Churches Supporting Churches
Laura: It’s noon on a Thursday in February, and I’m walking into a room filled with pastors and non-profit leaders gathered together for the first meeting of 2020 put on by Kingdom Partners.
Oliver: So glad to have everybody here. Some of you I haven’t seen in a while, and it’s so good to see you all. So, grab a seat.
Laura: Welcome back to Rethink Poverty. This week, I’m interviewing the people who run Kingdom Partners. We have churches on almost every corner, but most of the time they stay disconnected. Oliver Richmond wants to change that. He leads Kingdom Partners, a non-profit working to bring church leaders together to serve their community. Today we discuss the mission of Kingdom Partners and how they’ve had to shift their ministry during this pandemic.
Oliver: Hello, I’m Oliver Richmond, president of Kingdom Partners. Kingdom Partners came about after I got out of college. Started just helping churches, working with churches, doing ministry, and then about three years ago, I worked with a gentleman who got sick and helped him with his non-profit. I worked there, and then as I transitioned out of there, just prayed, asked the Lord, “What do you want me to do this last 15-20 years?” That’s how much time I have in my life.
Oliver: So, I asked my wife, can I take three months off and pray and decide? I said, do I go in corporate, just work, not worry about the community? Kids are grown, travel, enjoy the city, great city, or do I get back in ministry and really dedicate the rest of my life? And so, Jefferson was the first one to come along and said, “Okay, we can do this, I’ll help you, but the only way I’ll do it is if you don’t quit.” So, Kingdom Partners was birthed out of that, and we met with actually 12 pastors and said, “Okay, this is what we want to do, do you guys think it’s a good vision? Do you think it will work? Will you be a part of it?”
Oliver: And so in 2017, Kingdom Partners was birthed, and we incorporated in 2018. We have three pillars that we do. The first one, we work with churches, revitalization of them, for them. So many churches are struggling to reach people, their membership. It’s older; they’re struggling financially; they need training. So, our first pillar, we work to help get the church on the same mission and vision, put them through strategic planning, and help them do outreach.
Oliver: The second piece we do is leadership development. Most pastors work full-time, pastor part-time, have part-time secretary, part-time custodian, part-time ministry music. So, in the second piece, we do training to help the leaders equip the saints to do the work. So many times, we put such a burden on pastors to do everything. There’s one pastor, and there’s 100 of us, and just think if he can spend time with God more, hearing from God, coaching us, equipping us, what the church could really do in the community.
Oliver: The third piece, our biggest piece, is the “one kingdom, one church.” That’s where we bring in multi-culture, people that don’t look alike, don’t normally come together, and we create a platform for us to get to know each other, love each other, keep Christ at the center, and then let’s go out and share the gospel, and do good work in the community.
Jefferson: I’m Jefferson Herring, Tuskegee graduate, and retired from the chemical industry. Oliver is a very good visionary, and what he felt was that we have a church on every corner, some are more active than others. But, as churches seem to be dying, or losing their members, he felt that it was simply because they weren’t active in their community. He felt that they could bring benefits. The church would get to know the community, and the community would get to know the church, and it’s a benefit for both.
Jefferson: But to do that efficiently, he felt that there needed to be some tools provided, and that’s what Kingdom Partners is about, as he explained. We provide tools for churches so they can upgrade their tools. And in addition to that, we can come along and get to know each other and their ideas, and then determine what it is that they want to focus on, so they can be good at it, and deliver optimal services to the community. And in addition, once you know who you are, it’s easier to work with other churches. A platform for other churches to come together, and for them to decide what it is they want to work on, we don’t herd them; we don’t choose the projects for them. We let them communicate with each other and choose those projects that they want to support each other.
Jefferson: So, I became the chair of the advisory board. And so there are guys like Alfred, who are key members of the board, and they are the people who first listened to our story, and said, “Yeah, we think there’s some value there; that’s something that needs to be done, and we need to be present in our communities.” And we already have a presence where we are with our churches, per se. So, we have forged ahead, and I guess by now, we have had contact with some 150 churches and many ministers, and I’ll let Oliver tell you the rest of the program.
Oliver: Let me go back to the first meeting. What we try to do is, we actually have one on ones with pastors. So, I’ll sit down with pastor Johnson, and get to know him, ask him about his family, how’d he get into ministry, and things his church is doing. And then as he shares, and sometimes one of these might go eight hours, when that pastor is sharing, he’s pouring his heart out. I’ve had pastors who have just cried, and I feel that burden when they’re talking about the things they want to do, the stuff they see in the community that they want to address, and help.
Oliver: So, basically, I interview them and just let them talk and pull things out of them, and then we ask, “How can we help? How can we fulfill what God has called you to do?” As we do that, we say, “Okay, how do we work together? How do we get past with some churches and work together?” And actually, what we call the “one kingdom, one church,” we actually got the model from Dr. Tony Evans. So, we’re actually using that model to bring pastors together, and pastor Johnson Alfred was very instrumental in getting the three black clergy groups to come together, to work together. He spent months and months.
Oliver: He and pastor McDaniel worked with the guys and got them to sit down and talk about how do we work together, keep Christ at the center, not let our denomination, some of our religious beliefs, or some of our practices keep us from working together. So, when we get them together, we actually do Tony Evans Kingdom Agenda, and it talks about from a biblical standpoint, God is one, [inaudible 00:08:08], but He’s just one.
Oliver: So, how do we work together and be one? And so they have that discussion, and therefore, the late people will use, “Loving the neighbor that doesn’t look like you.” Then we transition them to the kingdom agenda, where they can start thinking systematic, not thinking building an empire for themselves, but how we work together and tackle some of these big problems in the community, and getting them to talk and get to know each other.
Oliver: So, we want to have a safe platform where we set some ground rules. No politics, respect the person’s opinion, let them talk, don’t interrupt them, and they don’t take it personally. Alfred, you can share a little bit about this because we just had the meeting at your church, and in the next year, we’re going to have some more coming in the next three months. So, you can kind of share from a pastor’s perspective because you led a number of those discussions, facilitating with a group of multi-culture pastors.
Alfred: I’m Alfred Johnson. I’m the pastor of the Church of the First Born. I also run the ministry called “The House of Refuge.” The small part that I play is facilitating a group in multi-cultural, and not really just having what I call a cup of coffee, slapping each other on the back, and saying, “We’re fine,” but really having a real dialogue with one another about our different cultures, and really talk about the tough stuff.
Alfred: Talk about the tough stuff without being offensive and without being brutal, but really addressing some issues that the church face, and why aren’t we stepping up to the plate and talking about them in our various denominations and our various cultures and backgrounds. We discuss some real delicate situations, and I believe a lot of our churches are better because of it, and we’ll continue to meet on.
Jefferson: We have generated some friendships through the study groups. We tend to believe that the brotherhood that we built there can transcend the group itself because you know people, and it’s different. It’s easy to work with people you know versus people that you don’t know. And that’s one of the core things that we hope that comes out is the building of the relationships. We don’t believe that people can talk to their church members about things that they don’t feel comfortable with, and this platform provides them with a place to get to know people that look different from themselves or even have a theological difference, per se. But, God is God.
Jefferson: And if we’re learning from the same root of our lessons of goodness, worship, respecting each other, then we have something in common to share with other people.
Laura: I mean, the Bible talks about how we’re one body, but it’s hard to find a Baptist and a Methodist in the same room together.
Alfred: Yes, and that’s where respect comes in. When you get to know that person, you look beyond their denominational ties. And believe it or not, in some of our meetings I believe that the attitude is people forget their various denominations, and they focus on the individual, and some of their struggles and some of their victories, how they came about their victories, how did they overcome some of their struggles, and they start talking to individuals as the body of Christ, as a member of the body of Christ, not as a Baptist, not as a Presbyterian. We don’t put people in their shells and, okay, because you are Methodist or a Presbyterian or a Baptist, you are meant to believe this. We have some open-end discussions.
Laura: As relationships are getting formed between different churches and pastors, are there any stories of like people connecting outside of the meetings that you’ve seen?
Oliver: There’s a lot of connecting going on with people having lunches, breakfast, they’re preaching at each other’s churches, and pastors are doing leadership training. So, that connection is happening, and one of the things when we first convened the African-American pastors, and we talked about this peace, one of the things that we did a survey, and one of the things in the one on one interviews they said, “We don’t want to go down Coolidge Park and pray, and I don’t know who Alfred is. But, it’s going to look good for the camera, they’re going to take a picture, but we’re not together.”
Oliver: So, they said, “We want to build relationships, we want authentic relationships, we want to get to know people, we got to know the pastors and leaders. And then when we go out and do work in the community, it’s genuine, it will last because we’re doing it from our heart instead of for publicity. So, there’s a lot of great things going on, and with this platform, we’re looking to connect more and get more pastors to work together and get their leaders. And they kind of come in at different phases. You have a core group that’s all in.
Oliver: I mean, they come in, they participate, they bring their leaders, and they invite their members. Then, you have another group that’s kind of hesitant. They are kind of tip-toeing around and seeing what’s going on. They don’t invite any leaders or any members. And then you have some that are just watching to see how things are going, and then they’ll wait to step their toe in the water and come in. And so, what we do is keep those doors open, keep having a dialogue, and the ultimate goal one day is for them to come together, and have a city-wide service, and then go out and serve together.
Oliver: But, in the meantime, with those relationships, we’re hoping that a group might take East Chattanooga, they have 60 churches in there. Those churches will start working together, sharing resources, sharing manpower, and solving some of those issues instead of one church trying to do it alone. So, we see a lot of that where [inaudible 00:15:18] popping up, and it’s a lot of work, it’s hard because people like to see the big stuff. But, that solid foundation is what’s going to keep it, and with the holy spirit being a part of it and leading it. I think some great things are going to be happening.
Alfred: Yes. And I truly believe that it all centers around relationships. I think one of the biggest factors you said is that we do some things outside of the meetings. I’ve seen some relationships developing. Guys just decide to just hang out with each other, and discuss with one another, and decide maybe to go to a book and meet apart from the meetings, have their own personal, private relationships and really try to get to know one another.
Alfred: I’ve seen some eagerness on some of the guys, but I’ve said, “Hey, I’m not trying to convert you to being a Baptist, or Methodist, or Christian, or non-denominational in my case. But, I’m just really trying to understand you as a person, as another brother or sister in the Lord. I want to know really what drives you and feel some of the needs in the community.” How can I really help in a meaningful way without trivializing or speaking down to someone, or they think I’m this great hope for the inner city problems or the mountain problems or where we may be.
Alfred: That maybe I can contribute some that God has given me.
Jefferson: The other thing is that there are way more bi-vocational ministers than there are ministers who are dedicated to one church, et cetera. Most of the small churches suffer from loss of members to not having enough finances, and they struggle with keeping their physical plants operating. And they need help identifying resources that will help them just take care of basic problems at the church fixing pews, furnishes going out, et cetera.
Jefferson: And there are some programs around that they’re not aware of because they have a duo life, per se. And if they are on the platform of Kingdom Partners or working alongside, we say we go alongside the churches, as we find solutions to problems, we share them with the different churches and hope that they will share them with the other pastors that they know. And it’s not so much that every time there’s a new relationship built between men or women or what have you, that it needs to be announced as if you have a barker out there.
Jefferson: There are little small relationships that are much more meaningful that can be built through this organization where nobody would ever know except through they show the love of sharing their knowledge, and sharing what it is they have, per se. That’s really what we want to have, a big impact. It’s not that it’s going to be downtown in a big space, per se, but if we can see the love in each other and the goodness in each other, that’s the part that we would like to see. We think that the clergy can carry the message as they demonstrate day in and day out the love for each other, per se.
Laura: What you’re saying reminds me of the church I grew up in. It’s been in the same place for probably about 80 or more years, just has a long history in that neighborhood. And we’ve had, over the years, some neighborhoods like block parties to really just invite people in. But, my church is very, very small, so they have very limited resources. I had talked with the pastor, and there had been some bigger churches who wanted to do something in the neighborhood our church was in. But, they kind of wanted to do their own event, and my pastor was saying that how much greater the impact would be if they shared their resources. And they worked together instead of just trying to do things separately.
Alfred: One of the biggest things that I think ministers have to overcome is being territorial. And I think Kingdom Partners has made some really end roles in that pastors are coming together, and they don’t have to feel threatened. As you know, the ministries are very territorial. If I don’t have control, then I don’t want to be a part of, but I have seen since we’ve been working together, different ministry coming and just help in the area of, a good example, of advertisement. Some smaller churches don’t have the ability to maybe advertise or don’t know how to advertise.
Alfred: Oliver’s been really, really great in helping people put together posters and advertising their events and they just really not promoting his local church, but maybe there’s another local church and saying, “Hey, at least they’re doing this right here and here’s how we can join in and help on this effort.” That brings a sense of, “Well, these people are not really being selfish, they’re really thinking about the Lord, Jesus Christ, and getting out the gospel.”
Oliver: About a year and a half ago, churches and non-profits came together and painted Orchid Knob Middle School. 140 people showed up.
Oliver: Different denominations, different cultures, different ages, they loved on each other, and they painted that school. And then leadership ministry worldwide [inaudible 00:22:39], we brought a group of pastors together to get the pastor’s outline and curriculum. And so, a number of them came together and said, “Okay, how do we strengthen the bi-vocational pastors to get a nice solid foundation for their preaching?”
Laura: When you’re trying to do good outreach, I think so much, even if a church has limited finances, just being present within that neighborhood for so long is way more valuable than if you had all the finances in the world.
Jefferson: Right, and even if you have a church that’s full, but it stays inside of its walls and loves itself, but doesn’t love anybody on the outside [crosstalk 00:23:25].
Laura: What challenges does Kingdom Partners face in reaching your goals?
Alfred: Fear keeps a lot of pastors because if we’re really working together because this other pastor might outshine them a little bit and if they call my name a little bit more than your name. “My name is not out there, I have to get my name out there,” and that presents a problem. So I better stop before I go preaching [crosstalk 00:24:02].
Alfred: I started to go preaching, and so I don’t preach how to do that. [inaudible 00:24:07].
Laura: Do you feel like the history of the Chattanooga area kind of influences those challenges?
Oliver: I’m not originally from here, but I had a chance to talk to pastor McDaniel, Alfred, and a number of pastors that have been pastoring for over 40 years. It’s a challenge because they look at the history of the city, they look at the divide in the Christian community and look at things that have won right, and they said white pastors didn’t stand up with us, and they left us, they knew it was right, the community didn’t stand up.
Oliver: So, that history plays a major role, but if Jesus can forgive and move forward, we have to forgive and move forward. I’m not saying that you don’t recognize that it did happen, but how do you love somebody and move forward? We have to do that. And so, what we try to do is and get people to do, is say, “Hey, I know that happened in the past, I’m not going to say it didn’t happen, but how do you move forward and love a person? They’ve repented, they have a new heart, can you work with them?”
Oliver: And I’ve not seen some of them, I’ve seen some guys that are really tough, they’ve been really tough on minorities, and now they say, “Can I help? Can I come to the table? Can I come to the meeting? What do you need?” And a guy will say, “Well, I don’t want to deal with him because I remember he treated me this way 20 years ago.” I said, “Well, he’s a new person. He’s not acting that way.”
Oliver: So, that’s a challenge where some people keep looking back, they can’t look forward, and we have some guys who have told me, “Oliver, I’m not ready to come to the table. I have so much frustration, so much stuff in me.” Now, these are senior pastors telling me this. They said, “I don’t want to blow up the meeting. I don’t want to go off on Alfred, and it really wasn’t Alfred that did it. I was just mad about what’s going on in society, how we’re so divided. So, let me work, let me pray, let me get some of this out of me, but I’ll support you not there, and eventually, I’ll come to the table.” So, we respect that opinion and respect them for that.
Alfred: Yeah. And Chattanooga has a history. I’ve been here all my life. Chattanooga has history. It has a history as it relates to race, it has a history as it relates to wealth, and it has history as it relates to some people’s academic background. One of the things you’re talking about challenges as it relates to race, a lot of people don’t want to really talk about the real issues as it relates to race. If you’re a Christian, love should be in your heart.
Alfred: And when you manifest things that don’t look like love, regardless of the color of your skin, as a Christian, you have a responsibility to call it out, and so many won’t. Why? Because they are afraid of the powers that may be. If I speak truth to power, then I’m going to be marginalized and alone. So, since I’m enjoying, that’s going to be a torpedo. So, therefore, I got to kind of really be careful of what I say and what I do, and who I hang out with. Here in Chattanooga, a lot of politics have a big role. When politics takes a presence over Christianity, that’s a problem.
Alfred: But, that’s a homegrown problem, not just on Chattanooga, but a lot of places, but especially in Chattanooga. And so you see a divide amongst Christians. They say, “How can you let political issues divide brothers and sisters in Christ?” We’re one body. We’re Christians. And if your own politics is over your Christianity, then that poses a problem. And then there’s that whole thing of economics, entitlement on both sides.
Alfred: Some feel like, “Hey, I need a piece of the pie, and they do the blame game. It’s not right for me to blame you for the history of your forefathers, and it’s not right for me to assume that I’m entitled to anything. There must be a dialogue. There has got to be a balance in there. And see a lot of times when we come to the table, a lot of lovers come with such a bias opinion like, “You owe me this, or I didn’t do this to you,” and not really listening to a heart, that’s in the individual’s heart. And if we’re able to develop the gift of listening, just really listening to people, you will discover that a lot of your problems can be solved.
Laura: It’s probably also hard that there might be new pastors stepping up to the plate who don’t know the history and don’t know that there’s been strife and people who haven’t been good listeners.
Alfred: Right. There’s been strife, and people have been labored, and bad stuff comes out of that.
Jefferson: Most of the people who come to the table, they have some baggage. I got some baggage.
Jefferson: And guys got baggage. And sometimes that baggage just kind of pent-up, and when you get a chance to let it out, it’s overwhelming. And everybody wants to move back from you, per se. The only thing is that you’ve just freed yourself because you got rid of a lot of your baggage.
Jefferson: Now we had a meeting, some pent-up baggage came out.
Alfred: The first meeting.
Jefferson: Yeah. And so, it destroyed the atmosphere of the meeting. And we were sitting and talking, planning for the next meeting and we were asking people to come back, but we found it important to thank the people who persevered through the baggage. And then we allow them to feel that you have contributed a lot, and our message said, “You’ve contributed a lot to the guy who was able to get the baggage out.”
Jefferson: And we tried to put that in a little short statement. We were successful in doing that. And people really appreciated the acknowledgment. Even the person who had baggage in this frustration, but they’re all back together on the second meeting now. And there were some who didn’t quite come to that, but they came to the next activity.
Jefferson: So this is kind of what we’re all about. If we didn’t get together to be authentic and truthful and understand what hurts us and what makes us happy, then we didn’t get together for the right reasons.
Laura: Yeah. And I think most relationships that are authentic are not always just clean and straightforward, and they can be messy. And that’s why you become a family.
Jefferson: Yes. And actually, you’re really getting it, respect. The kernels that you want to put in your personality are the ones that I want to remember about each and every person. It is a good contribution to love my neighbor. Those are the ones that generate authentic relationships, even though there are some bad habits in there too. Our character is built up all kinds of habits, and the consequences of that are that you got some good ones and some bad ones, but your best friend in the long run that respects you is the one who takes all of those characteristics. He could have been your arch-enemy, but he respects you for who you are.
Jefferson: And that’s the road that we need to walk on a daily basis as we can. Yeah. That’s the road we need to work. That’s how people get to know you. That’s how they get to say, “That’s all right about Oliver. I know, but he’ll be there when you need him. That’s all right about Oliver because he helped my child over here, or he sent my kid to college, or he did this.” And that’s the kind of community we’d like where there is some grace.
Laura: What do you feel like are some steps that a predominantly white church pastor could take in kingdom reconciliation?
Alfred: As you posed the question, what could white pastors do as it relate to reconciliation? Okay. First of all, we got to think of the word reconciliation. To reconcile means to bring back or restore a relationship. Right? Well, black people ain’t never had a relationship with white people. That’s the first time. So we’ve got to rethink the word reconciliation, and more use it in that content. Because we certainly don’t want to go back to the relationship we suppose had when we were brought over here as slaves. So sometimes when you use the word reconciliation, I believe people have a different view of that. So there needs to be a building of a relationship, brothers and sisters in Christ, there needs to be some equal foot in there. Even right now, I got to acknowledge that if I’m living in a predominantly white culture and that if I don’t sound like a white person, if I don’t really employ some of the white people’s ideas, then I’m not going to really fit in society. I’ve been a pastor for 42 years. Therefore, when you say, “I want to reconcile with you, I want to really get it religion.” I know what you’re trying to say.
Alfred: But do you really want to answer, or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear? That’s a big difference. Why did this bother you? Why does that bother you? Be able to be ready to listen to what that person is going to tell you. Again, I revert back to the thing that can really bring the racists together is the gift of listening, a gift of listening, and then having compassion. Compassion.
Alfred: God reached down to us and brought us … It is, and I know it sounds tough. It is a job of the predominant race to reach out to the ones that are not in the predominant race and say, “Hey, look, I accept you.” Because the whole thing’s about acceptance. You have to feel accepted. God made us feel accepted, and that’s a big burden, but it’s a truth. The predominant race got to say, “Hey, okay, it’s all right for you to be you. I’m to accept you. I’m to love you, and I want to bring you in. I want a relationship with you.”
Jefferson: If you’ve got some extra and you really want to help, then help those, build relationships with those who know where the problems are. You don’t have to deliver the food yourself.
Oliver: I think one of the things, pray for unity. I mean, pray for a true authentic unity. The Holy Spirit moves on people’s hearts, and we will become one like we should. So the community and people can see the power of God that we can start demonstrating and living it. Not saying you’re going to be the same, not saying we have to have joint lookout mountain prayers and that church is going to be half black, and Alfred’s going to be half white. No, we can respect each other, still be in one accord for one purpose.
Oliver: The second thing I think is to come to the table. I mean, senior leaders come to the table, have dialogue, be part of our meetings, share resources, where they host relationships, hosting events, but I think some of those things can really help, and I think Alfred and Jeff said earlier, when your leader or see the pastors engaged, I know they’re busy. But when they see them engaged, then you can tell, “Jefferson, I need you to come to the meeting. I need you to engage Church of the First Born leaders. Let’s go visit the church.
Oliver: My wife and I, we probably visited probably 70 different churches. On different Sundays, we go engage, go Sunday school, just so we can understand the different cultures, the different ways they do style. And what we’ve learned is, appreciate other styles, other cultures, the way they do music, where they preach and know we’re all still one part of the body.
Laura: During a time of social distancing, building new relationships can feel hard. Oliver started this journey by building one relationship at a time. Pray this week about ways you can start building relationships in your own community. Oliver wrote, “When the church is strengthened, the community is transformed. When the community is transformed, the city is impacted. When the city is impacted, lives are changed for the kingdom.” To learn more about Kingdom Partners, visit their website at kingpartners.org or email Oliver at email@example.com.
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