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Leadership/ Vision Casting and Vision Discipline

Someone once said to me, “You are tenaciously cross-cultural.” At the time I don’t think they meant it as a compliment. They wanted New City to stop being so distinctive so that we could possibly merge with another congregation. Sometimes I read about folks who started churches or movements and from their first day they had a plan, they had a vision of what their church would be like, who they would reach. I confess New City has been a lot more messy than that. We have arrived at where we are through a process of trial and error, mistakes, and blessings “in spite of…” while we became more and more self conscious of what we had become. This is not to say that we didn’t have ideals, theology, and some understanding of what was needed. We simply didn’t approach the issue of planting a church among the poor and to model racial reconciliation with the dream of growing large and re-duplicating. Maybe our faith was too small, maybe we were too naive, and maybe we thought would always be small and going against the grain. Recently I went to a conference on multi-ethnic churches and found myself among church planters who from their beginnings wanted to build a mega-church. They consciously rejected the model of reconciliation as being one that dealt with the poor. None of these men knew me or had any idea of how long we have been at this kind of ministry. Yet, they wanted to model racial reconciliation. They are learning many of the lessons we have learned over the years although they quickly write books as if they are the first ones to realize these things. I confess I was a little put off with the smell of success and I admit some of this is my own pettiness. We didn’t know the culture would catch up with us and that we would in some kind of way become popular as a model. Our congregations now profit from what is called “cultural congruence.” This undoubtedly has drawn people to us who would in no way have affiliated with this kind of work in the sixties. Institutional and social racism was so recent and still powerful. It was not popular, it was not a cultural point of credibility that you had ethnic friends or actually socialized with people of another race. One of the things that is constantly with me is the realization that race, culture, and class still affect so many of our choices and I see this affecting families in my church. I see it in the decision points of their lives as they raise their families in a cross cultural church. To this day some of their choices, especially from our white families, impact me afresh with feelings of rejection, and I am tempted still to dismay, frustration, and tinges of bitterness. I hear them make justifications of their choices in leaving the church, in leaving the youth group, in judging the children’s ministry. Middle class people are determined to live a middle class life-style, and one usually sees it in the choices they make for their own children. So it is popular to be culturally relevant but what is controlling is to be culturally comfortable. It would be easy to drift in our vision. It would be all too easy to follow the desires of the mass of folks who begin to attend and join but don’t ever seem to get the price that must be paid for all of us to be in one congregation together. This is where leadership plays a role in casting the vision and holding the ship on course, to not deviate from the vision. Vision discipline is a constant struggle in a cross cultural church and the pastor has to train his leaders in it, to make sure the staff get it, to keep the musicians and worship team on point, to think about it in every public image of the church; I mean in how we worship, where the church has its’ focus, and what staff we hire. One of the temptations that arises is when the cross-cultural aspect becomes overwhelmed with the multi-cultural. This is a blessing and a challenge, especially when reconciliation is being pursued with “primary alienated” groups. What I mean is that in Chattanooga we deal primarily with the racism, racial history, and hostility between black and white people. How can we then include Latinos into this kind of process as they immigrate into the city and we begin to reach them for Jesus? How can we minister to them, and love them, and respect their culture without neglecting our primary challenge of reconciliation? This is not to say that there aren’t issue between Americans and immigrants, legal and illegal. Yet, one of the worst things is for white Americans to “drop” the issue of reconciliation with African Americans and pursue other ethnic relationships, and allow immigrants to feel that the racial history of America will not affect them. When an immigrant comes to America they merge into all of our history and they cannot be allowed to step outside of it, and this for their own sake and the sake of those who might resent them for just that attitude. No doubt these things are hard, but this is why we have pastors and we have to figure it out and keep our folks on task so we can accomplish the mission. If we are truly calling people to give themselves away, to God and to others, then this is a challenge all of our folks can be included in. As they pick up that challenge reconciliation is actualized. True reconciliation in Christ is only possible in a willingness to surrender our own rights, our own demands of justice, our own demands of cultural preference and by becoming a servant to others who are different, while receiving a reciprocal spirit and attitude from those who were formerly alienated. If it is not reciprocal it becomes simple assimilation and that is not reconciliation. It will take wisdom, sensitivity, and articulation from good leadership. Oh yes, it will take a miracle from God as well.

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