Jul 14, 2020

COVID-19 Conversations: Derwin Gray and Darryn Scheske on Race and Reopening


This summer, ChurchPulse Weekly podcast conversations continue to unpack two topics overwhelming both national and ministerial concerns at the moment: calls for racial justice and the impact of COVID-19. In a recent episode, hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman sit down with pastors Derwin Gray (Transformation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina) and Darryn Scheske (Heartland Church in Indianapolis, Indiana) to discuss issues of race and faith as well as their plans for keeping their churches closed for in-person worship during for the time being. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here or listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts. 

“Sit at the feet of Jesus and be willing to learn the gospel afresh.”
In recent two-part ChurchPulse Weekly interview (June 23, 2020 and June 30, 2020), Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin and Albert Tate discussed matters of race and the Church, offering advice for pastors who are ready to listen, learn and grow as they join Christians from other racial and ethnic backgrounds in the fight against racial injustice in America. In the most recent episode (July 13, 2020), pastor Derwin Gray goes on to outline practical steps that pastors can take as they continue learning how to lead their church through tough conversations on faith and race.

“First, I would say to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn—be willing to learn the gospel afresh,” Gray comments. “Often in the West, we view the gospel simply as a transaction and Jesus is a consumer product versus a King with a Kingdom. In that Kingdom is every nation, tribe and tongue who’s been bought by his life.”

Gray continues, “Second, I think there needs to be a season of lament. … If ethnic reconciliation is a hobby and not a habit, you’re going to blow yourself up. Then, third, you need to leverage your influence. And, finally, if you get serious about having a gospel-centered multiethnic church that’s on mission with Christ, be prepared to have your heart broken, because you’re going to discover family and friends who have dark thoughts.”

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“People are hungry to have conversations with those from other cultures and races.”
Just a month ago, Barna released new data showing that Black practicing Christians are twice as likely as their white peers to see a race problem in the U.S. Pastor Darryn Scheske reminds listeners that the only way to understand the viewpoint of others and practice empathy is by actively listening to their stories. How are his congregants taking steps to live this out?

“Practicing emotional maturity and the ability to sit and listen to a worldview that’s completely different than the way you see the world and the way you’ve experienced it [is extremely important right now],” Scheske shares. “We’ve seen our [online] small group attendance grow because people are hungry to have conversations with those from other cultures and races than their own. They can have these Zoom conversations and ask the questions and hear the stories [of others] and it’s powerful. I’m thankful for the opportunity [this season] is giving us right now.”

Gray also notes, “We’re reaching more people than we ever reached [in this season]. … Gen Z and Millennials are everywhere and they’re saying, ‘I want to follow this kind of Christ.’ I don’t think they’re looking for formulas—they’re not looking for Jesus to be a means to an end—they’re looking to Jesus as the end, he’s the prize.”

“The Church needs to see itself as one of the leaders in a community.”
While our most recent data (June 26-29, 2020) show that over half of U.S. churches (54%) are open for normal use—52 percent with precautions in place and 2 percent without—there are still quite a few congregations that are waiting to meet for in-person worship. Some, like Scheske’s church, even have a tentative reopening date in mind, but he says they’re biding their time to see what else God has planned for them in this season of online gathering.

“Black Americans are affected disproportionately by this disease,” says Scheske. “We knew early on that we had to think of everybody [in our congregation before making any decisions], so we weren’t going to rush to go back. We also weren’t going to fight our local government. We have invested in partnerships with city leaders for years now—we work together to solve problems. The Church needs to see itself as one of the leaders in a community, and city government is not its opposition.”

Scheske continues, “We decided that business could go first and our church would go last. We keep repeating that refrain; the church can go last, we don’t have to be first. As we see this resurgence [of cases], we’re going to take our time. When God closes one door, he opens another, and we’ve had such a fruitful season of ministry in terms of reaching people online and seeing people respond and engagement go up. This is a great time for the church to reach out [to others].”

“The way our congregation is leading, the way they’re loving, the way they’re helping our community, the way we’re stepping up and serving our partners with generosity and showing up in time of crisis, I think it’s one of the best seasons we’ve ever had,” Scheske concludes with a note of encouragement. “We’re not in a rush to go back. We’re going to wait and see what happens.”

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About the Research
COVID-19 Data: 
Barna Group conducted these online surveys among 2,153 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–June 15, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020

Featured image by Lea Fabienne on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2020

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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