By Dr. Nancy B. Rankin
Northern Piedmont District Superintendent
Western North Carolina Conference
The United Methodist Church
1. Does the pastor have the desire, willingness, and ability to serve diverse people?
It has to start with the leader and he or she needs to want to serve diverse people because they love them; they feel led by God to serve them; it has troubled them that our churches remain segregated.
2. Where are our churches currently serving?
Congregations and their pastors need to know the people in their parishes. Walk the neighborhoods; pray for people; ask city planners about the future development that might impact their neighborhoods; fall in love with the people right outside your doors. They should seek training to learn how to engage people who are different from their congregation.
3. Are our current charge alignments fair and equitable and do they make sense in today’s economy?
In our district we discovered that the African American pastors serving two-point charges were traveling greater distances between their churches than the Anglo pastors. Their churches had been yoked because of the continuation of racial and cultural segregation rather than what made sense in today’s world both economically and in regard to diverse neighborhoods. Our realignments have sought to rectify these inequities.
4. How can we help our congregations be more open to diversity and to receiving a pastor who is culturally different from them?
We have found that working in our Missional Networks on mission projects that serve our common communities has helped to introduce us to one another and to realize that we have far more in common than we imagined. Having pulpit and choir exchanges, combined Vacation Bible Schools, and combined youth groups within Missional Networks has helped us know one another. Talk to young adults under 30 years of age and they will tell you that living among diverse people feels normal to them. Our segregated churches do not feel normal to them.
5. What is the mission of our Church and how can each one of us do our part in helping to fulfill that mission?
This is a critical question every congregation should be asking on a regular basis. Setting cross-cultural appointments in the context of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations—, and on his Great Commandment to “Love the neighbor as ourselves, places our efforts not on ourselves but on our being obedient to the commandments of our Christ.
6. Whom do we serve?
This question asked regularly will remind us that the church was not called into being to meet our personal needs but to reach people who not yet know our Christ. And as we mature in our faith we come to discover that serving others more than fulfills our personal needs.
7. How many buildings do we really need?
This question isn’t just about cross-cultural appointments but affects all of our congregations in today’s economy. However, clinging to aging, inaccessible, energy draining buildings is one of the primary stumbling blocks that keep us from reaching new people for Christ. They sap our resources and our time and impede us from doing ministries that could change lives. This is when the right answer for the future of a congregation may not be to just be joined on a charge with another congregation but to actually merge with another congregation into the better building or sell both buildings and start somewhere fresh.
8. Is our church where the next generations will feel welcome?
People love to say that their children are the future of their church but, sadly, few make the kinds of changes that would ensure their children will remain actively involved in church. If looking more like our neighborhood and being welcoming to all of God’s children meant your church would be here in the next century would your congregation be willing to make those changes?
For further reading, check out testimonies from The Rev. Rodvegas Ingram and Pat Merricks, Lay Leader of Salem UMC in Reidsville, about the blessings they’ve experienced through a cross-cultural appointment.
From the May 2015 issue of Proclaim!
(the Justice and Reconciliation Team newsletter)