From Pastor James Hogan. Editorial Note: Pastor Hogan is speaking at our convention this November. We thought his reflections were timely and would give you a preview into his heart for the Kingdom.
MCKEES ROCKS, PA – I’m privileged to pastor a flock that’s about half African-American and half Caucasian (and that’s the last time I’ll use those two clunky words here).
I can’t take any credit for that. It’s God’s design. Our community, Mckees Rocks, is about half black and half white, and we reach the community, so Faithbridge’s congregation reflects that.
But neither it being God’s design, nor my privilege, makes it easy.
Every church has conflict. Every relationship has bumps. Even the biblical picture of one of the methods of our growth—Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another—paints a picture of friction and sparks.
I remember riding in a van in Kentucky with the Whitworths and Harts and they were talking about NASCAR, about how beat up the bodies of the cars got during each race. Someone (I don’t remember who) said “Rubbin’ is racin’”.
Rubbin’ is also ministry.
Nationwide, racial tensions seem higher than at any point during my lifetime. Folks are on edge and violence seems to be simmering, ready to burst into boiling at any provocation. Christians, of course, aren’t immune from the tension.
In a multicultural church, disunity can lurk like a stalker. The devil hates unity, loves disunity, and knows that assumptions, prejudices, and cultural differences are ripe picking for sowing dissension.
Nothing new there—that’s been the ol’ liar’s M.O. for millennia. But what it does mean is that we have to pursue unity. We have to work at it. We need to have wisdom and discernment. We’re to be peacemakers.
One of my favorite scriptures is James 3:18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise up a harvest of righteousness”.
That’s our job. And boy do we need a harvest of righteousness. Heroin is rampant, murders frequent, and so many folks live lives bereft of both wisdom and hope.
In the family of our church we learn valuable lessons about how to better interact with our community as the “ambassadors” between God and the lost.
We’ve learned to really listen to what’s on one another’s hearts.
We’ve learned to try to see things from one another’s point of view, understanding that we will differ in viewpoints.
We’ve learned to operate in grace and mercy.
We rely constantly on forgiveness and restoration.
We’ve become more intentional in all that over the years. Sometimes we need to have hard conversations, biblically addressing and shutting down gossip and sowing of dissention. Sometimes we have to gently restore someone—even when it seems easier to refuse restoration and be done with the individuals involved.
Most often, we have to take a good look at ourselves and allow God to search our hearts:
Am I seeing with the empathetic eyes of God?
Is pride driving my reaction in this circumstance?
Do my life experiences speak wisely to this circumstance or do I need keep asking questions, seeking understanding?
And most of all, what’s the godly perspective here? How would Jesus handle this?
Often ministry friends of mine who aren’t in impoverished areas and don’t have multicultural churches express surprise, even frustration, at the lengths to which grace must extend daily in this type of setting. Me too sometimes. But more often I’m amazed at the grace God has to have for us as we learn one day at a time… and often blow it.
But on this journey we’ve become a light in the community. We’ve been called into circumstances where the police need someone to mediate a situation. Our folks, black and white, become more and more known as a good resource for the community, a voice a reason and biblical perspective in a tumultuous time. As persons of peace.
It takes a lot of purposed effort. And I believe it is exactly what God wants His church to be in this place.
Rev. James Hogan is the founding pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks, PA