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How can predominately white churches serve in a season of racial division?

| 2 min read

Written by Matt Steen
Jun 9, 2020 9:00:00 AM

A Chemistry Conversation with Nikki Lerner

As our country continues to struggle with racial tension, many of those that we pastor are struggling with how best to serve and where to start. Today, my friend, Nikki Lerner, gives us some practical first steps toward serving our communities in this season.


Watch the conversation or view the transcript. 



Nikki Lerner's Resources

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Read the Full Transcript

Matt: Well hey I'm Matt Steen. Thanks for checking this out. This is another Chemistry Conversation, and joining me again today is my dear friend Nikki Lerner. Nikki is a culture coach. She's an artist. She's a speaker. And she is all around amazing. I think that's fair to say. Nikki, her passion in life is really helping people move from a monocultural life to a multicultural life in the way that they work, they do life, and is just doing a phenomenal job in coaching churches on how to do this well. So Nikki, thanks for taking some time to talk.

Nikki: Hey, glad to be here. Glad to be with all of your watchers and listers and all of your people.

Matt: It's great to have you. It really is. So this is just a weird time. Started off with COVID, which seems like it was eight months ago, but I think it was week right?

Nikki: I know, remember COVID?

Matt: Yeah. But now we're kind of in a season where things are a little more racially charged than we like them to be. Here's an awkward question that a lot of people whether they are expressing this or not, it's there. And it's this. For those of us that are in the predominantly white church world, what is it that we need to know in order to serve well in this season? Is that an unfair question?

Nikki: No.

Matt: That's a relief.

Nikki: It's a great place to start. The first thing to know is that the first person that you need to pastor is yourself. I used to tell my teams all the time that when you show up to church, the best thing that you bring is a fully-submitted you to Christ. I led a worship ministry, so I'm like I don't care how good you can sing or play guitar, whatever. The best thing you bring is you. So that's the first thing. You need to know that as leaders we need to pastor ourselves first. Ask yourself the hard questions first. And get into even the things that you are struggling with right now, and try not to judge it. Because as soon as we start judging the reality of what is inside of us sometimes, it actually hinders us from probing and going any deeper and then allowing the Spirit of Christ to transform us. That's the first thing, just know that we have to pastor our self first and love our self first before we try to love other people. The second thing I would say is in order to serve well, you have to make a commitment to be present. And don't underestimate the ministry of presence in a time like this. Usually what people need is your physical presence, your emotional presence. People usually don't necessarily need your opinions right now. It's okay to have them, but they may not need them right now. If they ask, that's different. That may not be what they need. They may not need even your attempt to explain something or even your need to process. But I would just encourage you, in order to serve people, just know how powerful you just showing up, sitting with someone, and how powerful presence is.

Matt: So this sounds almost like we should be approaching this almost like a funeral.

Nikki: Oh. Yes.

Matt: The last thing somebody needs at a funeral is somebody coming up and saying, "You know what, they're in a better place."

Nikki: Yes. It's sort of like, "God needed another angel."

Matt: Exactly, exactly.

Nikki: I mean, yes, yes. There's so much to say about that, Matt, but I think you're right. It's sort of like - I talk about this in a course that I teach - it's sort of like if I broke my arm and you're my friend and I came to you and said, oh man, I broke my arm. And you're looking at the cast, and you're like, um, do you have an x-ray on you? That's sometimes the culture we live in is, I'll be present with you or have compassion for you in service once I understand it and once I get it. And in order to serve well, and remember serving is about the other person, just to remember how powerful our presence is. If we believe as people that follow Jesus that the fullness of the Spirit of Christ is within us, then think about what we have when we show up and what we are bringing. We are bringing the Spirit of Christ in its fullness that lives inside of us. So we need to just remember as Jesus people how powerful that is to just show up.

Matt: That's great, that's great. So we show up, we pastor ourselves. We show up, but there's a lot of people that are listening to this, and they're sitting there, and they're saying, yeah, but I've got to do something. What can I do? Right, you've got people in mind who are thinking they've got to do something. What do you say to them?

Nikki: Well, here's what is encouraging me about when we are recording this in June of 2020 is we no longer have to say, "I don't know what to do" because we do. And what I mean by that is, particularly now, I mean there have been more people speaking up about what's happening against human beings more than ever. And not only just majority-culture folks, but non-majority culture folks. There has been a generosity, if you think about it, a generosity of information that non-majority folks in the country have been sharing online and social media and all of the blogs and all of these things. And so literally if you need to know what to do, Google it. That's a really easy low-hanging fruit, and you can Google how to support someone in a time like this. That's something you can do. Or hopefully again, if you are cultivating a multicultural life, start with the people right around you. Start with the people at your church. And maybe you're in a mostly white American church, and you've got two black families or one Chinese family. Reach out. And it could be as simple as a check in, a text, an email. How're you doing? How can I serve you? That actually does a long way. Again, because it points to presence. Right? Because if we say we are a community, if we say we are a family within the church, then this is what family does. We check on each other when things are in crisis. So just know that that's something very tangible that you could do. Go check on somebody, send a text, send an email, send a card, send somebody a gift card for Grub Hub. I don't know, something. And if you need to learn yourself, again there are lots of resources online right now for people to know how to get involved, how to do something today, great book to read, and article, literally it's all there. It's kind of like when we say, I don't know how to lose weight. Yes, you do. We all know how to lose weight. The issue often is we don't want to or we're not ready to.

Matt: We're not ready to do the work.

Nikki: We're not ready to do the work, or we're uncomfortable. And I think we need to get to a place where we're willing to be that honest with ourselves so that we can move from where we are to the next step of who we are becoming in the area of multicultural ministry, social justice, racial reconciliation, all of those areas.

Matt: That's awesome. Nikki, I want to honor the time commitments, and so rather than going all of the places that I want to go, encourage us. What's one thing that you're coming out of this season with feeling really encouraged by?

Nikki: I am very encouraged by the multicultural movement of people right now. What we are I think as Americans peacefully protesting are egregious acts against human beings. It's not just... the culture group I come from is primarily getting the brunt of some things, however it's very important for us to have a sense of collectiveness that this is a human rights issue that we don't have to be afraid of in the church. Jesus was not afraid of these things. And so that is actually encouraging me that people are finding their courage, they're finding their bravery to speak out and to speak up and to learn and to march. I mean, I'm not sure I have ever seen a time in my 40-some years of life that I have felt more like, oh my gosh look at all these people who are with us. It's a beautiful thing. I just saw a video the other day on Instagram of a 200,000-person peaceful protest in France. I mean, what in the world. That is very, very encouraging to me. That it hasn't just become about the plight of one type of person. This is a human issue that we are literally fighting our lives for.

Matt: That's awesome. That's awesome. Nikki, thank you.

Nikki: You are so welcome. Anything for you, Matt Steen.

Matt: Aw shucks. Everybody right now needs to stop watching this - well, wait until after I tell you what to go do - but needs to go to nikkilerner.com. Great resources for church leaders there. I think probably the most appropriate in this season is the course that you're doing, 10 Ways to Respond to a Racially Charged Event, I think. Nikki, what I've always appreciated about Nikki is she has a really graceful way to have hard conversations with people. Which is really, really needed in a time where people are just kind of going at each other. So go and buy one for all of your family and give them out as Christmas gifts and all of that kind of stuff. Do it now. Nikki, thank you.

Nikki: You are welcome. It's my joy.

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