The 10th Annual Urban Youth Workers Institute was a great success and our staff continues to hear great comments that keep flowing into our office. I had a great time putting together the training for the event and lining up the speakers we brought in. As many of you know, we had one session that pushed the bar and made some people a little uneasy. Several had questions and concerns about the Friday morning General Session where Soong-Chan Rah spoke. He was given the theme for the session, “Freedom to all Captives and Pardon to all Prisoners”. UYWI has been asked what our reason was for bringing him in to speak. We did not lay out a specific talk for him to give, but gave him some guidelines so the focus aligned with our morning and conference theme. Soong-Chan’s background gave us confidence that he would deliver a message that would be in alignment with the theme.
I personally have listened to this general session three times and have discussed it with number of people before I sat down to write this post. I would encourage anyone who has not listened to this session to listen to Soong Chan’s message. If it disturbs you, I would encourage you to listen to it again.
After listening to this message, I believe that Soong-Chan’s purpose was to empower ethnic minorities in the church to lead the church into the future and not allow the status quo to hold them back. He was also attempting to empower us (white urban leaders) to lead humbly by empowering minority leaders and learn from them. If you were offended by his message, I am sorry you were offended, but not sorry for the message. As a white male in urban ministry, the following was my take away to implement in my own life:
The first lesson I took away was that I should continually take a “position of listening” and not speak first. I need to listen to those people who have felt powerless at times and do not have the same doors opened to them because of ethnicity. I need to hear how it feels to read Time magazine and see that the top 25 Christian leaders for the next century are 92% white. I need to understand and empathize that this only perpetuates the stereotype around the world that the typical Christian is a white male that lives in the Midwest. But Soong-Chan highlighted the reality that 70% of the Christians in the world are not white.
My second takeaway was that every white urban youth worker should be mentored by a person of color. This may not make sense to many white urban youth workers, but it is so true. If you are leading an urban ministry as a white individual and have never been mentored by a person of color, you do not completely understand the aspect of powerlessness that Soong Chan spoke of. I agree that you need to experience the aspect of powerlessness to be in a position not to continue that pattern.
The third lesson that I will discuss is that of changing our values of success in the church from the western white culture to Biblical values that align with the gospels. We are being held captive by the western white culture as we measure success by the questions: “how many people do you have?”, “how big is your building?”, and “how large is your budget?” The urban church needs to lead us away from these values of success and began to ask the question as to whether the poor, the orphans, the widow and prisoner are being loved and cared for in their community before beginning another multimillion dollar building project.
The final lesson is moving away from being held captive by a western mindset of individualistic rights to a biblical mindset of looking at the world through communities. In America, we love to discuss our own rights and what we as individuals deserve. We don’t think that we personally did not do anything to harm anyone. Listen again to the section where Soong-Chan says, “if you were given free land, free labor and did not create a successful economic system, you would be a fool” and if you benefit from this economic system that was created on this free labor and free land you need to do something to stop the materialism and perpetuate it.” That was my paraphrase from memory, but I too am guilty of perpetuating this system of materialism that has infected the heart of the church.
This is a long post, but I have attempted to break down Soong-Chan’s talk and lay out what I learned and what everyone can learn to move the church forward into a more Biblically-based model that is free from the western white captivity of the church. If you have comments, agree or disagree, please respond to this post with your viewpoint. Thanks.
– John Lewis, Regional Director of Southern California UYWI
To hear or watch the “Freedom to all Captives and Pardon to all Prisoners” session, click here to download or listen to the mp3 OR download to iTunes via the UYWI07 Audio podcast or UYWI07 Video podcast.