This Online Article and Training was written by Michael Howard II. Michael is Student Pastor at Paradox Church in Warren, MI. Growing up in diverse communities and being discipled by his youth pastor, Michael has a huge heart for students and racial reconciliation. This Detroit native, his wife Emma, and two kids, Izabella and Michael, all love the city and consuming too much coffee.
It’s no surprise to anyone that we find our world, the church, and youth ministry in crisis. Not only are we facing a global health pandemic, but our nation continues to struggle with racial injustice and unrest. How do we strategically lead out of crisis and toward racial reconciliation? Being a youth pastor who is active in this area, I’d like to suggest four steps that leaders intentionally take to foster an environment of racial reconciliation: Listen, Learn, Lament, and Leverage.
When someone speaks about their lived experiences that are different from yours, you must lean into what they are saying. To help tune your ears, I challenge you to evaluate your proximity to diversity. Are your friends, mentors, teachers, authors, and the media you consume representative of a diverse community? Being in proximity to diversity and listening to diverse voices, we learn to understand different lived experiences.
It is important to be learners so that we may transfer our knowledge to younger generations. We must learn about the history that is still shaping our present reality. Injustices like red-lining and mass incarceration are still plaguing our communities of color and affecting students daily. Learning about systemic injustice will equip you to better lead students who are suffering because of these issues, and better educate those who are not.
Scripture instructs us to weep with those who are weeping. Whether or not we understand others' pain, we are still bound to this command. The best way to lament with someone is to "sit in the heavy." Sitting in the heavy means to recognize another's pain and not force them to "just get over it." We know that past and present racial unrest impacts students differently. I challenge you to sit in the heavy with them even when you might not understand what they are going through.
The most privileged man in history was Jesus. Jesus, being fully God, has authority and supremacy over everything (Col. 1:15). However, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Phil. 2:6). Jesus laid aside His God-privilege for the sake of the world. I am a black college graduate, a youth pastor, and a business owner. Because of those things, I have a voice and a privilege in many areas. We all have privilege, some greater than others. Privilege is not inherently wrong, but the question is, "how will you leverage your privilege?" We must leverage what God put into our hands to move what we could not otherwise move. How can we use our voices to influence where we live, work, and play? How can we leverage our influence and privilege to fight for change in our local communities?
Reconciliation has always been and will always be God's plan. God passed this ministry of reconciliation to us as ministers of the Gospel. True reconciliation can only come from God through the Church and is bound by love. By our example, we can help our students become Gospel agents of change. Our strategy of listening to others' lived experiences, learning what caused those experiences, lamenting with those who mourn, and leveraging our influence to cultivate change can begin the work of racial reconciliation.
Michael and Jake talk about this in more depth in the video below!
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