By Matt Wallin and Dr. Kellen Spivey

When forced segregation ended in this country, the church of Christ had a chance to make a statement for spiritual unity that could not be shaken by outward appearances or circumstances. In some places we did the right thing. In a lot of places, we violated the principle behind James 2:1–9:  “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality…If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin.”

Where Jesus had come to kill hostility by tearing down walls and creating one (the church) from two (Jews and Gentiles) (Eph. 2:14–16), we put up walls and made two (black and white) from one (the church). By doing that, we created an “Us” and “Them” mentality. (And, due to the racial history of this country we tend to speak about our race issues in a ‘black vs white’. The unfortunate truth is there is prejudice experienced by Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other communities. The goal of this article is to encourage us to appreciate that and to improve it.)

Over the decades we have seen progress. We have seen congregations working together, interracial families and church families, and some encouraging mergers. We have come a long way, but we still have a way to go. We can’t correct the wrongs of the past, but we can work together for a better future that is more pleasing to God. I believe that most people want unity but don’t know where to start. Here are a few suggestions to improve race relations in the city where you live.


The first step in conquering a problem that is largely wisdom based is to ask God for His help. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” We do lack wisdom, so let’s ask. God gives, He gives to all, He gives liberally, and He gives without a grudge or expectation of return. None of us has all the answers to this problem, but God does, and He is eager to help us. Our ways must be overcome by His ways.


How many congregations are in the city where you live? If there is more than one, why do multiple congregations exist? When did they start? Watch their services online, visit, and talk to leadership to find out if they are sound. Learn more about the history of the congregation. Some differences will be doctrinal, some will be personality driven, and some will be racial. Learn more about these situations so that you can tactfully affect positive change. Our unspoken differences must be addressed. Tradition must be overcome with the truth.

Open your ears more than your mouth

Any division in our areas is caused by a lack of understanding. Sometimes we don’t understand scripture, and sometimes we don’t understand each other. In both cases our lack of understanding comes from a lack of listening. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Listening to God’s word helps us understand His will. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.” Listening to each other helps us understand our differences.

There are differences in age, background, culture, ethnicity, and life stage. These differences are part of what makes the church beautiful, but because of these differences there are things we don’t know about each other. That can be overcome with listening. If we are wise just in our own eyes then there is more hope for a fool than for us (Proverbs 26:12).

We don’t know everything, but if we will listen to counsel and receive instruction (from God’s word and from fellow Christians), we can be wise in our latter days (Proverbs 19:20). Ignorance must be overcome with the wisdom that can only come from listening.

Make a friend at each congregation

If someone wants friends, he must first be friendly (Proverbs 18:24). Don’t wait for someone at another congregation to be friendly to you. Show them how! Try to connect and interact with someone from the sister congregation outside the church building; build a relationship. We have greater influence on the outside world when we show them how well we get along. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love at least one person at each congregation. Isolation and separation must be overcome with fellowship.


Invite their congregation to your events. It might even be a good idea to address the reasons that you are reaching out now when you didn’t in the past. Make it a point to let them know that you are open to having them in your assembly and follow your words with actions.  Do more than mail a flyer. Write a heartfelt note and include it with the invitation you send them through the mail. Call the elders, preacher, and the new friend you’ve made and give them a personal invitation. When they come, ask one of their faithful men to lead one of the prayers. Sit beside them. Roll out the red carpet for them. Our fears must be overcome by our faith.


Support the events they are having. It is easier to invite someone to your event (where you will be anyway) than to attend theirs. Don’t ask someone to love you exclusively on your terms. Make the first move and become a faithful attender of their events. Sit beside someone that you don’t know and be friendly. Show them how much they mean to you with your presence. Promote their events to other congregations that you associate with. After each event write a thank you note to the leadership for their planning and for the invitation to attend.  Ignoring must be overcome by preferring.

Use connections that already exist

Most of our kids already know each other through school, sports, and youth group events. Some of us work together. Those connections can be a huge blessing to our congregations. Plan times where the youth groups can be together. Spend time with Christian co-workers outside of the workplace. Youth groups could get together for door-knocking campaigns, work days at each building, nursing home devotionals, community service, and devotionals at members’ homes. Some of our fun trips to theme parks and ball games and pick-up games of basketball could just as easily include the youth group across town. Let’s use the connections that already exist to further foster love and unity. Social pressures must be overcome with the gospel.

Be patient and don’t get discouraged

There is a reason God told us not to grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). There will be obstacles. There will be resistance. There will be bad attitudes and negativity on both sides. Do the right thing anyway. These brethren are not different from the Jews who had a hard time associating with the Gentile converts to Christianity. It will be uncomfortable for some people, but things that seem impossible for us are just right for God. Understand that progress comes slowly. Bad attitudes must be overcome with the kind of love that believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Who is setting the stage for race relations in the church? Is it the world, or the Word of God and His people?1 You can’t change the entire brotherhood, but with the Lord’s wisdom you can change yourself, and help change your city. One Christian can make a difference in his or her area, and you can be that one Christian. Let’s work hard to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Think magazine. To subscribe, click here – or, to get a Premium subscription which includes our entire digital archives, click here.

1Gene Godfrey, “We Are on the Same Team: How Churches of Christ Can Improve Race Relations,” Polishing the Pulpit 2014

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash