Tag Archives: missional

Reconciliation Thoughts For The New Year

One author whose writings I revisit over and over again is Henri Nouwen.   If you are not familiar with him I highly encourage you to read some of his work.  A colleague of mine recently emailed some Nouwen quotes concerning the art of reconciliation that I thought I would pass along:

Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established.  A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements.  There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation.  When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part.  Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act.  They all can become “them.”  Right there is where reconciliation is needed.  Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.  God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.


To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.  Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.  We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.  When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.   Jesus says it clearly:  “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge; … do not condemn; … forgive” (Luke 6:36-37).  In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily  recognized by those who long for reconciliation.

Amen Henri, Amen.


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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.

Click here to buy Reconciliation 101:  A Handbook for Ministry Leaders. 

Stewardship vs. Risktaking

One of the big dilemmas in following Christ is the balance between being a good steward of what you have and taking risks. Can you leverage what you have for good? Or do you go for broke for the broken?

This comes into question at the individual level (i.e., what kind of house do you buy? what kind of neighborhood do I live in?); and at the collective level as well (i.e., do we buy a bigger church building? or sell all that we have?).

And this makes the ministry of reconciliation very difficult. Jesus’ teachings are easy to take to the extreme: the narrow road, the rich young ruler, eyes of needles, taking up your cross, etc. He didn’t have no wife, no kids, no job… I mean, if he’s telling the parable of the talents, it doesn’t seem like he would be speaking from experience, right? In our modern market economy, many of us (especially in the United States) are several degrees of difficulty from the disciples in terms of laying down their nets and following Jesus. What’s the worst that could have happened as a result of that initial invitation to discipleship? What, they go back and pick up their nets? But to be a Christ follower today, it seems that we have so many safety nets, even if we put down one, and claim to take risks, it feels like we just removed one layer of clothing over our already clothed body. It’s like saying, I take risks in the dressing room, but some people don’t have a jacket to face the cold. Our skin never really faces the elements like the people we supposedly are serving.

And yet with that one layer of clothing, we think to ourselves, well at least one person has something to wear thanks to my sacrifice, my work, my calling. Words like sustainability, boundaries, stewardship and self-care are common these days in the ministry/service world. I just can’t seem to find them in Scripture or in Jesus’ red letters. Instead, I read about four guys carrying a paralytic tearing the roof off a house to get him to Jesus. Not standing in line. Not knocking incessantly. Tearing the roof off the mother. The roof. OFF. That’s strange. I wonder how the homeowner felt about that. I read about a woman crawling her way through a crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She was rich at some point. She could pay for all the years of treatments. She’s a rich woman, but she doesn’t worry about her dignity, doesn’t care about saving face, doesn’t care about Jesus’ personal space, just gonna reach and grab the hem of his robe based off of some crazy idea that she got in her head — “If I touch it, something’s going to happen. Something.” Not a very sustainable plan. Not permission-seeking. No sense of boundaries. Really just one shot in the barrel. Going for all the marbles.

These people reek of desperation actually. I don’t know how to calculate this kind of behavior, and don’t really care to learn it. It doesn’t feel very smart to me, not wise in the “proverb”-ial sense. It doesn’t seem like good stewardship to me. I mean, wasn’t there more internal tension going on in the guy with the ten talents? I mean, how did he know he could get ten more? How much calculated risk did he take? What if you have no results to show for it? Was Jesus a better steward or a better risk taker? What risk is it if you’re the Son of God, really? I mean, I jest, but let’s be honest, with as much as we have going on in our societies today, just to leave the house and entrust myself to public transportation, I’m at the mercy of certain forces I can’t control. I lay my stewardship on the line. But perhaps you can hear me rationalizing now. I can hear me too.

Point 1. I think it’s important we not think of our roles in the missio Dei as too important. In fact, it would probably take a lot of pressure of many pastors and leaders to assume what we do won’t change the world. There needs to be a certain anonymity when it comes to reconciliation lest one party would like to take credit. Also, point 2, taking risks should be an act of obedience, not of guilt or self-righteous heroism (see point 1). Both stewardship and taking risks are two halves of the same coin. You gather stones, and then you slay the giant. And point 3, discernment and cultivating a life of spiritual discipline seems to be a part of this as well so stewardship never becomes a euphemism for hoarding and risk taking never becomes a euphemism for “messiah complex”.

Why I Think Reconciliation is a Discipleship Thing

Read this great post on why the missional movement will fail, and was intrigued by the conviction that mission without discipleship is short-lived. It definitely resonated with me because while I think reconciliation is a fascination of the evangelical church  now (errr, because the idea of throwing tracts out in the inner city just wasn’t working any more? or the caricatures of the “other” grow larger because we have exoticized them through the media and our own ghetto whiplash — “You speak English so well, David! My goodness, I can’t even hear an accent”; “See, you worked hard and made your immigrant parents proud, why can’t the rest of them do it?”; “I don’t even see you as Asian!”; and other such nonsense. Sorry for the long parenthetical.), but ultimately reconciliation must not be an addition to our houses of worship to God, but they must become integral to the structure and wiring of the entire building.

Furthermore, reconciliation has more in common with discipleship than mission, because reconciliation is one of those things that does not lends itself to progress towards an objective like the idea of mission. Mission somehow gets along well with words like “accomplished” and “achieve” and “target”, but neither discipleship nor reconciliation have that sense of finality. Both contain a sense of intimacy, balance and constant ebb and flow of relationship and history to it. Did I hear you right, Jesus? Did I understand you right, my sister, my brother? Let me check my motives, Lord. You have permission to tell me where I have offended you, brother, sister. There is a sensitivity to the “other” beyond “reaching them.” Missionality has the sense of being a good neighbor; reconciliation is akin to discipleship because it is an attempt at building a neighborhood where we raise kids together. Ultimately, this maybe a semantical argument, obviously discipleship leads to mission and mission requires discipleship…but my point is simply that reconciliation is more a dimension of discipleship than it is mission. The irony is that most churches think that reconciliation is a work of church outreach or cross cultural missions, but in the long run, if you are engaging the stranger for the long run, it is an act of discipleship, because facing the “other” means that you finally have the courage to face yourself and know where you end and the other begins. Is that not the first step of discipleship?