May 31, 2013
Friday Five Interview: Trillia Newbell
Why should pastors embrace the goal of racial diversity in their congregations? We asked the author of a forthcoming book on race and the Church.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Trillia Newbell. Trillia Newbell is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes on faith and family for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, and serves as managing editor for Women of God Magazine. Trillia is a frequent contributor to publications such as Desiring God, True Woman, The Gospel Coaltion, and The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Newbell has two forthcoming books published by Moody Publishers.
Today we catch up with Trillia and discuss diversity in the Church, reformed theology, and how church leaders can best serve busy moms.
As an African American woman in a biracial marriage, you've written on the importance of diversity in the church. What are some initial steps pastors and church leaders can take in creating this kind of environment?
That’s a great question and honestly one that I am still exploring. But I think that the pursuit of diversity—and all things really—begins with a heart change. In other words, we must see the benefit of diversity as it relates to God’s Word. God says that we are all created in his image. James rebukes partiality. Jesus commanded us to go make disciples of all nations, and Revelation gives us a glimpse of the last day where all tongues and tribes will worship together. Though these are only a few references, it is clear that God values diversity. Do we?
From there, pastors and church leaders can begin by relating—whether through hospitality or guest speakers—to those unlike themselves. This will send a message to their congregations. People are watching to see what their leaders are doing, and though we can and should pursue others regardless of what our leadership does, the truth is we watch, learn, and emulate them. So if the pursuit of diversity is important to a leader or pastor, they need to actively pursue it themselves. They’ll be amazed by the effect on their church environment.
I’m going to flesh this out in my upcoming book, tentatively titled United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity (Moody, March 2014).
You're a part of the Reformed African American Network. Is reformed theology making a comeback in the black community?
Jemar Tisby, co-founder of RAAN, recently introduced me to the research of Eric Washington. He is researching the rich history of African Americans and Reformed Theology, specifically Calvinism. His findings date back to the 1700s, and it appears mainly in the Baptist faith. So the question of whether it’s making a comeback is a good one. But I don’t know that there is evidence of a widespread resurgence of Reformed thought within the Black church.
There are a growing number of Reformed African American leaders who recently gathered for meetings and encouragement to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Antony Carter’s book On Being Black and Reformed.
You recently blogged about some of the personal pain you've endured and how the theology of God's sovereignty has given you joy. Sometimes when pastors talk about God's sovereignty it can sound a bit calloused, as if Romans 8:28 leaves no room for lament or grief. How would counsel pastors to communicate this important idea in a better way?
If a pastor is going to communicate with their congregations broadly, then sharing the truth of God’s Word with a compassionate tone is important. But I think what’s been most helpful to me is that I actually have a relationship with my pastors. It helps to be approachable and loving. It helps when we know that our pastors care because they know us (even if only a little). The Word of God is powerful. God’s words are sure, and we can trust them. But when they are spoken out of a heart that truly loves and desires to serve and minister, not simply out of knowledge, it can penetrate the heart. So, pastors, love your members.
You hold to a complementarian view of leadership roles in the church. How did you come to this position and why is this important to you?
I don’t want this to seem curt, but honestly, I read God’s Word. I am convinced that the Scriptures clearly address the role of men and women in the church (and home). I have never struggled with this because of Scriptures like 1 Timothy 3:1–13, where Paul describes the qualifications of overseers and says that they should be “husband of one wife.” So though I don’t believe you have to be a husband to be an overseer (i.e. I don’t believe Paul is saying you must be married) he is limiting the qualification to men. But before he describes overseers he addresses a woman’s role in the church, saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). I do not believe these Scriptures are affected at all by time or culture. Paul is laying a foundation for the church.
I also believe that the Word is God-breathed and inerrant. We all know 2 Timothy 3:16. God’s Word is useful and holds complete authority. In 2 Peter 3:15–16, Peter writes of “Paul’s letters” as “Scripture” indicating that they are indeed a part of God’s holy Word and not simply letters.
So back to your initial question. I came to this position through reading God’s Word and taking him at his word. And then, as I’ve realized that others wouldn’t agree with this view and also wanted to be informed, I’ve studied more. As I’ve studied, I have become more convinced that this is God’s plan and not some man-made invention.
You frequently write about the experience of moms struggling to balance life, work, parenting, ministry. How can pastors and church leaders help create supportive environments for busy moms?
I think pastors probably do this, but if they don’t, I’d allow space for moms just to be moms. If there are ministry needs and they are unable to serve much, especially as their kids are young, then allow for time and space. Women feel pressure all over, but church should be a safe place. Honestly, it’s often the only time a woman with young children gets a chance to hear the Word and see friends.
But I’d also caution not to prescribe that to all women. Women have varying capacities and gifting, so encourage moms where they are. If you have a mom who loves to teach other women, and her husband affirms her gifting and encourages her to pursue various things, I’d find a way to use her. Perhaps encourage her to lead a small Bible study or discipleship group or write. If a busy mom sings and loves to worship God and feels that she can effectively serve, put that momma on the worship team. If you have eager and able bodies, use them, but also know that you may have moms who simply can’t do anything besides mother—and that’s enough.