A Watchman's View

Posted on January 1, 2007

God called the prophet Ezekiel to be a watchman, saying, “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 33:7, NIV). Well, I don’t liken myself to the magnitude of the prophets of old, but I do believe that believers—especially preachers and teachers—need to use the gifts of their office, which include discernment and the divine ability to see from a distance what lies ahead. These believers are to serve as watchmen who alert, warn, correct, or encourage the body of Christ to adjust themselves accordingly. So, as a preacher and teacher, I need to share my watchman’s view of impending transformations within Christ’s body, his church.

Let me begin with an experience I had in New York City during a conference. I had shared with a group some progress in my current ministry focus, which targets underprivileged populations in my community. Afterwards, I was approached by a white gentleman who asked if he could have some time with me to talk about how he and his church could partner with me in my efforts through my ministry, which is to one of the poorest, underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. I agreed. He gave me his card and began telling me about his church and how my ministry seemed to fit with what they wanted in a partner. I began to get excited, but then something didn’t feel right. As he shared, I began to pray, “Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” I then felt led to ask him the following question: “Can you make available to us your resources and power, within our framework?” His response was, “Well, you know, we’re talking about a lot of money, and we do have certain ways we like to do things.” I asked him a few more questions, such as, “What’s in this for you guys?” “Can you come alongside me without your agenda and trust the vision that we have from God? And can you submit to the plans that we have?” His countenance changed as he said, “The folks back home wouldn’t be able to work like that.” He took a deep breath, sighed, and walked away with his head down. He reminded me of the rich young ruler before Jesus.

I had a vision from the Lord that included plans, passion, and drive. He had affluence, ingenuity, and “white privilege.” It seemed to me, at the start, to be a good fit, a good combination, a good partnership between believers. What went wrong?

I have observed a few different paradigms of ministry when a white majority/dominant culture and a minority culture try to work together. One paradigm is that the dominant culture brings its version of Christianity to an impoverished minority culture. It comes with an attitude that seems to say that the dominant culture knows what’s good for you even if you have the God of the universe living inside of you: “You still need to hear it from us and do it our way. Then God will bless it.” I have seen or heard of this model practiced more often and longer than any other model. What happens to the minority culture’s dignity in this process? How does the minority culture take any ownership? Where is there room for the minority culture to implement and establish the vision God has given them?

Some minority cultures around the world take issue with the white majority/dominant culture’s version of Christianity. History has borne out the fact that “Christianity” has been used as a code name for “white nationalism” or “covert CIA operations” or the forerunner/precursor to “take over” their properties, culture, and resources. We see this throughout history, especially with First Nation people here in North America and also with Africans in Africa.

A second paradigm is one in which the dominant culture scouts out the minority culture, looking for leaders that are most like them, or making opportunities so much more attractive and appealing that leaders are drawn away the minority culture’s community and enveloped into the dominant culture. While this may help the dominant culture accomplish some kind of goal for multiracial/multiethnic ministry, it usually leaves the minority culture even more impoverished. This can be likened to “brain drain,” which leaves a void in the place Where the minority culture was being nurtured and ministered to by those leaders. How does the minority culture get beyond the deficit of the loss of its leaders? How does it develop and maintain any momentum?

The third paradigm is one in which the dominant culture comes with humility, respecting that the minority culture is capable of being obedient to God and capable of original thought. It chooses to come into the environment of the minority culture with its affluence, ingenuity, and “White privilege” and submit it to the minority culture’s leadership. How does this process affect the minority culture’s dignity? How does the minority culture take ownership? How do its members implement and establish the vision God has given it? Can the minority culture develop and maintain any momentum?

This paradigm reminds me of the early church in the book of Acts. During that time there was a communion and fellowship between “the haves and the have-nots.” This fellowship joined those who were free with those who were slaves, those who were educated with those who were uneducated, and those who had power with those who were powerless. Odd as it may appear, the leaders of this fellowship were mostly those who were uneducated. God truly took the base things and confounded the wise, and used the foolishness of preaching to birth and build a mighty church—God’s church. Notwithstanding, we must remember that this church throughout the ages has had this power in earthen vessels to make it obvious that the power is not of us but of God. Therefore, God shifted the order of things; God changed the power structure.

As a watchman, I am sounding off and declaring that there is a shifting today in the body of Christ that is being orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, the same way there was a shifting in the early church. We wonder what it will look like, what shape it will have, what it will sound like, and what it will feel like. We then ask ourselves: What if the majority becomes the minority? What if those who have been abased and oppressed become the head? And what if the last were first and the first last? For many in the body of Christ, this will be painful, especially if they have not learned that every part in the body is indispensable and that every part should have equal concern for the other. There is no part in the body that is more special or less special (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

This begs the question: how do we deliver whatwe know to be good for someone else? Whether we are talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ or about agriculture or technology or medicine, does it make a difference how it is delivered? Many of us have warped the model given to us by the “pioneers of delivery,” who were some of the best change agents we have on record: the apostles themselves. There are many who think that we can reduce the process to a few pages in a book and consider complete that arduous task of engaging an effective delivery process. I submit that God wants us to engage in a different process, one which involves any one of a number of methods, primarily the one that entails coming to God to know his pleasure. If we have any good examples of multiethnic/multiracial ministry, we certainly have one in the early church. It seems that when they delivered what they had, it brought about a change. The Book of Acts is filled with examples of various methods of delivery, many of which are like our third paradigm. The delivery methods were different, but the message was the same.

Consequently, the following questions must be asked: How do we know which delivery method is best for which time and which group? Which method of partnering is for which time and which group? Is this something that we can research, study, and articulate in the pages of a book? I believe that it would be worth the effort, but I would discourage resting on this alone. At every stage of our process, we must take the time to pray together and seek God together. To get direction from God is of the utmost importance.

Are we so convinced that what we have is absolutely all there is on the subject, and therefore refuse to interact with others whom God also uses? Do we do it with pride, as if just refusing is not enough? If so, then we to allow a healthy exchange. Some have taken the position of? “Never! It’s got to be my way or the highway!” Isn't anyone else in the Kingdom of God capable of original thought and unctioning by God? Where is our humility? Pride has caused us to become judgmental, demeaning, and condemning, while making decisions and legislating in areas we should not tread without more information and direction God. When we move without this, we then need to allow the grace of God to work forgiveness in each of us. Does it always have to be either/or? Or is there a possibility that what is needed will come from both—both of our cultures, both of our communities, both of our races?

I wonder what it looks like for the white majority/dominant culture, with its affluence, ingenuity, and “white privilege,” to choose to come into the environment of the minority culture and submit to the minority culture’s leadership for the minority culture’s empowerment. I hope these words will challenge the body of Christ to want more than church as usual. Dialogue is needed on this subject, dialogue that can exist within the third paradigm. Are there uncertainties when various people groups work and minister together, particularly the dominant culture with the minority culture? Absolutely! Nevertheless, We must do more to engage the process of earnestly seeking God together in order to know God’s will, and then obeying God’s will when God reveals it. We must face the tough, challenging opportunities for ministry that we’d rather run away from and avoid, especially that of dominant cultures coming together with minority cultures and having more dialogue. We must depend more on God to allow God’s grace to operate in us and accomplish a good work in and through us, even when the temptation is to trust education, experience, money, or networking connections. We must find balance, righteousness, accuracy, effectiveness, fruitfulness, fulfillment, accomplishment, achievement, and, above all, God’s pleasure. It is in these areas that we become most vulnerable and can falter. And it is also in these areas, and within this framework, that we must pursue partnering, exchanging, and delivering the goods from God that we have for the body of Christ—and for our entire world.

Marcus L. Radford is one of twenty-seven children of Matthew Johnson and the son of a prayer warrior, Emma Johnson, both of whom are gone to be with the Lord. Marcus is the father of six children and husband to a beautiful woman of God, Juvy. He has a professional background in civil engineering, has owned and operated a cleaning business, and is a financial consultant, marriage and family counselor, and ordained minister currently worshipping at City Church International in Chicago, Illinois. He can he reached at radfordmarcus [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Tags: H&D, Missional Living, Cultural Issues

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