Why Planters Are Equipped for Racial Justice

“If you are doing ministry in America and you don’t understand race, you’re not going to be an effective missionary.”

– David Bailey

As we witness this volcanic eruption of racial unrest spill out across the country, the urgency to end systemic racism has never felt greater. Yet the Church has never seemed so ill-equipped to live out God’s vision for racial justice. Here are three reasons why I believe that church planters of all ethnicities are well equipped to launch and lead gospel-centered, racially just churches.

Planters are fueled by a holy discontent to address the church’s failings.

In my role leading the Church Planting Initiative at Fuller Seminary, most of the planters I meet are motivated to start a new church because they are experiencing holy discontent – they’re frustrated by the Church’s shortcomings and burdened for a people group to hear and respond to the gospel afresh. As the Church’s complicity in systemic racism is becoming abundantly clear (and long overdue), God is raising up a new generation of planters to integrate a biblical theology of racial reconciliation (modeled on Paul’s ministry of an integrated Jewish/Gentile church) with a practical concern for helping build Revelation 7:9 churches that create equity and flourishing in the daily lives of Black and brown people in particular.

This looks like church planters who want to develop diverse personal friendships, who lead from a place of humility and confession, who freely acknowledge their own complicity or passivity, and who lead their church plants towards repentance and active engagement in justice.

Given that more than half the children born today are people of color, ethnic diversity is the new normal, especially for Millennials and Gen Z. Planters recognize this and yearn for multicultural churches as the norm rather than the outlier. Clearly there is still a crucial role for Black churches, Spanish-language churches, church plants for particular ethnic groups, and so forth. But the desire in both the culture and the Church is to see God’s people as examples of racial righteousness.

Planters are attentive to culture and skilled in community exegesis.

While most pastors understandably focus primarily on the needs of their congregation, planters are by nature students of the culture and focus on the needs of unbelievers in their community. This posture is exactly what’s needed for planters to understand today’s racial dynamics.

As part of attending formal church planter assessment or as part of the support raising process, many planters will write a church planting plan or prospectus that shows why the church plant is needed in their community, done demographic research, and even researched the history of their city. Knowing this backstory is crucial for racial justice. Why? Because understanding the reasons why the city is laid out the way it is, why certain people live in a particular neighborhood or attend a particular school, and why gentrification may be taking place, are all foundational to the work of dismantling systemic racism in areas such as housing policy, educational choices, policing decisions, and more.

My church plant is in Pasadena, CA, and the more I’m learning about our city’s racial history, the bigger burden God is cultivating in me for racial justice and the more relationships I’m developing towards that end. Our primarily white/Asian church developed a sister church relationship with an African American church in town.  I attend a monthly clergy group that one of the police commanders attends and she encouraged me to attend the Citizen’s Police Academy in response to my concern about racial profiling.  I joined an affordable housing group that has connected me with other advocates – both believers and unbelievers. I now convene a racial justice coalition in our city that is uniting believers for a racially just Pasadena. These relationships have deeply enriched me and enlarged my heart.

How will God use your knowledge of the city to create mutually transformative friendships, to build bridges for the gospel, and to advance racial unity?

Planters are gifted at crossing boundaries and skilled at cultivating cross-cultural competencies.

Church planters and their teams are gifted to reach out to their communities in new, creative, and boundary-crossing ways. This is exactly the mindset needed to build bridges across racial divides. Using the five-fold APEST model from Ephesians 4, planters tend to be APEs – gifted in the apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic areas. These gifts are crucial in the work of racial justice.

There’s a huge need for those with apostolic gifts to launch new racial reconciliation and justice ministries based on the research and relationships they’ve done in their city. The prophetic gifts are needed to call the Church to repentance and to name the injustices that continue to be perpetuated even today (see Jemar Tisby’s book and Amazon video series titled The Color of Compromise). And evangelistic gifts are needed to marry together justice (demonstration) with evangelism (proclamation) so more people can be won to Christ and to join in the vision of Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke 4:18-19: “to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…”

What could this look like? For instance, it’s using the APE gifts to build relationships with community leaders of other ethnicities, start sister church relationships between black churches and predominantly white churches, develop new partnerships with secular organizations committed to racial justice (such as the NAACP). It’s leaning into cross-cultural competencies to navigate racial tensions within the church plant and among neighbors.

While the work is daunting and often painfully slow, I believe that the work of racial justice is an essential aspect of faithfully embodying and presenting the gospel, as well as making disciples. May Jesus’ kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

While the work is daunting and often painfully slow, I believe that the work of racial justice is an essential aspect of faithfully embodying and presenting the gospel, as well as making disciples. ~ Len Tang Click To Tweet

About the Author
Len Tang

Len Tang

Len Tang planted Cedar Creek Church in Portland, Oregon and now leads Missio Community Church, a three year old church plant in Pasadena, CA. He is married to Amy and they have three teenage sons. He also leads the Church Planting Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary, which provides theologically rich and practically oriented church planting courses and digital resources.

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