It was twenty years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was invited to speak at a youth gathering in Detroit. When the event started, I looked around and to my horror realized that it was virtually segregated. I had already known that Detroit was the most segregated city in America, but as I looked around this youth event I saw it clearly – and it bothered me. Sixty percent of the crowd was black and sitting on the left side, forty percent were white and sitting on the right. Seriously. All of the participants and leaders on the platform were white. Including me. I didn’t know what to do but I knew for sure what I couldn’t do. Nothing. I asked the event organizer for some clarity and direction. He promptly told me it was none of my business. It was ‘above my pay grade’. I ‘couldn’t understand the generational issues around it’. This was the exact moment I was invited to believe a big fat lie about the work of reconciliation. The lie says, ‘it’s none of your business’. And it’s a tricky lie at that. I thought long and hard about what he had said. And the way he said it. Make no mistake, it was less feedback and more threat. ‘It’s none of your business’ meant ‘back off!’. That was very clear. But here’s the thing: I was supposed to communicate the gospel to these kids. And what is the gospel?
The radical good news of the gospel according to Paul is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:19). It’s the invitation to be reconciled to God and to one another. It’s a demonstration of the power of God to break the back of sin, separation, offense, shame and guilt. It’s what the power of the Cross looks like in real life – right relationships. As a matter of fact, Paul would write to the Galatian church about how the gospel is so powerful in real life that it eradicates the barriers that prevent us from being together. “There is now no longer slave or free, greek or jew, male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28). What does that mean?
The radical good news of the gospel according to Paul is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’.
Well, through the witness of the Acts church, it wasn’t just a theological thought – it was a lived experience. People got together. And people who would not NORMALLY get together, got together. The Gospel had made a new ‘people’ who were living, working, sharing, and spreading a ministry of reconciliation – not just through words but through their very lives.
When I stood up to preach to those young people twenty years ago I had no option but to preach the ministry of reconciliation – because that’s the gospel. What is the point of theological pontifications with no outcome in our everyday lives? I pointed out the obvious. We were segregated in the house of God. I told them that I knew that Detroit was exactly like this – but that’s the thing – we aren’t supposed to be living the reality of Detroit in a Christian gathering – we are supposed to be changing the reality of Detroit by living a DIFFERENT WAY. A better way. A new way. We are a new people in Christ. We are a living vision of what the gospel IS through the way we live our lives – together. While I was speaking, many senior leaders were walking out. I was offending them. And to be sure, it was above my pay grade – but I had no other option – because the only thing I have to preach that can bring about transformation is Christ – and Christ came to reconcile EVERYTHING and EVERYONE back to Himself. This is the gospel.
But these kids – they were ready. They were thirsty. They were interested. They were shocked and you could feel the energy in the room – every eye wide open – every ear wondering if they had heard this ‘white Canadian woman’ speaker correctly? I asked for two volunteers from each of the ‘sides’ of the room who would stand ‘in’ for the group – in identification repentance. I explained that this doesn’t take away everyone’s personal responsibility but it’s a beginning – a way of drawing a line in the sand, of setting our hearts and minds and lives around a new declaration of how things can be. Two young men jumped to their feet and made their way to the front and took turns apologizing to each other for racial slurs, expectations, distance, suspicions, and fear. They chose to forgive each other and determined and declared they would live a different way. They embraced. Everyone held their breath. Something was shifting. The gospel was starting to come alive – Jesus was making His way clearer! People were starting to get the revelation that the Jesus way is not easy – but it is good.
As the worship band started to cue the prayer, I sensed it was time for a different response. It was time to live out our prayers. So I challenged every kid to consider leaving their ‘side’ of the auditorium and meet someone new. I challenged them to say they were sorry it took them this long to live a different way and that they needed help to learn how. I challenged them to exchange phone numbers and set a time to have dinner at each other’s house. I’m not sure it was inspired – it felt more like a good idea but after years of reflection and spiritual growth I now realize that a meal is the perfect practice for Kingdom come.
It was a cold end at that event. The leader was furious. I had stirred something deep that was none of my business! I had exposed an unbelief at the heart of their experience, that unity was ‘too hard and maybe even too late’ for them. Another big fat lie. This lie is especially tempting to believe in places of deep division and fear. I was never invited back (not much of a surprise). And for days after I wondered if I had done the wrong thing. Then I met her. She was a beautiful African American woman who had been there in Detroit those few months ago. Now she was in Chicago (at another event) and when she saw me from a distance she bolted up the aisle shouting my name – holding up her phone. She reached me breathless and simply held up some pictures for me to see while tears streamed down her face. I saw the images of her dinner at the house of a girl she met that day in Detroit. And then she scrolled to pictures of that girl having dinner at her house and then a picture of both of them arm in arm and grinning from ear to ear. And that’s when I knew. The gospel had been preached. The ministry of reconciliation had begun. A meal shared, a people united, a new generation who were tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. That there is now no longer generations of bitterness that can’t be breached, or fear and suspicion that can never be overcome, or shame or guilt that can never be forgiven. This is the power of the gospel – the ministry of reconciliation. So pass the fried chicken and the shepherds pie – let’s breach the aisles that divide us and demonstrate to a world deeply divided that we hold the remedy to it’s deepest pain. We are ambassadors of this news, this good news – we are one. It’s time to start living it.
We are ambassadors of this news, this good news – we are one.
Some keys to doing this together:
- It’s your business. If you are an Ambassador of the Jesus you have a ministry of reconciliation.
- It’s not too hard or too late. We must live out our belief that God CAN and WILL do things that seem impossible.
- Let’s get honest. Even if all we are doing is stating the obvious, we have got to let go of fear and embrace the truth.
- We must move. Across the aisle or the city – we must make a move towards each other.
- Time to repent. An acknowledgement of separation and fear and a declaration to make a new beginning will go along way in bridging the divide.
- We should eat more. Get a coffee or a lunch or have someone over for dinner. Mix as friends. This isn’t about function – it’s about relationship.
- Celebrate. Whenever we spot God’s kingdom coming we should celebrate. I’m not even sure we have to list this as a step because I think this will be a natural overflow – but let’s make sure we notice the ‘new people’ we are becoming and thank the One who made it possible.
Want to go deeper into this conversation? Join Danielle at our Global Conference in Orlando March 2-5 as she unpacks John 17 and how we are the answer to Jesus’ prayer. The conference brings together 100+ speakers, 150+ workshops, 10 pre-conference intensives, and 75+ networks and denominations. With our 5 and 10-pack tickets it’s the perfect opportunity to bring your team together to gain the tools you need to move your church forward. For information about bringing your team to the global conference, click here.