The killing by police of George Floyd, an unarmed black person in the United States, has caused the flag of racial awareness to be raised all over the world. Some years ago, a similar death caused pastors in the Saint Louis metropolitan area in the United States to take some unprecedented steps to foster empathy and promote unity.1 Often when the news cycle shifts and the spotlight goes away, enthusiasm wanes and programs die. Not so with the Adventist Ministers and Pastors of St. Louis (AMPS—a play on words addressing a power that comes from doing things together that does not exist alone).
KPI 6.6Church members exhibit cross-cultural understanding and respect for all people.
Some seven years later, 15-plus churches of different ethnicities still find fulfillment in fellowshipping and serving together. What has sustained the momentum and are there lessons that can benefit the global church?
Barriers come down
The Saint Louis metropolitan area is home to 2.8 million people. Some churches are Caucasian; some are predominantly African American; some are of Spanish, Korean, Haitian, or other ethnicity; and others are multicultural. The 15 Seventh-day Adventist churches are cared for by 11 pastors working in four conferences: Iowa-Missouri, Central States, Lake Region, and Illinois.
While Scripture acknowledges “diversities of operations” and “differences of administrations” (1 Cor. 12:5, 6), we saw that Scripture does not uphold diversities of unity or differences in love.We recognized that love and unity were not problems of the organizational structure; they were problems of the human heart. For barriers between races to come down, it became clear that Christians should begin with dialogue, follow up with fellowship, and continue with cooperation in reaching others for Christ. That is what we did in Saint Louis—and that is what continues to happen.
All over the world, people congregate according to proximity, worship style, age, ethnicity, or relevance to their own experience. Some persons comprising a recent immigrant population may venture to integrate with the majority population. Others, after a hard week, often in unfriendly environments, may find solace worshiping with persons having similar stories, led by a pastor who understands their experience.
We maintain that “their” story must also be “our” story. Scripture says, “But God has harmonized the whole body by giving importance of function to the parts which lack apparent importance, that the body should work together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another. So it happens that if one member suffers all the other members suffer with it, and if one member is honored all the members share a common joy” (1 Cor. 12:26, Phillips). We understood that Isaiah 58 requires us to enter into the pain of the oppressed. But how can the hand know the foot when opportunities for fellowship are undesired or untried?
From streets to homes
After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of police, Adventists of differing ethnicities in the Saint Louis area came together to walk the streets of Ferguson, knock on doors, and pray with people. What a glorious sight it was for us to see black, white, and other ethnicities, walking hand in hand. What people did not see was fellowship that extended from walking together in streets, to walking together in parks. From parks into churches, from churches into restaurants, and from restaurants into homes. For over seven years, we have been blessed to fellowship with the following menu of activities:
- Monthly pastors’ meetings (Relationships are enhanced by fellowship.)
- Pastors’ prayer meetings (Be prepared to work hard at synchronizing schedules!)
- Quarterly citywide prayer meetings for all church members
- Citywide camp meetings and evangelism conferences
- A lay-led, cross-cultural mission committee initiating mission projects within the area
A sustained effort
How can I (David) ask society to change its values if we in the church are not modeling change by demonstrating that people from different ethnicities can come together in loving fellowship and service? Ask yourself, to what extent does my congregation minister with believers who are different from our own?
With AMPS, we are not talking about uniting around a one-time event—or even just coming together for fellowship, though it started that way. We are talking about a sustained effort of not only pastors but the members of those churches coming together to build relationships, know each other, and—this is the difference—do ministry in the community together. Not a one-time event, but ministering side by side on a regular basis.
The first step is coming together. After relationships are built, then comes doing ministry and evangelism together. Before we go into all the world, let’s go to the congregation next door. We will go into all the world, but will we cross town to minister alongside the church with a different cultural makeup from our own?2
What I (Bryan) have taken to heart from being a pioneer of the AMPS movement has followed me to the Kansas City area, where the pastors are working, fellowshipping, supporting each other, and uniting our churches in ministry. It takes a relationship to talk about the taboo subjects that our society is dealing with; therefore, we need to stop talking and start doing. We had open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about prejudice, protests, and privilege. Sometimes God has to bring us to the point of opening our eyes to baggage that we carry, blind spots in our Christian experience that could possibly keep us out of heaven.
The people are ready for this type of leadership. How do I know? I know because, as an African American pastor graduating from a predominantly white school, I was told by a conference president that his constituents were not ready for a black pastor. What he did not know was that I was the student pastor of one of his churches, and they loved my wife and me so much that they requested us to continue our ministry after school was out. We did continue our ministry there, and the relationship was fantastic. People are not looking for a pastor with or without color; they are looking for a good pastor! This cross-
cultural church movement gives our churches a chance, irrespective of organizational structures, to establish the unity that Jesus prayed for in order to execute the ministry Jesus yearned for.3
Third angel’s message
It became clear to us that this was present truth: “I have no fears of workers who are engaged in the work represented in the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. This chapter is explicit, and is enough to enlighten anyone who wishes to do the will of God. There is plenty of opportunity for everyone to be a blessing to humanity. The third angel’s message is not to be given a second place in this work, but is to be one with it. . . . This work is to be to the message what the hand is to the body.”4
If pastors are to lead, members are to follow: “I cannot too strongly urge all our church members, all who are true missionaries, all who believe the third angel’s message, all who turn away their feet from the Sabbath, to consider the message of the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. The work of beneficence enjoined in this chapter is the work that God requires His people to do at this time . . . the nearer we approach the end, the more urgent this work becomes.”5
The temptation is to believe that you have done enough; do more. Stop sitting down, expecting someone else to do it. Do not wait for the conference to organize something. Strike while the iron is hot. The work will not be easy—get up and do what God is calling you to do.
We close with the words of the beloved Elder Charles Bradford: “And when we with pen and voice and loving example, condemn every practice that smacks of prejudice and racial superiority, the world will have demonstration here and now (not by and by in the Kingdom of heaven) that the third angel’s message breaks down every barrier and creates the new man in Christ who is neither Jew nor Greek, black or white. It is in our power as leaders of the flock, to not only look forward to but hasten that day.”6
- See David Klinedinst, “Unity and Collaboration in Urban Ministry,” Ministry, February 2018, 10–12.
- See an interview on 3ABN TV at
- We would like to recognize the following pastors, past and present, who inspired this article and were part of Saint Louis’s journey toward unity and collaboration: Bryan Mann, pastor of Northside church; Joseph Ikner, former pastor of Berean church; Charles Osborne III, pastor of the Berean church; Fred Montgomery, pastor of Agape church; Claval Hunter, pastor of Lighthouse and Tabernacle of Praise churches; Jae Wook Lee, pastor of Korean church; Rob Alfalah, pastor of Sant Louis Central and Mid Rivers churches; Vic Van Shaik, former pastor of Saint Louis Central church; Robb Long, associate pastor of Saint Louis Central and Mid Rivers churches; Ken Olin, pastor of West County and Southside churches; Robb Lechner, former pastor of West and Southside churches; and Tony LaPorte, former pastor of Mid Rivers and Spanish churches.
- Ellen G. White, Welfare Ministry (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952), 33.
- White, Welfare Ministry, 30.
- Charles E. Bradford, letter to General Conference president R.R. Figuhr, 1964.