Posts tagged community

Look up the word ally in the Merriam Webster dictionary online, and you will find this definition, "to unite or form a connection between". That's not a terrible definition for this post, but I want to clarify what I mean a little more. Every reconciler attempting to move an institution towards a change in policies, systems, and structures will need some allies. It is quite natural for the institution to buck against change. There is always too much room to be known as the "the-one-who-is-never-satisfied" or "the-one-who-is-not-a-team-player" or "the-one-who-always-points-out-what-we're-doing-wrong". When that happens, you will need some allies!

Allies are the people who will stand with you when the excitement is gone, when MLK Day is over, when its time to speak truth to power. Your allies are the people who will ask the hard questions, will advocate when you're not in the room, will carry on this work even if you leave. Your allies are the people who stand with you because they, too, are committed to racial reconciliation within the Church- that is your connection, that is where you find unity. 

In my work, I have discovered that it's best to have allies in three key areas. 

#1. You need an Ally of Influence.  In small churches this might be the pastor, the pastor's spouse, or the worship director, whoever has a great amount of influence in the church. But it doesn't have to be those traditional visionaries. I worked with a Christian university in the Midwest where the best ally of their Multicultural Director was the Chief Finance Officer; you can imagine how that position of influence was a powerful ally! Someone responsible for directing the mission and vision of your church must be united in this work with you. 

#2. You need Allies of Peers. This work is not meant to be done alone. Whether formal or informal, you need a team of people who walk this journey with you. They can be fellow staff members, congregation members, church volunteers, or community leaders. It is imperative that you share the work of reconciliation with others. It is essential to your mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is also vital for strategizing and implementing a plan to move the church forward; that is not work you should be doing alone. 

#3. You need an Ally of Guidance. Important note... this should be someone who knows the organization but is outside the organization. When you truly start to challenge the culture of your church, it will be necessary for you to have an outside voice that provides mentorship, coaching, and prayer when things get sticky. You will sometimes be too close to the issues to clearly identify them or think of creative ways to tackle them. Your guide, your mentor will be able to offer you perspective that can be increasingly difficult to grasp the longer you are in the trenches. Your mentor can also remind you of who you are when you get weary, and you will get weary. 

The hard thing about identifying your allies, is that it can take a long time for them to appear. After all, we live in an age where it is not very popular to be against diversity! So, there will at first appear to be a number of allies, proponents and supporters of your work. Be prayerful and discerning. If possible, bring friends with you on the journey- people who have proven themselves committed to racial reconciliation and have a shared vision for your church.

Having allies in these key positions will help ensure that you have the sustainability necessary to be an effective agent of change. 


Austin Brownally, communityComment
A Series on Peter


When Peter descends from the rooftop, the Spirit tells him that there is a group of men looking for him. This is probably not strange for Peter until he sees the men, that is! I imagine he was a little surprised to discover that the men weren't Jewish; they were Gentiles! 

Peter's culture was pretty clear about the protocol for spending time with Gentiles- don't do it. But Peter is told not to ignore these men, so he invites them in. He extends to them what might be considered a remarkable amount of hospitality. Perhaps Peter himself washed the feet of the strangers before inviting them into a meal, sitting with them, fellowshipping with them. Perhaps he gave them as much food and drink as he could supply, and offered more even when they were full. Though the Old Testament certainly required Peter to be hospitable to strangers, there is little doubt that this experience was a stretch even for him! 

Similarly to Peter, our churches have become pretty good at extending hospitality. As a result too many churches who have been called to multicultural ministry are actually practicing multicultural hospitality. The difference mostly lies in the maintenance of power. Believe me, I love extending hospitality to my friends. I would rather invite people to my home than meet at a restaurant.  In my home I can better express my love, making sure my friends feel comfortable and special. Hospitality is a beautiful expression of love and concern for others, but we are kidding ourselves if we don't also acknowledge the power dynamics involved in hospitality. I make the decisions. I set the parameters. I determine the extent of graciousness. 

Do you see the similarities with multicultural hospitality? The dominant group considers the church "theirs", and therefore has the right to make decisions, set parameters, and determine the extent of graciousness offered to those who are "just guests" who should be grateful for any amount of hospitality shown. 

But here's the thing, Peter wasn't told to extend hospitality. He was told to go with the men. Hospitality will never get you to multicultural ministry. It can be a great first step, an introduction, a time of learning, but ultimately you will have to walk the road of inconvenience and inquietude to truly experience the revelation of multiculturalism.

What I love next about this story, is that two communities of people- Jews and Gentiles- begin a 30 mile overnight journey together in which neither can claim power over the other. They are forming relationship in the space between their isolated communities, while on their way to immerse themselves in the "other". How many churches can you think of that are more interested in recruitment and hospitality than journeying and immersion?

If we want to follow Peter's example, we must be willing to release power, to journey with others, to risk hostility and experience a little discomfort in our lives. We must be willing to obey the Spirit and go. 


Koinonia Sermon

This is an edited version of my sermon on Acts 2. Hope you enjoy! 

The Book of Acts opens with Jesus’ ascension into heaven and in verse 8, as He rises into the clouds, He declares “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when the Spirit does descend, just the sound causes a raucous! As a crowd forms, trying to figure out what happened, they become witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit, but misinterpret the Spirit for drunkenness as the apostles speak in different languages. Peter rises, giving a sermon about Jesus that rocks the crowd to their core. They are so moved by Peter’s declaration that 3,000 people accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and join this fellowship of believers.    

Acts 2:42 records this process of being joined into fellowship: There is the learning of the apostles’ doctrine. There is fellowship with others. There is the breaking of bread with one another. And there is public prayer. The new believers entered a process of knowing, understanding and practicing this new faith in the risen Christ.  

But then the Word records something that seemed strange to me. Acts 2:43 states that after joining this fellowship, “fear came upon every soul…” But why would these new members become fearful after joining this community? They’ve just become a part of this amazingly multiethnic, multilingual, multiracial group… shouldn’t that provide security, courage, protection? Well, it seems there was quite a bit for this body to fear- condemnation by Jewish leaders not willing to declare this Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesy, and they would be even more closely watched by the Romans who were not interested in hearing about anyone’s kingdom besides their own. Perhaps “fear came upon every soul” because truly understood that they had joined a group absolutely committed to a very dangerous idea.  

The dangerous idea is that salvation lay not in military power or royal ascension. That salvation could not be found in the rich lifestyle, the sinful lifestyle or even the religious lifestyle. That salvation had little to do with class, profession, race, or geographic location. The dangerous idea is that this covenant God has been forming since Abraham, this kingdom everyone has been waiting for is bigger and deeper than most imagined. The dangerous idea is that salvation lay in the throes of death not the comforts of life. An unwavering commitment to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ rather than to the systems and structures of this world made these believers a prime target of persecution- torments and sufferings to be feared.

This group of believers cling to another idea… an idea none of us have been fond of since kindergarten- the idea of sharing. You see, in kindergarten we all learned that sharing is giving what is mine to you to barrow for a moment, but then you are required to give it back to me. Why? Because it is mine. But this is not the kind of sharing that this first body of believers was practicing. They chose a deeper form of sharing, a perpetual kind; they chose to hold all things in common with one another.

I believe this choice to hold all things in common grew out of their lifestyle of fellowship as described in Acts 2:42. In Greek the word for fellowship is Koinonia. Though koinonia is easily translated into words like communion, association or participation, the true essence of this word is weightier. It means not just holding your possessions in common but holding your life in common with others. It is a relationship of great depth, great intimacy, great union. It is a joining together that does not hinge on class, race, language, or station, but seeks to be inclusive, loving, all-encompassing. This isn’t just sharing space, but purposefully seeking to close any and all gaps that separate. It’s no wonder that out of this fellowship springs a desire to care for one another, a desire that supersedes the individual inclination to acquire wealth, status and fame.  This group wields a two edge sword- with one edge they cut off their individual greed, their need to be above, to have the most; by separating from this desire, they move toward one another in care and love. But the other edge of the sword sits under the neck of the Roman Empire and as it quivers declares, "We don’t need you- not your wealth, not your power, not your military… we have chosen to practice love."   

I am convinced that the only way this level of fellowship can be achieved is to be in one accord. That phrase “with one accord” is a compound of two Greek words meaning to "rush along" and "in unison".  I pray that the church would once again feel the urgency necessary to inhabit the phrase ‘rushing along’. I pray the church would be sparked, inspired, ignited to move towards koinonia once again. That we would be in unison- playing our unique roles, offering our specific gifts, working together for the sake of being a soul nurturing body.  That we would tear apart the seams of unjust systems just by the way we live and move together! Amen.


Purposefully Uneasy

Our Multicultural Training Team, uses a lot of interactive experiences to start honest, open dialogues. The interactive experiences are typically very simple, but certainly cannot be confused for being easy. In fact, our interactive experiences intentionally make people uneasy!   

Recently we led an interactive experience that involved participants revealing their first reaction to racially loaded identities (terrorist, poor, nerd, millionaire, supermodel, gang member, etc). As we spoke each identity out loud, participants had to write down the first racial or ethnic group that came to mind. All participants then posted their responses on the walls. For the most part, participants jump into this (and similar exercises) quite willingly, despite the uneasiness exercises like this cause. But occasionally, we have someone who just can't handle it. The last time we did this particular exercise, someone walked out. Afterwards, a woman who witnessed the walkout, suggested that next time "we should leave out anything that would create volatility in favor of doing things we can all agree on so that we focus more on creating community". 


Our response was a kind but firm, "no." I would like to offer three reasons why our team has chosen to use simple but uneasy experiences, and why we will continue to, even at the risk of losing participants.  

1. Building True Community.  Most people probably wouldn't associate the word "chaos" with the word "community", but I have found that groups who don't enter into chaos with one another are only operating on a superficial level of association, not the deeper level of community. Superficiality does not serve as a solid foundation for honest, open dialogue on race, and the only way to move beyond superficiality is to introduce a little controlled chaos- something that rubs us the wrong way, that digs into our psyche, that make us uncomfortable, that forces us to be ourselves. We must be willing to go to that deeper place where race lives if we are serious about creating reconciliation. Sing-alongs are not the same as reconciliation. And so, we use interactive experiences that will create some tension, some uneasiness and also some community. (Read M Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled or A Different Drum for more on building true community)

2. Creating a Shared Experience. The second reason our team is committed to using interactive experiences is because they lay a good foundation for beginning dialogue. One reason (of many) why its so hard to have conversations about race is because our experiences are so varied. Our racial identities were not formed in vacuums. They were informed by our families, socioeconomics, education, geography, generation and more. How do you bring all these variations into a room and attempt to have a meaningful dialogue? Our solution is to create a shared experience. This allows everyone to talk about the same experience, but to offer an individual perspective. A shared experience gives us all the same starting point, the same context, the same people involved... what differs are our reactions, our feelings, our thoughts. The shared experience creates a framework for the dialogue that helps people hear and understand one another. 

 3. Acknowledging What's Wrong. The basic premise of all of our trainings/classes is that race still matters. I am down for celebrating diversity, sharing one anthers food, learning about ethnic holidays, etc. Those are all good and beautiful actions. But to do that without acknowledging racial disparities, racial discrimination, racial stereotypes, racial bias, racial histories, and racial inequalities is to do a disservice to the very people I am attempting to celebrate. Our inter-activities give everyone permission to acknowledge and share the hard things about dealing with race in America. We don't pretend everything is golden, and we don't expect our participants to do so. Its healthy and honest to acknowledge what is still broken; how else can we galvanize to fix it? 



So far from trying to appease our participants and make it easy to stay in the room, we would much rather challenge everyone and ourselves by building community from (a little) chaos, creating shared experiences, and giving everyone space to acknowledge what's wrong. Thats how we move forward together, truly together.