Taking the Next Steps toward Reconciliation

By: William D. Shiell

Reconciliation and healing don’t happen overnight, but the work must begin somewhere. Pastors of primarily white churches have an opportunity to disciple people in the way of Jesus when times are difficult and people are anxious. Most churches host joint worship services, swap choirs and pulpits, and engage in a variety public programs to build friendships. While helpful, I have found these to be catalytic moments to create conversations. Churches need routine follow up to keep the work going. I’ve gathered a few ideas over the years from my experiences and those of my friends.

1.)    Ground your teaching and approach in the way of Christ. Frequently, most church members need to hear the answer to this question: “Why are we doing this?” The Bible is a rich treasure of stories and principles to help people become reconciled to Christ. He has already broken down the dividing walls between us. Your work, preaching, and teaching on this topic give people a path to follow as they do their own important heart work and homework.

2.)    Build friendships with Pastors of a different race than yours. I’ve learned the most from friendships with Pastors Johnnie Skinner, George Lyons, Darrick McGhee, Victor Perez, and Joseph C. Parker, Jr. At different stages of ministry, each one has been a helpful guide for my blind spots.

3.)    Host a panel discussion and fellowship at church about race. Invite friends from various congregations to discuss their perceptions of race, ethnicity, and each other. Share a meal together, and fellowship. Invite table discussion, and encourage people to sit with people they’ve never met before.

4.)    Invite police officers to share their experiences and suggestions. Some of the most engaging discussions I’ve had with congregants have come from those who serve in public safety and in church life.

5.)    Attend events at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). So often we engage in hospitality by inviting choirs to come from HBCU’s to perform at our church, but the church does not reciprocate. Reverse your welcome by becoming a guest at a play, performance, or festival on campus. Learn what it’s like to be a guest, and make new friends.

6.)    Invite a champion (or 3) from your church to be a part of the congregation. A Pastor cannot do things by herself. Take 1-2 members from your church whenever you meet with community leaders. Help them not only see the need but share the burden in the church. Treat them like a follow up task force for discussion and ongoing work.

7.)    Ask police officers, school superintendents, and African American Pastors, “What can I and my congregation do” and then be prepared to listen and respond. In my case, the community asked for the church to walk neighborhoods that were crime “hot spots” with other churches. Such a simple act of love educated the congregation and created new friendships across the city.

8.)    Invest church resources in banks that are invested in African American communities. Discuss how your church can be more engaged in neighborhoods with their hearts and their wallets.

9.)    Mentor at-risk children. Most churches want to volunteer in some way in a school or after-school program. Over time, mentoring relationships prove to be the most effective means of transformation and evangelism.

These nine suggestions are just a starting point to introduce the ministry of reconciliation. These steps will lead to opportunities to make even greater systemic change in congregations and communities. They will open eyes and inspire hearts.

Now it’s your turn– What steps have you taken in your church? What lessons have you learned?

August 2, 2016

William D. Shiell

President, and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William



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