Brenda Salter-McNeil at WCA Global Leadership Summit

Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil at the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit:

God convenes God’s people.

Prayer: Thank you for bringing us here. Business leaders, academic leaders. From every sector!

Kingdom come, will be done. Asking you to speak boldly and clearly.

Derek and Brenda in England from Fuller, talking on experience in African American church. Trying to figure out redundant churches. They wanted to learn from the US Black church. Jamaican woman met her, and rather than being overjoyed, she angrily, “Where have you been? Didn’t you know what we were experiencing here? We’re foreign in Jamaica and here in England. Classism isolates us.”

I had no idea. Pastors, academicians, none of us knew enough about what was going on around the world. A defining moment for me about how uninformed I was.

It was a catalytic moment. God used that experience in my life to broaden, my experience to humble me, to expand my worldview.

Catalytic moments are never nice and easy and comfortable. It’s like flying in an airplane, and when those little yellow bags pop down during sudden loss of pressure, we would grab on for dear life! That’s what a catalytic even feels like.

Because words fail, I asked for help from the Willow team to create this video to help you experience a catalytic event. One man forced himself past where others had given up, changing our world forever. He broke the speed of sound! He blew out the windows! In 1947, Capt. Chuck Yeager proved that it was possible. People thought it would make the plane break apart. When the shaking was most intense, he resisted the temptation to pull back and he moved forward.

Most of us have been impacted by economic, demographic and cultural shifts. Who could’ve predicted the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and through social media?

This next generation of global leaders have grown up with this under their feet. They’re experiencing more ethnic and generational diversity than anyone ever before. They are global by default, and they know it.

How have you responded? Has it shut you down? Has it made you want to retreat? Or like Chuck Yeager has it inspired you to push through to a new kind of leadership?

Those have challenged me for a year.

In Acts chapter one, I realized the initial catalytic burst happened in the beginning of the birth of the church. Acts 1:8—you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…all around the world!

It went to the Jews, to the Gentiles, to the whole human race. That’s our mission, to be the kind of leaders who lead the Church forward beyond the sound barrier, to the globalness of what God calls us to be.

There’s a movement outward. We have to move past one barrier after another. We must begin in Jerusalem. This represents our home turf, our comfort zone! People laugh at our jokes and understand our language. It’s where people are mostly like us. It seems like any decent leader could make a church work in their Jerusalem. It takes courage to be a catalytic leader in Jerusalem. Gotta face our own bigotry and ethnocentricity.

You can get your “Amen!” in with me. You can practice with me.

We gotta face some stuff in ourselves in Jerusalem. Gotta confront the people who look like us, in our own family, on our local church. Challenge the practices and policies of our churches and systems.

There’s a VP of Finance at a university in Indiana, and she is passionate about intercultural competency. She gets it on her president’s desk. She pressed on a committee that didn’t want to celebrate MLK Day! She takes on Jerusalem.

Now, onto Judea—it represents the place that’s close to home but not quite home. It’s kind of familiar but there are some subcultural difference. We can look alike but have different political views. It’s like denominational differences. Somehow we’re not quite speaking the same language. Ministry in Judea is not easy. It requires cultural translation. It’s like and elderly woman being preyed upon by a lender. She was getting foreclosed on, but the church heard about it. They bought that woman’s home and sold it back to her for $1! That’s the kind of ministry that happens in Judea.

But next, we need to go to Samaria—this represents people who are hostile to us! They are foreign, totally other. It’s the neighborhoods that we just drive by. Like District 6 in Cape Town or the garbage communities in Manila or India, prisons where people are locked away and forgotten. It’s the place of sex trafficking. It’s the place of child soldiers. It’s the place of corporate greed. Somebody profits from this stuff, it’s environmental injustice. That’s what happens in Samaria.

You will be my disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria!

It takes a Chuck Yeager to head into Samaria! You will receive power, not just intellectual power but spiritual power from God! It will really be tested in Samaria.

Gender and class and tradition—you don’t have to talk about it in Jerusalem. You can’t avoid it in Samaria! It’s like my friend who’s a priest on the Southside of Chicago! He was concerned about how advertising was affecting youth in his neighborhood. So he painted over it!

We need catalytic moments! We’ve got to have something that pushes us!

Acts chapter two pushes them past the sound barrier. Pentecost came and suddenly a sound came and filled the house. Tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Others were amazed and perplexed.

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting and you look over at your brother and he’s on fire! If you catch on fire, someone’s gonna come and watch you burn!

The Church is intended to be a global movement. It’s both amazing and confusing. The Church is supposed to be so utterly and completely countercultural, so others are scratching their heads at how the Church lets their differences go!

What do the catalytic events mean in our day? The Spirit is ready to move just like at Pentecost in Acts 2! Peter interpreted it in 2:17-18. For us, instead of being scared of the rhetoric we’re hearing. Maybe God is doing this so that people who have been isolated from each other have to partner with each other. Maybe just maybe God is moving!

The question is, are you ready? Are you ready to break through your sound barrier? If so, I have some dangerous things for you to do.

You need to pray for a divine mandate. Catalytic events are something we can’t conjure up—God needs to break in. We can do something. God, what things do you want my org to address? What are you calling us to do? The most dangerous prayer you can pray is to take your people to a part of the city where you serve and lead and ask them to walk around, “God break our hearts for what breaks your heart.” Pray it over and over again. Multilingual, multinational—it’s not a good idea. It’s a God idea!

If you still have courage, name your catalytic events. Stop walking by. Stop tsking and saying the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Ask God how the Spirit is moving in this context, in our country. We’re looking for people who are looking at catastrophes and seeing catalytic events. Summon your courage! Interpret for people that God’s not dead! God’s still alive! Jesus said the Father is always working. Our job is to look around and find what God is doing!

After you ask God for a divine mandate, something that doubles you over, something you can’t stand, then look for the catalytic events that are setting you up for success. Mobilize people to go! Faith without works is dead! We’ve got to move outside of our Jerusalem to our Judea. We need our cross-pollination there. Convene people to talk about sexuality—that’s a Judea move. Try to understand their perspective! Talk to some cutters—hear them.

And don’t stop there—push past the sound barrier into Samaria, where we’re culturally, socially not in control. I’m not looking for people to just help. I want people who will go learn. Go find your Mrs Jones like Cory Booker said who will lead you to success. Learn the language of the people. Immerse yourself in the culture, even when you want to run back after checking off the box. Brenda is learning Spanish and asking for God’s help in Spanish.

It’s unacceptable, like Dr Schlesinger said. That’s where God is calling you, even out to the ends of the earth! I pray that like on Pentecost, God would rattle you. I want to know what Pentecost feels like in our life! You may be lost up to this point. But may I submit that this moment may be your catalytic moment? This spark might light a fire under the people you lead, your whole Church.
Breathe on us, Holy Spirit! Let God give you the courage you need to lead past boundaries that have held you back! Come Spirit of the Living God, fall on us, fired up! God, make us the Church, the Global Church, every ethnicity, every cultural.

I wish I had a witness who would stand up and say, “AMEN!”