A church that looks like a country club will definitely appeal to some people. Think of it as an aspirational church, the kind of place people want to join in order to make the right kinds of friends and contacts. But to the outside world, it’s not going to look distinct as a church; it’s going to look like a country club. And you don’t need the resurrection of Jesus to start or sustain a country club.
But what about a church for the downwardly mobile? A church for people who can’t enhance your résumé or boost your bottom line? A church where serving the weak and the poor exposes your own sin and need for the Savior? Now that’s a church that grabs the world’s attention. And it’s the kind of gospel-centered church that The Gospel Coalition exists to support.
My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Vermon Pierre. He’s lead pastor of Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a TGC Council member. He is also the writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Living, a small-group video and book study published by TGC with The Good Book Company. It’s based on point three, countercultural community, from TGC’s five points of gospel-centered ministry. This might not be the most provocative or controversial section of our Theological Vision for Ministry. But if not, it’s close. And you’ll see why in this interview with Pierre.
Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast and check out other episodes in the series Why We Need Theological Vision.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hanson: A church that looks like a country club will definitely appeal to some people. Think of it as an aspirational church, the kind of place people want to join in order to make the right kinds of friends and contacts. But to the outside world, it’s not going to look distinct as a church. It’s going to look like a country club. And you don’t need the resurrection of Jesus to start or sustain a country club.
But what about a church for the downwardly mobile, a church for people who can’t enhance your resume or boost your bottom line? A church where serving the weak and the poor exposes your own sin and need for the Savior. Now that’s the church that grabs the world’s attention. And it’s the kind of gospel centered church that The Gospel Coalition exists to support.
My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Vermon Pierre. He’s lead pastor of Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a TGC council member. He is also the writer and presenter of “Gospel Shaped Living,” a small group video and book study published by TGC with a good book company. It’s based on point three, countercultural community, from TGC’s five points of gospel centered ministry. This might not be the most provocative or controversial section of our Theological Vision For Ministry. But if not, it’s close. And we’ll see why in this interview with Vermon. Vermon, with that introduction, welcome to The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
Vermon Pierre: Thanks, man. Good to be here.
Hanson: All right, Vermon, I know this is something you strive for, that people would get along inside the church who could never get along outside. What does that look like at Roosevelt Community Church?
Pierre: Well, you know, first of all, I mean, I can’t help but think of how poor our history is in this for the American church particularly. The American church’s most natural tendency, I would say, has been to organize around affinity groups, especially when it comes to race and ethnicity. So we’re just fighting against a lot of historical baggage when it comes to being churches that represent people coming together who might not normally be together. That being said, you know, I think, the Bible is, not surprisingly, really good help here. For us to be a church… And I’m going to press this even a little bit more. For, to be a church full of people who aren’t just getting along but they’re actually loving one another, like have actually affection for each other, who normally would not even be in the same room with one another and yet have bonds of love and peace with one another. So it’s not just like we’re just sort of putting up with each other, we’re actually bonded and united to one another. And I think that the metaphor the Bible uses that we use a lot at Roosevelt is that idea of family, the biblical metaphor of family. I think that’s immensely powerful and significant and using that as sort of a conceptual framework for then, some of the practical things that we want to want to do in our own particular church has been really helpful. So, you know, I think about how we’ve been made into a family, which is a way of just saying, it’s acknowledging that we are different. So I think it’s important to say that, like we should just acknowledge the fact that there are distinct differences that matter. It’s not like we’re all the same. And so whether it comes to class, education, comes to race, ethnicity, there’s real differences, and we’ve been made into something that allows us to be united together with one another. Something that doesn’t erase those differences, but actually uses those differences to bring us together. A lot of times I say it’s almost like puzzle pieces. Like, the world would have us have the edges of ourselves be jagged so that we can’t form in any connection with one another. We don’t fit together. And yet, by the gospel, through what Christ has done, he’s rounded us together and made us into puzzle pieces that now can be fitted together and presenting a picture that we cannot present apart from one another.
Hanson: But how does it contrast, Vermon, with those kind of affinity groups in your community? Does it grab people’s attention? It might be a leading question, but just generally wondering is it distinct in that respect from your surrounding culture?
Pierre: Oh, yeah, it is. I mean, that’s probably the thing people notice the most about our church is the diversity of the church. Which some way speaks to where the culture is at, sadly. But, yeah, I mean, I think when you come in on a Sunday morning, you notice different ethnicities. And part of it is where we’re located. I mean, we have people who walk in off the street who are clearly homeless, others who are quickly, more financially stable and upwardly mobile. And so, you know, Sunday morning becomes a really important sort of representation of that. But then how we press into that with the different small groups and classes and other things like that, I think it’s important as well. And so yeah, that’s something that that’s very visible.
Hanson: So, you talked about the biblical metaphor of family. This section on countercultural community that you wrote about in “Gospel Shaped Living” is it’s expansive, this statement. We’re going to cover a lot of ground here. But another area beyond race and ethnicity that you mentioned here where this is really important is sexuality. And this statement includes The Gospel Coalition’s position on sexuality. What does it mean to care for one another in the church as the statement talks about to the point that biblical chastity makes sense?
Pierre: Well, you know, let me just say I like that you use the word biblical chastity. So I think it’s a better way of thinking through this. You know, oftentimes growing up we talked a lot about abstinence when it came to sexuality. So you can’t have sex some unless it’s with the opposite gender in the context of marriage. And of course, you know, strictly speaking that’s true. We think about a sort of creates a haves and have-nots. Like, here’s a group of people can have sex and here’s a group who can’t. Chastity allows us to think of this concept is really that idea almost of self-control when it comes to sexuality. Which means whether you’re married, you’re single, same-sex attracted and by having to commit to being celibate, all of us have to practice chastity in different ways. Self-control. So even married people have to exercise a degree of self-control when it comes to sexuality. There’s sexual practices that are dehumanizing or demeaning that we should not engage in, even though the world would commend them. And so when you sort of put it in this way, biblical chastity, I think what that does is create empathy. It allows, I think, married, singles, those who are same-sex attracted to realize we’re sort of all working through how do we exercise self-control when it comes to our sexuality. And then I think empathy is hugely important when it comes to this. And so I’m thinking particularly those who are same sex attracted. I don’t think enough Christians know enough people who struggle with that and understand just what that means and the struggle of what that means for people who want to be faithful to the Christian witness but be chaste.
And so, having empathy, realizing it’s a different way in which they’re practicing the same thing you need to practice within your own marriage is helpful even though they obviously they have a greater burden and when it comes to those who are same sex attracted. And then, from that sort of foundation, I think that that allows us to be more diligent in some very practical things like deliberately praying for those who are single or who are same sex attracted, being hospitable, going, and I mentioned being family before, that idea that we remain in family that we actually are a family, that means we are relating to one another as family. I think Ways of the Hill and others have done some good thinking on this, which is to say, we don’t press nearly enough into what it means to be family and to draw people in, in ways that would help. It doesn’t solve everything, right. But if we really were pressing it to some of the practices of being family, being hospitable, caring for one another, noticing the different concerns of people, particularly around holidays, and things like that, all those things, I think, what would create space by which practicing biblical chastity would be a lot easier.
Hanson: Yeah, let me just put in a plug here. I’ll just speak for myself here. Ed Shaw’s book, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life, a 2015 book, highly recommended. I think it covers a lot of this ground, well, and sort of building on what you’re sharing with us here, Vermon. Let’s imagine a church, Vermon, where families are strengthened and valued in countercultural ways according to Scripture, and also where singles are honored and included. How do we, how do we get there to those kinds of churches? You’ve already mentioned, if course, the family metaphor, pressing into that, I would imagine that’s where you start, maybe help us to make a few more of those steps toward that toward that goal.
Pierre: Yeah. I mean, I this question, I almost think very, very specifically, very practically. I mean, you know, I think a lot this, you know, a lot of churches, most churches in the United States aren’t particularly large. You can literally go through your church directory and be very intentional about the people of your church, the families, and the symbols that are represented there. And our larger churches would have to organize bigger systems by doing this. But more and more I’ve been thinking about it, what’s preventing us from sort of systematically really going through and identifying people and really getting a sense of where they are, where they’re located? That would lead to sort of the second thing here, sort of then that intentionality of then helping those families, those singles be connected in what I would say smaller communities. So the reality is even a church that’s, let’s say, 100, 150, so not particularly large, people can get lost in a church like that. It’s not just a problem for large churches. And so using sort of those smaller formats that are provided in like small groups, classes, Bible studies, even a serving group, like you’re part of a worship team, those are really unique opportunities by which you can intentionally engage the families and the singles that are there, and make sure they’re feeling included, they’re known, they are being encouraged to grow in their faith. And the third thing I thought here too is just, you know, what happens on Sunday mornings is helpful. So sermon series. So those of you who are preachers, thinking intentionally of examples that you using in your sermons that have in mind families or singles.
I think we have to do some intentional work to do that. It’s most natural for us as preachers to think of examples from our own sort of social location or wherever our family status is, but to think beyond that, think of the widows, think of the worst people in your church and then thinking for ways to particularly highlight them, to include them as you’re making points so within that… Again, this applies particularly to preaching. But then certainly within the Sunday morning worship experience itself, I think, is really important ways in which you can sort of highlight the different values, praying for families. You know, here’s a practical thing. You know, Baptist school is happening, a lot of families are very much engaged in that. There’s a lot of ways to pray for families who are sending their to is back to school and all that that means within the Sunday morning time. And there’s some more things you could do for those who are single as well. So I think those are just some things off the top of my head I think that, that might be helpful.
Hanson: So we’re, I mean, we’ve already covered some controversial ground. Let’s continue in this. We know there’s a lot of talk about socialism among young people.
Hanson: Yeah, yeah. You may have heard about that before. It’s become popular, and also accusations flying all over the place about Marxism among Christians. Let’s consider what TGC’s theological vision of ministry from 2007 says, and I’ll just point out here that last year, I had tweeted this message from The Gospel’s Coalition Twitter account. And, oh my goodness. The response that we got to this was pretty drastic and quite confusing. All right. Here’s what the statement says. “Regarding money, the church’s members should engage In radical sharing with one another.” Whoa. Do you know anybody, Vermon, who actually does this?
Pierre: It doesn’t happen a lot unfortunately. I wish it happened way more. I think that statement accurately reflects what we see in the New Testament. That being said, I have seen some of it in my own personal life, our local church and then sort of the broader church culture of Phoenix, Phoenix metro area.
So my own story, we were, my wife and I were living looking to foster two children and then from fostering them then begin the process of beginning to adopt them as well. They were sort of in that, that state. And we had, we’re living in a condo that wasn’t state approved. We needed a three bedroom. The condo need to be three bedroom. It was only two bedroom because it was a sibling group and the state requires, even if it’s opposite sex siblings to be in separate bedrooms. We had a couple in our small group, basically loan us their house. They switched houses with us for a couple months so that we could more, we can more quickly begin the fostering process. And then that gave us a little bit more time to find a house that we could live in because that that was sort of the holdup. We were in this condo, couldn’t find a house that fit with us. And so they literally, the church came out and moved everything and we lived in their house and they lived in our condo for a couple months. It was amazing. I can’t believe they did that. And so that’s, I mean, when stuff like that happens, you’re just like, “Yeah, that’s what it should be,” you know.
And my Associate Pastor, John Talley, he regularly lets people stay in his house for different reasons if they need help. And so stuff like that. I’ve had people in our church lend each other cars, you know, it’s just a, that radical sharing i think is when you when you see it, you begin to, you get the sense like, “This is right. This is what should happen. And so I’ve been blessed by that in our local church, and I’ve seen that too in the broader church within the Phoenix area. There’s sort of a local network called Surge. And I’ve been amazed by how different churches across churches have helped and supported one another, whether it’s one church has a couple that has medical expenses and some other churches come in and help with that, or educational expenses for to help maybe someone move out of a position that they were previously in. It does happen. Doesn’t happen nearly enough, but I think those examples are encouraging. I mention them not to sort of toot our own horn, but to say like, it can happen. It takes a vision for that. It takes a willingness to see the resources of the things that we have is not our own, it’s the Lord’s and to share them. Right? Which is a way of just saying, like, “Yeah, it should be mine, but I’m willing to give it for the benefit of other people.”
Hanson: Yeah. Well, the reason I mentioned Socialism and Marxism in there is because when I saw the responses from people, they were alleging that we were Socialist or Marxist with this statement, which I don’t understand, because those are coercive terms, political terms. This is entirely voluntary, what we’re describing right here, and also commanded in the Bible and also commended in the Bible, and exemplified. So it was very confusing, but it shows you how difficult it is for us to be able to separate these political conversations from expectations of what should be normative within our local churches, when they have really been gripped by the gospel, and understand that all they have and all they are is Christ.
Pierre: Man, you hit on the idol. That’s what it is. That we have the idol of money, possessions, and we protect our idols like no one’s business. That’s what it is. I mean, it should not be…we shouldn’t, we should not be surprised or disruptive for us to say we should share what we have for the benefit of others. How’s that a shocking statement? The history of the church is that. Right? I mean, it’s all over the New Testament that we should… Again, it’s not coercive because God loves a cheerful giver. Right? So cheerful, but giver, right? Paul seems no seems to have no problem asking churches, really almost telling, “Look. As the Lord, what, made himself poor, was rich and he made himself poor, you should also give.” Right. And he has no problem putting that onus on people. Right? Why do we have a problem with it? Again, the church, particularly the American church, we’re surrounded by consumerism, we’re surrounded by the sense that I have certain rights that need to hold on to with a death grip. And this idea of actually more regularly letting go of we have so that others might use it and benefit from it, and even if they misuse it, that it’s still good that we give for the benefit of others. That’s a, there’s a reason why that’s a hard sell. It’s an idol that unfortunately has really wrapped itself around the hearts of many American Christians.
Hanson: In ways that Jesus told us explicitly that it would. I mean, he warned us about it. I mean, that’s why there are so many warnings including also from the Apostle Paul about the love of money. So this is interesting. David Platt was not a council member for TGC back in 2007. I just want to clarify that. But we just mentioned that the church’s members should engage in radical sharing with one another. And here, the statement goes on to command, “A radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships and living space, to social justice and the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.” All right.
Well, I think, Vermon, we can admit at least that evangelicals in general have not distinguished ourselves this way at least in reputation. What are some other examples that we can point to for some inspiration? I think sometimes when we can at least visualize it just like you did in the last answer. You can see people do it all of a sudden, it becomes a little bit more plausible as we see the spirit work within us to motivate us to be able to carry out these commands. And I also wonder, what are some ways that your church does this?
Pierre: Yeah, let me speak to that specifically, sort of two examples that I’ve seen locally in the Phoenix area. So our church has been involved in this and as well as a number of other churches. So one example would be being involved in foster care system. So really, particularly Arizona is one of the worst states when it comes to how many kids are in foster care, and we and a number of other churches have said what these, I mean, helping the child is seems to be a pretty important ethic in Scripture, that we should be engaged in this particular area. And so a lot of churches have been involved in number one helping families stay together. So that’s important to say. The most important thing is to see families, particularly families who are at risk and have children about to go into foster care or being removed, what can you do to help, let’s say, it’s a single mom do the classes and maybe find a new place to stay, maybe they’re with an abusive boyfriend or something like that. A lot of times with support and resources, a family can stay together. The child can come back to their biological parents. Which, again, the church is uniquely able to provide sort of the community support that some parents that need. And so helping families stay together is the number one thing. And number two, then fostering in some cases. Yeah, there’s a situation here that’s bad and so fostering needs to happen for a while. So I’ve been really blessed to see how many churches have really stepped up to the plate and the families gone through the foster parenting classes,gotten their houses set up. And my wife and I have done, fostered a number of different times. We fostered some teenagers as well. And so just so it’s been awesome to see churches really step into, particularly fostering some of those cases that are harder to place.
And then, now, obviously, lastly, adopting children. Sadly, sometimes that leads… Severance happens and so we’re seeing a number of different churches begin to…a number of different families within churches adopt children out of the foster care system. So that’s just one example. Another quick example I’m going to mention here is, and this is more recent, our family has been involved with this and a number of other families and other churches as well. Hosting asylum seekers. And I know this is sort of something in the news and people sort of, frankly, I don’t think a lot of people know exactly what’s going on, but let me just sort of clarify. You know, the people who come to the border aren’t legal, they basically surrender themselves to the government, to I.C.E. And what the government has done is ask churches for help with this. And so they literally drop off the asylum seekers at different churches in the, in the Valley. Because as many of us know, the system’s overtaxed, keeping families in a detention center, I would say, is horribly wrong in the ways that we’ve been doing it. And so, a number churches have stepped up to basically host asylum seekers for maybe a night or two, until they then go on to stay with family members that they already have in the United States. So what that involves is picking them up, giving them a place to stay, helping them, maybe feeding them, and then helping them get to, let’s say, a Greyhound or to the airport to where they’ll stay with family and await their trial date. And so that’s been, that’s been very cool to see happen, and I think it’s a way that churches can respond that, you know, frankly, there’s a lot of different rhetoric about some of these kind of things and yet, I mean, I don’t know how you ignore, I think, some of the biblical mandate to really help those who, who are at risk, who are on the margins for a number of different reasons. And so anyway, those are two different… And I could preach this mini sermon about that one. But those are just two examples that I’ve really been blessed by that I’ve seen locally that I think hopefully reflects the statement.
Hanson: Yeah. One thing I get a little confused by is that there are lots of decent arguments about what the government should do or what they shouldn’t do, kind of how all these things go together. But then when it comes down to the tangible need in front of you, I don’t really know why there’s that much debate. I mean, that’s, it’s a totally different thing. You’re not talking there, “This is the government’s official policy that they must maintain for all times and all places.” You’re just saying, “Okay. There’s a clear need.” And I don’t I don’t know why those two get intermingled so clearly, but I find that fairly consistently from people. That’s part of the theme, I guess, that we’re discovering here. It’s very different difficult for evangelicalism ethically, it seems to be able to distinguish between what ought to characterize us as individual Christians, what ought to characterize our churches, and how we then take those further steps into our responsibility in a democratic republic to be able to enact those policies through voting and holding our political leaders accountable. This is, again, right here we’re talking about the church here in this next question. And remember, I’ve mentioned 2007 a few times here. This Theological Vision For Ministry was written 12 years ago. And maybe, Vermon, in this question more than any other it seems to speak to our situations today, even more urgently than it did 12 years ago. Here’s what it says about power and gospel-centered ministry. “It is visibly committed to power sharing and relationship building across races, classes, and generations that are alienated outside the body of Christ.” So not only race, but also class and generation in there. It’s that same dynamic of people who get along inside the church, and like you said, love one another inside the church who don’t get along outside the church. But speak specifically to church leaders, members, pastors, who are listening to this podcast where this is definitely not the case. Power is concentrated among a certain race or class or generation, but they want to press into this statement from our Theological Vision For Ministry. How did they get there?
Pierre: Yeah. You know, let me sort of press into those two things. Power sharing and relationship building, right? So power sharing means you need to give real opportunities to minorities to people with economic means, to the next generation. So what does that mean, real opportunities? You need to give legit, key positions in the church, emphasis on the word legit, you know, not just sort of here, you know, we’ll let you lead to this little small group that has, with no say into how the small group ministries is being led. No. You really put people in key positions and give them opportunities to influence and to lead. You know, frankly, face time up front on a Sunday morning. For most churches Sunday morning really is a significant point. And so if you want to let other races, other classes, other generations know, “Hey, we want you to here,” letting them be seen and letting them be seen leading the church in our worship service is really important. An issue that sometimes comes up with this is, you know, we don’t have people who are trained or ready. And by no means am I advocating like a quota system, you just got to throw people up there. But if you don’t have people who you think who could move into positions or lead in certain ways that allow them to…just as you were literally sharing power, right, so you putting them in power positions that you previously owned and you’re letting them step into those. If you don’t have people who are trained enough to handle that well, then train them. You need a multiyear plan to train them. You may say, “We can’t do it now but three years from now we will be able to do it because we’re going to take these next three years, we’re gonna invest the money and the time and resources to train people who are of different races or of different social classes, the younger generation so that three years from now they can step into these positions of power. We’re going to prepare them for that. We’re going to open it up once they are ready.” And I think that that’s just a way to eventually get there if you think you’re not there now.
So power sharing is a point. And then relationship building. That means reaching out to people across race, class, age. There’s this amazing concept in the Bible called hospitality that people will find useful in this. And by hospitality, I mean, like regular interactions with multiple people across race, class, and age. So not just, you know, I’m gonna invite someone over like once a year, but I’m going to regularly find opportunities to be in the same space with other people. Eating meals together, doing things together, being around one another. Those type of… You build relationships in shared experiences. And so you need to have multiple shared experiences. You think of your friendships that you have when you, especially longtime friends that you’ve had when you get together with them, you almost inevitably begin thinking about the things that happened back when you were in seminary, for me, or in college, things that happened when you were growing up on a little league field. Those are shared experiences. If you want to build relationships, you need to have shared experiences with people who are different from you. So you need to press into those things. Again, it’s not about having to put up with people but how do you form love with other people? Being those same spaces, intentionally being in the same spaces and doing things on one another, I think is a healthy way and a biblical way to do that.
Hanson: So my last question here in this gauntlet relates to one of the more attention grabbing statements in all of our foundation documents and certainly within our Theological Vision For Ministry. It says this, Vermon, “Each church should seek to reflect the diversity of its local geographical community, both in the congregation at large and in its leadership.” All right. So a lot of times when we talk about that, we get pushback from people because on two fronts. One is somebody who is white who says, “I come from an all-white place. What is that supposed to mean?” Well, I mean, it says what it means here, the local geographic diversity. You can’t manufacture that if it doesn’t exist. Though we should say, there are not a ton of places left in this country where there aren’t kinds of diversity…
Pierre: Yeah. You’re absolutely right.
Hanson: …including in rural areas like where I come from in South Dakota. And I should say the other pushback we get also usually comes from white people. And they’ll say, “All right. So are you saying that to black people and to Asians as well? Are they doing the same thing?” I think that’s kind of an ahistorical critiqued and I don’t understand how a lot of those churches formed in the first place, but anyway, let’s just set that aside for a second. I’ll just say, in Birmingham, Alabama with a church that does not live into this, much to my discouragement. I’m not blaming anybody specifically. It’s just it’s proven, Vermon, to be much harder than I thought it would be. How do we start? How do we work toward living out this priority, just admitting that it’s hard, it’s complicated? And one of the ways I found it’s very complicated is because whites especially expect, “Okay, the problem is on our end, so we just need to make ourselves hospitable to minorities and then minorities will want to come to our church when they realize that they can.” That’s not the situation that we’re in part because we’re surrounded by a lot of minority-led, minority almost exclusive churches where there isn’t a lot of interest. And I’ve even wondered, Vermon, this may need to go the reverse route. This may need to mean whites are going to go into mostly minority-led churches, then all of a sudden you start to run into some theological problems anyway or at least disagreements, I should say, there. So it’s complicated. But I don’t want to just throw up my hands and say, “It’s complicated.”I want to make progress. Help me think that through.
Pierre: Well, you know, that last point, I do think it is interesting how much this is framed, and, I’ll just say, a white-centric way. So, sort of white churches say, “How do we get the black people to come to our church?” Like, why don’t we think about it in reverse direction? And I just would say there’s a ton of biblically faithful, black-led churches in this country. There’s a lot out there, right? And so I think some people saying, “Well, you know, I don’t know if I’m going to agree,” etc. No, there’s churches out there. Question is, are you willing to be the minority in some of these churches and to submit and to some degree? I think that’s, let me just say, I’m glad you brought that up. And I don’t think that is said enough in terms of it can go the other direction and probably should. As far as what you’re talking about, I mean, come on bro, I mean, you’re in a tough spot, right? So if it’s a big church, it’s like 95% white, it is unlikely to become diverse. I hate to say it. I used to, back when I just graduated from seminary, I was way more idealistic about this. But having done, you know, now almost 15-plus years of multi-ethnic ministry, I guess it’s really hard. It’s really hard to change a church that’s sort of been in that trajectory. That being said, I mean, I think there’s ways in which your church can be more racially sensitive and knowledgeable, should probably be involved in church planning. I think just generally, any church, even if it’s 95% white in an area that’s 95% white, it’s still an American church, which means it’s placed in a country with a very unique and particular history.
We shouldn’t act like we can even ignore all that, like that matters, right, if you’re going to be in this particular country. Like, we have a unique and particular history when it comes to race, and that means, I think, a certain amount of awareness and responsibility towards that history and how it continues to influence us. Saying all that though, I do think, you know, I don’t want to sort of make it all doom and gloom here, I do think there’s some things churches like yours can do to be at least a little bit more diverse. And so this relates even, connects to the previous question. I think intentionally reaching out to and equipping minorities in your church, especially those who you might, seem to be leaders. For any minorities to join a church that’s 94% white, they’re basically pioneers. It’s like the people who are, you know, going out west and they’re the first, establishing the first homestead and that’s difficult. There’s no one else there, right? I think you need to recognize the huge jump someone has to make to join a church that, let’s say, is all one particular ethnicity. And so really actually talking to them specifically, taking them out to lunch saying like, “I realize you’re a pioneer. Are you willing to be that pioneer?” And not everyone is willing to, but some are if they’re just, they’re intentionally noticed and supported. And so be willing to do a little bit more for those people who are coming in and who represent maybe people that you want more of within your church and helping them be encouraged because it’s going to be hard for them to be, let’s say, the one of only like three or four black families in 1,000-person church, for example. Because they’re pioneers and because they’re pioneers, they can be the bridges to attract other minorities. That first group of people who come and stay make it way easier for others to come and stay. Others who are totally unwilling to be the pioneers but they’re willing to be the second, third, fourth sort of round of people who come through. And so that can be a way in which that happens.
You know, again, giving legit leadership positions to legitimate minorities, emphasis on the word legitimate, right? So these are real positions of leadership, the power sharing aspect, but to they’re legit people too. There’s some minorities who aren’t actually going to be good at drawing other minorities in. And so giving them positions of leadership doesn’t really do anything, it’s just sort of becomes a token, right? Others who are actually not very good about being in those type of spaces. You need someone who, you need minorities who can be cross-cultural, right, so, who are in those kind of leadership positions. So finding those people and then giving them legitimate positions I think is important. Last thing I would mention is just, I mean, you gotta pay attention to and care about the issues of minorities in area. And so when there’s thing’s happening, particularly in our day and age, in the news and other things like that, you gotta show that you care about it, that you notice it, and that it’s not just it doesn’t matter. The election of Trump was a significant thing for a lot of minorities. There’s things you can do with small group discussions, panels, other things like that, that show, “Hey, we care. We’re not ignoring your concerns, your needs. We’re giving you a voice to air them.” All those things can help.
But let me just say, most churches don’t want to become diverse. I hate to say it, but most churches, if they’ve been around for a while, if they want to become diverse, they want to be what I would say superficially diverse. So we want people to come but not really say anything beyond sort of submitting to what the current culture of that church is. If you want to sort of really engage people and people who are going to be different and see some things differently, there’s almost always a cost to that. There’s always a cost. I think it’s a worthwhile cost but it’s important to say that. Because, you know, the history of our country, if you look at sort of the history of multi-ethnic churches, it’s very minimal. We’ve spent most of our history not, being separated from one another because of racism and other things like that, right? And so we don’t really have a cultural memory of doing multi-ethnic church, diverse churches. And so that is going to take some work. It’s going to take some costs. But I think it very much accurately reflects a first century church, right, of Jews and Gentiles, who were together. They didn’t do a church in Rome for, one church for the upwardly mobile Jewish people and other church for the upwardly mobile Romans, right? There’s one church together. I think that’s a model that’s worth us recapturing.
Hanson: That really stood out to me right there, Vermon, and I’ve read I think a lot of the same things and seen some of the same things that you’ve had to be able to make that statement right there. Most churches don’t want to be diverse, or they do want to be superficially diverse but not beyond that. I think it’s important to put all of this within The Gospel Coalition’s context of why we came about in the first place. And one of them is because of a lack of theological vision informed by the gospel, informed by scripture itself, as opposed to more or less indigenized to American models of church growth. And the dominant model of American church growth, which is the unspoken or spoken assumed default position for evangelical churches, that you must be growing in those numeric ways. The unspoken or the methodology for doing that is through affinity groups. Sometimes explicitly the homogeneous unit principle, but often just like attracts like in basic ways. So it’s going to be if your goal is a large church because in your mind there you are then fulfilling the great commission, then the easiest way to do that, in almost any context, is like following like, or to tap into these affinity groups. And so I don’t think… Yeah, it works. I mean, we have decade after decade after decade of evidence, Vermon, that it is a really good way to build a big church. And then when you think about the last two generations of evangelical church planting in many cases, a lot of it go to the places where people are moving in the suburbs or the exurbs because they need new churches out there.
Well, then, you know what? How are those places forming in the first place? Well, in many places, especially the south, but certainly not exclusively the south, I could go to any number of northern cities and find the same thing, the dynamic is going to be these are places that were fleeing ethnic diversity and integration. So the churches then settled and indigenized into that homogeneous context there. And I don’t think that process has diminished. And then I’ll add one other thing and get your response to this, but Emerson and Smith in Divided By Faith, a number of other people talk about this, we should distinguish here, Vermon, between what we’ve been talking about people getting along and loving one another with there then being peace as people expect their churches to be peaceful places because there seems to be a lot of stigma around “agitator” in the church. So if you walk into your church and you bring this and you might even say, “Hey, we’re a Gospel Coalition church, but we don’t, you know, we’re on the directory and everything. But you know what, guys? We don’t look like this. And we’re not even seeming to try to look like this. What’s the deal?” The typical response, Vermon, is going to be, “You’re upsetting the peace around here. You’re not getting along. You’re not loving people.” And if we do this, we’re going to lose a ton of people there. There are reasons why we don’t make more progress on these topics, and it’s because we are so much more enculturated within our evangelical churches than we want to admit. But if we have the spirit, we have the scriptures, and we even have a little bit of help from this Theological Vision For Ministry to encourage us along the way, I think it’s possible. Sorry. Long discussion there but, I don’t know. What do you what do you make of that, Vermon?
Pierre: Yeah, I mean, I think you and I were talking a little bit earlier about, you know, what are we motivated by? We are motivated by a particular vision, and it’s a vision of the gospel, the gospel-centered church, a gospel-shaped church. That’s what compels us. If other things begin to cloud that vision, we can get off track. If we’re really only concerned about keeping people or “keeping the peace,” then we will get off track because sometimes if we’re a community that’s not shaped by the gospel, that means we’ve drawn people, we’ve formed something that is not reflective of what gospel community should be. To change that will require disruption, will require losing people. And that’s okay. You know, I’ve thought about this, you know. Jesus arguably was a pretty bad church planner. Right? He started a small church, it grew, and then He lost everyone. Right?
Hanson: I know.
Pierre: So, are we going to knock Jesus on that? Well, no. I mean, He had a vision to die on the cross for our sins and not everyone was compelled by that. Right? I mean, that that that does happen and it’s okay. I just want to tell everyone out there, it’s okay. It’s okay to lose people for the sake of the gospel. It’s okay disrupt people for the sake of the gospel. It’s okay to be prophetic to speak truth that’s going to pierce people’s hearts. And the reality is the aroma of Christ, for some, it’s a sweet aroma, for others it’s a smell of death. Right? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to as much as possible. And I think that’s all we should be asking is this of Jesus? Does this reflect the message in person of Jesus? Does this reflect the biblical story, the Fall, the Creation, the Fall, Redemption, Restoration? Is this reflective of these things? To the degree which it is, I think that we have a roadmap to follow, and then we should always be calling and compelling people towards that. And sometimes disruption or even people falling away for a little bit is actually an indication that we are doing the right thing. Not always. We shouldn’t be arrogant or pompous about that. But we have like written words in our hands. Right? We have church history we can also look to as well. But we have things that we look to. We have Jesus Himself that can help us determine, “Okay. Are we communicating things in the right way? Are we just going off on our own thing? Are we just naturally wanting to be disruptive?” Or, no, we’re actually trying to be faithful to what the Lord has given us in His church. If we follow that, I think, then we can know where on solid ground and God will honor that. God honors a lot of different things, not just success.
Hanson: Yeah, you start to understand why Jesus had no place to rest His head. The Son of man had no place to stay and why Paul said that he did not take money from these churches because there’s an inherent difficulty when we’re having to teach hard truth and live it out ourselves. And by the power of the Spirit to teach hard truth and to model hard things for people and among people and for people who are paying for our livelihood and who are supporting our families. That’s just a difficult thing that church leaders have to face.
Pierre: We want to be liked. Yeah, you’ve been supported for a while, you’re used to a certain standard of living. I mean, especially if you’re church leader, you’re up front. You want people to like you. It’s hard to fight against that.
Hanson: Yeah, very hard. Well, my guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast has been Vermon Pierre, lead pastor of Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona, a TGC council member. And for more of this and even to lead your church through this, some of that disruption perhaps, pick up his study, “Gospel Shaped Living,” video and book study published by TGC with the Good Book Company. Thank you, Vermon.
Pierre: Thank you, Collin.