By Dorena Williamson
Today’s kids ministry leaders have a ripe opportunity to teach the next generation God’s truth about racial identity.
On the heels of a pandemic children are aware of the recent deaths of unarmed men and women, witnessing protest marches, and looking for affirmation and answers.
As beloved children of God, I encourage leaders to go back to the A-B-C’s with these basics that can help shape foundational conversations.
A: Ask God for help
He’s the designer behind all our beautiful shades of humanity. He created us on purpose and will guide us in this important work if we ask (James 1:5).
B: Bias must be checked
Whether innate or learned, preconceived perspectives impact how we view and treat others.
The church is built of living stones of varying races and cultures, and as leaders, it is vital that we perform regular bias checks and repent when the Holy Spirit reveals prejudice in our hearts.
All children deserve leadership that views them as precious image-bearers.
C: Confess your sins
Confession is all through Scripture, but it’s particularly hard for many to confess the sin of racism and acknowledge its collateral damage.
Healing and wholeness are on the other side of confession (James 5:16).
Leaders who confess the sin of racism are humbly acknowledging their need for a Savior. And isn’t that what our children need to see!
D: Discipleship is the goal
Jesus gave us the commission to make disciples of all ethnic groups and teach them to observe His commands (Matthew 28:19-20).
Training our children to love their neighbor, to honor one another, and celebrate each other as His marvelous creation takes ongoing discipleship.
Jesus modeled this in His earthly ministry and we can invite children to imitate this as a way of life.
E: Empathy growth
Lauren Casper says it beautifully in Loving Well in a Broken World: “While it certainly requires more work to empathize with those whose journey differs from our own, it isn’t impossible.
“We may have to look more carefully, expand our worldview, open our ears and homes and hearts, but we can empathize with others, regardless of our differences.”
F: Fight supernaturally with prayer
In the struggle against racial injustice, we wrestle with a supernatural force of Satanic strongholds. He is the father of lies who knows that young hearts open to the light of truth can demolish systemic racism.
Fight on your knees knowing the victory has already been won.
G: Consider generational values
One generation shares God’s mighty acts with another (Psalms 145:4). Generations unfortunately also hand down racist values.
Remember that every child in your ministry is part of a family tree and thus has the opportunity to be powerful change agents that bear the fruit of righteousness and justice to the glory of God.
H: Hear the stories
One of the most powerful healing tools in bridge-building is listening to the lived experiences of others. Don’t assume the children in your ministry have not already been touched by the trauma of racism.
I know preschoolers who have been harmed by other young children mocking their skin color. The church should be a safe space where they feel seen and heard.
I: Created in the image of God
Every human is made in the Image of God. In Beyond Colorblind, author Sarah Shin encourages us:
“Your invitation is to embrace your ethnic identity and to hear God’s voice of kindness and affirmation of how He made you. When you know who you are, you will be able to learn about the distinctive values, expressions, and characteristics of your culture that reflect his image.”
J: Do justice
God’s passion for justice is seen from Genesis to Revelation. Children are the unfortunate victims of our unjust systems.
If they’re hungry, homeless, wading through trauma or neglect, we have the opportunity to not just care about their soul but advocate for the flourishing of their full human experience.
Leadership may require your advocacy; step in knowing God is always on the side of justice.
K: Knowledge is attainable
Increase knowledge and racial awareness through books, movies, documentaries, and local museums. Do not burden people of color by asking them to be your personal teacher.
Do your own work; honor and support those who have labored long in this work.
L: Lament injustice
Unity champion Latasha Morrison writes in Be the Bridge:
“As agents of reconciliation, it’s never too late for us to acknowledge and lament racial injustice. It’s never too late to understand the historic depth of racism and to ask God to show his mercy and heal us.”
M: A marathon, not a moment
Pursuing racial reconciliation and justice is a race of endurance, not convenience. It is not easy; if it were, more people would engage in it! Do not be weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
“I believe the true evil of American slavery was the narrative of racial difference, [the myth] that black people aren’t fully human. … And because of that, I don’t think slavery ended in 1865 — it just evolved,” says author and attorney Bryan Stevenson.
Both American and world history show the atrocity that came from the narrative of white supremacy, the evil that normalized whiteness as better, and dehumanized others.
This evil spirit still resides in our culture and we must acknowledge and repent of it, root it out and prevent it from growing in our ministries.
Children are seeking answers, and if we don’t provide sound wisdom, they will find contaminated fountains of corrupt philosophies that strip the humanity of others.
Seize this ripe season to invest in precious young hearts. Share what challenges you, and where you find hope.
P: Understand privilege
The largely invisible network of any group, privilege is a connection to be shared for the purpose of building equity.
White privilege means not having to worry about being followed in stores, by police, targeted, etc. because of the color of your skin (it does not mean white people haven’t suffered in other ways).
Creative and honest communication about privilege helps children explore sameness, differences, and how to leverage and support one another.
Q: Ask questions
Jesus used questions to gauge the hearts of his disciples and followers.
Children absorb more than we imagine and questions reveal what they’re pondering and keep you focused on what is pertinent to the ministry God has called you to.
R: Race is a relevant topic
Race is a human construct created to classify and justify the mistreatment of whole people groups. This broken and painful history still has a present-day reality.
Terms like nation, tribe, and people are used throughout Scripture to speak of what we consider today as ethnicity, common ancestry, and shared culture or language.
S: Plant seeds
Conversations on race are planting seeds one at a time. Your role may be the planter, trusting that someone else will water.
Be faithful and do not doubt the hidden work of the heart that God is accomplishing. We’re merely God’s coworkers (I Corinthians 3:7-9).
In Healing Racial Trauma, author Sheila Wise Rowe writes:
“People of color have endured traumatic histories and almost daily assaults on our dignity, and we are told to get over it; we need healing and new ways to navigate ongoing racism, systemic oppression, and racial trauma that impairs our ability to become more resilient.”
If your ministry is racially diverse, be considerate and sensitive to the racial trauma that young ones carry.
U: Be willing to be uncomfortable
Jesus gave a rather uncomfortable challenge to following Him: denial of self and carrying a cross daily. Building bridges across the racial divide requires resisting complacency and embracing discomfort.
This goes against the American dream, but is essential for seeing God’s kingdom and His will done on earth as it is in Heaven.
V: Who does God value most?
Jesus illustrated the Father’s intentionality through parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.
The statement “black lives matter” is a cry of a marginalized people who have not always felt they mattered in this country.
History is filled with painful stories that question whose way of life holds the most value.
Be aware of favoritism and the temptation to distance children whose behavior or stories pose challenges. Go after the one who feels lost, so they understand their value to you and to God.
Jesus prayed that His believers would be brought to complete unity so that the world would see His glory.
Remember that unity is not an event or a declaration, but a work that shows the beauty of the gospel that tears down walls of division and brings different people into the house of faith.
X: Fight xenophobia
The fear of strangers or supposed “foreigners” is based on ignorance and a lack of proximity.
In our growing multiethnic world, children have a glorious opportunity to learn that differences can be curiously explored and graciously celebrated.
Y: Celebrate year-round
Dr. King’s birthday in January is a great time to highlight racial diversity.
February is Black History Month; May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month; September is Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month; and November is Native American Heritage Month.
These are all wonderful opportunities to affirm the image of God on different racial groups and highlight their contributions in God’s diverse kingdom.
Z: We’re marching to Zion
Growing up, we used to sing a song about marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God.
In Revelation 7, we get a vivid picture of racial diversity; a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, surrounding the throne in praise.
The specific descriptions that John gives are exciting; this multitude retained their ethnic and racial identity in heaven!
We don’t have to wait for heaven to praise God with our diverse kingdom family. The opportunity is before us.
Leaders, do the good work of planting seeds in these important conversations. God will give the increase and He will find us faithful.
DORENA WILLIAMSON (@dorenawill) is a speaker, writer, worship leader, and pastor’s wife in Franklin, Tennessee. She’s the author of Colorfull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us.