Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Hey Everyone! Welcome to this week’s edition of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast. This episode is the final of a four-part series of Community Conversations on Race all releasing today that were hosted by Rev. Donna Covington, Vice President of Formation at Asbury Seminary. These recordings are also available as a video series at thrive.asburyseminary.edu, but we wanted to make them available in podcast, too.

Today’s conversation discusses church leadership. In this episode, Rev. Donna Covington leads a discussion with a panel of guests about how we can reflect and respond in a way that honors God during these times.

Let’s listen!

Community Conversation on Race, Church Leadership

Rev. Carolyn Moore is the founding pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans, Georgia, and has been serving this ministry since 2003. She is absolutely in love with the people of Mosaic (and she’s pretty sure they like her, too). The challenge of building an authentic missional community is the thing that gets Carolyn up every day. Carolyn received her M.Div. from Asbury Seminary in 1998 and her D.Min. in 2018.

Rev. Dale Locke is the lead pastor of Community of Hope Church in Florida. He is the husband of one incredible wife, Beth, and the dad to two beautiful girls, Haley and Shelley! A native Floridian and long-time resident of Palm Beach County, Dale is a graduate of John I Leonard High School and Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Biblical Preaching and Christian Church Leadership, also from the Seminary. In his spare time, Dale enjoys hanging out with the Locke girls, reading history, listening to all kinds of music, and running. Dale is also a member of the Seminary’s board of trustees.

Rev. Kyle Ray serves as the lead pastor of Sent Church in Plano, Texas. Prior to that he served for nine years as the Lead Pastor of Kentwood Community Church in Michigan, a multi-site church that successfully navigated the transition from being mono-ethnic to multi-ethnic. In 2003, Kyle felt a call to ministry and left his career in engineering to pursue a M.Div. degree at Asbury Seminary. He is passionate about assisting vulnerable children and has volunteered his time to assist Bethany Christian Services and Christian Alliance for Orphans. He has run endurance races with World Vision to raise funds for clean water and child sponsorship. For 20 years, he has led on a number of boards and advisory councils and brings experience in budget planning, leadership accountability and strategic planning. He and his wife Petra have two adopted boys, Malik and Matthew, and a daughter Mimi for whom they are the legal guardians.

Rev. Gregg Parris is senior pastor of Union Chapel United Methodist Church in Muncie, Indiana. He received a BSEd from Valparaiso University and his M.Div. from Asbury Seminary, where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He has served on various church and community boards, including the Mission Society for United Methodists, Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, Antioch Network, and the South Madison Community Center. He is also a member of the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists and the North Indiana Conference Evangelical Fellowship, which awarded him the W. J. Briggs Personal Evangelism Award. Rev. Parris is a frequent speaker at many conferences, churches, retreats, and mission events. He and his wife, Beth Ann, have two children.

Rev. Donna Covington is the Vice President of Formation at Asbury Seminary. She is a highly accomplished senior leader with experience in both corporate and higher education with a heart for ministry. Rev. Covington spent most of her life in the corporate world, serving in managerial positions at Texas Instruments and IBM from 1979-1991. From 1991-2007, she worked at Lexmark International, Inc., in a succession of positions from director to Vice President of Customer Service. After her son was killed in an altercation over a racial slur in 2010, Rev. Covington decided she wanted to spend the rest of her life helping in the spiritual and professional formation of future leaders. As a first-generation African-American college student, Rev. Covington prioritizes student success through student-focused initiatives. From 2010-2014, she worked at Kentucky State University, enhancing the university’s commitment to academic excellence, research and community service. Rev. Covington has been trained in Design Thinking at Stanford University, chaired Lexmark’s first Diversity Initiative, as well as the Black Achievers for Central Kentucky, and was recognized nationally by the President’s Award for Women of Color in Technology.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast. This episode is the final of a four part series of community conversations on race. All releasing today that were hosted by Rev. Donna Covington, Vice President of Formation at Asbury Seminary. These recordings are also available as a video series at thrive.asburyseminary.edu. But we wanted to make them available in podcast form too. Today’s conversation discusses church leadership. In this episode, Rev. Donna Covington leads a panel discussion with guests about how we can reflect and respond in a way that honors God during these times. Let’s listen.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Hello, friends. I’m so grateful for you and those joining today in our continued community conversations on the topics around race and the events that are happening in our country. We’ve recently witnessed the senseless and unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. We continue to grieve and lament as the body of Christ and a nation over these deaths and many others that represent the injustice and racism that continues to plague our country.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Today we’ll be talking about pastoral on leadership, and how we can lead our congregations through these times. Many of you are either leading churches or being trained for pastoral leadership. Perhaps you would like some help with how to lead during these times, know that you are in the right place. We have a panel of outstanding pastors and leaders, who will help us understand how we as the body of Christ can reflect and respond in a way that honors God. My name is Rev. Donna Covington and I serve as the Vice President of Formation here at the seminary.

Rev. Donna Covington:
I’m joined today by a distinguished panel of pastors and church leaders who bring many years of experience and a diversity of perspective to our discussion. I’m delighted and excited to have all of you join us today. So let me introduce them. Today we have Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore. Carolyn has served as a United Methodist pastor since 1998. She is the founding lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia where she had served since 2003. She holds a Master’s of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. Welcome, Carolyn.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
Thank you. It’s great to be here. Thanks.

Rev. Donna Covington:
We also have Rev. Dr. E. Dale Locke. Dale is the founding Lead Pastor of Community Hope Church. A large multi site United Methodist congregation serving south east Florida, where he served since 1996. Dale holds a Masters of Divinity and a Doctorate of Ministry from Asbury and is also a member of our Board of Trustees, where he serves alongside of me on the Formation Committee. Welcome, Dale.

Rev. Dale Locke:
Yes. Thanks, Donna. Glad to be here.

Rev. Donna Covington:
We also have Rev. Kyle Ray. Kyle is the Senior Pastor of Sent Church in Plano, Texas. He previously served as the former Lead Pastor at Cottonwood church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And was instrumental in transitioning this multi site church from mono ethnic to multi ethnic. Kyle is a graduate of Asbury Seminary and also joined the Board of Trustees at the seminary in May of this year. Welcome, Kyle.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
Thank you, Donna. Glad to be part of the conversation.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Last and not least we have Rev. Gregg Parris. Gregg serves as the Senior Pastor of Union Chapel, United Methodist Church in Muncie, Indiana. He has served as their pastor since 1981 and is entering his 40th year since becoming the pastor. What a servant’s heart. Gregg completed his Master’s of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary and it’s also member of the Board of Trustees. Welcome, Gregg.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
Thank you, Donna. It’s really a pleasure to be with you today. And just to rehearse that I started in my current appointment in 1981 that’s not 1881. That would have been just after the Civil War so 1981.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Did I say 1881?

Rev. Gregg Parris:
You said it right. I just wanted to make sure folks knew that I wasn’t that old.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Did I say 1981 or 1881?

Rev. Gregg Parris:
No, you didn’t. I was just making a joke.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Okay. Gregg, thank you. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on this important topic. There’s so much for us to talk about so let’s just jump right in. I want to start with some questions around the gospel, race and justice. In light of the recent deaths and events, why should race, racism and justice be important topics of discussion and action for the church? Who wants to get us started?

Rev. Gregg Parris:
Oh, it’s pretty straightforward for me, Donna. Jesus is the most compelling person that I’ve ever met. I’ve given my life to serving Him and His church. And Jesus taught us probably first and foremost of the sacredness of every single person in the world made in His image and likeness. And therefore, it is incumbent upon us to find the best ways to love everybody regardless of our differences and regardless of any other category. And so to model Jesus is the Christian way to recognize the gospel is the power of God to anyone and everyone who can be transformed by its glorious message. And so it is simply following the mandate to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Amen.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
It strikes me that it’s the marriage of the creation story and Jesus when He said, “A new commandment I give you, love one another.” So the creation story tells us that we are created in the image of God. So we had better learn how to appreciate, to see, to expose the image of God and one another as we live in community. Then Jesus kind of brings that forward when He says, “A new commandment I give you,” which is really a very ancient commandment, love one another. When we talk about it in terms of racism or justice issues or just race and justice, what we’re really doing is we’re helping our congregations to understand the subtleties of what loving one another means.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
It’s not enough to just say, “Can’t we all just love each other? Or I just love everybody. I don’t think about skin color.” That oversimplifies and in some ways justifies our naivete. When we pinpoint and highlight specific parts of loving each other, we’re really helping our congregation to understand what maturity looks like, and what the depth of love looks like, that it’s not just a Hallmark card. That this… and to help our congregation see us well… And I don’t need to even talk about a congregation help me understand as well. Just the depth and the breadth and the richness and the extraordinary, extraordinary mystery of holy love.

Rev. Donna Covington:
That’s so good, Carolyn. That we’re really modeling what the Trinity is showing to us. We looking to build steps of love.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
Yes, yes. And we’re not letting the Christian voice get away with oversimplifying what is rich and deep and mystery.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
I think that the church has to talk about justice because the very nature of Jesus coming to live and die arise again, is a justice issue. Jesus, obviously took the penalty that we deserve for sin. So we serve a savior who embodies justice and we ascribe to Scripture that has justice all throughout it. We become hypocritical if we talk about righteousness, if we talk about love, if we talk about truth and wisdom but we aren’t advocates for justice. And so it’s not even a matter of in light of current injustices it’s like throughout history, God’s people were always called the people who are on the side of justice, because we serve a God who’s on the side of justice. Justice for the stranger in the land, justice for the marginalized, justice for the oppressed, the fatherless, the widow.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
All of these groups of people throughout Scripture, we see a God who is deeply concerned with their justice, we cannot… You get to a point where you say, “We cannot claim to love God and know God well, if we aren’t on the side of justice.” So something that we have to talk about. And I think that the reality is that justice also has or has always had social implications, because justice hasn’t just been something that’s been in a vacuum somewhere on its own, justice always impacted people. So it always had social implications. So it’s just so interesting how… I mean, I’m sure we’ll get into this, but in how the climate of our nation has changed where 15 years ago commentators could say, “Hey, if you have a pastor who stands up from the pulpit and talks about social justice, you need to run and find a different church.”

Rev. Kyle Ray:
Because it was seen as some, I don’t know, kind of liberal phrasing or whatever. But now, people are realizing you can’t talk about justice without talking about how it impacts people and that’s the way God operates. This justice that impacts the livelihoods of people.

Rev. Dale Locke:
I think God… That’s… Yeah, appreciate what Kyle is saying. I think that’s what makes this conversation so relevant and so important right now. And when you look at the life of Jesus, he ennobled everyone around him. And he took marginalized, he took people who have always been captivated by the phrase versus Jesus was a friend of sinners. And if you look at the church oftentimes today, what you find is that people are still looking for God, but they’re not necessarily looking for the church. And so it sort of reminds me of the tension in that, that while Jesus was a friend of sinners, oftentimes, the body of Christ, even Christians in general, are not necessarily viewed in that way as friends of sinners. And it would tell me in that moment, really in my own life that maybe I’m not doing it right.

Rev. Dale Locke:
Because there’s an opportunity really to model and to embody what Jesus really brought when you fulfill the law. It’s about it’s about a towel and a basin and we live in a culture where everything is set up as a power structure. And Jesus just came in inverted that and boy, you get a clear understanding of that. Not only will that change your life, it’ll change the trajectory of your life. So this is an important conversation right now for sure.

Rev. Donna Covington:
That’s great and I think it leads to the second question I’d like to ask around. So how would you advise church leaders to respond amidst the deaths and the protests that are happening in our country right now? What should be the posture of church leaders during times like this?

Rev. Dale Locke:
Well, I’ll tell you. For me, I think it begins certainly with naming what we see. And just as a personal word, I was to take a week of vacation. When all this happened, my wife and I just celebrated 33 years of marriage. So we were going to look forward to be away in that time and when all this happened, especially with the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day, I knew right away when that hit the airwaves that I was not going to be able to take vacation because my people are going to need to hear from me. And especially even… I would say this way, especially even my people of color are going to need to hear from. And so it’s important as a leader right now that we’re not silent and that we’re not late.

Rev. Dale Locke:
We can’t be either one of those things and so to use this opportunity that we wish we were not in to have a frank and honest conversation which is certainly what we’ve been doing at Community of Hope. And there’s a lot of weight in that. We’re all going to talk about that but just as a first I would say, name the people, name the situation and move toward it.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
I just think that leaders… Yeah. So I love what Dale said. Leaders are in a position where they have to often say something. To ignore it is not a good leadership move. I do want to say just as a tangent, we started hearing this phrasing people would say, “Silence is a way of saying you’re complicit.” If you don’t say anything then you must be okay with what happened. And I think what that prompted some people to do is say some things that weren’t processed fully, some things that they shouldn’t have said. I’m so not so much talking about people in leadership positions. I’m saying some people felt the pressure of society to say something and they said things that just were ignorant. And so then they got eviscerated online and it’s like, not everybody has to say it something, some people just need to listen first.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
But coming off of that tangent, I think what we have to do is learn how to lament because we live in a world where things are so… We’re bombarded every day with images that are traumatic. And so then it becomes easy to be desensitized to the fact that what happened with George Floyd yeah, there’s outrage about the police department, but there’s lament. There’s lament over a family that’s lost a son, a father or a brother all the different relationships. And you don’t see that lament kick in first, you see the outrage take over and then it’s easy to jump into camps. And then you’ve got memes of showing the knee on George Floyd’s neck or vice versa.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
What if the tables returned? And t-shirts and all these things that go on and it’s easy to forget hey, as church leaders, we need to help people process and lament. Let us never become too comfortable with the image of seeing someone die on camera. That shouldn’t mess with us that should break our hearts. So I think in addition to all the other responsibilities we have a shepherd leaders, one of them is to help people just simply grieve and lament.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
In this season particularly, if… I think the operative word coming both from the leader and as the leaders encouragement to our people, needs to be grace. I would say first of all, our job as spiritual leaders is to always start with the Scripture. At some… Everything that is unjust we can find the place in the Scripture that will inform us most wisely. So start with the Word. But everything should be covered with grace. Just as you said folks come out there a little too fast out of the gate say things that may not have been well thought through and if we are not willing to give one another grace in a season where we were already on the edge because of a pandemic and economic instability now add this on top of it. It’s a lot to ask everybody to have a pitch perfect word in the perfect time and we as a church need to be leaders in offering and counseling grace.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
So one of my pastoral words to my people is, please pick up the phone and call. More face to face conversations, more telephone conversations, more zoom conversations and less knee jerk responses on social media because we’ve had… I think, we’ve filled our quota of those. Earlier this week, we had a conversation with one of the groups in our churches. It’s a ministry to women. It’s a mentoring ministry for women and in that room, it just happened this way it’s not our normal. But it just happened that the number of people who showed up were 14, seven African American women, seven white women. And we had what one of them referred to as an unscripted conversation. And I love that word.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
I was personally convicted by that word. I realized that everything I say is scripted. Everything I say is scripted. And I’ve benefited so much from a room where I felt safe enough to have some unscripted conversation. So I think my last thought here would simply be first, start with the Word, second cover everything with grace and third, as leaders we also need to be willing to have unscripted conversation, not only the scripted from the pulpit or on the screen conversations that we offer.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
Yeah, I would just follow up there. A lot of times when these situations happen in our culture Donna, one of the things that I’ll do I’m sure all of us are doing this as pastors. I will call people or meet with people who I have, after many years of ministry in the same setting, just come to understand they’re going to have a particular feeling or thought around that. And I feel like they need to hear from me. So just to follow up really with what Carolyn is saying a lot of what I would like to believe happens at our church on the stage is the byproduct of what has been happening relationally in what happens off the stage. And I think a lot of times as leaders and as pastors, we can underestimate that and there is a relational presence, there’s a relational responsibility, especially in these moments. And just to listen diverse we’ve really captured on right now in our handling of this is James 1:19 through 22.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
Where Jesus half brother, right? Is saying to the church and to those who would listen, “We should be slow to speak, quick to listen.” And so we’re really, really I think what he’s saying there’s we want to listen twice as long as we speak. We got one mouth and we have two ears. And so I think that’s really… I mean, that’s really important. So a lot of that work that happens off will help form really the context of the voice that needs to happen on the stage. It’s important part of our work as pastors.

Rev. Donna Covington:
And I think all of you all are giving great advice to pastors and church leaders that says, “Listen, stop long enough to process your thoughts. Process your thoughts through the Word of God. Bring a theological context to what you’re saying, but don’t be afraid to share the gospel.” Kyle we are lamenting, we watched someone murdered on national TV. Place of deep, deep grief. And yet our congregations, our people need to hear the shepherd’s voice saying, “Go this way.” And so I love all of what you all are saying to encourage pastors not to be afraid to speak. Make sure you’re speaking well you don’t have to be scripted, but have a foundational place and relationship off screen that you can bring to the congregation.

Rev. Donna Covington:
But we can’t… I don’t believe that pastors or leaders, that you can be silent forever and hope this goes away. This is not going away. And it helps with the next question I have for you around, just as you’re speaking as you’re putting things together, what theological framework, what lens are you processing and addressing these events that are happening in our country, for your local congregation? And I want this question to have two pieces. There’s a local congregation piece many of you are multisiting, so you’re into several congregations. But all of you all bring up a piece about social media. So the pandemic, now these deaths have… People are looking on social media.

Rev. Donna Covington:
How can pastors use social media to honor God and to spread the gospel and to process these events in a way that honors and brings glory to God and to the kingdom? So a little bit of two questions here. Just maybe some practical ways for pastors to think through it Kyle, to process their way through and not get caught in the trap of social media where they get a firestorm backlash for saying something maybe not so wise.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
I just want to say quickly, and then I may come back on this question as well. But I want to echo what Carolyn said, it has to be rooted in Scripture. I guess for me I am reminded, I think about 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scriptures God breath and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness so the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I hold tightly to that in realizing that I think all scripture is relevant and timely when these things happen. And I remind myself that these aren’t the only moments in history where traumatic things have happened that pastors have had to stand up and speak about. For me personally, that keeps me from having my preaching calendar I guess, be a bunch of knee jerk reaction kind of sermons.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
I’m not so stubborn that I’m like, “Okay, if I’m in a sermon series, I will not deviate regardless current events.” I would just say my first bias is more like I bet God knew in advance what was going to happen in the world before I landed on this series that I was going to be in. It just so happened I think I was starting this series in Revelation, walking through the book when George Floyd was killed and it prompted me to look at some of the verbiage in chapter one of Revelation was more timely than I realized. If you had asked me, “Hey, would this chapter speak to this kind of situation in advance?” I might have said, “I don’t see how it be connected.” But in God’s wisdom, all scripture is God breathed. All of it is relevant.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
So my word in that to pastors is, you don’t necessarily have to preach a sermon like, how do we respond as a church to what happened to George Floyd. It’s more like you might be anchored in a text that you walk through anyway and in your own study, God begins to reveal connections. And I would say be faithful to that leading. And then the quick word on social media is just… I think social media highlights the fact that we are overloaded with information. So the message I’ve been saying to people is, there’s media, there’s social media all of it has its various biases. And then there’s some things on social media that are just not true. There’s some things on social media that are designed to destabilize society and create chaos. What is your filter? How will you listen to the Holy Spirit to discern what’s biased media in whatever form? What’s just untrue? Please have a filter so you aren’t just spreading stuff that’s gone true or unfounded? So I stop there and like I said, I may come back depending on how the conversation goes.

Rev. Donna Covington:
That’s great.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
All of our all of our communication has to be carefully considered especially with the nature of social media, as Kyle was just mentioning. I mean, it has a life of its own and it can run in all kinds of directions. So it has to be thoughtful. What I’ve discovered is that people need a pastoral perspective. And that’s the role that we’re called to fill. And the statement that I made following Mr. Floyd’s death has gotten more shares than anything I’ve ever done on any subject at any time. And so the opportunity to make a statement, I think it has to be real. And we talk about lament, we talk about anger, we talk about disappointment all of those emotions I think you have to be real about that.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
In my case, I’m a white guy. I have to be humble because I don’t understand as well as I can or should or will. I don’t understand the issues at the level that others would understand it. And I have to be humble about that and forthright about that and model for people what that looks like and feels like. It has to be biblical. I always spin an update readings a passage of scripture. I love Romans 12. And the passage is there about loving authentically and grieving with those who grieve and rejoicing with those who rejoice and caring for one another well. Proverbs 21: “…speak for those who have no voice. Stand up for those who are oppressed.” These are references that help guide us and so in there in that way being directive. Giving people permission to be confused, to be hurt, to be sad and to engage in meaningful conversations.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
It’s good, it’s a good thing. You don’t have to say the right thing all the time, we’re all going to step in it and that’s just the nature of things. And then ultimately we have to be reassuring. God is with us. God’s got this. God’s got us. He is a faithful God. He’s immutable. He’s not worried. He’s not panicked. He’s not afraid. And we can follow His good promises in that way. So it has to incorporate those kinds of dynamics I think, and it has to be consistent and it has to be on point. And as Dale said, it has to be timely. All that stuff is part of the responsibility of leadership in a pastoral setting.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Gregg, I think you bring us to a great point and a segue of, so as pastors think their way through this and address what’s currently happening, how do pastors lead a congregation and others on a journey against anti-racism, to stand for justice? What’s the journey? What’s the process that you work through in your own heart and mind to help your congregation become aware, become advocates and work for racial reconciliation?

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
I would say I’m thinking about maybe in a little bit more general sense. We’ve had these back to back opportunities to sharpen our theological perspective. With the pandemic first, did God cause this? Is God judging us with the virus? Or is this part of the fallen world and we respond as fallen humans in the ways we care for one another, as we work through this? And it’s the same with this current national unrest in this current circumstance. We have the opportunity to really start with what we believe and the theological platform from which we speak. So pulling out something like Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”, to understand how I speak.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
Am I speaking from a place of Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox or Christ transforming culture that shapes how I talk about justice issues. And it allows me to be less reactive in the moment and really rooting my congregation. So I end up discipling rather than pitching an opinion. And the book that has been so useful to me in this particular season has been Rediscipling the White Church. And he frames all of this as a discipleship issue. And I think if we think of it as a discipleship issue we can then also remind ourselves and our congregations, we’re not just going to jump from incident to incident. This is going to be an ongoing conversation for us. We’re going to become consistent at discipling ourselves as a community to interpret every event, every issue through the particular lens of our theological worldview.

Rev. Donna Covington:
It’s great. That’s great Carolyn. Thank you. Other thoughts around how we’ll help our churches take this journey? I love the framework of discipleship. I think that’s true that justice is a part of our discipleship journey along with many other things, but certainly how we shape and form our people to become more like Christ, to become a true disciple. Other thoughts on that journey that you will lead your congregation through or advice to pastors how they might lead their congregations as it relates to thinking through racism and what that means in the church and a journey towards justice.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
I think it goes back to what Dale was mentioning about relationships. And I think it always starts with relationships. So as Lead Pastors, people that are leading congregations people look at who you are in personal relationship with. And I think we have to do some self examination as to who were are in personal relationship with. So often and I’m just saying, homogenous settings that seek to become more diverse, the senior leader has so many things on their plate it becomes easy to try and delegate diversity journeys, cross cultural journeys. And I think those who find the greatest success realized at some point, that has got to be a personal issue that starts in the heart of the senior leader. Because if it doesn’t start there then the senior leader can’t even see their own blind spots.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
So I think we have to be able to have relationships with people that can help us discover our blind spots and then we have to be willing to share with people what it is that we really feel when these things happened. And the thing that people appreciate is transparency. So I think what’s been interesting about the response since George Floyd was killed is, people were surprised by how many white folks spoke up about how unjust they felt the incident was. And it felt like for years before there would be incidents that would happen, maybe even captured on video, where pastors felt like, whoa, wait and I’d say, white pastor felt like we got to be careful not to rush to judgment. People deserve a right to have a fair trial.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
And I think with Ahmaud Arbery and with George Floyd people couldn’t say that anymore. Because it’s like the very word you’re saying wait, we got to make sure people get a fair opportunity to trial was… Ahmaud Arbery didn’t get that and neither did George Floyd regardless of what their backgrounds may have been. And so anyway, I just think it becomes an opportunity to say what relationships do I have? Who do I break bread with? Who can I have that it’s safe to ask my questions to? If I don’t have any of those relationships, I may not know my blind spots and therefore I may not be in touch with the very things that my congregation is even wrestling with. I don’t know if you can lead a congregation in these times if you don’t have cross cultural relationships yourself, where you can be vulnerable, where you can make mistakes, where you need to be on the receiving end of grace, where you can learn and grow before you shepherd a congregation through this.

Rev. Dale Locke:
It’s such a powerful thing that Kyle is saying there and I think the only thing I would add just to that… that was awesome. Is that I’m a big believer in pre emptive leadership, Donna and I think there are moments when we’re really trying to establish a conversation. And so what I train my staff and folks around me who are doing this kind of stuff is, to set the boundaries in place. And I think a lot of times, people who are particularly chafed around a conversation that you’re moving into if you can establish some boundaries on the front end, they’re going to be willing to go with you a little bit further than they might have if they’re not sure where you’re going to land the plane. And so I think it’s really important to have those kinds of conversations and set that up.

Rev. Dale Locke:
And the other thing that I try to do with this too, is I try to have people in our congregation who I’ve given permission to when I’m preaching and teaching to listen to me and to talk to me later and offline about what didn’t sound right, what sounded out of tune, what wasn’t far enough, what was… and I think the willingness to be able to have those experiences, especially if you’re able to do that over a length of time people are going to know your heart. They already know you’re walking up into these places of leadership with some established capital that pays dividends and moments when we as leaders every now and again, have to make an exchange on that capital. We have to take what we have garnered and put it on the table and say, “I’m going to move our conversation into a difficult conversation.”

Rev. Dale Locke:
And where I think right now becomes particularly difficult is and I’m going to say this, our media has created a context for us where we’re often, we have double binds. And if we say one thing, it means we’re either completely in alignment with something else. I really feel this, I’ll just say I feel this right now with Black Lives Matter. Of course, black lives matter. Every life matters. We’re all created in the image of God but I don’t personally hold all of the tenants of the organization of that name. And so what I find with a lot of my white folks are they’re nervous about that and so they don’t want to say anything about it. And the media, really when I think of what Paul said in Ephesians 6, where our battle is not… It’s not flesh, it’s this other thing.

Rev. Dale Locke:
I mean, I think that is our battle because that’s where the enemy creates these double binds. We’re all afraid to say anything. And we have to remember as leaders in the church we should be offering people what they can’t get anywhere else. If we just sound like the culture and if we just sound like them and they get that anywhere. But they ought to be able to get from us what they can’t get anywhere else and that’s clear teaching from God’s Word. Challenge when it’s appropriate, empathy and compassion and grace when that’s required. That makes a big difference in a conversation like this that is so complex.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
Donna, I just think these are so helpful considerations for pastoral leaders. Kyle is the guy on this panel today who has the most authority to speak on this subject. And not just because he’s a minority ethnically, but because he’s actually done, he’s practiced in pastoral ministry this kind of unifying effect. Years ago our mayor here in Muncie, Indiana announced that the three community centers which were owned by the city and operated by the city all of which operated in minority communities would have to be closed for financial reasons. It was a big, big deal. Two have these centers had direct ties to the Civil Rights Movement. They were named after prominent citizens in our community who were icons of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a big deal.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
When I read that report in the paper I thought to myself, that’s not good. That’s not right. Somebody ought to do something about that. And then my next thought was, I think from the Holy Spirit saying, “Why don’t you do something about that?” And so I found myself in the mayor’s office, offering the mayor out of my naivete and my total lack of experience and racial awareness because I’m just a white guy from a small town in Indiana. So what do I know? And I offer the mayor that I would take over those three community centers. I would fund them, I would staff them, I would rally other Christians in the community to do this. The mayor thought I was crazy, which I was. Fast forward 10 years later, my congregation literally kept those centers going.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
The two in the African-American neighborhoods we’ve literally kept them open for over a decade with a couple of other partners. I intentionally immersed myself and this is back to Kyle’s point, you have to intentionally engage in relationships with people who are different than you are and assume a learning posture and develop enough trust so that you can step in it once in a while and they’ll hose you off and still love you and that’s what I did. And as a result of that, I was actually given the highest honor of my ministerial career. Whatever humble effect I’ve had in the world, the highest honor I don’t expect to ever get a higher one is that I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the city wide Martin Luther King worship celebration.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
I’m the only white guy in the history of our city who’s been invited to keynote that event. And it was a tremendous, humbling honor. So you say how do you lead a congregation in this? Well, in my case, by God’s grace I model what it looks like to engage in meaningful relationships with people that whose culture is different and you just don’t appreciate and understand. There’s no way for you to have that unless you really make effort to engage in meaningful ways, authentic ways and relationship with people God calls you alongside of. And so that would be my admonition. My greatest challenge to pastoral leaders out there. This is my soapbox people talk about this stuff until it turns a different color. And talking helps when it’s meaningful in relationship, but just merely talking about this isn’t going to get us there. We’ve got to understand each other better and that happens in intentional, authentic relationships that can lead to projects and other things.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
We did a city wide… I helped lead an initiative a few years ago, where we wanted to have a unity worship service on a Sunday morning, we went to Ball State University’s basketball arena, the biggest inside venue in our city. We had 125 different churches, all stripes. Who were in that service. Thousands of people and it was one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever experienced. One guy came up to me afterwards and he said, “There’s more racial unity in this room today than I’ve ever experienced in this city in my whole life.” One guy said this way, “So there’s more unity in this room today than there is in my church’s board meetings,” which I thought was quite profound. So these are the kinds of fruits that can emerge when you get your hands dirty, get your feet wet, get in there and really wrestle with issues in an authentic way.

Rev. Donna Covington:
This is so good. I mean, all of you all have contributed in such a way to helping pastors and leaders have a framework from starting your own prayer time and your own relationships grieving and lamenting the things that we’re seeing happening in our country, a theological foundation speaking the Word of God into current events like this into all events. Having relationships not just within our circles, but in those circles that make us stretch us build our capacity. Gregg like you’re talking about being transparent, being open, being unscripted Carolyn. So just that I can’t summarize all the rich things that all of you all have said in their time.

Rev. Donna Covington:
So and we’re getting close to running out of time. This is so wonderful. I want to leave and give you time and space to speak into this last question of what is the invitation from the Holy Spirit to the church, to the body of Christ during this time? What’s the Lord saying? What are we experiencing right now that seems different than what we’ve experienced in the past? I guess, I’ve shaped that because it feels different to me. But what is that invitation? What are you hearing from God?

Rev. Kyle Ray:
Well, I’ll start and just say obviously, these are what feel like unprecedented times. Unprecedent in a sense that it feels like the movement for justice right now is multi ethnic, multi generational, crossing socio economic lines and has a lot of momentum. Now what’s happening is good just like any movement people are trying to figure out where do I engage? And what parts of it do I agree with or not? I just think justice is a biblical word that the church can reclaim. And there was a season in recent history where people felt fearful speaking about justice, and I think now’s the time to take some risk. Someone asked me because I transitioned from Michigan to Texas last year and I’m still learning this community and learning my congregation. And anytime you move somewhere it takes a while for a new place to feel like home.

Rev. Kyle Ray:
So when these incidents happened recently and I was wrestling with what to say, how to say it, someone asked me, “What are you afraid of?” It’s not a fear thing, it’s a certain level of fatigue to start certain some of these conversations. This whole conversation crossing cultural lines, dealing with blind spots and biases, it’s draining. It’s fatiguing. So but at the same time, it can be deeply rewarding and richer. So I would say engage pressing, take risks, make sure you take good care of yourself so that you can be replenished. Because this can’t just be about the photo opportunities now, the rallies now. And in fact, the people who’ve been doing the work on the ground in a lot of communities to try and bring reconciliation they’re looking at these protests and these events and saying, “Well, man, when all of these are done, who’s going to be left to do the real work? Who’s going to be on board?”

Rev. Kyle Ray:
So I don’t say the church, the invitation from the Holy Spirit to the church is to not just be a flash in the pan, not just be a photo op kind of church, but a church that is deeply willing to be invested in looking at what scripture has to say about what reconciliation looks like in our world. Make a long term commitment now to be a learner, to be in relationship cross culturally, to do the work even when it feels tiring and even to risk losing people if you say things the wrong way. I want to follow up on what Dale said about the whole Black Lives Matter statement. Yeah, I would say I’ve realized a long time ago. Of course, Black Lives Matter all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter. Of course, that’s true. But there’s some people who the minute you say that phrase they’ll say, “But do you know about their website and their organization and all the things they support that don’t line up with the church?”

Rev. Kyle Ray:
And it’s like, “Well, yeah, of course I do because leaders you got to do your homework,” which is why I wouldn’t as a Christ follower align myself with the Black Lives Matter movement. But if somebody is going to be that up in arms that I might say, “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.” That they decide they want to leave the church, then so be it, right? Because there are tons of churches in every community and I pray that if you’re leaving, because the Holy Spirit is leading you to leave, great. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. But if you’re leaving because you’re frustrated about something I said then guess what, you’re probably going to be frustrated by something that some other pastor says at some other church. So maybe we should press in together relationally and figure out what God wants us to say about these current issues that the church should be speaking into.

Rev. Donna Covington:
Amen.

Rev. Dale Locke:
I think for me Donna, it’s just… I think the Holy Spirit is in inviting me into conversation about me. And what are the pieces in my life I appreciate it so much what Carolyn said earlier about that we don’t gloss over that we just don’t say we love all people and we’re not really willing to look at it particular situations. I’ll share real quickly interesting thing that happened the other day. We’re getting new neighbors immediately next door to us and it’s a biracial couple and we have… my neighbor is very multicultural and one of the things Beth and I love about our neighborhood. But in light of all this stuff that is going on when our neighborhood who’ve already… I could tell we’re going to be fast friends. He is a African-American. His brother in law came over and I noticed when he got out of the car, he was this big hulking dude, I’ve never seen him before. And I noticed two things going on.

Rev. Dale Locke:
I felt like the Holy Spirit wanting… just had me slow my own RPMs in my own brain down to just think if I was feeling anything unique or different or whatever around seeing him. And then here’s what I noticed about him. He didn’t even look at me. And I’m out doing yard work in the front. So there was this moment and about two minutes later Andre, my new neighbor opened the door and came out and he said, “Dale, I want you to meet my brother in law.” And there was something that kind of cracked open in that moment. And I felt like Andre was the one I think who… you know what? I don’t know and I’m not trying to presuppose what he was thinking about me or what I was thinking about him. But when Andre gave the blessing, it just the whole dynamic of that changed.

Rev. Dale Locke:
We had an interesting conversation a great afternoon. I’m helping him get established in his house. But it said something to me. And I remember reflecting on that later with Beth and just that right now, I’m trying to view every situation as an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to point out anything in me that the Holy Spirit needs to point out, that needs to change. And I think that’s what’s so important really, again, as leaders. And I think we have to be willing to go first and I think a lot of times it’s not what we studied in seminary 30 years ago. It’s what the Holy Spirit is saying to us right now in this moment with fresh bread and that’s what I think the invitational of the Holy Spirit is right now.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
Seems to me that the passage that I’ve grabbed hold to and grabbed hold too early on was Psalm 139:23,24 search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts, see if there’s any wicked way in me and lead me in the way that leads to life everlasting. And actually, Psalm 139 begins and ends with search me. And then in the middle, you’ve got this beautiful love song that kind of flows through us to God or through God to us. I don’t know which but it’s that you created me you know me even in my inmost parts from the moment of my conception, you have known me. So there’s nobody better to instruct us about ourselves and about our blind spots than the Holy Spirit.

Rev. Carolyn Moore:
He knows us and I think what seems to cause us to shrink back from repentance in times like this, is that we are so afraid of being slammed by God. Just condemned wholly by God or somehow we’ll be diminished by that. So that so the real word of encouragement from the Holy Spirit to me is, you’re not diminished by my exposing your blind spots, you are only enhanced by that. And likewise in our conversations with each other, I am not diminished by empathizing with your pain. I am also not diminished by your gently and lovingly discipling me into a better and more enlightened place. I am only enhanced by the community of my Christian brothers and sisters. I am only enhanced by a conversation with the Holy Spirit especially in the context of repentance. So all good discipleship begins with repentance, but it’s not the, I’m a horrible person. I’ve done this all wrong kind of repentance it’s the Psalm 139 search me, O God, searched me so I can do this better. So I can contribute to the conversation as a more enlightened, more loving human being.

Rev. Donna Covington:
So good Carolyn.

Rev. Gregg Parris:
And if I may, I’d like to just suggest that the Holy Spirit is speaking through His Word to me. It maybe a blessing others again from Romans 12:9. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves, never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Here with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who more. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people lower than yourself. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. And if it’s possible, as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone”…on the down to verse 21… “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Rev. Donna Covington:
Gregg, good. Just a great word for us to end on today. Friends, we’re out of time. It’s been such a rich conversation. Thank you for joining us as we continue our community conversations. Thank you so much to every person today who has spoken into this. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for joining to help us process through pastoral leadership and christian leadership. Thank you. I pray this has been helpful for those of you who are leading. May God bless you as we continue the journey of becoming more like Him. God bless you.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s community conversation on race church leadership, hosted by Rev. Donna Covington. If you haven’t listened to the first three episodes in this series make sure you check out our podcasts and go back and give those a listen too. And if you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe to our podcast in your favorite podcast player and follow us in all the places on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @asburyseminary. Until next time, have a great day you all, and go do something that helps you thrive.