Last week, I wrote on Rich Nathan’s discussion on biblical leadership which he gave at the International Vineyard Conference held in Columbus, Ohio. Now, I will try to highlight another speaker.
During the morning session at the conference on Thursday July 9, 2015, God blessed us with Dr. Charles Montgomery and a most timely message. He was filling in for Carlos Chacón who pastors La Viña del Este in San José, Costa Rica. Chacón was out sick, so Montgomery delivered his message on multicultural churches. Dr. Montgomery is the East Campus Pastor as part of the Vineyard Columbus. Charles is also an Affiliated Professor at Ohio Christian University. Prior to these positions, Charles served as Pastor Rich Nathan’s research assistant for two years. And before coming to Vineyard, he was licensed and ordained by the National Baptist Church, U.S.A. and has faithfully served on different church staffs in California, Georgia and Ohio. Charles earned his Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Morehouse College, a Master of Divinity from Emory University, and a Ph.D. from Union Institute and University with an emphasis in Ethical and Creative Leadership.
Dr. Montgomery’s sermon was one of the best demonstrations of preaching that I’ve seen within the Vineyard Movement. It was a homiletics workshop: he showcased how to give a difficult message through an eloquent delivery. It was preaching the truth in love. Truly beautiful. From beginning to end, Montgomery captivated our hearts, souls, and minds with a message that the church needed to hear. It wasn’t a kumbaya moment; it was a kingdom moment. Montgomery used Ephesians 2:14-17 by saying that Christ tore down the dividing wall between people groups. He asked, “Why is the church trying to build a wall that Christ himself tore down?” These are dividing walls that are true to their names. Dr. Montgomery then spent the following 45 minutes talking about how to create a church without these dividing walls.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in Christian America.
More than fifty years later, the same could be said about most churches. Montgomery said that a multiethnic church is where no one ethnicity makes up more than 80% of the church. Wimber called Vineyard a thread in the great global tapestry in the Kingdom of God. But there’s a stain in this fabric: division. If we’re praying for the Kingdom to come, then our churches be reflective of that. No more churches dedicated to different ethnicities. Our churches should be foretastes of heaven where every tribe and every nation are proclaiming the goodness of God (Revelation 7:9).
The Vineyard uses Kingdom Theology to proclaim the tension between the now and not yet, the importance of signs and wonders, and the in-breaking of the Kingdom here on earth. How do we live out this Kingdom Theology? How do we make down here look like up there? We should be living in a beloved community, a world house, one that is rooted in the Kingdom of God, to again borrow from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We need to have serious conversations about race and how we empower (and disempower) others. If one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Though this sermon was being delivered to a multiethnic audience (60+ nations represented), Montgomery pointed out that this is not the norm for our churches. There are still dividing walls within churches that separate one people group from another in our churches. It is hard to be unified when there’s division. It is hard to function as the body of Christ where one part is separate from the others.
There’s work to be done. Montgomery advocated us to live out this Kingdom Theology within our own churches. He challenged us to build churches without walls of division with three foundational principles.
1) We have to become more comfortable when someone comes into our personal proximity. He used a story of how he and his wife differentiate between eating their foods. She liked to have distinctions between each of her servings. Charles, on the other hand, didn’t mind if the food touched or even if the food mixed together completely. Even though there’s gravy on the potatoes, it doesn’t mean that the potato is any less of a potato. If we allow others into our personal proximity, if we allow them into our space, we aren’t losing ourselves. We aren’t becoming any less distinct. We’re just more people in the party.
2) We must have honest conversations about power. Since Jesus has all the power, we ought to be free enough to talk about all types of power especially positional power. Too long have people with the capacity to lead been silenced because of their skin color. Too long have people been passed over. We need to learn how to put the right people in the right positions of power. In the Vineyard, we like to talk about how everyone gets to play. We still want to hold onto this, but we need to recognize that we’re going to have a variety of players. We’re all playing the same game, but some might play it differently. And we’re all on the same team.
3) Dr. Montgomery said that it’s hard to have a multiethnic church without living a multiethnic life. We must live out that social power. It’s not simply about inviting people to your table. You have to be willing to go to their table. Because you get involved socially, you can get emotionally. Fellowship occurs more than just inside the church building. We must want to both invite and be invited to other people’s tables. Are we willing to break bread with people that aren’t like us?
4) It costs something to have a church without walls. There’s a price. Dr. Montgomery told us how when he felt the call to work with Rich Nathan that he had to sacrifice something. He was walking down the street one day when a Black pastor said to him, “Why are you working with that white pastor over there?”
Montgomery said that in that moment he knew that he had to set aside any hermeneutic that got in the way of seeing Christ because he knew that Christ had destroyed the dividing wall. He knew that Christ had all the power. He had to set down his cultural hermeneutic, and he had to pick up his Christian one. Because we often read the Bible with our pretenses and through our own lens. This is a normal practice, and it’s hard to simply drop our culture’s hermeneutic when reading the Bible. But when this culture gets in the way of seeing Jesus who tears down walls, it’s idolatry.
We must have courageous conversations about race and ethnicity. We’re not going to say everything right, but we need to say something. When we fail to say something about what happened in Ferguson, Charleston, or Baltimore, we are saying to the Black community that they don’t matter. When we fail to say something to Hispanic community about the intense immigration laws, we convey to them that they don’t matter. When we fail to even mention the debt crisis in Greece, we are saying to Europe that they don’t matter.
Silence is not an option in a church without walls. We must have these honest conversations about race and ethnicity. And these honest conversations are not going to happen on Facebook, Twitter, or the Blogosphere. These conversations happen face-to-face, in fellowship with one another, by breaking bread because Christ has torn down the wall of separation.
What was so timely about Montgomery’s message was that it wasn’t planned in the bulletin, handouts, or anything, but it was exactly what the church needed to hear. After Montgomery’s sermon, National Directors from multiple countries came up to lead ministry time which consisted of repentance, forgiveness, and the beginning of reconciliation. There is much work to be done. When everyone gets to play, everyone is involved. Montgomery used a basketball analogy. Basketball has pretty regulated rules, but they vary from place to place. Some might have make-it-take-it. Some play 2’s and 3’s. Others have win by two. All this to say, they are all playing basketball. They are playing the same game. We all get to play, and we are going to win because together we are better!
Great thoughts, Michael. I really enjoyed reading this.
And I loved hearing the talk too. Best preaching I have heard in a Vineyard setting ever. Hands down.