Christian Community Development Association celebrated 30 years this past week at their Rooted Conference in Chicago. Nearly 5,000 people gathered to celebrate being rooted in a deep and abiding faith in God, a call to community and place, and a commitment to persevere in hope for the long haul. I had the privilege of introducing my son, Joseph, to a workshop of 65 individuals. Joseph led the session on how to root emerging leaders in gospel justice advocacy.
Emerging leaders care deeply about justice
Generation Z and Millennials care deeply about the division in our country. Fairness is a guiding principle as they see people of color, immigration status, and economic status treated as lesser. They care about the margins. They are part of a rising tide in America of nones (no religious affiliation) and dones (leaving the institution of the church). More often they see the church as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
The evangelical church in America is viewed as narrowly concerned about issues of gender, sex and its own protection through the First Amendment rather than being concerned about the vastly more prominent theme of justice that permeates Scripture. The church is viewed as promoting fear against a secular culture rather than being light and salt in the culture. Millennials view the church as lamenting a loss of power while failing to lament its deep racial and ethnic divisions that continue to make Sunday morning the most segregated hour of the week.
If the church wants to engage emerging leaders, they need to listen and learn from them rather than tell them to wait their turn before they can have impact.
Emerging leaders want opportunity to engage
Joseph led a session from curriculum he created along with other high school, college and law student leaders called Justice For All. The curriculum is designed to support a Justice For All club in a local high school, college or law school or supplement an existing club that wants to learn about and engage justice issues. The materials can easily be adapted for a youth group or small group.
Joseph did an actual session on immigration which he wrote. The sessions begin with introductions/ice breakers. The leaders guide has multiple fun examples. Once students have engaged with one another the topic is introduced through a video or quiz. Joseph showed this powerful video of how immigration impacts many fellow students.
The leader then introduces a speaker. The speaker can be a student testimony on how the issue impacts them. Joseph knows many students who are victims of political rhetoric that refuse to help Dreamers, even though 80% of Americans support relief for these young promising students. The speaker can be an outside expert. The speaker provides a short 15 minute presentation. Joseph invited me.
I spoke on the brokenness of our immigration system that forces a three year old child to represent themselves in a claim for asylum because we provide no attorneys. How we cling to labels like “illegal” when God only uses one label – “sinner” and it applies to every one of us equally. We are all law breakers, but God demonstrated grace, mercy and love to us. Why can’t the church follow Christ example? Why do we demonize people making a long walk in hopes of freedom from murder, rape and abuse? Our leader in Honduras shares helpful insights to those making their way toward America.
Why do we demonize the poor through new proposals to exclude those who might ever use public benefits. Our policies are anti-family as we actively rip parents and children apart, forcing children to potentially use the very public benefits we claim to be so opposed to. Our policies are not based on safety or security but on a dangerous form of nationalism.
Rather than fuel fear, we should be agents of shalom. I shared practical ways to establish a free legal ministry for neighbors in need through a partnership with Gospel Justice Initiative. I shared free community education resources to reduce fear through a comprehensive family safety plan. The plan covers 14 specific legal areas with resources. You don’t need to be a lawyer to present the information to the community – an outline of a presentation and all information is provided.
Emerging Leaders believe in Justice For All
After the speaker the group reviews a short information sheet on the problem and engages in specific discussion questions. After discussion the group decides on action steps. This action can be going to coffee with an immigrant and learning their story or watching the documentary, The Stranger. There are several suggestions in each resource and the Leader Guide.
Some Generation X and Baby Boomers worry about the future of our country because of diversity and our seemingly less churched younger friends. But I would argue the opposite. I believe the generations coming on the scene reflect the Kingdom of God where every tribe, tongue and nation is represented. The nations are on our doorstep. How beautiful.
Our rising generation cares deeply about treating every person with dignity and that is profoundly Christian. We who are older can encourage our zealous friends to root their advocacy in God’s word. But we should recognize on many issues they are not the ones out of step with that word. We can learn from these emerging leaders and should partner with them for the great advancement of God’s Kingdom.
Those present at the workshop were strongly encouraged by Joseph. They listened and learned. I chose not to take lead but to position Joseph to lead. We who are older should do the same. Don’t fear our younger leaders. Build into them and see the amazing work God does in and through them as a result.
If you are interested in receiving justice for all materials or the immigrant family safety plan, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.