5. We’re learning how to be a reconciling community.
NewStory is a multiethnic and reconciling church. Our neighborhood is one of the most dense and diverse in Chicago and many nations, races, and people groups form the fabric of NewStory Church. Our desire is not to be diverse—after all, you can have a diverse congregation and still have a mono-ethnic structure and leadership. Our desire is to be multiethnic and reconciling. That means that we have to learn how to work through conflict. Whether we like it or not, we have all inherited a history (and present reality) that is fueled by racial hostility and marked by oppression and privilege.
Tension in our congregation began to rise in late 2014 in the wake of the verdicts in the deaths of Michael Garner and Michael Brown. As the façade of a post-racial America began to crumble, factions started to form in our church. In response, we promoted unity and reconciliation through discussions, panels, and teaching. These discussions, at times, turned to arguments. Many white people in our congregation interpreted these as isolated events while many African and African-American folks saw them as a part of a continuing cultural dynamic of racial oppression.
God was very kind to us during that season and began teaching us what it means to become a kingdom community by resisting the patterns of privilege and oppression that mark our world. EHS has provided the tools and given language to join Jesus in this work. We learned to pay attention to our own triggers—or reactions—asking “What just happened in me?” As we grew is self-awareness, we were able to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And that relationship led us to each examine our own hearts to see how we might to change or grow around this topic.
6. We’re learning to engage in healthy conflict.
One of the goals of a kingdom community is that we love one another well and help one another live more fully into the story we’ve been created to live. The key to this is the ability to engage in healthy conflict. When it comes to being a reconciling community, we need to have space to express anger and confusion without judgement. We also need to have the maturity to receive anger and confusion without becoming defensive. Reactive conflict only deepens division. We need to respond, not react.
As a leader, EHS has taught me to monitor my own triggers and identify them in the moment of conflict rather than allowing them to cause a defensive reaction. For example, a leader approached me following a Sunday service expressing concerns that a phrase I used in the sermon was insensitive. Immediately, I sensed myself getting defensive. I just preached a sermon that was awesome! I busted my butt to prepare and preach well!
As the tension within me increased, I was able to catch myself, identify what was happening, and resist the urge to be defensive. Instead, I become curious: “Why was this insensitive? How could I have phrased this differently?” Through this tension, both of us were able to grow in our understanding of God, ourselves, and one another. The practices and postures that enhance healthy conflict are leading us to become a stronger, healthier community.