A view towards the future as we celebrate the past
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Transform Minnesota (originally the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals). While we celebrate these five decades of ministry, we are eager to look ahead, not only to this year but also to the next decade.
A new vision for racial harmony.
The last half of 2014 revealed deep racial tensions in America. Or more accurately, it was revealed to white Americans. My African American brothers and sisters knew this already.
As an African American pastor said to me, an important first step for white Americans is to change our thinking from seeing the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner as isolated incidents and begin to recognize that these represent routine life experiences for many African Americans.
In 2015, evangelical Christians need to become more engaged in working toward solutions that will help lead to racial harmony. While marches and protests and shut downs can get America’s attention and raise the issue of racial disparities to a response level, we need to begin working to create solutions.
For some (white Americans) who are only now becoming aware of these racial disparities, the church needs to help them continue to listen and discover the true experiences of African Americans. One helpful way to encourage this is through hearing the voices of African American Christians.
At a systemic level, we need to find ways to counteract the astounding educational disparities—right here in Minnesota—between whites and students of color (particularly African American boys). I believe evangelicals should invest in and support pre-school education programs. Churches in low income neighborhoods that have pre-school programs by the very nature of their location are going to require the financial support of churches in more affluent communities.
A new vision for racial harmony will require evangelicals to invest across generations to change the conditions that have created a class of people who feel subjugated, trapped and oppressed in a society that would rather arrest and imprison them than seek their health and wellbeing (Jeremiah 29:11).
A new vision for (holy) sexuality. The U.S. Supreme Court may rule to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015. Regardless of the Court’s decision, the cultural reality today is that the debate has moved on from questions about behavior (same-sex relationships) to more fundamental questioning about identity (gender).
Despite what one might think, this quest for sexual identity actually presents an opportunity for evangelicals—if we can find a voice that is filled with love and compassion for people seeking to discover their identity.
In 2015, evangelicals must begin to discover a new vision for (holy) sexuality. God created humans with gender, and God gave us sexual desires. Like everything else in this created world, our gender identities and sexual desires have been marred by sin.
Discovering a new vision for (holy) sexuality must begin with those of us inside the church. Holy sexuality is a call for all of us—heterosexual or homosexual, single or married, male or female—to submit every aspect of our sexuality to Jesus Christ and to live in holiness. Pursuing a vision for (holy) sexuality means that those of us who believe God’s design for full sexual expression is only between a man and woman in a marriage covenant need to share that vision equally with everyone who follows Christ, no matter their orientation or gender identity. This means lifting up singleness as a valuable calling or stage in life, helping unmarried Christians to value celibacy, helping married men submit their lustful desires to Christ, and strengthening the bond of marriage.
Another trend that emerged recently is the growing number of Christians who are intentional about building genuine friendships with Muslims, because they are motivated to introduce them to Jesus Messiah. We see this through the growing number of churches engaging in outreach activities, the increased level of participation in service and volunteer teams, the increase in Christians meeting regularly to pray for Muslim neighbors and in more people devoting a portion of their time to intentional ministry to Muslims.
The fruit of this increased love for Muslims is more Muslims becoming followers of Jesus Messiah. In the past year alone, we are aware of several new believers among people groups who have had virtually no known believers or groups that have been completely resistant to the Gospel.
Early in 2015, we are convening a summit with ministry leaders from across Minnesota to collectively identify the scope of outreach to Muslims, gain a better understanding of the various Muslim populations in our region, and together begin strategizing how to see more fruitful outcomes for the Gospel among Muslim people.
The challenge for evangelicals in Minnesota is to continue developing a love for Muslims as people God has created and whom God loves. It can be easy for us to base our relationships on fear and distrust after recent terrorist events in Paris and brutal killings by ISIS, but our response to Muslims living among us should primarily be one of seeking to love them to Jesus Messiah.
I could also mention the need for evangelicals to develop a more robust and pluralistic support for religious freedom; our need to support and develop Millennial leaders in the church; the need to learn a new mode of cultural engagement that shapes and influences culture rather than seeking to legislate culture; the impact that technology (multi-site, social media) is having on churches;
Overall I remain encouraged and optimistic about Christianity, and evangelicalism in particular, in our American landscape. While there are changes and trends that we need to address or correct, at the same time I observe devout followers of Jesus serving him faithfully and adapting to new social realities – as we have for two millennia and in nearly every cultural context. The Gospel of Jesus spreads throughout society and transforms lives wherever it is given root, no matter the shortcomings and errors of those of us who are His followers.
As we celebrate our 50th anniversary our goal is that in 2015 and the decade to follow, Transform Minnesota will increasingly reflect the value proposition articulated in our defining statement: Transform Minnesota serves as a network for evangelicals who need resources and solutions, and who want to connect with others in ministry opportunities.
By Carl Nelson, Transform Minnesota President & CEO