I Am Racist (Part 1)

Almost every week I am put in an impossible position. Most Sundays, I’m given a platform for which I am entirely unqualified. This is the way I feel when tasked to present a clear and compelling message in front of a crowd giving me their mostly undivided attention; which in itself is a rare gift in our over-distracted and entertainment-seeking society. There are less and less environments in which people will willfully sit and listen to an individual speak for an extended period of time. I try not to take this for granted.

This past Sunday, I felt especially inadequate to share the message that I believed was the right message for the moment. The topic of this particular message is always a touchy subject that instantly elicits passion and a range of emotions within each of us. 

Despite the strides our society has made in the journey toward acceptance and tolerance, I continue to read stories like those of Jacob Edwards and hear reports on NPR of racial slurs being yelled at minority Major League Baseball players throughout the country. On one hand, as an older Millennial, it’s hard to believe that this kind of behavior still goes on. On the other hand, however, I totally get it…

because I am racist.

More than likely, you are racist. Of course your first response to that is, “I’m not racist!” Before you defend yourself out of fear that reparations and repentance will be demanded of you immediately if you agree, hear me out…

To be reared in a racist society and not be racist is impossible. Notice the lack of an “a” prior to the word racist. I’m using an adjective to describe each of us…not a noun. We are all products of our environment and our environment has a racist history. Whether certain ways of viewing people groups who are other have been intentionally taught or unknowingly caught, we all carry prejudices. Those who look different. Those who speak, think, and believe differently. Those who have means or those who have not. Just the thought of a conceptualized them calls forth certain thoughts and feelings.


Segregation in our society is something we all feel. We go through our lives still seeing segregated lunch tables, driving by those neighborhoods, watching people come out of churches. It’s a tension we feel in our society. What do we do? Ignore it? Do we just start walking around those neighborhoods and churches? Sitting at those lunch tables? If we do, is it just to assuage some kind of guilt I feel, but am too scared to admit? Man, human nature is a beast.

Segregation may not be legislated today, however, there are deep-seeded prejudices that have led to it. We can pretend like the ways we divide ourselves are voluntary but most of us who are at all thoughtful and discerning can agree this is certainly not how it’s supposed to be.

How then do we deal with our prejudice?

I have some ideas that I will share next week…

In the meantime, how do you witness racism and other prejudices in our society today? Are you aware of your own thoughts and feelings toward those who are different?

Praying For CLT

Do you pray? If not, I encourage you to talk with God. Whatever you believe, you will lean even more into the person you were created to be and experience life differently when you do.

Last Thursday was the national day of prayer; of which I am not a huge fan. My lack of enthusiasm is partly due to the fact that we tend to create super fancy and complicated experiences around a practice that should be so simple, but (as usual) my wife straightened me out. I’ll try to have a better attitude next year.

The national day of prayer is encouraging because it reminds me of how many people really believe in God and seek Him on a regular basis. This is reassuring amid all of the reports and statistics constantly telling us church leaders that nobody believes in God anymore and society has moved on.

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This year, the 801South team took advantage of the day and got together with several other churches through the For Charlotte network. Thanks to the passionate leadership of Casey Crimmins and Jon Freeman, over 10 churches of different doctrines and denominational histories gathered together, setting aside any differences, to simply pray for our community. We prayed for one another. We prayed for the civic leaders of our community. We talked with God about the heartache many people experience in our community and the powers and systems that often times place people in a position of heartache.

People may assume that churches get together for events like this on a regular basis, but according to several church leaders who have served in Charlotte for a long time, this is an exception rather than the norm. I am excited to see leaders gathering together based on what we hold in common rather than allowing our differences to keep us apart. I’m convinced we will do much more together than we would ever do on our own.

There is small group of pastors who have been a lifeline to me over this past season of life. We gather once a month to share struggles, celebrate victories, and pray for one another. We also have a group text message through which we regularly use humor and scripture to entertain and encourage one another. I often hear pastors say that this is a lonely calling and career. I am very grateful to have a community in place so that I can’t say the same.

I’m excited for the ways that churches, especially here in Southeast Charlotte, are getting over themselves and getting out of their lanes to gather together, seeking God’s will for our city. One of my favorite sayings of Rob Kelly, the CEO of For Charlotte, is that Charlotte is not a city with a lot of churches. Instead, Charlotte has one church with many expressions. How good is that?? Whether it’s for a specific occasion like the national day of prayer or just a quick lunch meeting, we will benefit from church leaders gathering together and discerning ways we can join in the mission of God to redeem all of the city.

When we seek Him, we find Him.

God Is Up to Something

Last Sunday I got to celebrate a birthday.

Every year, the Sunday following Easter is the anniversary of 801South’s launch. At the party this past weekend, many people shared a “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” with me throughout the morning. I got a sense that there is still a genuine excitement as 801South has grown into itself and as we are still discovering who we really are.

Prior to launching, I thought that 801South would be many things and, honestly, these past three years have been a rollercoaster with lots of highs and lows. As I told the staff at Matthews UMC in staff worship several months ago, I knew leading this new community would be hard work, but I had no idea how painful it would be. Many people have come and gone. They have expressed their affection for the environments of 801South, but ultimately chose not to engage in the mission. That hurts.

Dealing with the disappointments has been formative for my faith and leadership. At the same time, the encouragement has far outweighed the frustration. For every moment of disappointment or negative word, there have been multiple comments such as, “We’re so proud of you and your team” or “You all are doing such great work.” Many times these comments have come from people who have no idea if we are doing great work or not, nor would they actually have any reason to be proud. Perhaps some of them were just being nice. Whatever their motivation for expressing encouragement, these comments mean more than they could know and I thank God for them.

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This past Sunday we were celebrating the anniversary of 801South as a movement of people committed to inviting others into the story of Jesus and there could not have been a more perfect illustration of God’s faithfulness during the party. I had the incredible opportunity to baptize my friend, Morgan, who recently professed faith in Jesus. Don’t miss the weight of this moment. There we were, celebrating another birthday of this movement, through an event that perfectly exemplifies the vision and motivation for the effort in the first place!

There have been very difficult moments of little faith, and even doubt, over the past three years. However, after all of the passion, time, energy, and hard work people have poured out over that time, there was no way we could walk away before reaping the harvest. Here’s what I believe about God: His intention will come to pass and way more often than not, His will is done through people. When you stop short, God does not. There is not retribution, but you do miss out on the blessing.

Of course the journey of 801South has been different than what I expected. The funny thing is this was the first time any of us have tried something new like this. It was silly to have any expectations at all…except one: that God has been, is, and will be faithful.

God has been at work from the beginning…there are numerous stories of people finding community and growing into the character and competency of Jesus. I am always grateful for these stories of life change, however, this current season is different and people can feel it. There is a new momentum. We are entering a season of reaping and harvesting.

I can’t wait to see what God does next as we commit to be a people pouring out!

Writing a Web-Worthy Story

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I graduated from seminary in 2006 and was shortly thereafter appointed to my first church as the Minister of Business and Administration. (I bet you didn’t even know that business and administration had to be ministered to!) Seriously, how fancy does that title sound? At 24 years of age, I was really into titles. I have since learned that titles aren’t nearly as important as I originally thought. These days, rather than being cute and silly with titles, I prefer to just stick with the basics. Banker. Doctor. Pastor.

Overseeing the website was one of the responsibilities I inherited in my first role as a pastor. This church kinda had a website. You remember when businesses and institutions kinda had a website? The internet (and our ability to communicate over it) has come a long way over the past 11 years.

The tools for online communication are always changing. Fads have come and gone. Having an app for your church was a fad that continues to limp along. Now many of these mobile “apps” are simply a portal to a mobile-friendly website. Various social media platforms rise and fall in popularity. It can become overwhelming as you attempt to effectively share your story online.

The need for a well designed website is one piece that has not changed.

At Pro Church Tools, Brady Shearer shares that nearly half of all people say a website’s design is their number one criterion for determining the credibility of an organization. Wow! The website is the cover by which your book is judged these days. Similarly, 94% of people cite poor web design as the reason they mistrusted or rejected a website.

For local churches specifically, 46% of church attenders said that a church’s website was important in choosing a church to visit. Therefore, the number one goal for a local church in developing a web presence has to be making it intriguing and compelling for the visitor. Technology gives our society the opportunity to immediately “check out” whoever and whatever we want at any time.

I would even say that nearly all people who are looking for a church will look at the website before ever thinking about showing up in person. This might not apply to friends, neighbors, or co-workers who are invited and actually attend with a regular church goer. When people are looking for a church, however, the web is the first place they turn.

At 801South, we recently redesigned our website. I say “we” but the truth is that our incredibly dedicated volunteer, Kim McGee, has given hundreds of hours serving as the 801South web developer. Kim (along with Ryan Devenney, the 801South Music and Media Director) has given tremendous thought to the potential impact our site can have on people who are not yet a part of the 801South community. I am so grateful for her efforts! Kim carefully considers how she can design the site to make it more compelling, intriguing, and helpful to all who visit the site. She’s a pro!

The site Kim has put together is an incredibly useful platform that serves the purpose of being a front door to people who come across it. Like all of our online efforts, the new site will always be a work in process. Check out the latest iteration for yourself at 801south.org.

Pouring Out

We all carry an innate desire to be part of a purpose bigger than ourselves.

Even if we don’t have the language to verbalize it, nor the self-awareness to realize that our deepest struggles are the search to fulfill this desire, we long to be part of a movement that is making a difference in this world. The fight with your spouse, the argument with your children, the frustration with your supervisor. These moments are the unseen longing being projected onto the seen.

I recently wrote about the value of vision, as well as the current vision for the 801South community. I am convinced now more than ever that the abundant life is experienced by pouring out in order to fill those around you. When we find a never-ending source that continually fills us up, we can be free to focus only on filling others. Imagine the ways that this message can change the world for those who fully embrace it. How do we get this message out to people?

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Producing a video that creatively communicates this vision is one vehicle to get this message out. We recently had the privilege of working with a growing media production company here in Matthews. Silent Images is a great story. This group of videographers, photographers, and editors are a nonprofit committed to telling stories well. Go to 801south.org to see the amazing video produced by Silent Images.

Sunday, April 23rd, will be another opportunity for us to be a people who pour out. To celebrate the 3-year anniversary of launching 801South as a community whose mission is inviting people into the story of Jesus, we are partnering with an incredible organization here in in our local community.

Bright Blessings is a non-profit organization serving the greater Charlotte region whose programs will bring joy, care, and hope to more than 8,000 homeless and impoverished children in our community this year. 801South is very excited to help support their efforts and we are scheduled to serve at a Bless-a-Birthday party where Bright Blessings provides a full birthday party experience to put a child in the spotlight and provide a positive sense of self in the near future. For many of these children, it will be the first time they have ever experienced a birthday party.

As you view the short vision video, my hope is that you will be compelled to be a part of seeing this vision become reality and, ultimately, be a part of God’s mission to redeem the world He loves.

Happy Easter!

The End of White Christian America

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This is not a post on politics. This is not a post on race. Nor is this a post on right and wrong. If your reaction as you read below is, “Well that’s not how it should be,” then you are missing the point entirely and this world is going to leave you in its dust.

This is a post on change or, more specifically, the rapid change occurring in American culture.

I recently posted a picture of a book I’m reading to my social media feeds; which received a lot of interaction. The book is titled, “The End of White Christian America,” and was written by Robert P. Jones. Jones is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and I recently had the opportunity to hear him present the data from the book along with his perspective on what the research is showing us about our culture at an event here in Charlotte.

Perhaps the single most telling data point that best portrays the rapid change in public opinion is that of the same-sex marriage debate. Again, this is not a post about same-sex marriage. These are just the numbers. Resist your urge to internally opine, whatever your personal stance, and consequently miss the big picture.

In 2004, 59% of the American population was White Christian and 32% of the population were favorable to same-sex marriage. In 2016, those figures were almost exactly inverse of each other. Last year, the American population was 43% White Christian and 59% of the population was favorable to same-sex marriage. These percentages almost flip-flopped in just 12 years!

As you can see from this blurry picture of a slide I snapped during Jones’ presentation, as of late, the number of Americans who are White Christian is falling by 2% each year.

White Christian Percentage

During the third year of Obama’s presidency, the percentage of White Christians fell below 50%; which means that White Christians are now a minority for the first time in the history of the USA. Fewer whites identify as Christian and fewer Christians are white. This is a shift of which we should all take note, especially those of us who are on the same mission no matter what the statistics tell us.

Although our mission as the church never changes, perhaps these figures and narratives should cause us to rethink, as well as help shape, our methods.

This data has to be contextualized according to each region. For example, I live in the Bible belt. All of my immediate neighbors are white and almost all of them would at least identify as Christian even if they are not active in a local church. Therefore, the influence of White Christian America is still prevalent in much of the demographic that makes up my local community. However, this is changing rapidly. More than likely, there is a similar shift in your community.

Jones provides a fascinating historical narrative detailing the relationship between religious movements and political movements over time here in America. He also touches on how even our cities’ architecture illustrates the shift in public understanding of religion and the marketplace. For example, in telling how the erection of marketplace edifices began to tower over the church steeples already in place during the late 1800’s, Jones writes, “Instead of market transactions happening under the watchful eye of the church, these exchanges literally take place over its head and beyond its reach.” He also creatively opens the book with an obituary for White Christian America and concludes with a eulogy.

I suggest you pick up a copy of The End of White Christian America. Jones’ writing will open your eyes to the changes occurring in how people in our country view the world around us.

Continuing a Commitment to Excellent Worship

Screenshot 2017-03-31 09.38.51I am very grateful for the addition of two staff members to the team I get to lead. Last month, Ryan Devenney joined the team as the Director of Music and Media. He continues to kill it in the areas of graphic design, leading serve teams, and providing overall direction to the future of 801South. Also, Nick Hunter joined our team as the Worship Director earlier this month.

The story of how Nick was led to 801South is fantastic!

We had been contracting worship leaders from around the area for about six months while without a worship director on staff. Prior to contracting each worship leader, I would view some form of an online portfolio for him or her, because I would not allow just anyone with a guitar to lead our crowd in worship. I had to be confident that each leader had a certain level of competency and would do an excellent job leading worship.

There was one person, however, who I did not audition. Instead, I went off of a recommendation from another pastor on staff.

Pastor Chuck Wilson officiated a funeral for a longterm member of Matthews United Methodist Church last fall. The funeral featured a solo by the newly married grandson-in-law of the church member whose life was being celebrated. Following the service, Pastor Chuck asked him for his contact information and later passed the info to me suggesting that I get in touch with him.

I met Nick for coffee one afternoon and loved hearing his story, as well as learning his heart for people. His experience in leading worship and his love for reaching people convinced me to take a chance. Without ever hearing him sing or play a note, I scheduled him to lead worship on an upcoming Sunday.

I’ll never forget the morning when Nick first led worship at 801South. He came in early, got to know the rest of the volunteers serving on the music team that morning, and plugged in so that rehearsal could begin. I was speaking to one of the volunteers serving on the production team as the band started rehearsing their first song. At hearing the first note out of his mouth, I stopped the conversation and immediately turned my head to make sure that what I was hearing was actually coming from the platform. I could not believe the quality of the tone and the pitch of the voice I was hearing. I was in awe.

Over the weeks and months that followed, we moved from contracting Nick once a month to twice a month. Every time Nick would lead worship, at least one person would say something to the effect of, “I don’t know if I get a vote, but if I do, I vote for him!” Eventually I was convinced that God had led Nick to 801South and I was compelled to offer him a position on staff. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made yet.

Not only has Nick been a great addition to the team, but we get a double blessing with his wife, Alex. She has an incredibly sweet demeanor, exhibiting both a servants heart and a passion for people similar to Nick. Alex’s parents, Stan and Debbie, also join us in worship on most Sundays and even help with tearing down the equipment.

Nick’s servant leadership as well as his ability to provide direction and constructive correction to the music team is incredible. The way that he is able to relate with every person on the production team and make others feel included inspires me.

If you have not had the chance to see and hear Nick in action, I invite you to come experience worship on a Sunday in the near future. You won’t be disappointed!