By Andy Williams
Pastor Jeff Warren (on the left) and Pastor Bryan Carter after speaking together at Movement Day Greater Dallas.
Two Dallas pastors—one black and one white—were just beginning to do ministry together when high-profile race clashes began boiling over nationwide.
Young black men Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner had died at the hands of white authorities. Riots were spilling out of Ferguson, MO, and igniting a powder keg across the country.
The national climate did not bode well for a city as segregated as Dallas, which is clearly divided between affluent, white neighborhoods in the northern part of the city and underprivileged black neighborhoods in south Dallas.
“My brother and white pastor, Jeff Warren, and I started talking about what happens when—not if—Ferguson happens in Dallas,” says Bryan Carter, senior pastor of the mostly black Concord Church. “What are the implications for our city, and how would the Church respond?”
What evangelist Billy Graham long ago described as the most segregated hour in America—Sunday morning in churches across the U.S.—was true of Dallas, too.
The two pastors concluded it was only a matter of time before racial tension flared up in their city—and they didn’t like the prospects.
“We started asking the question, ‘How are we going to serve our city and bring the Gospel to bear in a time like this?” says Jeff, senior pastor of the mostly white Park Cities Baptist Church. “How could we lead across racial lines we didn’t even know each other.”
Bridging the Gap
Pastors Bryan and Jeff decided to take matters into their hands and invited their churches along for the ride.
It all started with a lunch together. “Anything great always starts with a relationship,” Jeff says, “spending time together and getting to know each other” turned into working together on a citywide prayer movement and bringing theto Dallas.
They started pastor roundtables—Bryan inviting 10 black pastors, and Jeff inviting 10 white—to discuss racial reconciliation in their segregated churches.
“It was a little awkward at first,” Bryan says. “We were talking about some things that were pretty uncomfortable for some of our pastor brothers in the room.”
The roundtables were eye-openers, especially for white pastors who thought race wasn’t much of a pressing issue in Dallas.
“It was fascinating for the white pastors to see racism through the eyes of black pastors,” Jeff says. “There was a lot of listening, grace and learning on both sides. You come to realize, everybody has a race story.”
A Bold Step Further
Then the idea hit Bryan and Jeff—they should take their budding friendship and ministry relationship a bold step further and spend a Sunday preaching in each other’s churches. Mix praise teams and choirs and other attenders from the two churches and see what happens.
Pastor Bryan Carter (top right photo) preaching at Park Cities on Palm Sunday, 2015.
“It wasn’t an original idea, it’s been done before,” Bryan says. “But the racial climate around the country made for the perfect storm.”
So on Palm Sunday 2015, Jeff stood in front of a mostly black audience to share a Word, and Bryan looked on many more white faces than he normally preaches to.
“I loved it,” Jeff says, noting he got way more “encouragement” through “amens” and other shout-outs than he normally does at Park Cities. “On the way out, everyone was saying how much they loved it, and they wanted to know when we were going to do it again.”
Expanding Their Reach
Both local media and even national media covered the event, and the two pastors knew they had a powerful strategy that should expand to other churches in Dallas. They challenged the pastors in their roundtable group and others to try a pulpit swap, all on the same day.
“We had pretty lofty goals—we wanted to see 50 or 100 churches do it,” Bryan says. “But as it turned out, getting partner churches was pretty tough stuff. I’m going to trust you in my pulpit, but I don’t even know you?
“Our city is so divided, even pastors don’t often build those relationships across racial lines. So we realized we would be accomplishing a lot if we got 20-25 churches to join in.”
On Palm Sunday 2016, 20 Dallas churches participated in pulpit swaps. In light of national events that were still brewing around race, a buzz about the event covered the city—and beyond.
“We were surprised by the attention it got,” Jeff says. “But we’re really grateful the church was being known for what we ought to be known for.
“Often in ministry we’re crying out over and over again, for God to show up in unexplainable ways, but this is one of those times we felt like we’ve been chasing after Him, trying to keep up with what He is doing.”
Park Cities Pastor Jeff Warren leading Palm Sunday services at Concord Church.
Beyond the Pulpit Swap
Attenders from Concord and Park Cities have taken the bridge-building far beyond a Sunday morning event.
Black and white churches in Dallas have worked together during a Service Day, called Transform Dallas, in their communities. The two church’s staffs have begun building friendships and working relationships. Roundtables have been added to include church attenders, and as many as 500 black and white men have gotten together to discuss racial reconciliation.
Small groups of women from the two churches have held book clubs. And a small group Bible study has even formed, with men from both churches meeting weekly for over a year. “One of our men who meets every week in a group with Concord says they’re are the greatest group of guys he’s ever known.” Jeff says.
Bryan and Jeff know there is much work to be done, as they continue to bring black and white churches together. On March 26, 2017, churches across Dallas will swap pulpits again, preaching similar messages on racial reconciliation. They have been asked to speak nationally about the growing racial unity in Dallas. In their minds, local churches are just the place this work should happen to bring significant change in cities.
“We can’t sit back and think somebody else is going to make this happen,” Bryan says. “The government isn’t going to do it, schools aren’t going to do it. It’s our job.”
500 men from Concord Church and Park Cities Church came together for breakfast to build relationships and discuss racial reconciliation in the Fall of 2015.
Both men believe Dallas is already becoming a different city and that church and city leaders would respond in a much different way, if a Ferguson-like incident were to happen today.
“When we say the Gospel is for all people, but our churches remain divided, people will not believe us,” Jeff says. “But when we can lock arms across racial lines, the world takes notice. Then they realize, this is bigger than you, your church, or the color of your skin. The Gospel of God’s rescuing grace abounds in diversity and everyone sees it.”
Since the initial posting of this blog, the country saw a wave of violence including controversial police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota as well as the slaying of five police officers in Dallas. In response, Dr. Warren and Pastor Carter organized an interracial “Together We Stand” prayer service on July 8, 2016 at Concord Missionary Baptist Church. The service included pastors of all races leading the community in prayer, Scripture reading and reflections.
Photo from Dallas Morning News – From left: Bob Anderson, Vicki Smith and Miller Cunningham held hands in prayer during the Together We Stand service at Concord Church in Dallas. (Ting Shen/Staff Photographer)