big spoiler alert, but these people should not all come from your church. This can happen by looking at your network of friends and contacts. As you develop your roster or database, make sure that the people represent a spectrum of diversity, age and social background. This will ensure that your conversation holds multiple perspectives. They can be a co-worker, a fellow PTA member, a parent, or a friend or family member. This is a great exercise of evangelism and will challenge your team.
Host a Discussion Around a Social Activity
I have found that this method is very effective in reaching out to a demographic that would not usually sit through a typical topical sermon or engage in a spirited debate around race. Recently, the Samaritan Project took a diverse group of eight people to view the movie Race, a biopic about the Olympic African American track star Jesse Owens. Afterwards at a near by restaurant we rehashed scenes of the movie that struck us and impacted us. If you are an established congregation this is a great way to challenge your congregation to move beyond their church walls to engage and converse with people that are different than them. If you are a new church plant community this is a great avenue of attraction to recruit people to the vision of your church.
Connect with a Local University or Community College
Hosting these discussions at a local university or college can be a great way to connect with young adults that typically would not interface with a church or worshiping community. Also, as a recent college graduate, I have found that colleges are great places to have these discussions because this demographic is already open to talking about these tough issues. During my time at undergraduate and graduate school, I spent long hours debating complicated issues of race and identity with fellow preachers preparing to enter their first call. I can still hear the shouts of protest as my seminary colleagues took to our community streets to protest against the police relationships with minority neighborhoods. Currently as a church planter I have continued these conversations and have found them essential in capturing a segment of the de-churched and un-churched.
All in all, starting any small group model takes time and commitment and this is especially true in terms of starting a small group around racial reconciliation. However I believe that this commitment will yield a powerful opportunity to fulfill our commitment as Christians to reach out and make disciples of all nations.
Christian Cheairs is pastor of Viewpoint Community Worship Center, a new United Methodist congregation in Huntsville. He has partnered with pastor of Tanner UMC Rev. Stephen Fincher on starting reconciliation groups in Huntsville.
New Faith Communities is a Conference priority of the North Alabama Conference.