I think someone needs to hear this story.
I don’t know why God heals some and not others. But I know that he can and does at times. I believe in miracles because I have experienced them in my own life. This is one of those stories.
I also believe in God’s presence in the midst of pain and suffering because I have experienced his love in those times, as well. If you are facing the turmoil, uncertainty, and grief of sickness, please know that God is with you. I pray that this testimony of his power will point past Dara, Max, and our family and straight to Jesus.
You are not alone.
“It’s a boy!”
I had been dreaming of this moment since I was a boy growing up on Claymore Court West in Canton, Michigan. I thought it would be so cool to have a son. I would teach him how to drive, shave, and hit a curveball. He would be one of my best friends.
“We already have a name for him,” I told the ultrasound technician. “His name is Max David Docusen.”
I never imagined that this moment would be accompanied by my worst nightmare. We were at the hospital getting an ultrasound because Dara was fighting a major kidney infection.
“David,” Dr. Collins said, “We are going to need to increase the amount of medicine we are giving to Dara. I feel compelled to tell you that this could impact the pregnancy, but we need to make sure Dara is ok at this point.”
“Impact the pregnancy. What does that mean?” I replied.
Dr. Collins took a deep breath and said, “The levels of medicine we need to give Dara could result in the termination of the pregnancy.”
I stood next to the bed in stunned silence as Dara received the extra medicine and fell asleep peacefully. I sat outside the room on a metal folding chair and made a few calls to update our family and friends.
We had to pray.
I finished a call with her mother and went back inside to quietly check on her. As I entered the room, I heard a faint whisper, “Babe, help me.”
The infection in her kidney entered her bloodstream and quickly made its’ way to her lungs. We would soon find out that her lungs were crashing and her life was in danger because of a condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). She was four months pregnant with Max.
Dara spent the next two days in the intensive care unit.
Dr. Collins called me out of the room around 10:30pm on the second night in the ICU. He told me to be prepared to say goodbye to Dara and Max. He was not sure they would make it through the night. I couldn’t think or breathe or process anything for several moments.
I asked everyone to leave the room.
I sat next to Dara as she was laboring to breathe. I placed my right hand on her belly and Max gave a strong kick directly into the middle of my palm. I raised the other hand to heaven and I began to worship God.
Lord, I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone
Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake
Lord, have your way in me.
I called out the sickness by name. “ARDS, be gone in the name of Jesus.”
As I was worshiping and praying, Dara’s breathing regulated and she fell asleep peacefully. We could feel the presence of God in the room with us. Dara and I slept peacefully on the night her and Max were not expected to live.
The next morning, Dr. Collins came in with a very concerned look on his face.
Dara greeted him with a smile.
“Dara,” he asked curiously, “How do you feel?”
“I feel great, Dr. Collins,” she replied.
“This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know how to explain this.” He was looking at Dara and then back at his notes over and over again.
“Doc,” I said with every ounce of conviction and belief in my spirit. “God healed my wife.” He looked at me over the rim of his glasses that rested on the end of his nose.
“David, I don’t believe in miracles, but I don’t have an explanation for you. Dara is completely better. We are transferring her back to a normal room for observation. If all goes well, you can go home in twenty-four hours.
Twenty-four hours later, we were home.
Five months later, after twenty-one hours of labor, Max David Docusen was born on December 7, 2003.
He was six pounds, seven ounces and twenty-one inches long.
He is one of my best friends.
Dara and Max beat impossible odds. When I was terrified and did not know what to do in the natural, I went back to what I did know to do in the spirit.
Prayer and worship.
The night my wife and son were fighting for their lives, I prayed against a specific illness called ARDS. I have joined with family and friends and prayed against cancer, anxiety, depression, etc.
What are you praying for that seems impossible?
Call it out by name.
God has not always displayed his power miraculously like he did that night in the ICU for Dara and Max, but I always know he is listening. I know he is with us.
I just had my first conversation with a friend that has a friend that died from Covid-19.
One degree of separation.
Darrell is a true friend and brother. He stands 6’7″ tall and towers over every room I’ve ever been in with him. He can hit a golf ball a country mile. He beats me every time we play. That pains me to admit on the internet. But it’s true. More than anything, though, I see Jesus in Darrell.
His eyes radiate the love of Jesus.
Darrell and I talked for thirty minutes today. He pastors a great church in West Charlotte and he is exposed to some of the most pressing needs in our city. He told me the story of a family of eleven that could not re-apply for food stamps this week because of some hiccup in the government during this crisis.
They were literally without food. Think about that. We worked together to find a solution for that family, and others in his neighborhood, that simply need food right now.
We prayed together for a while. Darrell prayed as if he knew Jesus as a friend. He was comfortable and confident approaching Jesus in prayer because he knows Jesus as his friend.
That got me thinking about you.
We don’t have to agree on matters of faith to be friends.
I have lived by this mantra for the past twelve years. I have so many friends that believe differently than I do. My world is better and more full because of my friends.
I believe that everyone is on a journey of faith. It may look different for every person, but I believe that the pursuit of truth and finding relationship with our Creator is hard wired into every one of us. This belief drives me. It encourages me. It motivates me to share a genuine faith that changed my life.
While I deeply believe that we don’t have to agree on matters of faith to be friends, here’s a confession for every person I’ve ever met that is exploring matters of faith: I want you to know Jesus.
When I heard Darrell pray today, I heard a man that was comfortable going to God in prayer. It was just like a real conversation between friends. And that made me think of you.
Who are you going to when you’re ravaged with anxiety these days?
Who is bringing peace to you in the midst of uncertainty?
Who loves you, no matter your past and no matter your doubts?
Darrell is going to Jesus because Jesus has been real to him. I so desperately want Jesus to be real to you, as well.
The most simple answer I can give is that he changed my life, personally. I have walked through seasons of life that were heart wrenching. I have doubted my faith. I have doubted that there was a God that actually listened to me when I prayed. I have wrestled with the creation story and how all of this came together.
In all of those endeavors of searching for truth, nothing satisfied me. Nothing brought peace to my heart. The more I learned, the more I became confused and unsettled. But Jesus brought me peace. An inward reality of safety and security. In short; satisfaction.
Do I still have questions? Yes.
Do I understand everything? No.
But my soul is satisfied in Jesus.
I want you to know Jesus because I want your soul to finally be satisfied. I want you to know Jesus because I have experienced the reality of relationship with him and I want that for you. I want you to know Jesus because he has given me peace in spite of the volatile circumstances of life more times than I can count.
I want you to know Jesus because I actually believe that he died for my sins and yours. I have been forgiven for my shortcomings. In return for the ashes of my life, I have been given a relationship with my Creator through Jesus.
To be completely honest, I want you to know Jesus because I love you.
My greatest expression of love to you would be to continue to point you to the person that changed my life, forgave my sins and set me on a path that is full of purpose and passion.
Jesus gave us a pretty simple word picture of what it means to give your heart to Jesus.
**Revelation 3:20 – “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
There is nothing more meaningful, beautiful or satisfying than my relationship with Jesus. There’s a ton of questions that will follow and there’s a bunch of us that can help you navigate those questions. But please don’t overcomplicate the first step: you have to open the door of your heart.
We don’t have to agree on matters of faith to be friends.
I believe that deeply. It just so happens, though, that I believe in the work of Jesus in my life so much that I want to share this joy and reality with you. Satisfaction is real. My soul has felt and enjoyed that reality. This satisfaction of peace and oneness with our Creator is available to you.
Maybe today is your day? All you have to do is reach for the door handle of your heart. When you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that he is Lord, you are forgiven and set free. You are saved. (Romans 10:9)
Why do I want you to give your heart to Jesus? The answer is painfully simple: I actually believe this stuff. I believe that Jesus loves you and cares for you and deeply longs for relationship with you. I believe that he brings satisfaction to my life and yours.
He’s knocking today. The choice is yours.
I’m praying for you to have the courage,
strength and faith to open the door.
Maybe you come from a family that represented Jesus as harsh. I get that. We have experienced that in the Docusen family, as well. I want you to know that anything that harmed you or pushed you away was not Jesus. People are imperfect, and they can associate some pretty terrible actions and behaviors to their faith. A person’s misrepresentation of Jesus does not change the beauty of Jesus.
Don’t let their misrepresentation keep you from a genuine relationship with Jesus.
The Jesus I know loved me so much that he willingly died for me.
The Jesus I know accepts me, even now, in the midst of doubt and hypocrisy.
The Jesus I know shines in the midst of all darkness.
I love the Jesus I know. He knows me and he still loves me.
To be completely honest, I want you to know (and love) the Jesus I know, too.
“Ok David,” the doctor said as he placed two q-tips in a hazardous materials bag, “We will get back to you in 3-5 days. Best of luck and please stay healthy.”
I looked into his eyes that were covered by an oversized face mask. I wondered what he was thinking. He was face-to-face with a stranger that may have an unknown disease directly at his fingertips. He was kind, confident, and communicative. He had tried to prepare me as best as possible for the fact that he was going to put a q-tip farther up my nose than I ever thought was humanly possible. He asked me multiple times how I was doing.
“Are you nervous?” he asked. “Your blood pressure is on the higher side of normal.”
“I guess,” I replied. “I don’t really know. Probably.”
“I have really bad seasonal allergies,” I continued. “I’ve got a cough and I’ve been really fatigued, but I also just had a whirlwind trip to London. It might just be jet lag and my body trying to figure out where I am right now.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” he replied.
He genuinely meant what he was saying. I could feel the warmth of his care toward me, a complete stranger. I am grateful for him and every single medical worker that I came into contact with last week. I didn’t know what to think. They probably didn’t know what to think, either. But each of them chose to help me feel comfortable in the midst of the uncertainty.
Thank you to every medical worker, period.
Thank you. All of you.
It’s been a long seven days since my test. I didn’t spend the time totally freaking out, but I can tell you that anxiety and fear were at the top of my prayer list. Especially last night. I had done my social distancing part to make sure that I stayed away from everyone except the people that I love the most on this planet.
Dara. Our four kids.
I went to bed last night thinking about the near-impossibility of distancing from Dara and our kids in our 1,800 square foot home. I prayed and gave my anxiety and fear to God, knowing that it is never from him. That certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t feel it, of course.
After praying myself to sleep, I slept like a baby. I am so grateful for God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4). I needed it, and I felt that peace last night.
I got the results a few hours ago. Without even saying a word to Dara, I walked into the kitchen and gave her an extra-special kiss. She immediately knew. The test was negative.
“Mom,” Max said as he came around the corner, “Are you kissing dad?!” That normally results in some sort of a gag noise accompanied by an eye-roll. This time, however, he walked over with a smile on his face and gave me a bear hug. The rest of the kids ran into the kitchen and hugged me, as well. I was so grateful to be able to kiss my wife and then get hugs from my teen and pre-teen babies.
I am so grateful for the doctors and nurses that I saw that day at Novant Hospital in Matthews. They were strong and courageous, even if I could sense a palpable sense of tension in the room because of all the unknowns. Three of us were in the room. All of us coughing. There were at least a dozen empty seats between us. Everyone knew the rules.
I waited about an hour and a half for my test. When I asked if I could use the restroom, the receptionist looked back at me with genuine uncertainty.
“Can he use the restroom?” she asked one of the nurses. “He’s a potential Covid patient,” she whispered. “You’re going to have to get permission from the charge nurse on that one,” the nurse replied.
It took ten minutes to get an approval. I told them that it was not a big deal and that I would just wait. Another woman came around the corner and said, “Come on, sweetie. Use the bathroom.” She had a genuine smile on her face. She was so kind and my bladder was so thankful.
The same woman was waiting outside the single-stall bathroom when I was done. She had an entire bathroom-cleaning cart next to her. She disinfected the entire bathroom. The same woman that was so kind to me, giving me permission to use the bathroom was the same woman that knew she would have to clean it afterward.
I was genuinely moved by that surreal and brief social interaction.
My doctor recommended that I get tested because of a uniquely busy season of domestic and international travel. Between speaking, consulting, teaching, and traveling to Austin to work with my agent and editors on the layout of my first book, I had been on 12 flights in the past six weeks, including a very quick there-and-back to London.
This was by far the busiest season of travel I have ever had in ministry. I don’t love being away from home, but I genuinely love sharing the message that God has placed on my heart.
And then London. Everything changed thirty minutes after the flight lifted off for London.
I logged on to the airplane wifi and was deluged with information that a travel ban had been instituted and that no one from Europe would be able to come back to America. My wife and kids instantly raced through my mind. I found out soon after that we would not be included in that travel ban.
“Dad!!!” the text from Jack read. “The NBA season was just suspended!!!” It seemed like the whole country began to wake up to how real this was when the NBA announcement came down. And then the NCAA tournament.
“What is going on right now?” I kept thinking.
My head was spinning.
Before takeoff, I knew there were serious issues around the world, but America was yet to be severely impacted (or so I thought). I researched the outbreak in London, as well. It was rather mild (or so I thought). Little did I know that the virus was already very much in our country and very much in the place I was about to land.
I arrived at 9:00am and was on a plane home at 10am the next day. 25 hours in London. All I could think about was not getting stuck an ocean away from my family.
In hindsight, I wouldn’t have taken the trip. The problem with hindsight, though, is you don’t have it in the moment.
I am grateful to get today’s results after all of my travel from the past six weeks. My heart hurts to see our world in such a state of pain, turmoil, and heartache.
We need each other. If ever we have realized how much we need each other, it’s right now.
I will do all that I can to advocate for folks that need help during this season and be a good neighbor to those around me. The challenge of loving others well from a distance is real, but I know it can be done.
My heart is hurting for small business owners and my neighbors that have been working hard to simply make ends meet, only to have another challenge rise up that seems impossible to navigate.
I do know this, though… God knows. The prevailing metaphor for the Church in the scriptures is a body. A bunch of interconnected parts that come together as one body.
We have enough because we have each other.
We’re going to have to learn how to share to make it through this. Those that have been blessed with financial resources will be challenged to share like never before. Those that need financial resources will be challenged to humbly reach out and let others know their needs.
If we do this right, we can learn to see each other again. We can learn to love each other well.
We won’t know what to do, but God will. I absolutely know that God knows. Especially when I don’t.
God is with us. He is not confused, no matter how confusing this situation may be right now. I’m trying to do my part to stay up on the latest practical realities, but also to break away and just spend quiet time with Jesus.
I desperately need my life centered on Jesus right now.
Thank you to all of our dear friends and family that are first responders, nurses, military, and everyone else that cannot choose to distance themselves from this horrific disease. I am praying for God to show himself to be real and true to all of us during the uncertainty of these days. And I am genuinely, daily praying for your protection as you courageously wake up and do your part every day.
I will do my part and stay home. I’m a people person, but I’m staying home. I don’t love Zoom/Google Hangout/FaceTime as much as I love being with my family and friends. But I love my family and friends enough to just simply do my part. Even if that is as simple as staying home.
Immanuel, God with us. I have never believed that more than today. To everyone dealing with this horrible disease, God is with you. To everyone grieving the loss of a loved one, God is with you. I do not know why horrible things happen, but I am certain that God is with you. Immanuel, God is with us.
Lots of love from the Docusens.
Carissa arrived at Cafe Grumpy just off of Wall Street with a double shot of energy. She immediately hugged my daughter (whom she had just met) and talked about how she could one day move to New York City, as well. “Mary, you will love it here,” she said as if the wheels were already in motion for my fourteen year old girl to move to the Big Apple.
Carissa and I met when she was speaking at the CCDA Conference in Detroit a few years ago. Her passion was infectious and I was captivated by her passion for business and justice. I stuck around for a few minutes after the presentation to say hello. We’ve partnered together on a few initiatives since that day. The common thread for all of our collaborative efforts center around our shared interest in entrepreneurialism and equal opportunities for individuals in high poverty communities.
“I use this side of my journal to keep my mind busy while I’m in meetings,” she said with a huge smile on her face. She was pointing to the first half of her simple black notebook. There were squiggles, scribbles, and abstract shapes all over the first twenty pages of the notebook. “I know people think I’m crazy. I probably am a little bit, but aren’t we all?” She was laughing out loud at this point.
“Whenever I say that I’m going to do something, I turn to the back of the notebook.” She flipped to the last twenty pages of the same black notebook and it was filled with perfectly tidy checklists. “This notebook helps separate my creative energy from the productive side of my brain,” she said.
We met to discuss a book she’s writing. The next ninety minutes turned out to be a creative explosion.
She filled two pages of abstract shapes interspersed with notes from our conversation. At the conclusion of our time together, she turned to the back half of her notebook and we discussed some practical ideas to get her project going in the next few weeks.
I can’t give away the main themes of her book, but she’s exploring the characteristics of a holistic business person. This includes planning for growth while creating opportunities for others that may be overlooked or marginalized. Her conviction was palpable as she said, “Talent is equal, opportunity is not.”
I can’t wait to read her book.
The future will be created by entrepreneurs like Carissa. She has a vision for business leaders that are full of grace and benevolent hearts. I am grateful that my daughter was able to meet her today. I want to expose Mary to women that have big dreams. Mary will take on the world one day and it is my job to make sure she’s ready when that time comes.
Mary led the charge the entire weekend. I taught her how to read the subway maps and how to buy our Metro cards. She used Citymapper to navigate subway lines, Apple Maps to get walking directions, and Grabbd to find the most delicious vegan restaurants and unique coffee shops. This was her weekend to explore the city and I was right next to her every time she had a question. She didn’t have many questions.
Most impressively, Mary skillfully snagged a picture in Times Square of three Elmos surrounding another Elmo as Cookie Monster casually watched from a distance. These notoriously creepy mascots demand payment for pictures. Not from my girl, though. She kept her distance and discreetly executed the “snap and proceed with no charge” technique. She was born to adventure and this weekend was her time to shine. Her brilliance illuminated the city.
There are no glass ceilings for Mary to shatter in the Docusen home because we are building the house. There’s no limit to what she can do and what she can become. Dara and I are raising our sweet girl to be fiercely committed to carrying out all that God has placed in her heart.
Women are filling executive positions and seats on boards.
Women are crashing the boys’ club in the corporate world.
Women are courageously and prophetically leading us in ministry.
I hope you’re ready. Mary is ready. Carissa is ready.
I see a wave of young leaders rising up. There are no limits to what a person can do when they have been called and anointed by God. Discriminatory lines cannot and will not hold back brilliance. When I look into Mary’s eyes, I don’t see a potential future leader. I see a present leader that is simply learning how to navigate the subway system and find the best restaurants along the way.
I will forever raise my voice to advocate for women in positions of leadership in churches, nonprofit orgs, and businesses. Carissa and Mary only deepened my belief that women are equipped and ready to take the lead.
Fellas, I hope you’re ready. The future is here and she is courageous.
Thanks for reaching out the other day regarding advice about your plans for Black History Month (February). Simply being willing to reach out and be intentional shows that you’re starting to see that it’s important to think outside the box that we were raised in and highlight times of the year that are significant to people of color in our country.
I’m certainly not an expert in navigating the complex dynamics that have divided our culture, but I deeply care and have some thoughts on how you can create an environment at your church to recognize the significance of this month and why it’s so important to folks in your church.
Remember… you teach on what is or has impacted you. Use that same instinct to share what has impacted you to share about topics of race. However, that means that you’re going to have to take the time to be impacted. Listen, learn, grow, and start sharing in the same way you do about everything else.
Here we go…
1. IT’S OK TO BE INTENTIONAL
You’re not the only white pastor that is nervous that you’ll come off as disingenuous if you mention something on a Sunday morning. The angst that you feel will start to go away as you incorporate more and more diversity into your teaching, positions of influence in your church, and regular references to people of color as people you admire, study, and are impacting your learning. For the time being, though, you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s ok to be intentional this month.
Read up on why Black History Month is so significant in our country and share what you’re learning with your church. You probably got to the point that you did because you’re creative and found ways to communicate complex things in an interesting way. Don’t be nervous… just learn like you always do about other topics and let the ideas naturally flow.
It will feel more natural the more you know, the more you care, and the more you are genuinely impacted by a diverse theological and relational reality in your life. It’s ok to start somewhere, even if some people are skeptical. The alternative is to continue to be fearful and never mention significant non-white holidays.
Check out this link… did you know there’s specific months during the year that represent Black, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic, etc? Your heart for diversity will shine through (and be way more believable) if you regularly acknowledge that there’s a rich history of diversity in our country and in the communities surrounding your church.
Remember, the spirit of neighborliness is not a black or white thing… it’s just opening up your heart to understand and find friendship with folks that are different from you. We all have so much to learn.
PRACTICAL TIP: Please don’t use the phrase, “God is color blind and so are we.”
The master plan of God included the brilliance and beauty of different skin tones and you don’t need to dismiss that in an effort to say that you love and embrace people of color. I know what you’re trying to say and I think you’re not saying what you mean to say when you say that phrase.
2. WHO ARE YOU READING / QUOTING IN YOUR SERMONS?
Take a look at your library. How many theologians, bible scholars, and influential voices in your life are people of color or women? As Willie Jennings would say (paraphrased), our imaginations are shaped by who we are reading and listening to as we develop our theological imagination.
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to start shifting your heart, mind, spirit, and public expression of neighborliness as you lead your church: start quoting people of color and women as the experts on the topics you’re talking about.
Generally speaking, the quotes you’re using aren’t the points in your message. They support the points in your message. That means that you can use a wide variety of sources to make the same point. Most of the quotes I’ve seen from pastors come from old or dead white dudes. Why not dig a little deeper and find the brilliance that is available from a different perspective?
A quick look at my library includes theologians and Bible scholars like Soong Chan Rah,
Cheryl Bridges-Johns, Brian K. Blount, James Cone, Howard Thurman, J. Kameron Carter,
Christine Pohl, Justo Gonzalez, Amos Yong, Dwight Hopkins, Mark Charles,
Delores Williams, Richard Twiss, etc.
I’m not saying to ignore the brilliant voices of white guys that have deeply impacting work, I’m just saying that we’ve heard from them a bunch and that your teaching will be more well-rounded if you’re not homogenous in your thought and expression of our beautiful faith.
PRACTICAL TIP: Show pictures of every person you quote.
It helps the visual learners in the room (like me) to see a human being next to a quote. Additionally, you never have to use a modifier like “one of my favorite women theologians is…”
You don’t have to even acknowledge that they are a person of color or a woman, but people will begin to see it for themselves and will appreciate the diversity of thought that is impacting your pursuit and understanding of God.
Our christian imaginations have been shaped in churches by a deluge of white voices… dig deeper and give your congregation a better representation of the beauty of God.
3. WHO IS ON YOUR STAGE AND IN POSITIONS OF INFLUENCE?
What is the racial and gender makeup of your executive leadership team, board of directors, primary communicators on Sunday morning, and decision makers at your church? If it’s all white I would propose that you then take stock of the relationships that fill your life.
Who sits in your living room and laughs with you?
Who comes over for dinner and lingers for hours?
Who are you listening to when you ask for feedback about the church?
Who do you have coffee with and simply hang with and enjoy?
How many of these people are people of color?
Most pastors that I know hire brilliant people that are connected to their relational circle. It wouldn’t be too far of a reach to say that pastors are “hiring the best people they know.” However, if your relational circles look like you, your leadership teams and influencers in your church will likely look mostly like you, as well.
Simply put, the best way that you can figure out what to do for Black History month (or any of the other non-white holidays or months of recognition) is to ask your non-white friends what would be meaningful to them to honor their own culture.
PRACTICAL TIP: Ask someone not like you to grab coffee or a meal and genuinely ask them what it’s like to be a person of color at your church. Just listen, learn, and grow. Don’t say too much… just let your friend talk and hear from their perspective.
Ever notice we don’t have a white history month?
This is probably because our history has been written by white people with white experiences and white imaginations. These months of recognition are important to acknowledge in our churches because it reminds us that our churches can and should reflect the beauty of diversity that is found in our communities.
I know it’s not easy to engage in conversations about race in the church. I know you’ve tried before and people got mad or offended. I have been there and can uniquely relate to feeling like your intentions were pure and you still get negative feedback. I also can imagine that you’re nervous. That’s normal, but it’s not a reason to shy away from these topics.
Keep pressing forward. It’s worth it to keep pressing forward. There are people of color in your church that will be deeply impacted by your willingness to stretch yourself and expand your circles of who is influencing you and friendships that impact your life.
Finally, most of the pictures that I see in the bible regarding the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city include beautiful imagery of a diverse community of worshipers from every nation and every tongue.
If that is the reality we will enjoy in heaven, why not intentionally work toward
experiencing that beautiful reality here on earth?
I’m proud of you. I’m here for you. And I’m grateful you cared enough to reach out this week. Hit me back if you have any more questions. I may not have the answers, but I’m always willing to talk and explore further.
I have to preface this post with an admission. I had the privilege of being the lead pastor at Center City Church for ten years and during that time, we recognized Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend four times. That’s six years that I never intentionally honored Dr. King or the many folks that came before and after him that have fought for justice in our country.
Here’s some back story…
I cut my teeth in ministry at a predominantly white megachurch in Orlando, FL. If we recognized MLK Jr. each January, I have to admit that I don’t remember it being a momentous occasion. Prior to that, I grew up in a predominantly white church just north of Orlando in Longwood, FL. Going back even further, I was born and raised until late elementary school in a predominantly white church just west of Detroit, MI.
The first six years of our ministry in Charlotte including me leading Center City Church in the way that I was raised. I didn’t understand the need to pause and properly honor Dr. King and so many others that have been fighting for base-level matters of economic and social equity. Furthermore, I didn’t notice because I didn’t have to notice. I was firmly in the middle class, never had a fleeting concern about unfair policing, and could always see a path between where I was and where I wanted to go in my life.
My understanding of the Civil Rights movement was shaped by reading a unit of a textbook in the fifth grade and the time when Mrs. Miller showed our (predominantly white) class a video of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. I have some fuzzy memories of learning about the heroism of Harriett Tubman and Rosa Parks in high school, as well.
All that being said, I also have to admit that I simply didn’t care enough to dig any further than the surface. I know that might sound harsh, but I know it’s true. Teenage me could feel the ways black and brown students at Lake Brantley High School were treated differently and with less respect than the white students. I heard the jokes, but I put myself at ease knowing I wasn’t the one making the jokes (most of the time) about kids that weren’t like us.
In hindsight, my silence spoke louder than I realized. My circle of friends didn’t include people of color because my entire worldview from birth was white, middle class, and blind to the societal realities of my fellow classmates.
It should come as no surprise, then, that honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King wasn’t on my radar when I began pastoring Center City Church.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Center City Church had grown to around 200 people and it was the most beautiful sense of community I had ever experienced. Folks gathered in homes across the Uptown Charlotte area on a regular basis. People cared for each other physically, spiritually, and financially.
However, I wasn’t ready for the day that God broke my heart.
I stepped up to a simple metal podium in the auditorium of Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School and it hit me like an unexpected left hook to my jaw.
“We all look alike,” I said to myself. Worse yet, I didn’t know why.
I composed myself and proceeded to speak one of the most distracted sermons of my life. I went home that afternoon, still reeling from the fact that my eyes were finally open, and I wrote this phrase in my journal:
“Like people invite like people.”
I had no clue that my definition of a beautiful community looked nothing like the diversity that was present in our beautiful city.
Something had to change, and it had to change in me first.
I think your church probably fell into three very general categories this weekend.
- The church that did not recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or anything related to this holiday weekend.
- The church that has not mentioned anything about racial and economic inequality since last year, but brought it up this weekend again.
- The church that celebrated the life of Dr. King as an ongoing expression of a pursuit of unity in the body of Christ throughout the year.
Here are some thoughts on each of these broad categories.
#1 – If your church did not say anything at all about Dr. King, your church said something very clearly to the black and brown people that attend the church.
This is not intended to disparage you. Remember, I led my church in this way for the first six years of existence, and spent ten years in full-time ministry before that never mentioning a word when we didn’t intentionally take time to recognize such a significant weekend in our nation.
#2 – If your church only talks about racial and economic inequality on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, you are communicating something to your church.
Think of this like the church that never lets a woman in the pulpit, but then has a woman (usually the pastor’s wife or a staff member) speak on Mother’s Day. If you don’t do something throughout the year and then only do it when the calendar says you should, it comes across as disingenuous.
If your church is not mentioning matters of inequality and oppression in our country throughout the year, it can come across as a to-do list item on the preaching calendar of a church that is trying to check all the boxes. One Sunday will never satisfy the importance of teaching the gospel message that spoke boldly against systems of power, influence, and greed that was oppressed people throughout the bible.
Simply put, if you aren’t preaching a gospel message that shows Jesus as an agitator to the centers of religious and political power of the world during his time on earth, you aren’t representing the life and message of Jesus accurately to your church. Jesus was full of love, but make no mistake, he came to destroy a demonic form of government and establish a new kingdom that was not of this world.
#3 – If your church talks openly and naturally about matters of racial and economic inequality, please write your pastor a note and thank her or him for their courage.
I had the privilege of attending CFA Church this weekend and experienced an incredibly moving and beautiful expression of oneness in the body of Christ. Pastor Doug Witherup acknowledged the pain that is present in our society, courageously released his creative team to honor Dr. King and so many others that fought diligently for equality, and pointed the congregation to the beauty of “The Heavenly City” that is described in Revelation 21.
I want to thank you, Pastor Doug, for your courage. I know how hard it can be to take shots when you speak out on things that really matter, and you did so with grace and strength.
I want to thank you, Corey, for sharing your heart for biblical justice with such clarity and boldness. Also, thank you to you and Laura for writing your devotional, Proximity: A Practical Devo To Bridge Chasms of Culture Between Communities of Faith.
I also want to thank Pastor Jon Hernandez, the lead pastor at Center City Church, for your courage in preaching a message that so clearly pointed to Jesus in the midst of a divided culture. It’s an honor for Dara and I to have played our part in laying the foundation for you and Jess to build upon as Center City continues to grow and mature. I watched your message online and felt the warmth of your love.
As I stared at the predominantly white congregation that was before me in 2015, I knew something had to change. I reached out to Pastor Kelvin Smith at Steele Creek Church because he was a white pastor with one of the most diverse congregations I had ever seen.
I asked, “How did you realize your dream to see a diverse community worship together?”
He replied, “How many black friends do you have?”
My mind raced as he stared at me for what seemed like ten minutes but was most likely ten seconds. I kept thinking of all the black people I knew but I could tell that was not what he was asking.
“How many people of color are in your life that would genuinely tell you what it’s like to be a black or brown person in our culture?” He continued, “I’m not asking you how many people of color you know, I’m asking how many are genuinely your friends and will open up with you.”
My journey began that day and I started to pray that God would fill my life with friends across traditionally dividing lines that would feel comfortable and safe sharing their story with me. It took a lot of time and intentionality. I’ll never forget hearing a friend say, “I’m too exhausted to start from scratch with you today, David. Go read a book on what it’s like to be a minority in our country and come back to me. Then I’ll talk to you because I will know that you care enough to do some of the work on your own.”
That was a real, raw, and honest moment of friendship. I took her advice and, quite honestly, I haven’t stopped. I have found that the more I understand why our culture is so skewed to middle and upper class white folks, the more I can genuinely know and love my neighbors that are different than me.
If you’re a pastor that is reading this and feels uncomfortable or offended, spend some time with those feelings. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you and guide you into moments of clarity. I don’t write this to throw stones. I have needed exceeding amounts of grace from my friends along the way in my personal and corporate journey as I led the Center City Church community for ten years.
I will end with this final thing that I’ve learned: curiosity goes a long way. Ask yourself questions about why things are the way they are in our culture and don’t look away when it gets uncomfortable. Listen to friends in your life that are courageously speaking up and letting you into their lived experiences. Ask God for a humble heart that is full of courage, and seek to truly love each person that comes to your church.
If you have the courage to learn about the real-life issues that people in your church are experiencing, it will naturally flow out from a genuine heart that is being impacted by the call to neighborliness that is found in the greatest commandment. Your intentional desire to know your community will draw others in that are not like you and have different lived experiences.
I can’t promise that it feels good or will lead to immediate growth in your church, but I can say that your life and message will start to look and sound more like Jesus, and that is the best strategy for ministry that I can imagine.
Remember, what your church said (or didn’t say) this weekend said something about your church.
What are you saying to your community?
Matthew 22:36-39 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”