Leading With Humility

Eight Minutes, Forty Six Seconds.

That’s how long it took to turn a nation upside down.

George Floyd was killed. Another tragic injustice. A policeman’s knee crushing his neck as he repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.” A policeman who will likely be convicted of murder and spend years behind bars.

For almost three months, the world was shut down as coronavirus ravaged our communities. Our economy has been crippled. The biggest conversation for us as ministry leaders prior to Memorial Day here in the US was, “Are churches essential?” In many states, we could gather again for worship, but only with social distancing guidelines in place, seating capacity limited to 25%, and masks encouraged.

Over 100,000 people in the US have died as a result of COVID-19, but I haven’t heard a single update on the COVID-19 death toll in five days. I haven’t heard any conversation about opening our country back up. As city streets are filled with protesters, most peaceful and many not, I haven’t heard any conversations about social distancing in these public gatherings.

One man’s death. Eight minutes and forty six seconds. The conversation has changed. The virus of racism has made the coronavirus a back page story.

Have you watched those eight minutes and forty six seconds? I have. If you haven’t, you need to. As a ministry leader, especially if you’re not a black ministry leader, you need to watch the horror of George Floyd’s death and understand where the pain and anger is coming from. You need to be deeply uncomfortable and horribly grieved with what happened to George Floyd just one week ago. If you’re going to lead in this moment, you need to seek to understand.

Are there bad actors? The rioting, the looting, the firebombing of stores, police cars and police precincts, the murder of police officers and peaceful protesters. None of this is justified. None of this is the answer. And none of this discounts the fact that what happened to George Floyd is a grave injustice and represents a much deeper divide in our nation than we want to believe exists.

I must confess. The divide is deeper than I wanted to believe exists.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve done ministry all across the globe, but I’ve spent more time in Africa and Haiti than anywhere else, by far. Jennifer and I have six daughters. We have one adopted daughter from Kenya and two from Haiti. It would be easy for me to think that because we have a diverse household, I understand the black-white issue. I don’t. But I want to.

I had three of my daughters join me for the 5K Every Day in the Month of May Challenge. Most mornings, I would be up early to run, so my two daughters participating who are here at home would go out in the evening to walk-run in our neighborhood. After the shooting of Amaud Arbery while he was running through a neighborhood in Georgia made the news, my girls told me they didn’t feel safe running in our neighborhood at night anymore. They gave up on the 5K challenge because they didn’t feel safe… running in their own neighborhood… because of the color of their skin.

I watched an interview with T.D. Jakes over the weekend, and he shed light on institutional racism with a perspective that I had never considered. Bishop Jakes held up his iPhone and said that it’s a fact that the facial recognition feature on an iPhone doesn’t recognize black faces as well as it does white faces (watch this fascinating TED Talk on the subject of facial recognition bias). This wasn’t the intent of the developers. There was no evil intent or nefarious plan to develop something that didn’t work for black people. Jakes said that those who create something design it in the way that they understand it will function best, but because their perspective is limited by their experience and knowledge, they create something that unknowingly works better for people who are like them than it does for people not like them. In other words, while prejudice or inequity might not be intended, that doesn’t mean we haven’t unintentionally created systems and structures that foster inequity or injustice. Bishop Jakes made a simple observation. If you have a drug problem and live in one part of the city, you go to jail. If you have a drug problem and live in another part of the city, you go to rehab. Why do we rehabilitate one and incarcerate the other?

So what does this have to do with disciple-making like Jesus? Everything.

I was talking with my dear friend, David Morillo, who has been interviewed and spoken at our D•Conference here in Orlando over the past few years, and he made a profound observation. David pointed out how I frequently say that “Disciple-making begins and ends with evangelism. Any discipleship that doesn’t begin and end with evangelism isn’t Biblical discipleship.” He’s right. I say that a lot. And then David pointed out that we could also say that any disciple-making that doesn’t address racial reconciliation isn’t Biblical disciple-making.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MATTHEW 28:19-20

The gospel is for all nations. The Bible makes it clear that “every tribe, language, people, and nation” will worship the Lamb together. The late Billy Graham made this simple but profound observation as he took a hard stand for integrated crusades in the south in the 1950’s. For over twenty years, Graham refused to hold a crusade in South Africa because it would not be open to blacks and whites together.

“Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.”

-Billy Graham

Maybe it hasn’t been true in the past, but today if our churches don’t reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve, it becomes an anti-apologetic. Our lack of diversity serves to invalidate the message that we preach to a younger generation. Our lack of diversity makes the gospel that we preach irrelevant and impotent in the eyes of those we’re trying to reach. Now more than ever.

An irrelevant, impotent gospel is a great tragedy, because the gospel is our only hope in this moment. The answer isn’t more protests. The answer isn’t better politics. The answer is a person, and His name is Jesus. Changing political structures, economic systems, or justice statutes won’t bring the true change that is needed, because none of these address the problem at its root. This isn’t a social problem. This is a sin problem. This is a heart problem. And only God, through the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, can change the human heart.

“The human heart is the same the world over. Only Christ can meet the deepest needs of our world and our hearts. Christ alone can bring lasting peace- peace with God, peace among men and nations, and peace within our hearts.”

Billy Graham

Before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for us. “Father, I pray they will be one!” 

So how do we achieve the oneness that Jesus prayed for?

“If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Oneness requires mutual humility.

The humility to admit that I’m not always right and don’t know everything.

The humility to admit that I don’t understand, but I want to do better.

The humility to listen, learn, acknowledge another’s perspective and pain, and ask forgiveness.

The humility to work together, side by side, accepting our differences and celebrating the unique contributions each other brings to the kingdom of God.

Oneness requires mutual repentance.

Repentance for ignoring, minimizing, or not believing the pain of others.

Repentance for my failure to act, to speak out, or  to stand up for what is right.

Repentance for my being satisfied with the status quo or with token progress.

Repentance for seeing those with opposing views as the enemy, blinded to how the enemy sows division as a crafty tool to steal, kill, and destroy.

Oneness requires mutual faith in Jesus and fullness of the Spirit!

Reconciliation is at the heart of God. Reconciliation is a kingdom message. We are ambassadors of reconciliation.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

2 Corinthians 5:20

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. It’s a dream we all should share in. It’s a dream worth fighting for. It’s a dream that must be birthed first in the church, because as Tony Evans has said, God will never bypass His house and go to the White House to solve this problem. It’s a dream that becomes a powerful apologetic for the gospel we preach and the God we serve. It’s a dream that is only possible as God changes human hearts, allowing us all to see one another as human beings, because we’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel.

I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It’s a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of justice and freedom.

I have a dream where my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream… I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today… I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.

Martin Luther King Jr., 1963 “March on Washington”