Civil rights have been a hot topic in the news recently. But, author and pastor Dan Willis says that it's Sunday morning where people are segregated. Dan points out that politicians, activists, and celebrities seem to be the only ones striving to lead in the area of racial reconciliation.
The author wants answers to some very important questions: Where is the church? What can the people of God do to become leaders again and not just be Johnny-come-lately followers? Dan says that the art of bringing harmony to the masses lies in the love all should see in the church of God.
Dan says the only option to making a difference and returning to relevance in this world is multicultural ministry. "If leaders are not prepared to minister to this growing culture, then American Christianity is in danger of becoming nonessential to the body of believers."
For years in Chicago, Dan has led a growing, multicultural Christian community. In his new book, The Multicultural Church, Dan talks about his lessons learned, past mistakes, and effective ways to minister to a diverse culture. I had the opportunity to speak to Dan about his upcoming book and his thoughts on racial tension in America.
Your new book is titled The Multicultural Church and comes out at a time of high racial tension in our country. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?
I wrote the book years ago and I had to update it for today. It was supposed to be published several years ago. But, my publisher Whitaker House asked me to write a book on faith and finance first. So, I wrote 5 Simple Steps To Financial Freedom beforehand. I know God delayed it.
Then, in December 2019, Whitaker House said they wanted to release The Multicultural Church in March of 2020. It was a God thing because of the world's current climate. This book is timely for everything that is happening. Not only during the pandemic, but for the civil unrest and racial injustice that is going on.
As a preacher of the gospel for 43 years, I believe the church is the leader. We preach that we're the head and not the tail. Politics isn’t the leader, the earth is the Lord’s. So, if the church is the leader, then, the world is to follow the church—even with the world's economy. We're not involved in this economy. We're part of kingdom economics.
The Bible tells us of this: In the year, there was a famine. Even though the prophet Isaac planted crop in a year of famine, he reaped a 100-fold harvest. That was because Isaac was a part of a different kingdom. It’s the same thing: we are in this world and not of it. So, I wrote The Multicultural Church to teach the world and the church how to navigate leadership in our current climate.
You make the statement, “if the church is to make a difference and return to relevance in this world, the only option is multicultural ministry.” In what ways do you feel the church has missed the mark on multicultural ministry and what does that look like moving forward?
I’m a pastor of 43 years in Chicago, Illinois in an urban community. Typically, people in urban communities work in multicultural environments, go to school in multicultural environments, as well as shop in multicultural environments. They go through these day-to-day activities in multicultural spaces and then go to church in what is deemed the most segregated time and day in the world.
How do we do everything else in a multicultural setting and keep church segregated? The next generation is not used to living any other way than of that of a multicultural. Their lifestyle is moving towards a pattern of multiculturalism even for church.
Then, add in how much interracial marriage has progressed. For instance, I have four children. All three of my daughters are married to African-American men. So from a personal standpoint, all of my grandchildren are biracial. This is increasing normality of life. Who has written about how to do church for that generation?
So, we’re missing the mark when we continue to focus on making everything else in the world multicultural—from politics to the workplace, to schools, but not the church.
If the Gospel is for all, why are we continually picking and choosing who we minister too? How can we continually be getting this so wrong with so many factors?
I defend and love the church of the living God. But, we as the church have strayed far from the Gospel message. Guilty, all of us. Now, during this pandemic, I see how much has changed. Our lives will never be the same because we see just how far we’ve strayed. We’ve strayed to compete with the world as it relates to entertainment and technology.
Our kids are bombarded with streaming, TV, games, and other distractions. I don’t advocate that church be boring, I’m into entertainment to keep the next generation engaged. We were one of the first churches in our area to embrace liturgical dancing.
I do illustrated and interactive sermons every Sunday. We're on seven platforms of digital media. But, to do it for the value for entertainment alone is not correct because the Gospel gets lost. So, yes, make the Gospel exciting, but this pandemic is forcing us to get back to the good news: the message of the cross and the blood of Jesus Christ and salvation. We must throw our net wide with entertainment value to reach a lot of people. But, once you have their attention we must focus on the Gospel.
While your book is for church leadership, how can the church-going public impact this narrative?
The Bible says we're to speak the same thing. In the day I was raised, we were told to talk to the pastor and not to question authority. Those days are over. We now have to mentor the next generation in a manner that we are speaking the same thing. The book of Corinthians says that the way to win the world is to speak the same thing. It can’t just be the clergy. It has to be the laity if we're going to win the world for Jesus. You know, change the world.
You credit music as being one of the first tools that helped you break down a lot of barriers in your personal ministry. Can you expand on that?
When I was very young, I was exposed to soul and gospel music. I was raised in a traditional caucasian church, but once I heard gospel music by artists like Chicago’s Bishop Braizer and James Cleveland, my soul was touched. And, I was so blessed to be able to keep a balance. I can flow with just a guitar, because of my roots, or with a Hammond B3 organ (that’s my preference).
Music with a Hammond B3 organ feeds my soul. I weep, I cry, I feel like I can be connected to God more. I'm comfortable ministering in a Caucasian congregation, a Latino congregation or African-American. But, my sweet spot is within a multicultural mix where I can flow in and out of various musical styles. Music is the equalizer of the playing field. If you read your audience, a song will open up hearts in order for you to minister effectively.
What’s the biggest challenge ahead for multicultural ministry at church?
The biggest challenge I had for a multicultural ministry is to heal the current situation that we're now faced with—especially with youth. We say and have experienced that grandma raises a generation. Well, the problem is that now that generation has moved on; the current generation of grandmas are unfortunately the drug addicts raising this generation.
It used to be that grandma took the kids to church. Now, life has changed. There is a decreasing amount of people guiding this generation to the house of God. So, the biggest hurdle we have to face is with this situation going on: the racial injustice and social unrest. The only way to heal is by the word of God. The Bible still has the answers. Pick a subject. It’s there. The word of God is the answer.
We can work toward healing and reconciliation with three steps: listen (that is, sit down and listen), dialog in peace, and pray about it. So, that we can fulfill reconciliation.
The word reconciliation comes from the Greek word symfiliosi, which means the end of the estrangement. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That verse ends saying that now he has trusted us to be the reconcilers of the world. In other words, the estrangement is over when the people of God arrived on the scene. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We are essential workers. Blessed are the peacemakers.