Melia Mason: Oneness

Race Under Grace: Opportunities for Oneness

by: Melia Lewis Mason

Recently, an interesting video caught my attention on social media.  Filmed in a popular restaurant chain, it was bustling with business—every table was taken. At one of the tables, where only men were seated, each one began to randomly sing the harmonies of a well-known gospel song. Though it looked like it was only their performance, people–one by one–all over the dining area—stood up and joined the worship. The place had been ‘flash mobbed!’ While I knew the song well, and I’m accustomed to seeing Facebook flash-mob attempts in lots of different contexts; there was one thing that truly stood out. There were all different races of people participating in this gospel-genre of praise! I was immediately reminded that this is how heaven will be. I shared the video, my thought, and Revelations 7:9 which tells us that every tribe of every nation will praise and honor God on high. There is ethnicity in heaven.

It is no coincidence that this clip has now been viewed 13.5 million times. That’s right—to say it went viral, would be an understatement.  Understanding that it’s captivated others, like me, gives a great illustration of the purpose of the CityChurch Network initiative, Race Under Grace. It is very simple. When people, especially those who live in America, see fellow believers uninhibited by the traditional boundaries of race; doing ‘life’ naturally and authentically, and with kingdom purpose; well people just seem to lean in!   As Jesus stated in John 17:23, ‘Then the world is able to know that God sent His Son, and He has loved those in this world, as He loves His Son.’

Since beginning in fall of 2016, the sessions of Race Under Grace were created to help churches, around the state, to understand our responsibility to the prayer that Jesus so fervently prayed on the eve of His death. To date, over 100 individuals have participated in Race Under Grace from churches and Christian-based businesses in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Conway, and northwest Arkansas. A Race Under Grace experience includes scriptural application; personally presented testimonies; informative videos—both historical and contemporary; and most importantly, dedicated space for organic, topical conversations. The attendees share these experiences in purposely diverse groups—all while the leaders of Race Under Grace rely on the Holy Spirit to establish the oneness of the gospel.

With only momentum in mind, the CityChurch leadership team desires that other churches and Christian entities will host Race Under Grace forums for their members and staff around our state, and nationally, as well. The Race Under Grace team is willing to meet with a team leader from each organization to coordinate the best itinerary of sessions. This can look different each time, depending on timeframes and the number of participants. Race Under Grace is best hosted with diversity in mind. In many instances, division persists because there is no mutuality or acceptable places for people of different ethnicities to discuss issues of race. Race Under Grace challenges this norm by establishing a safe place where the participants can freely express themselves, respectfully. The Race Under Grace team can lead these sessions and supply table leaders or train a potential church or business staff to lead their own sessions. There is a written work booklet given to each participant, as well. With only a few weeks’ notice, a Race Under Grace event can be planned, hosted, and follow-up strategies can be established.

It has been often noted that Martin Luther King made the observation that it was appalling that ‘the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning.’ That was in April of 1960, as Dr. King eloquently spoke on an episode of Meet the Press. Though many things have improved since that Friday evening when Dr. King was interviewed, we know that, unfortunately, many churches exist in the same context that they did on that very day.

It is only ironic that in April of this year—some sixty years later, many of those who are part of the CityChurch Network, and those who’ve been leaders of Race Under Grace, traveled to Memphis, TN for MLK 50, the national commemoration and conference honoring the life of Dr. King on the anniversary of his untimely death. Sitting in the convention hall over the two days I was able to attend the conference, I found myself so welled up with emotion, at times, it felt as if I might detonate with gratitude for being blessed enough to be present at this intersection of remembrance and expectation. You see, I’d written my first play in the spring of 1985. I was an eleven year old, so stunned that Dr. King was stabbed and had lived, that I wrote about it. I didn’t know that the play would later be performed in two presentations–one for the school and another, later that evening, for parents. This is how long I’ve felt indebted to Dr. King.

One of the greatest observations that I can make is how profoundly diversity had made its way into that place. Though Dr. King’s Meet the Press moment still rings true, for just a moment over those two days, had he lived, he might have been able to understand the gravity of whom he had dared to be in this world. There were young and old, married and single, women and men, preachers and teachers, in all shapes and sizes—and most of all—a kaleidoscope of every kind of people who were here for King and kingdom purpose. I can remember being completely impacted that I might not live to see the next, but somehow, I had been blessed to witness this moment in history.

And so, in some figurative capacity in my head, I bottled this precious essence of MLK50, and I allowed it to bestow upon me the affirmation that is priceless in the work of oneness. For as long as I can remember the issues of difference have been with me. I know the anger and the righteous indignation borne out of a hostile look. I understand how my life standards will never be enough to make me fully accepted, in some places. But, these moments remind me of my Savior who went to the cross and took on all the iniquity of the world—including race—that I might know, instead, an eternal acceptance. I hold fast to the redemptive opportunities that are given to me as I participate in leading Race Under Grace and working with the CityChurch Network. And, though the world suffers much weight of hard afflictions, my steps are ordered and made lighter because I’m sure that, like Dr. King, I know that what I’m doing for Christ? It will last.

 

Melia Lewis Mason, a former English major and Little Rock native, is a writer and on staff of Fellowship North Church, where she coordinates Adult Ministry on the team of Pastor Harold Nash, and her husband is one of the worship leaders.  A former publications editor, Melia now is also a Communications and Content Coordinator for Race Under Grace, and she serves on the Citychurch Network of Arkansas Leadership Team. She resides in Maumelle, AR with her husband, Russell, and three children, Joshua, 17, Aijilán, 14, and Jonathan, 10. They recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.

Bill Elliff – On United Prayer

Why we Must UNITE in Prayer ~ Bill Elliff – The Summit Church…

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14)

Ask anyone who knows you well and they will easily be able to tell about your ways. “Well, he always does (this).” “If you approach him this way, it will be better because …” There are certain things about how you function—your operating systems!

Just as you have your ways, God has his. And they are easily recognizable. Earlier believers often spoke of the “means of grace.” These are the things He has set in motion for us to utilize that would accomplish His desired ends and give His children what they need for life and godliness. The means by which we access the grace of God. The Word of God, preaching, worship, communion, etc. are all in this category. These are beautifully catalogued for us in the closing verses of Acts, Chapter 2.

We don’t invent these, we cooperate with God in humility, using His means. And, if we do, He will graciously respond, giving us, and those with us, more than we can think or imagine.

THE FOUNDATIONAL MEANS…..
… of God’s grace is prayer. We often view prayer as a side-room, but it is the foundation. We have no real relationship with God unless we pray. (How would a marriage be described if husband and wife never talked with each other, communicated needs, hurts, desires and daily business?)

Our life begins with prayer (“Whoever CALLS on the name of the Lord will be saved”) and is developed and sustained by prayer.

If Christ is the Head of the church, how can we possibly say that we are a church if we do not let Him speak to us and spend large amounts of time communing with Him?

THE EARLY CHURCH…..
… understood this. In Acts 1:14 you find them doing exactly what Christ told them to do and what would bring about all the desired results they longed for. They were learning, just as they had seen for three years as they walked with Jesus, that the primary means of moving forward in God was to commune with the Father. And, notice each phrase:
these all” (no one was absent, for this was the highest priority)
“with one mind” (prayer led them to perfect unity, for in prayer, you are humbled before God)
“were continually” (there was no thought of anything else—it was their habitual practice)
“devoting themselves” (to be devoted means to “be strong towards” and they were, Individually, making the choice to pray together)
“to prayer” (the primary, foundational means of getting God’s work one)

OUR PRAYER SUMMIT…..
… has been a humble, 25-year attempt to do the same. We have sought to come together, continually, with one mind to pray. Each year that this happens, amazing results occur. There is always an increase in unity, connection, and instruction and direction from God about our city. And spiritual momentum occurs.

The sad reality is that many don’t view this moment as foundational. But those of us who have attended have experienced it and believe.

What would happen if every pastor in the city joined together, for two days every year, in prayer?

Before you brush aside the idea, read the rest of Acts, Chapter 1 and 2 and see the explosion of God’s grace when His leaders “all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer.”

There is more at stake than any of us realize. United prayer is uniquely irresistible to God, and Central Arkansas needs the spiritual awakening that could occur when God’s leaders pray together!

Bill Elliff is the founder and Senior Teaching Pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. His passion is to see both genuine revival and methodological renewal in the church—both new wine and new wineskins. He is a frequent conference speaker, writer, and consultant to churches drawing from his 47+ years of pastoring and revival ministry. Author of 11 books, Bill is also the Pastor/Church Director for OneCry! A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening.

Making a difference in LR

First Principles – “Making a Difference in Little Rock” ~ Dee Brown…..While at a Bible study in our home with friends and neighbors in our community, a new participant to the group and sat there quietly taking in the discussion.  I wondered what he thought.  He was hearing us describe our previous weeks lesson on the Gospel and this week’s initial discussion on Baptism and the obedience of following Jesus in the walk with Him; a first act of obedience that leads a Christ follower to a life of obedience. This was his first exposure to First Principles of establishing someone in their faith.

After our meeting was over I asked the new attendee what he thought and he responded, “Wow, as each person shared, I picked up on several different backgrounds and church denominations, but this study was so focused on the Bible, and kept pulling us back to the Scripture, that is just cut right through all of that.

I’ve watched as the First Principles series takes believers through a process of exploring the Gospel and its implications for our lives, understanding the church as God’s vehicle to accomplish His mission and how that mission calls us to be a ‘family of families’ that lets our good works and openness bring people to Him.  Ultimately it explores our heart motivations so that we are aligned with His heart and mission in all aspects of our lives.  The First Principles is transformational, and the process allows us to identify leaders who can lead others in the same transformation.  This is multiplication at work in our church!                                                                                ~Dave Kella

Those are the kinds of stories I have heard over my journey of the past three years into discipleship with Arkansas Antioch Initiative of the Nehemiah Network; a network of churches who are giving leadership to pastors as well as lay leaders who want to leverage making disciples for thousands of people.

This discipleship curriculum is centered around the Socratic method. The Socratic Method is a way of community based learning in questions. These Socratic discussions focus on a facilitator engaging a group in discussion not lecturing from the front. Socratic discussions over Scripture hundreds of scholarly articles, and writing articles that apply to any cultural setting at any time lead us to evaluate what we believe in light of what is normative in Scripture. The First Principles study engages the group around scripture, conversational learning, and our writing moves beyond simply fill in the blank studies to help us reshape our lives.

I have never been a part of anything like this; Biblical community as it should be, with simple, practical steps that lead to reshaping our lives to follow Jesus.       ~ Evan Kenyon

Because of my successful engagement with the First Principles study, I began to explore the leadership cohorts. These as well utilize the socratic method and confirmed the excellence of the product. We have seen this process work with our Espanol campus and many other contexts. You can see an example in the quote below:

I have seen Jesus Christ transform many lives as I have trained leaders in over five (5) countries using First Principles.  This is a huge success for the Kingdom.            ~Daniel Bran

The process really works.  Spending this much time together around the Scripture and the discussions with multiple church leaders really affects change in our lives. I am excited because I have seen so many instances where people are responding to this strategy.

Another key differentiator in this process is for everyone in the church, all people, from new to the faith all the way to full time ministers of the Gospel.  Yes, the leadership development system of the Antioch Initiative can span that large of an experience group.  It is important for leadership development to be happening at these different levels of influence. Lay people must be involved at a higher level of commitment that we may have originally thought if we want to move the needle and make a real difference in our city.

My approach to discipleship has been very focused on small groups of men.  The biblical approach to spiritual family and community is profound.  I tried to look up references in Scripture to household and family and I couldn’t believe how saturated scripture is with that concept.  Establishing churches within a household paradigm marries church, discipleship, leadership development and missions.  Learning and experiencing this has been refreshing, exciting and encouraging.    ~ Michael Kitchens

Establishing churches within a household paradigm marries church, discipleship, leadership development and missions.  Learning and experiencing this has been refreshing, exciting and encouraging

Kevin Kelly, Senior Pastor of Second Baptist Church Little Rock just finished a pilot of First Principles at his church that was another success story.  Eight-five people signed up and seventy-nine finished the course.  They are now looking at how to integrate First Principles of establishing people in their faith into their church.

I dream of a time that is just beginning here in Little Rock where there is a grass roots movement of discipleship, that is biblical and church-centered. A movement in and around Little Rock that mobilizes the laity across denominations and cultures.  One that encourages people to start new small groups and uses First Principles to establish people in their faith and allow people to see their potential in Gods kingdom.

I hope to see more groups like this that are multi-church where we are learning biblically-based and church-centered approach that strengthens our churches and builds unity of a city-wide movement for Jesus.  May God continue to bless this movement for His Kingdom and grant us wisdom in the days ahead.

Dee Brown is a lay leader at South City Church in Little Rock, AR and participant in the Arkansas Antioch Initiative Leadership Cohort.

Seek the Welfare of Our City

The prophet Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 29:7, But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. We are seeking to mobilize the church in strategic areas to seek the welfare of our community. These include seeking the welfare of children, seeking the welfare of families, and seeking the welfare of neighborhoods that could use a helping hand.

The CityChurch Network invites Churches into united actions that seek the welfare of children, families, and communities. Important areas include:

The greatest hope for racial unity is the love, peace and hope of Jesus Christ. Still, progress requires intentionality.

Race Under Grace is just that!   A Christ–centered call to action.  Through training and support for pastors, leadership teams and congregations, we hope to:

  • Create new clarity on the truth about race
  • Help church leaders understand their role
  • Prepare churches to respond to racial crisis
  • Move communities toward racial healing

The goal of strengthening families through a church-led movement for healthy marriages comes to life through the Central Arkansas Marriage Initiative.

CAMI works with churches to establish and strengthen marriage ministries Here’s what you can expect this year:

  • Marriage Champions Gatherings
  • Couples Story Workshops
  • Prepare/Enrich Training
  • Marriage Ministry Workshops (for churches)
  • Exploratory “Expert’s Gatherings”
  • Exploratory Pastor’s Gatherings

CityChurch Antioch School

The CityChurch Network Antioch Initiative is a platform for local church-based theological education that is fully integrated into community development, church planting and vocational pursuit.  In partnership with the Biblical Institute for Leadership Development (BILD), their North American 30-City Urban Initiative and the internationally accredited Antioch School, the Antioch Initiative seeks the welfare of our city by:

  • Strengthening church leadership through ordered and intentional Biblical training;
  • Engaging churches and individuals into self-directed collaborative learning networks;
  • Drawing resources into urban communities of need;
  • Organizing world-class and affordable Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate of Ministry degrees;
  • Synchronizing academic development with local, church-based ministry and community development practicums