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Our blog is relatively new (just started this year). Please take some time to look at some of our posts. You can also follow us on Twitter and on Facebook. Enjoy the following excerpt below, which is the introduction of my book Reconciliation 101: A Handbook for Ministry Leaders.
This guide is for ministry communities who care enough about reconciliation that they are ready to do something about it. It is especially focused toward those who are called to lead these communities.
If you picked up this book, you have probably determined that God wants you to do something in the area of reconciliation. My guess is that, at the very least, you have already started on a personal level and desire to lead your ministry in that direction, too. There are three reasons I believe I can help you on your journey.
The first stems back to April 2001, when Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old African-American with a history of non-violent misdemeanors, was shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer. His death caused outrage in the neighborhood of my then-church plant (River of Life), resulting in millions of dollars of damage.
It was in this environment that we held our first public worship service, in the very neighborhood that had been at the center of the rioting. River of Life became a tangible demonstration of what God can do when people from all walks of life live in unity for the advancement of the kingdom.
For seven years as the founding pastor, I was surrounded by the effects of racial, ethnic, gender, generational, and economic conflict. In leading that wonderful ministry I learned that reconciliation is a verb and is much bigger than merely achieving racial harmony between blacks and whites. I have come to believe that it is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission.
While I was at River of Life, 70 percent of those who joined had not previously had a church home. Most told me that one of the big reasons they came was the fact that everybody was accepted there, regardless of their cultural background.
Those years I spent shepherding a church in the midst of a conflicted community have made me the Christ-follower I am today. That experience has also given me a passion to spread the primary lesson I learned: that reconciliation is the mission of God in our fallen world.
The second reason I believe I can help you on your journey of reconciliation is that I have applied the principles from this handbook not only in a local church setting, but also during my stint as director of ethnic ministry at Cincinnati Christian University. While working there, I was simultaneously earning my Ph.D. I would literally write out a theory for one of my papers and then test-drive it on campus. So I am grateful to the university leadership for being my “guinea pigs.” We had great success in laying the foundation for reconciliation. The faculty became integrated for the first time, and last year they experienced their biggest enrollment of ethnic students in their history.
The last reason I believe I can help you in your journey of reconciliation is because I presently serve as director of reconciliation for the Evangelical Free Church of America. Samaritan Way (the name of my ministry) was at ground zero in 2008. Now, we have successfully built a network of ministry leaders who are leading with reconciliation in mind.
I share these reasons to assure you that what you are about to read has been born in ministry practice. I have done some theoretical work to back up my practical suggestions, but I don’t think you need much of it. You can find that elsewhere.
There are very good books on reconciliation sitting on my bookshelf. Great reads, but I will probably not revisit them. The reason is not because the books don’t have relevant material. The problem lies in the fact that, typically, the books don’t offer much practical help in guiding the reader to “go and do likewise,” as we are told in Luke 10:37.
I would always tell my staff at River of Life, “Don’t bring me a problem without offering a possible solution.” That is why I have written this handbook. I have applied these principles in a church, university, and denominational setting and achieved success.
Author Henri Nouwen stated in Reflections on Theological Education that “writing is like giving away the loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.” My prayer is that this book will help you reverse division, multiplying kingdom growth.
Let me offer a few tips on how to best utilize the handbook. First, as with a car owner manual, I assume you are actively driving a car. In our case, the assumption is that you are beginning your journey down the road of reconciliation. As you drive, use the principles presented to manage the dynamics of difference.
Second, I believe in the power of the ministry community and will use that phrase a lot. By ministry community, I’m referring to people who form their lives together within the context of ministry. This could be a Christian university board, church small group, or denominational staff.
These communities operate as a space where people can reflect on their experiences. As they reflect, others are allowed to offer varying viewpoints, allowing people to unearth common understanding as well as differences. Knowledge construction in the midst of relationship is what binds us together as followers of Christ. Therefore, you would be doing yourself a great disservice to read this guide alone.
You will also come across new ideas that need processing with others. So, for instance, if you are a senior pastor, read the guide with your elders as a group. Then set aside times to discuss the concepts presented.
Third, I recommend you read the chapters in order. They are based on my presentations, where I take the big picture and narrow it down to the specific. Each concept builds on the other. You could skip around, but you would probably find yourself confused if you do so.
Fourth, don’t expect to find all the answers concerning reconciliation in this thin little handbook. I’m just passing along the lessons the Lord has taught me, with hope that they will move you and your ministry further down the road.
So I’ll end the introduction with my bottom line, a conclusion reached from 17 years of practical ministry and academic study concerning reconciliation, and we’ll build from there: The present concept of reconciliation needs to be renewed.
Read more to find out why and how to renew it.