How Christian Leaders are Reimagining Partnership in Ministry: Insights from the Alliance of Baptists Gathering

By Daynette Snead Perez

As a first-time participant, I found the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering an enlightening experience. The two-day event shed light on how historical contexts have shaped our understanding of being, going, and doing the work of Christ. 

The assembly brought together a diverse group of faith leaders, theologians, and believers from across the globe, all united in exploring how “The Great Commission,” the cornerstone of the Christian mission, can be approached with a fresh, culturally-sensitive perspective.

The two-day event, “Decolonizing the Great Commission: Reimagining Partnership in Ministry, was held April 12-14, 2024, and hosted at Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC. Talk-back sessions, workshops, and international speaker panels challenged hundreds of participants to consider how missionary endeavors might be perceived and seek ways to respect and uplift the communities we aim to serve. The gathering was a profound reminder that missioning must evolve to reflect the loving and inclusive message of Jesus.

Keynote Speaker, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, founder and President of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, the “most widely published Palestinian theologian to date, author and editor of fifty books,” introduced a deeper understanding of settler colonialism and decolonized theology.

Dr. Raheb invited a filled sanctuary “to be witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” His powerful message to Christians “who run to Jerusalem to walk in Jesus’ footsteps—heightened the moment. Dr. Raheb echoed ancient words, saying, “It is impossible to find the living among the dead.” He continued, “When we show up as witnesses in the world, we are the living image of Jesus.”

Experiencing the tragedy of war at his front door, a deafening silence filled the sacred space as Dr. Raheb delivered a pain-filled witness of the current state of life in Gaza as “impossible and unbearable in geography and demographically,” speaking,

13,000 people are missing

75,000 people have been injured

33,000 people have been killed

70% of those killed were women and children

80% of schools are destroyed

90% of hospitals are destroyed

100 journalists have been murdered in 6 months

Ministers from South America, Cuba, and Africa shared historical and lived witness to the experiences of indigenous peoples. Rev. Dalia Juarez Fernandez, who identifies as a Nahuatl interfaith theologian and Baptist Pastor in Mexico City, raised awareness on how colonization continues to bring daily suffering, violence, dispossession of land, and loss of precious water resources.

Unveiling the Christian journey in Mexico and the continued effects of colonization, Rev Dalia disclosed that “her ability to answer questions recalls a painful history of 522 years of continuous invasion.” Her first-hand knowledge of colonization’s effects encouraged all to “speak out for justice, respect, and solidarity.”

It is impossible to review the full breadth of my first Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering experience in one article. The resonating message was clear: to faithfully reimagine partnership in ministry, courageously question colonist legacies embedded in our faith practices, and dismantle them where necessary.

Participants attended two in-depth workshops that offered comprehensive engagement with topics on decolonization opportunities, including Antiracists Actions with Your Money and Your Church’s Money, Decolonizing Healing, Dismantling Christian Nationalism, The Good News of Environmental Justice, Indigenous Communities: Opportunities, Challenges for the Great Commission, and Partnering with Palestine to End Apartheid.

Church Reimagined—A Road to Next Generation Sustainability shared insights into church revitalization. Pastors Bruce Cole, Adam Gray, and Ken Meyers of Jacksonville Baptist Church were transparent and open about their challenges and successes in navigating congregational change within a 34,000-square-foot campus in the Jacksonville, Florida, community.

Decolonizing the Church in Real Time: We Don’t Just Preach and Teach About Deconstructing Systems of Power – We Practice It, centered on a non-hierarchical leadership structure. The Park Road Baptist Church and Atlanta-based pastoring team of Darci Jarret, Henry Chennault, Keyanna Jones, and Matthew Johnson shared a “paradigm shift” to addressing colonial influences within the church structure. Defined as a “Kinship Worldview, ” this leadership team “indigenizes” beloved community practices through activism, pastoral care, worship, art, and liturgy.

Ending in worship, Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze, a bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, a women’s rights activist, and the first female Baptist bishop in Georgia concluded our time together with a sense of worldwide fellowship and love.

It is impossible to review the full breadth of my first Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering experience in one article. The resonating message was clear: to faithfully reimagine partnership in ministry, courageously question colonist legacies embedded in our faith practices, and dismantle them where necessary.

This process is not just about altering strategies. It is a profound, ongoing transformation that aligns our actions with the core values of dignity, respect, and mutual love preached by Jesus. For followers of Jesus today, embracing this challenge is essential.

In conclusion, the Alliance of Baptists invited each one to continue the Christ-centered work in our spheres of influence and sent the gathered out to the mission and ministry of decolonizing Christian practices and spaces,

I am grateful for this Motus-Dei to illuminate and eliminate colonized structures within Christian practices and approach partnerships by giving honor and listening to new ways of knowing God. On a personal note, I have begun studying two of Dr. Mitri Raheb’s books, Decolonizing Palestine and The Politics of Persecution, and look forward to returning next year. 

May we continue to love in ways that genuinely honor the communities we reach. Let’s walk together and move forward to bring the Good News, not impose it.

Let it begin with me.  How is it with your soul?

Rev. Dr. Daynette Snead Perez is at the forefront of redefining Christian leadership in today’s diverse world. As the founder of DIASPRA, she empowers church leaders to navigate the complexities of today’s diverse spiritual landscape. Through her innovative program, Stranger to Neighbor Ministry®, Dr. Daynette transforms theoretical faith concepts into dynamic, real-world applications, fostering meaningful relationships across cultural divides. She is also the author of CHURCH: What To Do When Everyone Is Like You, a critical guide for creating inclusive, thriving faith communities. Residing in Charlotte, Dr. Daynette is a beacon for those seeking to extend their reach for Christ across cultural boundaries. Connect with Dr. Daynette at strangertoneighbor.com and social media @drdaynette.

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