Episode 4 - Dwight Radcliff
Nick: Hi everyone, this is Nick from the Start in LA Podcast and here are a couple of announcements for you. We do have new conference dates. Those dates are February 1 and February 2 of 2019. Please mark those in your calendar as our big conference will be held on those two days at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Nick: If you like to sign up for the mailing list for all Start in LA events, you can do that at startinla.com and this will also let you know when the registration is available for the conference. Also, with regard to Cyclical LA which is one of the groups that helps to put on the Start in LA podcast, We'd like to let you know that our monthly starters launch will be held at 12:00 at Golden Road Brewing the first Wednesday of month from 12:00 to 1:30.
Nick: If you're thinking about starting a new church, you can go to the Discerners Dinner which happens the third Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7:00 at Little Beast in Eagle Rock. You are welcome to both. If you have any other announcements you'd like to broadcast in this podcast, please let us know and we'll gladly tell people about it. Enjoy the podcast.
Nick: Hi everyone, welcome to the Start in LA podcast. We are so excited that you're joining us. We're here today with Dwight Radcliff, a special guest that we're excited to get into. Before we get there, let me remind you that Start in LA is a partnership between Cyclical LA and Fuller Seminary to create space for mutual dialogue between diverse perspectives on starting churches in order that we might be able to learn from one another.
Nick: That's what brings us here today. I'm Nick Warnes. I'm the executive director of Cyclical Incorporated and the director of Cyclical LA and I'm here with the lovely Dr. Michaela O'Donnell Long.
Michaela: Thanks. Yeah, my name is Michaela and I ... Gosh, I own a business called Long Winter Media. We make videos and do branding and I also just finished my PhD at Fuller and I'm newly the senior director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. All my studies were on entrepreneurs.
Michaela: I have a love for church starters and church planters and do all the coaching through cyclical and just always seemed to find church starters in my friendship. It's good to be with you Dwight.
Dwight: Good to be here, good to be here.
Nick: Dwight, would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dwight: Sure. My name is Dwight Radcliff. I pastor a church called the Message Center church in the city of Gardena in the South Bay area of Southern California right outside the Los Angeles city limits. We started 12 years ago. When we started 12 years ago, I was originally part of the Church Of God In Christ, large black Pentecostal denomination and there wasn't language for church planting 12 years ago in most non-white Pentecostal denominations.
Dwight: We started our church, we had some interesting beginnings, but we started our church and our church has been pretty much a sustained model for the last 12 years. That's been really, really wonderful. In my own passion and my own experience, I'm always drawn to other church planters, people who are planting, people who need help with either the paperwork aspect of it or maybe the internal structuring what to do.
Dwight: I've become this I guess unofficial mentor of other church planters and I think what's unique for my experience today as we talk about church planting in a time where church planting is now the buzz word. It's the popular language. It's the lingua franca as it were for the church world.
Dwight: I think what's important is that my experience and the experience of most of the people that I mentor and come into contact with is that I am talking to men and women who are doing church planting without the resources of a cyclical or without a denominational support or sometimes they have denominational support, but their denominational support is still very limited, still very minimal that they're basically doing it on their own.
Dwight: From the entrepreneur aspect of it, I guess I represent many people in the greater Los Angeles area who are planting outside of established systems and outside of established funding.
Nick: I can see Michaela and just ready to explode with three amazing questions. Before we get there, can you tell us too how did you come into this work of church starting, your family, your ... What brought you to this crazy decision of starting a new church?
Michaela: Especially in light of they're not being models or language like in your tradition.
Dwight: All right, let's go ahead and get in trouble.
Nick: I like it already.
Dwight: I was a youth pastor at a very large church in an urban area just outside of LA. For whatever reasons, we were basically asked to leave. We were told that the Holy Spirit had led the leadership to tell us it was time for us to go start our own church.
Dwight: Now, I want to make sure that as I say, as I even tell this story that me and that pastor myself have since mended every ... We're good now. Everything's great, but that was a very difficult and trying time ...
Nick: It sounds like it.
Dwight: For my family. My wife and I ended up in therapy, in counseling. It was just a horrible time. Financially, I was an employee of the church so to lose my job and then have to start this church at the same time. I knew in my head and in my spirit that pastoring a church was something that I knew was part of my DNA. I just didn't know how that would pan out.
Dwight: I knew that I could see myself five to 10 years down the road before this all happened. I could see myself pastoring a church, but I really thought that the church I was at I was just ... It would be a success of thing that once that pastor retired, I would probably take over. That was what my thought process was. I got thrown into the world of church planting.
Dwight: It wasn't something that I planned. With that, there was this financial strain on my family, as well as starting a church with no backing really and we had a little bit of funds that the other church was giving us, but even with that, there was some stuff in there, it was just really a financial burden for our family and then couple that with the fact that at the time, my wife was injured from the Sheriff's Department.
Dwight: It was just absolutely horrible. It was not something that I would wish upon anyone, but in hindsight, once I came through maybe about three to four years after I've been coming out of that planting and we're getting a little stable, I just started hearing more and more of people who are having the exact same stories, the exact same, I mean the exact same stories.
Michaela: Like getting kicked out? Getting told to start [crosstalk 00:06:51]
Dwight: The exact the same stories.
Nick: Getting called out.
Dwight: Yeah. Called out, sent out, kicked out, whatever language we want to use. At the time, I would have told you that we got kicked out, but in hindsight, one of those ways that God has allowed me to heal from that, was a story of Moses, right? You've got Moses who is living in the palace and living great, loving life.
Dwight: His actions, his, I guess irrational actions caused a flashback on him that got him kicked out of the palace and he's running for his life. I have always when I first read that story is leading up to the time that we left the church. I always read that story as, "Man, I hated that guy, that's something."
Dwight: Moses was looking out for his people and that one guy went and told and we're hearing the story that pharaoh finds out and pharaoh's trying to kill Moses. "Man, why couldn't that one guy just keep his mouth shut, right?" But then in hindsight, it wouldn't have mattered if it was that one guy, if it was that murderer, if it was something else. Moses had to go.
Dwight: Would I have preferred the circumstances to be different? Absolutely. Would I have preferred not to have been emotionally injured? Absolutely, but in hindsight, it didn't matter what it was, it was going to be something because it really was my time to go. That's a mature post healing perspective in it. That's not the way I felt it all.
Dwight: I was pissed off, but that financial piece of it was that five years later, we ended up losing our home. We downsized cars and at the time for a period my wife and I were both working for the Sheriff's Department so we went from making great money, then I took a pay cut to go work for the church and then three, four years later now, everything is just going full bar.
Nick: Why? You get kicked out of this church.
Nick: I'm sure you're a very talented guy.
Dwight: Thank you.
Nick: Do you have many options vocationally?
Dwight: Absolutely, which is the hilarious part.
Nick: Why in the world would you start this? Why don't go back to the Sheriff's Department?
Dwight: Are you sure you don't know my entire story Nick? No, I mean like seriously. Here's the thing. We started the church, we're in Downey High School cafetorium. I don't know if ... It's like a café, cafeteria and auditorium meshed into one.
Michaela: That's what I imagine when you used that.
Dwight: Yeah. It's not very good.
Dwight: There's a Tracy McGrady poster. I look at the old pictures from when we first started. I've got all my Pentecostal cassock. I'm out there preaching. I'm looking, there's a Tracy McGrady milk poster right behind me. I'm like, "Dude, what the hell were you thinking?" Early years were interesting, pray for me, but yeah, I spent five years as a full-time Sheriff's deputy. I was a reserve deputy after I left the department.
Dwight: I'm pretty great at computers and administration. I came out of collections. I've got several skills. I went and [crosstalk 00:09:47]
Nick: Which by the way is different than so many pastors that we're working with. We don't know what else to do. We don't have any other skills.
Dwight: Yeah. That wasn't my story.
Nick: It's such a great part of your story. I love that.
Dwight: Yeah. I actually applied for everything under the sun. I applied at Long Beach City College. I didn't get a computer job which my wife and I both to this day we're just ... Now, we understand, but we were just like, "Me? Not get a computer job?" That was just crazy. I applied for security work, didn't get anything. My wife had a sorority sister who worked for UPS and she said, "I'm going to get you in as seasonal."
Dwight: I said, "Hey, I'll talk anything right now." I went down and there were bunch of us outside over in Artesia-Cerritos area and we're just gathered in front, waiting for the person to come out and take us into the facility. Guy comes out in the UPS shirt and says, "I don't know how to tell you guys this. This has never happened to us in the history of this company, but we're under hiring freeze and we're not hiring anything."
Dwight: My narrative was that everything I tried to do, everything God just kept pushing me back to, "No, do this. No, do this." It really got bad though. I want to thank God for Cottonwood Church. They have a program, trying not to cry now, they have a program I think called Grateful Hearts. At first, it was this thrift shop. Our kids go to school in the area so we went by the thrift shop and then came to find out they had a food giveaway program.
Dwight: It got so bad that I just went down there to get some groceries for the house. A lady calls me back, she goes, "Aren't you a pastor?" I go, "Yeah." She goes, "You come here." She took me around, took me out of the line, took me around and she took me in the back and said, "Pick whatever you want. Here's a couple of boxes. Fill up whatever you want." Those memories, those have been the journey for me, getting to that place, losing our home, renting houses for the last six or seven years. We just bought [inaudible 00:11:45].
Dwight: God has a way of restoring that stuff, but I hate ... I don't want it to sound like you've got to go to this horribleness because that's when people start preaching this pedagogy of suffering that you have to suffer horribly and I don't believe that, but I believe my journey ... I think that part of the journey for me was the fact that I understand that God would position me later to speak into so many church planters that that was the journey that I had to endure that hopefully I could help other church planters not have to go through the same thing.
Michaela: Can I ask you a question? In the midst of that, first I like as you're talking, the word resilience. It's like plastered around your forehead. I'm thinking wow.
Dwight: [crosstalk 00:12:29].
Michaela: Yeah, like wow, that's a lot of resilience which is like one of the main markers of people who are going to be very creative and innovative and successful.
Michaela: But I'm wondering, how did you or part of a team, how did you create in the midst of that? How did you create this new church?
Dwight: I'll be very honest with you. The first three years of ... Anybody who is a part of our church in the first three years, I have apologized to them profusely. If you are part of our church in the first three years, you are just there because you just really just believed God.
Dwight: You didn't see it. It wasn't evident and anything. I will say though that I've always had an eye for excellence that even when we were in a high school cafeteria, we had the best projectors, we had the best sound. We always made sure to invest in excellence, right? But the first three to four years, I was still trying to figure out what I was doing.
Dwight: It wasn't until about our fifth or sixth year that I really began to what I call concretize my call. I really began to understand who I was, what God was calling me to do, who God was calling me to reach and that's one of the things that I pushed the church planters.
Dwight: I don't care that you tell me that you think you're called to pastor that you think you're called to church plant. I could care less. What I care more about is who have you been called to because if you don't know literally who you've been called to, if you don't have when you lay your head down at night, if you don't have a vision of certain people, if you don't see and I'm not even talking about how they look physically, racially, ethnically, if you don't have a vision for a certain type of person in a certain type of predicament, if you don't have a passion for that, if you don't have a call, a compulsion, then I say don't do it yet.
Dwight: You're not ready. Around that five to six years of time, I started to concretize my call. I visited a church out in Cleveland, Ohio the Word Church, Pastor R.A. Vernon and it was one of those Elijah moments, I thought I was in this cave, in this high school over here and nobody or we were by then we had moved to our second or third location where this little store front hotbox.
Dwight: I'm like, "Nobody knows where we are." I felt like I'm trying to do what I think God is calling me to do, but there's nobody else to save. Nobody else is doing ... And God shows me this mega church that's literally, I promise you, it is doing exactly what I'm doing.
Dwight: It's saying exactly what I'm saying. It was such an affirmation for me. I would tell you the first three to four years I wasn't very creative. I was just literally doing what I saw do, hence, the cassock with the Tracy McGrady poster, but in that five to six year area is where I really began to fill the freedom to create, to begin to brand, to begin to say this is who we are, to really begin to set vision for our church and that five to seven year period was a great period for us and it really propelled us to a place where we are being or we're able to be sustained now.
Nick: I love that thought that the ... Cementing the concrete ... concretizing of your [crosstalk 00:15:35] call sets you up to be creative.
Nick: The natural question for me would be so for those first, four or five years, how do you keep your nose above water?
Michaela: [crosstalk 00:15:46]
Nick: I mean all the word. Maybe this is by so many church starters are coming toward you like they're in that first, four to five years.
Dwight: Yes, yeah.
Nick: They're trying to keep their nose above water and you're like a breath of fresh air for them then.
Dwight: I wish I had a better first four years to tell them, but my first four years were ... That was the food pantry, that was losing our home in a short sale, that was going from Mercedes and an Eddie Bauer expedition to a couple of Toyotas and knocking towards it, I drive a Camry today.
Dwight: I love my Toyota. I wish they would send me a check, but it was this complete ... That first few years was a time for me struggling because I didn't know who I was and what I was doing. I think that I suffered a lot because of that. Part of my goal with the church planters I've talked to is really getting them to sit down.
Dwight: I know you've probably done your demographic study. I know you'd know the city, you know the ... You know how many single parents are in the city, but do you really know who you have been called to? Even Jesus understood, I've come to seek and save.
Dwight: If you don't understand who you've been called to, then you might get lucky a couple of times, even a broken clock is right twice a day, right, but you're not effective. This is the analogy that I use for our church when we, the last few years when I'm trying to talk about those first few years.
Dwight: Our church specifically is call to dechurch and unchurch people. I fully recognized that. I embrace that. Our church is called. Don't get me wrong. Everybody is welcome in our church, but we have a specific calling mission of our church and our church is called to those people who have never been a part of a church or were part of a church when they were younger and either saw too much, got hurt, got wounded like was our story and just had to hell with the church and everybody in it. That's our story. That's who we are.
Dwight: Now, understanding that now 12 years in, those first four years, I was dressing just like the church. I was doing just like the church. I use the analogy of imagine you're dating someone who has been physically or verbally abused by a certain type of person all their life and here you are trying to come in and minister to them or trying to kept them healed, but you dress like their oppressor, you speak like their oppressor, you look like their oppressor.
Dwight: Their guard is automatically up. They're not ready to receive what you're saying because you look like the very thing that injured them repeatedly. Once I embraced that we have been called to dechurch and unchurch people, it allowed me to be creative with our ... I changed our entire order of service. I changed our entire ... I change the atmosphere of our church, the vibe, everything. It's completely different than what it was in those first few years.
Michaela: One thing that's really interesting to me is I'm like, okay, as I'm thinking about people who are out there listening and they're thinking, "Okay. How do I move towards concretizing my call?" One thing I just heard you name is that reflecting on your own experience and really owning your own story is part of that discernment process?
Dwight: Absolutely. I think I don't know what it's like in every faith, tradition. I do know that God has really blessed me with some experiences and a lot of different denominations. What I find to be similar is that many of us feel like we've got to do what we saw everyone else do.
Dwight: There's a lack. I think I see a lot more now when it's refreshing, but when I ... 12 years go, 10 years ago, even five to seven years ago, it was really a lack of people being bold enough to embrace the fact that if God called me, God called me.
Dwight: Allowing my fingerprint, my makeup, my look, my way of being to be part of the call of God. I think that most of us specially in Pentecostal circles that once you got saved and once you are called, you had to now change in fitness mode and understanding that the beauty and the diversity of God is that God calls all kinds of different people and that I don't need you all to look alike.
Dwight: I'm calling you all to be different, to be these various expressions of God's grace and God's goodness. I think walking in that was so freeing for me knowing that I didn't have to be the next T.D. Jakes or the next Bishop Charles Blake. I could just be Dwight Radcliff and that God actually called me and anointed me to do what I do. There was such a freedom in that, freedom for creativity, for expression.
Dwight: It gets me in trouble. It does, but ...
Michaela: There's confidence that comes with that too.
Dwight: There is.
Michaela: [crosstalk 00:20:14]. Yeah.
Dwight: I hope it's not an arrogance or a conceit. It's just a thing that you finally settle into, "Hey, this is exactly who I'm supposed to be and I'm good with that. I can't be Nick, I can't be anyone else." I can only be me and the moment I put down all these models, I'm not saying that I don't look, I look up to many people for their preaching, for their administration, but as far as who I am, I'm always going to be me and that God is okay with that, not me being crazy, but he's okay with anointing and calling me. Imagine that.
Michaela: That's refreshing. Okay. I have one more question on the concretizing call.
Michaela: Is concretizing your call, is it an active or a passive thing? Would you frame it as your responsibility or as God's action?
Dwight: Stealing this language from Dr. Vernon, I think it's a both end. I don't think it's an either or. I think that there's absolutely and I hate to do the whole theological piece, but [crosstalk 00:21:19]
Michaela: Do it, do it.
Dwight: Let's be biblical and theological for a minute. Every instance of a call in scripture is attached to people, place and time, every call. If God calls Jeremiah, he calls him to be a prophet to the nations, to the minor prophets, to the major prophets and even just with the historical books.
Dwight: When you see Saul being called out, David being called, when you see people being called out, there was always an attachment of people, place and time. It goes with it. The important thing is that those people have to go through a process or a journey of discovering what God has already placed upon them.
Dwight: For me, when I use concretizing my call, what I'm saying is really spending the time sitting down, unplugging from going through discernment and processes and assessments and all that and really spending time to ask God who have you called me to, what are the places that you've called me to, who are the people, what do they look like.
Dwight: It is absolutely in the act of God if something that I believe God has already placed on us, but there's a responsibility, an obligation as called people to discover what that is.
Michaela: It's helpful.
Nick: You've gotten into a little bit the birth of your church. A question I'm always really interested in investigating with friends is how did you go from nothing to something? There didn't used to be, the church that you know pastor [crosstalk 00:22:45] and now this church exists.
Nick: Those first stages, would you tell us like maybe of something you did well in that stage and something that was just a terrible disaster? I would love to hear both sides of that.
Dwight: Here's the disaster. The disaster is easy. Do not believe people who say when you start your church, I'm going to be with you. I don't know if I can say this on the podcast, but they're liars. If I had five bucks for every person that ever said, "Hey, I'm going to come in your church. I'm going to be a member of your church as soon as you start your church." If I had five bucks for them, I could take us all on a roundtrip airfare including.
Dwight: Just don't depend on that. If you plant a church, it needs to be because you have honestly discerned that that is God's direction for you. Don't do it because some groups said, "Hey, you scored high on this test." Don't do it because hey, somebody said, "Hey, I've got $30,000. I want to give you for three years." Go find something else to do.
Dwight: If you're going to do it, do it because you've completely discerned this is the direction God has for you. Something that we did well. Even in our early years with all the other catastrophes, I think I did a really good job of rallying the people I did have of speaking into their life, of spending time with them. I didn't have the language, this was before seminary, I didn't have language of discipleship, but it was really hands on discipleship.
Nick: How many people were with you?
Dwight: There was my wife, my two kids, unfortunately I feel sorry for them, my mother, my mother-in-law and then my brother-in-law and sister-in-law joined us as well and then there were maybe out, maybe five other people.
Nick: You function as a pastor to them in terms of ... How did the ...
Nick: It was always difficult for me in working with people who are very close to me [crosstalk 00:24:45].
Nick: How did that work with family that was with you?
Dwight: It was a ...
Nick: You're pastor and son.
Dwight: It was a headache.
Nick: How does that work?
Dwight: It was an absolute headache. I can say this, they all know we've talked about this and I love them dearly, but imagine this for a moment. Okay? I have not completely concretized my call, but I understand that I want the message center to be something, right? There was this vision that I want this place to be something.
Dwight: Now, the problem is that my mother comes out of her very baptist tradition. My mother-in-law comes out of a very Church of God in Christ tradition. My brother-in-law comes out of a very lutheran tradition. My wife, even though she's fourth or fifth generation Church of God in Christ, she'll tell you she didn't really get saved until she was in her 20's.
Dwight: She's got this whole she went to college, she played. She's got this whole anti-COGIC experience, anti-Pentecostal experience. I've got all of these people that I'm trying to now tell them, "Well, I'm glad you all bring this stuff to the table, but this is what we're trying to do." There were just story after story of I'd say, "Hey, let's paint this room purple and I'd come back and the room would ... One wall would be blue, one wall would be yellow." I'm like, "Well, what would happen to purple?" "Oh, you didn't really purple?" or "This is my best shade of purple."
Dwight: There is that headache of just working with people who have different expectations. It wasn't a ... It's not like they meant wrong. It's just when you say purple, this was what purple has meant to them. Really having the time to lay the groundwork of creating something new and really having to talk people through this is what I mean, I tell church planters that it's like having ... If you were a mother or father and you've got a brand new baby, my wife had ... Our first child was an emergency C-section. Our doctor was so excellent because we didn't know how bad it was.
Dwight: It was bad. Our daughter's heart rate has started dropping. You see the stuff in the monitor, but you don't really get it. He comes in, Dr. Saul, and he just does a loving little tap because my wife wants to have natural ... Okay, "We're going to go ahead and take you guys in now. We're going to go ahead into the C-section." My wife's like, "No." He's like, "No. We're going to do it now because we don't want to lose either of you." "Okay. So we're going to go."
Dwight: I'm just like, "What did you just say? I'm freaked out, right?" But my point is that once that child was born especially because of the circumstances, once my daughter was born, I didn't want the nurses coming and take her all the time and I know ... I don't know if you guys have had this ... The way hospitals are now, the nurses will, "Oh, we'll come take the baby." or "We'll feed the baby." I want that baby to be as close to me or her mom as possible.
Dwight: I want her to know my heartbeat. I want her to know my voice, not that she hasn't in the womb, but ... It's the same thing with the church. You've got to hold that thing so close to you like a child that it gets your heartbeat, that it understands your voice and knows your voice and then to be biblical and theological. My sheep know my voice.
Dwight: You just as a church planter have to be really careful with how you speak into the people who are with you and how do you express vision.
Nick: The different preconceived notions of different people coming together to form a church in that process from going from nothing to something is always tremendously difficult. You story is no different in that. How have those relationships rolled out over time now as you're 12 years in? Were you able to negotiate keeping everyone together as family both biological family and the ecclesial family?
Dwight: Absolutely. 12 years later, we've had a couple that people had moved on for, but none of it has been horrible.
Dwight: Especially for the core. It's been something else.
Nick: This is something to celebrate. We should talk about this because ... How many narratives have you heard along the way? We started this church with 10 people and of those people, nine are now gone and want nothing to do with this church, right?
Nick: Those are heartbreaking. I don't think we have to be that way. What's separated your experience from maybe some other ways that people have start churches?
Dwight: Yeah, yeah, I'd say like with the original maybe 15 people that we had. Of that original 15, unfortunately, we had a funeral very early on. We lost a member, older gentleman, but his daughter is still a member of our church. She was very a part of our church very early on. We did have a couple of people that left probably under bad circumstances from that original group.
Dwight: Then one, my brother-in-law is now ... He's going through the process with lutheran church to pastor and my sister-in-law goes back and forth between his church and our church. We haven't had ... As far as from the core group, we haven't had a lot of drama and a lot of horrible stories. Now, in the 12 year history of the church, yeah, we've got some more, but I think one of the things that was different for us was again we were doing discipleship.
Dwight: We were doing life with our people. It wasn't hey, come on Sunday, help us pack up the truck instead of church and then that's it. No. We were at kid's graduations. We were at every birthday party. Just as a group, if something happened to one if one person was unemployed, we were all trying to help out and we were literally just doing life together.
Dwight: That to me is what was ... It superseded the message center. It's superseded the church. It's superseded everything else. We made ourselves integral parts of each other's lives. Sam and Thom Rainer have a book. It's been a while now called Essential Church?
Dwight: One of the things that they do is they're pushing against this myth that in order to have a thriving church, it has to be contemporary or it has to be this. What they're saying is that they found thriving churches in all different types of denominations and expressions. They had some very traditional and very liturgical churches that were thriving ministries.
Dwight: What they discovered was that what made churches thrive was whether or not the churches were actually an essential part of the lives of the people that attended. Again, it didn't have that language then, but that's what we were doing. We were invested and vested. Both of those terms, we were invested and vested in the lives of the people that we were worshiping with. It was more than just, "Hey, let's do church. We were doing life together."
Michaela: It's interesting too because as a white person in LA, I grew up in the mid west where it's like, there's like white people everywhere which is great, but spending the last decade in LA, I'm very aware of all of the moments of both interracial engagement and intercultural engagement. I'm wondering if you can talk about how those things play out in your church and just give us some advice.
Dwight: Absolutely. In our beginning, I think that we were basically a black Pentecostal church and I don't say that disparagingly at all. I have no problem with the wonderful history and contribution that the black church has made to Christianity in this country and in the world, but that's what we were.
Dwight: Now, we've since left our denomination. We are not denominational church. I still believe that we are a ... I call us a neo Pentecostal church, but the whole issue of us being a black Pentecostal church in LA was interesting. We've morphed and I don't know, transformed into something more than that and I don't mean more as in it's better or worse, but we've transformed into something different.
Dwight: I had someone attend our church a few years back and they said, "Oh great. You have a black church." I wasn't offended by it at all. I'm like, "Well, majority of us are black." and I was preaching a sermon about how we have to invite people to the table.
Dwight: I used a couple of our people in the church who were obviously not black. We have a Latino sister and I was like, I mean when you look at her you know she's not black. As I was doing this demonstration like in the middle of my sermon, somebody was like, "Well, don't forget about me." Somebody was like, "Don't forget about me."
Dwight: I began to sit and talk to our people, our members of our church and really reflect on what was happening. What happened in our church is we may not look multiracial, but we're absolutely multicultural and here's the problem with LA. With LA, everything is race. If you look black, if you look white, if you look hispanic, if you look latino, latina, if you look arabic so everything is race.
Dwight: That allows us to easily say this church is this thing. That's a white church, that's a black church, that's a hispanic church, that's an asian church and we of course ... The term asian is hilarious.
Dwight: What do you mean by ... But we do that with race. Our church is very multicultural. As I started talking to families in our church, I found out that we've got and these are just the ones I know off the top of my head. We have first and second generation Jamaican, we have first and second generation Belizean, we have first and second generation Panamanian, we have first and second generation Mexican, we have a Vietnamese sister that's part of our church.
Dwight: We have Dominican. We have Afro-Caribbean influence of our church and then we have people who are just Black or whatever. We have Guatemalan. I know I'm forgetting someone. I actually went through and we had all the flags of the nationalities that will represent our church, placed in our church to remind us that we're multicultural.
Dwight: I say that because as a pastor, pastoring Americans is different than pastoring immigrants. Pastoring first and second generation immigrants is much different than pastoring "American citizens who have been here for three to four to five, seven generations."
Dwight: When you say Black, I can't trace my immediate family outside of America. I am very much Americanized in my way of thinking, good, bad or indifferent, but my family, I've got a mother in our church who was born in Panama. Her way of thinking although she's lived in the U.S for most of her life, she still has remnant of a different way of life.
Dwight: Her children who are half Black and half Panamanian, they have different remnants. Our people who are, especially Jamaican, there's a whole lot of different stuff going on there and my Belizean families, especially when one of them gets called to ministry as a woman from a traditional Jamaican or Belizean context, yeah, you don't do that.
Michaela: Go back to no paradigms, no language.
Dwight: Once I saw that, it really began to change my mindset and said, "How do I pastor this congregation because it's no longer just this monolithic Black experience." Let me even say that, the Black experience itself is not monolithic.
Dwight: As we have portrayed it to be monolithic, our church is not that. Our church is very diverse and we're not even going to get into socioeconomics, we're not even going to get into generation. Our church is very intergenerational. Our church is very diverse socioeconomically. Our church is very diverse educationally. We've got people who have barely made it out of high school. We've got people who have trade certificates and we've got advanced degrees.
Dwight: The diversity there within issues of race and culture are so vast that I think that sometimes we're so focused on having an intercultural, a multicultural, multiracial church. What we really mean is we want black and white people in the same church and then we've got to broaden our definitions.
Michaela: I want to ask then, what does that mean? Bing able, having all these from people with all these different stories, al these different cultures, some with different races, what does that mean for your role as a pastor especially when you're doing embodied discipled life with people?
Dwight: Just being me, I'm always probably brutally honest. It'd be so much easier if I just preached to a whole bunch of people who looked like me, who sounded like me, who have my same experiences, but that's not my reality and I actually love the challenge for Mother's Day because our church is so diverse, I had to do about maybe a 10 minute introduction to my Mother's Day sermon because I had to make sure that I wasn't making one story and one narrative of motherhood normative for everyone.
Dwight: In that church service that morning for Mother's Day, I've got to address that there are women here who have had abortions, there are women here who've had miscarriages, there are women here who their experience of motherhood has been a single parent, there are those who have had their narrative of motherhood was rape or incest, their narrative of a motherhood may have been within or outside of marriage.
Dwight: The moment we begin to make one narrative of motherhood normative, it begins to make everyone else's experience alien, foreign or strange and that's the hard work that I have to do as a pastor of this type of congregation is making sure that we debunk any one single normative narrative. Now, that's not to say that the gospel is not in a single narrative that ties us all.
Dwight: When we're talking about our lived experience, we've got to make sure that we don't lift up one narrative as normative. Even for me who as someone who is by the grace of God, my wife and I got married, all of our children were born in our marriage and none of us have children outside of our marriage.
Dwight: Even when I talk about how our relationship and our marriage, I've got several blended families in our church. I make sure I could probably do better. I'm sure, but I try to make sure not to make my narrative normative for everyone because I think it begins to alienate people. You've got to do the same thing with national status and all that.
Nick: As we're working with people who start new churches, very few people are talking about one to prioritize like the old homogenous unit principle, right?
Nick: That's all been deconstructed.
Nick: Thanks be to God. People understand the eschatological importance of prioritizing inter ethnic, inter cultural ecclesial spheres.
Nick: For the people that are listening that have the same priority, what's like a thing or two, a framework to you might give them for starting an inter cultural church? You just talked about doing good work of setting narratives, of qualifying narratives, what else would you add to that?
Dwight: I think if I can footnote, I want to make sure that I'd go on record with us saying that I think there is space in place for certain types of homogeneous churches.
Dwight: I have a friend who pastors a Hungarian Reformed Church and if you are a Hungarian immigrant, being able to be in a space like that, there's a certain amount of safety in health that comes with that, but I agree that nobody is setting out to plant. I just want to reach these people.
Dwight: What advice would I give someone that's starting out that wants to plant under that model? First and foremost is you have to be true to yourself. If you don't have those experiences, if you are a white guy from Kansas or a black lady from Chicago and all you know is your little enclave, your little circle, you're not going to be able to effectively disciple.
Dwight: Again, if my two bits of coin on the table are really for the church planter is really doing life with people. You're not equipped to do life with somebody that's outside of your context if you've never been outside of your context. First and foremost is you've got to step outside of your context and make sure that you're ready to speak to more than just who you are, but then secondly, I think it's profoundly important that we recapture the diversity of the biblical narratives.
Dwight: I think that we have ... I think that whiteness has had a major role in how the narratives of scripture of played so as an African-American, I have to recapture that Jesus is a minority after we capture that Jesus is an immigrant and a refugee if you look at his life, after we've capture that narrative, right, and then try to do the work of inviting others into seeing themselves in the scripture.
Dwight: My advice would be number one, making sure that you're someone who's at least well rounded enough to be able to do life with people from different walks and different context and then understanding that you've got to have a multiple ... ability to have a multiple different lenses when you look at text and scripture because what we do is and I hope you can see the duality of my approach here that if you're equipped to do life with them, that's great, but if you're still preaching Scandinavian Jesus, then you're undoing the ... You're damaging the help that you're doing or if you preach this wonderful multicultural gospel, but you have no friend or reference to live it out and you're still undoing so I think it's got to be this piece where you're walking with them and then even the narratives and the stories that you're seeing in scripture are embracing what you're living out. No, I think that was pretty good.
Nick: Oh, you should write that one down.
Dwight: I'm serious like yeah.
Michaela: I actually think you should write that down.
Dwight: No, I'm not going to figure that one. No, that's like, yeah, I feel a sermon service coming.
Michaela: I love that. It's like resist ... Have you ever seen the TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?
Michaela: Yeah. I kept thinking about like danger of a single story.
Dwight: I saw her on Instagram.
Michaela: She's awesome.
Dwight: Isn't she awesome? Yeah.
Michaela: Yeah, she's awesome.
Dwight: But yeah, you're right.
Michaela: Yeah. Just that resisting unhelpful normative narratives doing embodied life with people.
Michaela: Being able to articulate the, honestly the true person of Jesus Christ.
Michaela: I'm like that's ...
Dwight: Imagine that.
Michaela: Yeah. Imagine that. I'm like it's just kind of speaking honestly. Yeah. That's just helpful just to ...
Nick: As you're working with lots of people who are starting churches, what are some ways that you're supporting them? How can people connect with you if they're interested in starting churches? Is that even helpful for you?
Michaela: You're like, "Don't email me."
Nick: What's your hourly rate?
Dwight: Oh God. You'll edit this as you see fit. Here's the thing. I am in my dissertation phase of my PhD program at Fuller. If all goes well, I'll be graduating in May if all goes well. My oldest daughter is a ... She's now officially a sophomore at Loyola Marymount.
Dwight: Yes, she finished her first semester. My youngest is a sophomore in high school and I actually enjoy spending time with my wife like I actually ... We enjoy each other. Speaking of which, shout out to my wonderful chocolate. We are celebrating 20 years in August and so we're renewing our vows in August depending on when this airs.
Dwight: Yeah, don't call me. How do I go about? I'll be honest with you. People have reached out to me and again, it's been mostly because people who are sharing some of the ... They know who I am. They know what the story that I have. They've shared these experiences, but aside from this stretch in my life right now, am I open to mentoring people and talking? Absolutely.
Dwight: I've no problem taking somebody or somebody taking me to a cup of coffee and just talk through some preliminaries, but long-term, relationship long-term mentoring not to sound super deep, it's really just got to be do we vibe well. I've got about five or six people right now who I'm actually actively mentoring and involved in their decision-making and what they do.
Dwight: It's tedious, it's tedious and I know as a human being, there's only so much space I have for those types of relationships, but I thank God for this podcast, some of the other programs that are going on in and around our city that open people up to just here. For me, I didn't have a one-on-one mentor.
Dwight: I literally gleaned from people as I was attending different things. I don't think you always necessarily got to get right up under that one person, but you definitely do need to have people around you. Scripture says there's safety in a multitude of councilors. You've got to make sure that you have people around that you can bounce ideas off.
Dwight: If you want to reach me, follow me on social media @pastorrad, P-A-S-T-O-R R-A-D, I'm on Instagram, Twitter, even Facebook. [crosstalk 00:46:20]
Michaela: Doing it right now.
Dwight: [crosstalk 00:46:20] on Myspace. I think I got rid of Myspace. I don't know. My daughter probably clowned me, but yeah, I have no problem with somebody that wants to reach out for just maybe advice or, "Hey, what do you think about something?"
Dwight: I'm open to all of that, but-long term relationship really has to be about is there a connection? Is there a vibe? Do I feel like I have anything of worth to even offer you? I have no problem telling somebody, "Hey, you need to go talk to Nick."
Nick: How might people also connect with your church?
Dwight: Oh my God, please. Come by and visit us anytime Sundays 9:00 a.m. We are located at 555 West Redondo Beach Boulevard in the city of Gardena. If you're familiar with the LA area, we are right off of the 110 Freeway at Redondo Beach Boulevard, Sundays at 9:00 a.m. mcwchurch.com or again, follow me on social media.
Nick: A last minute tip perhaps.
Michaela: [crosstalk 00:47:16] people in LA?
Nick: People in LA who are discerning, "I might start a church, God might be calling me, God might be calling us." If they're a part of a group to start a church.
Dwight: I think one of the big issues right now is real estate. Planting a church in LA is a hassle and a headache because there are so many different cities and municipalities. If you don't know the city and the municipality that you're working with, your life can become a headache.
Dwight: I know a church in Gardena that's in the city of Gardena Proper that was literally had to move out of their space because they didn't go through the proper channels. When we were looking at the city of Long Beach, I think the permit application fee for a conditional use permit was about $4,500.
Dwight: For the application fee which doesn't guarantee ... It doesn't guarantee you'd get anything and right now, with our economy, I know that people are saying the economy is great, but when you look at it from a real estate perspective, you drive up and down any street, you see for lease signs everywhere.
Dwight: Knowing your cities, knowing where you want to be, knowing what cities are good to work with, what cities are not good to work with is really, really important. Then if you're going to be planting, just being open to alternate types of spaces. Movie theaters, schools, coffee [crosstalk 00:48:33] cafetorium, yeah, yeah.
Dwight: Just being able ... Just being open to that and being open to being helped, I recently was asked to be a part of a committee for a church plant and they were moving much faster than myself and a couple of other board members thought were healthy.
Dwight: We pulled out just because we didn't feel like ... We feel like they've gathered us together more for show than actual counsel. If you've got people in your life, here's my tidbit. If you've got people in your life, my language is, there are certain people that have a seat in my life. If you have a seat in my life, it means I don't ignore your phone calls, I don't ignore your text messages.
Dwight: If you call me, I have to answer and whatever you say I have to listen to. I don't have a lot of those people, but there are a few people that have a seat in my life. It means that even if they disagree with me with what I'm doing, I have to sit down and try to explain what it is that I'm doing.
Dwight: If I can't sit down and have an adult conversation with why I'm doing something that you disagree with and you have a seat in my life, then I can't do it. Yeah. I guess that's all, all my plethora.
Michaela: It is a common theme actually for everybody that we've talked to is like taking really, really seriously like the wisdom and advice of a core group of people around you.
Dwight: You have to. I think it's American Church though. We're so used to individualize Christianity that we feel like, "Oh, well, God is calling me. God is talking to me." This is probably really hilarious, but a buddy of mine was trying to help somebody find a job, a young lady trying to help find a job and she said that the Lord told her she didn't have to work.
Dwight: He said, "Well, what about the scripture that says if a man doesn't work, he doesn't eat?" She said, "Yeah, well that says a man."
Michaela: Yeah. I think I like her already.
Dwight: This person is such that this person the way they are is like they don't have, they feel like I can do my faith and journey on my own and I don't need a community of people and I can't stress enough the importance of just having safe spaces and community.
Michaela: It's a good word.
Nick: A lot of good place to wrap up. Pastor Dwight, thank you.
Dwight: Thank you guys [crosstalk 00:50:49]
Michaela: Thank you so much.
Nick: We appreciate all your wisdom, all the narratives.
Dwight: For what it's worth.
Nick: It's good. Again ...
Michaela: It was fun.
Nick: Again, follow up with Pastor Rad if you'd like, would you repeat that info one more time [crosstalk 00:51:00]
Dwight: Absolutely. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @pastorrad, P-A-S-T-O-R R-A-D, @pastorrad.
Nick: Many thanks to our producer Jennifer Kent who keeps us on track.
Nick: Who keeps this podcast and trucking along. Many thanks to Fuller Seminary for the partnership and making this happen and again, many thanks to the Our Time group who is hosting us in their office space today for this podcast. We hope you'll join us again soon. We'll see you in the next episode. Bye bye.