My journey: lesson 5
I’m thankful for Kwasi Kena, Safiyah Fosua and Santes Beatty
I’ve shared tables with these two African American Wesley Seminary professors, Kwasi Kena and Safiyah Fosua, as we engaged together in planning sessions and faculty meeting and enjoyed each other’s company in the dining hall. They were essential contributors to the seminary in its early formative years, including the formation of the Tom Benjamin School of Ministry Cohorts.
Santes Beatty is the lead pastor of Mosaic Midtown in Detroit, Michigan, as well as a multiethnic multiplication catalyst for The Wesleyan Church. We’ve shared tables at Headquarters and in restaurants. I consistently reference his insights into multiethnic ministry and historic black churches.
Turn the tables
Pastor Katie Lance (Thrive Church, Eaton Rapids, Michigan) asked me a question that was difficult to answer: what is the one sermon you’ve preached that best captures your passion and priorities? I chose “Who’s at your table?” from Luke 5:27-32, which illustrates how Jesus “turned the tables.” Whereas the religious power brokers of his day used the table to exclude people, Jesus used the table to include people. I wonder if the greater culturally redemptive ministry impact of Jesus’ ministry took place at tables rather than the temple. It has become a life message that I’ve shared in local churches, college campuses and broader gatherings.
Tables can make a difference in a variety of ways, all of which require humility, a learning/listening posture, intentionality and initiative.
Table of hospitality
The Bible commands us to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13), which can be translated “pursue loving strangers.” We are told to not neglect it (Hebrews 13:2) nor offer it begrudgingly (1 Peter 4:9). Jesus modeled it in his ministry (Luke 5). The Apostle Paul identified it as a qualification for spiritual leaders (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8). How would it change our churches if every leader hosted at their tables people who were different than them or unfamiliar to them?
My wife, Jan, is an educator who recently taught English to speakers of other languages in university contexts. Together, we have shared our dinner table with students in initial cohorts of Seminario Wesley (Wesley Seminary) and welcomed one of her Taylor University students to live with us for a season. The conversation, laughter and expressions of concerns shared over meals expanded my heart.
Table of discipleship/gospel-sharing
Jesus utilized table time to fulfill his essential purpose (Luke 5:31-32), bringing wholeness and righteousness to those who needed it most. His “transforming presence” at tables was questioned by religious leaders (Pharisees) but welcomed by those often marginalized by others. The people at Jesus’ tables (Luke 5:27-30) were very different than those at the religious leaders’ tables (Luke 7:36-50). Would that still be true today?
Table of learning/partnership
While serving at Kentwood Community Church (KCC), I was part of an “Order of the Towel” group that met at a Rescue Mission. Almost all participants besides me were pastors of local African American churches. I learned that those relationships had the opportunity to house more tension than some of my others — because I pastored an increasingly multiethnic church, rather than an “all-white church.” I was considered by some to be a “competitor.”
I have gained so many insights from Santes Beatty, one of the founders and conveners of the Call & Response Conference. He stated it this way: “There is a tension between the multiethnic movement and the black church. Historically and practically, the multiethnic movement has benefited from the black church while not mutually giving back to her. However, the reality of planting, sustaining or growing segregated churches remains a challenge for any ministry in a diverse community. This tension is one that should be lovingly confronted with sound theology and ecclesiology.”
I eventually learned that there were two “roles” open to me in relationship to these beloved brothers — learner and partner. I also learned that my informality with titles, etc., could easily be viewed as disrespectful (Andy Crouch, author of Strong and Weak, has an insightful section on leadership in the Black church – pp. 125ff). I was used to functioning more as an equipper and leader, but in this context, I developed such wonderful relationships as a learner and partner.
Table of multiethnic ministry
While at KCC, guest presenters were welcomed to our staff meetings to equip us in transitioning to a multiethnic church. One of those, Julian Newman, asked compelling question I’ve often referred to and reflected on years later: “Are you seeking authentic diversity or cosmetic diversity?” Cosmetic diversity is when we’re satisfied to look different, with a bit more color among attendees. Authentic diversity requires sharing of power and position at the culture-shaping, decision-making tables in our church.
KCC began to be intentional about having people of color at our culture-shaping, decision-making tables in every ministry area (local board of administration, Nex Gen, worship arts, hospitality, outreach, small groups, etc.). That intentionality was criticized and dismissed by some as “quotas.” At times, it also worked against people of color having some opportunity for good fun and deep fellowship just with each other — “islands of particularity in a sea of inclusion.” While intentionality may not be perfect, passivity is impotent. For years, our “everyone is welcome” sentiment accomplished little until we turned the tables.
KCC’s multiethnic journey had an unintended consequence that became a source of even greater significance and joy. The “Lord’s Table” (I Corinthians 10:16) had deeper meeting as those sharing Communion looked more like the multiethnic gathering in heaven (Revelation 7:9).
Wrapping up this series
Authoring this blog series has refreshed my gratitude for so many who have invested in me and renewed my commitment to keep learning new lessons as I’m privileged to interact with a diversity of others. It has been my joy to watch The Wesleyan Church (TWC) become the Kingdom Force we have been praying for: multigenerational, multiethnic and multieconomic, women and men, lay and clergy, everywhere to everywhere.
To become the Kingdom Force that reflects the birth of the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2) and those we’ll share heaven with one day will require a deep dependence on the Holy Spirit and an increased intentionality around our tables and in our churches. It will include the hard questions of ourselves and our churches, like those found in “The Wesleyan Church … as it is in heaven.”
We must not only be readers and hearers, but doers. How will you put your faith-filled intentions into action?
I will seek to cultivate discernment and perseverance so I can fully participate in defining moments and be faithful in little things in daily moments.
I will not wait until I have it all figured out but will be a lifelong learner as I influence others in my home, church and community.
Movements engage a wide variety of people with various ideas and motives. While seeking clarity for my own convictions and actions, I will embrace the reality that even common causes involved people with a variety of motives and approaches.
I will humbly acknowledge God’s gracious blessings, not arrogantly concluding I’ve earned or deserve it all. I will act in the awareness that I’m blessed to be a blessing.
LESSON #5: Turn the table
The tables in my life will include who are not familiar to me (new people) and those not similar to me (various ethnicities, beliefs and spiritual commitments).
The Ultimate Resource
The Holy Spirit must be our ultimate resource for any kingdom-worthy endeavor. I’m grateful Wesleyans believe in the transforming power of the Spirit to make us holy people. We believe discipleship should be holistic — not solitary but social. As John Wesley forcefully stated, “Holy solitaries is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”
As a Wesleyan pastoral colleague also forcefully stated, “I get that TWC is not only a holiness church. We are also a church with a rich history in social activism. Certainly, our call to holiness also calls us to action, but it should not require that the denomination leave holiness behind to accomplish social justice. Our answer is NO!”
That “perfect love” and optimistic grace is rooted deeply in Scripture and theology, calling us to love God and others, including strangers and even enemies. Many voices will be needed to express it and the Holy Spirit will be needed to live it.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Jesus in Mark 12:30-31).