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Building Relational Bridges Across Races

The purpose of Open Bible Churches’ Unity Commission is to lovingly encourage and assist Open Bible ministers and, by extension, churches to be sensitized to the continued reality of racial bias and discrimination. The Unity Commission desires to help them to look within their own hearts for what they may not have seen and to seek opportunities to build unity in the body of Christ that both honor and transcend racial and cultural differences. We are not suggesting that Open Bible ministers are racist or even sympathetic toward racism. Rather, we believe all ministerial leaders must be invited and challenged to recognize the continued legacy of racism that scars relationships and communities today and to stand and speak against blatant racism as well as subtle racial and cultural bias and discrimination. Leaders must lead.

Pastor Jamel Crawford preaches at First Church of the Open Bible.

One of the ways pastors and churches can build relational bridges is for pastors who are from different races to exchange pulpits with each other. Swapping of pulpits is not a new idea, but the Unity Commission suggests that a timely application of that idea now is using it to bridge racial and cultural differences. We are so cut off from each other! In fact, the Commission recommends pastoral exchanges that last entire weekends with lunches or dinners that include fellowship, interaction, and prayer.   

Recently, Pastor Spencer Keroff of First Church of the Open Bible, in Des Moines, Iowa, engaged in a pulpit exchange with Pastor Jamel Crawford of New Life Center, also in Des Moines. Without attempting to coordinate their sermons both pastors felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to speak about unity. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience for both pastors and both congregations.

Pastor Spencer Keroff preaches at New Life Center.

Pastor Spencer explained the background that sparked the pulpit exchange: “After the horrific George Floyd tragedy, we invited Pastor Jamel Crawford to an ‘Ask the Pastor’ Sunday at the end of May. [During these services the pastoral staff sets aside time to answer questions from congregants.] Jamel was extremely instrumental in helping us understand societal injustice and systemic racism. After that Sunday Jamel and I have continued to keep in contact and share meals together. Out of this relationship, we decided the next step for our churches would be a pulpit swap.”

Pastor Jamel added: “During the season of the racial tensions, it is critical that the Church model racial reconciliation. One of the ways we can do that is being intentional in building relationships with people from other racial backgrounds. Pastor Spencer Keroff and I began the journey of being intentional in being more relational. It started with lunch, ongoing conversation, and an invite to a panel discussion. Pastor Spencer has demonstrated care and leadership for racial reconciliation. Through our relationship, we were able to participate in a pulpit swap. I’m grateful for Pastor Spencer and the great people at First Church.” 

Pastor Jamel and Pastor Spencer at New Life Center.

What about your pastor and church? Wouldn’t it be a good step forward to reach beyond our world of racial tension with a pastor pulpit exchange? Will you take the lead to make that happen? The key is to make the exchange with a pastor from a different race than your own. If you do not know of a pulpit exchange prospect, ask fellow pastors in your community or your regional executive director. Our world tries to separate us by race, but Christians need to defy that separation by modeling love that transcends race. We need to do our part to knock down racial barriers to relationship. It takes leaders to assume the initiative. Leaders must lead!

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