Ministry


In the final weeks of a seminary class, the professor began to do something that drove me crazy. He had a lot of material to cover, and in order to save time on complex topics the professor began to just say, “The conservative position is …, OK.

The school that I was attending was on the conservative end of the spectrum on many theological positions, so his statement was code for “the right position.” It worked for most of the class. Most heads in the room nodded in agreement.

It did not work for me. I did not care that it was the “conservative” position. I wanted to know what was true.

I was not against having a “conservative” position (If so, I would have attended a different school!), nor was I interested in having a “liberal” position. I was not in school to signing off on the company line, or adopt the party platform, or buy all the products with a certain label.

My goal was to encounter what was real and good. While labels are quick and easy, they do to answer the deeper questions: What is true? What is real? What is good? A label just can not go there.

At best, a label simply tells you what tribe currently holds the position. However, labels often mean different things in different circles. For example, this same professor was considered “conservative” by some scholars, but he was under attack in other circles for being too “liberal.” Labels are often meaningless.

At others times, the labels are just plain wrong. I pastor friend recently told me that the more he understands the Bible and teaches what it says, the more he is labeled “unbiblical.”

I see labeling increasing in both church and culture. People place simple labels on complex ideas, people, or movements. We use a label to quickly embrace or reject something without doing the hard work thinking and discerning its real validity or value.

We simply nod or shake our head at the label, and we miss discovering what is true, what is real and what is good.

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This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed other religious communities. This is our apology.

Dear People of Other Faith Communities,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I am sorry that I too often confuse who you are as a person with certain beliefs or traditions of your religion. I have too often equated your humanity with your doctrine or practices, and sometimes not even accurate understandings of those things. In doing so, I have treated you less than human.

I am sorry that I have held to my convictions in a way that has forfeited true dialogue with you. Rather than engaging in meaningful conversation, I have simply been afraid. By doing this, I perpetuated the isolation and division of our tribes.

But there is more.  I have confused God’s revelation with my own cleverness. Too often I have elevated myself to a position that belongs solely to God. Instead of being a grateful recipient of grace, I have acted as if truth originates with me. In doing so, I have put myself above you.

I am sorry that I have confused an act of love with an act of war. I have taken what God intended to be “good news for all people” and turned it into “reasons why I am right and you are wrong.” What God intended to be a healing balm, I turned into a battle axe. In doing so, I have treated you as my greatest enemy rather than a fellow beggar looking for bread.

I do not want to minimize your beliefs or mine by saying something sappy like “our religions are the same.” We both know that our faiths have some important differences as well as similarities.  But those differences are no reason to minimize who you are as a person – God’s image-bearer.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed- The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the homeless community. This is our apology.

Dear Homeless Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that too often I have chosen to overlook you. I’m sorry for every time I have crossed the street in order to avoid awkwardly passing you; for every time that me eyes glance downwards, refusing to look into your eyes; for every time in my actions I have made you feel as though you are less than human; I am sorry.

In my better moments I have compassion.  In my bad moments I wonder what you did to find yourself in this situation.  In my worst moments I simply and arrogantly ascribe your loss to laziness, assuring myself that no respectable and hard-working person could ever wind up in your shoes.  I rarely, if ever, stop to think of the dizzying array of circumstances, some completely outside of your control, that might have led you to this point.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I refuse you basic generosity while refusing myself not even the smallest of pleasures.  I’m sorry that I tell you I have no money while walking into Starbucks.  I’m sorry that too often I deprive you even of the basic generosity of conversation and touch.  More often than not I have believed lies about you.  I have told myself that I’m better.  I have done anything but follow the gracious, loving and compassionate model of our Savior and Lord.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed The Church

(Letter by Benj Petroelje and Sarah DePriest)

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the L.G.B.T. community. This is our apology.


Dear  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the words of hate I have used towards you. When speaking with you and about you my words have not been marked by grace the way our Lord’s words so often were.  Too often I have traded kindness for hate, compassion for cynicism, and grace-giving love for judgment.  From our leaders to our lay-people we have spoken of you in a way that makes you less than human – I have painted with broad and aggressive brushes when sensitivity was so desperately needed.

Sadly, almost worse than my words have been my actions.  I too often have been the bigot.  While some of my more outspoken brothers and sisters hold up signs and protest your lifestyle, I silently laugh at you and mock you behind your backs.  Worse yet, I arrogantly declare your sexual choices sinful, prying at the speck in your eye with a crowbar while I sit blinded to my own sexual deviance by the log that diminishes my vision.

Perhaps most devastating, I have not taken the time to even know you – to truly know you.  I have made assumptions about you and guarded myself from your “wicked” touch in my castles of ignorance.  I have not truly sought to hear your voice.  I have hidden behind the Bible as a way of making myself feel better than you rather than as a way of truly extending God’s grace and love to you.  I am content to form my opinions about you devoid of actually knowing you.  Better has been modeled for me; but I have not chosen His way.

For these things I am sorry.  I am sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed-The Church

(Letter by Benj Petroelje and Sarah DePriest)

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the immigrant community. This is our apology.

Dear Immigrant Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But I wanted to start there.

I’m sorry.

I have forgotten so much. I’ve forgotten that scripture is full of stories of immigrants.

I’ve forgotten the repeated commands to extend hospitality to the stranger, show mercy to the foreigner, and ensure justice for the alien.

I’ve forgotten the central principle of actively loving my neighbor, and that neighbor means you. I have forgotten that God has created and redeemed all people, not just people who look, talk, and act like me!

I’m sorry for forgetting.

I’m sorry that in forget these realities, I’ve neglected you.

I’m sorry for thinking ill of you and treating you as less than human.

I am sorry that I have not shown you hospitality. My lack of action reveals the truth of my selfish state. I revel in the courageous stories of how our ancestors came here, yet I ignore your courageous stories. I surround myself with pleasures and comforts, and ignore your plight.

I’m sorry for being a bad, non-loving neighbor.

I am sorry that I often think the worst of you. I make assumptions about you – why you’re here, how you got here, and what’s going to happen because you’re here.

My assumptions are often dark and jaded and down-right hateful. These thoughts have little or even nothing to do with the reality of who you are.

I’m sorry for the times I have made things more difficult for you. I’m sorry for the times I have joined in the slander against you. Sorry that I have allowed, and even advocated for, unreasonable obstacles to be placed in front of you.

I’m sorry for having permitted and even participated in, acts of discrimination against you.

For these things I am sorry. You deserve better! Jesus’ name deserves better.

Will you please forgive me?

Signed – The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)

There is a growing number of people who have taken it upon themselves to “defend the truth.”

Now, I am all for truth – my metaphysics roll A Priori (Translation: I believe there is reality outside of a person’s experience.). However, there is something about the approach and the spirit of many of these “truth defenders” that seems off the mark. They often seem driven by fear, anger, or pride rather than by a love of what is true … or a love of the people they engage.

So how should we speak of truth?

The ancient writings of James provide a helpful guide for those who believe that true truth really does exist, and they want other people hold to it. James shows a right way to speak of truth.

Be Slow to Speak of Things Beyond You. James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Remember the Power of Words. James 3:5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.

Do Not Slander Another Person. James 3:10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!

Living the Truth is the Best Proof. James 3:13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.

Real Truth is Loving. James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.


This month Matthew Soerens taught our church staff about Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Matt works with churches on immigration issues through World Relief. He also co-authored the book Welcoming the Stranger (IVP).  Matt has a humble yet insightful view of this issue. I will spend a few post on immigration – inspired by his talks.

Why should Christians engage in Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

While a growing number of White Evangelicals support comprehensive immigration reform, others remain indifferent on the issue, and others oppose the concept.  I believe that people of faith should take part in reforming our national immigration policy because it strikes at the core of Christianity.

It is a Bible Issue – The  Scriptures explicitly teach on how the people of God, including on a government level, are to treat the foreigners in their land. There are several other texts that speak about general principles of love, mercy, compassion, justice and hospitality which must inform our approach to immigration.

It is a Jesus Issue – Jesus was an immigrant. That experience surely had an impact on him. The teaching of Jesus should influence our approach to immigration.  Jesus summarized and prioritized the teachings of the scriptures as “love your neighbor.” He clarified that “neighbor” includes people who are not like us.

It is a Church Issue – The Church of Jesus Christ goes beyond our local congregations. The Church includes all believers. Non-white congregations are the fastest growing segment of  the Church in America. Many of these ethnic churches suffer under our broken immigration system. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in the church.

It is a Mission Issue – Christians are called to make disciples of “all nations,” which means “all people groups.” The reality is that all people groups are coming to America. Their ability to hear and receptivity to the message of Jesus are, at some level, influenced by our national immigration policies and by the Church’s response to  immigration issues.

Next Post –  Immigration in America: Past and Present.

Matt’s Soeren’s Book:

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