Rufus Smith: Work for Unity and Justice


No one would argue with the assertion that this has been a year of unprecedented challenge for the church. Outreach magazine wanted to learn directly from leaders on the front lines about how their churches have been innovating, meeting people’s needs and serving as a force for healing.

Here, Rufus Smith, senior pastor of Hope Church (Largest 54) in Memphis, Tennessee, relates his thoughts on the global pandemic, the recent and ongoing racial tensions and how leading the church is changing.

We were contacted by the Church Health Center, which serves the poor and uninsured, to meet critical needs of those who had tested positive and were quarantined for 14 days. We created Operation Delivering Hope, which placed groceries and other supplies on the front porches of those in need, and provided an infrastructure for neighborhood pastors to render spiritual and emotional support. We also organized several pastors in underresourced neighborhoods to film their COVID-19 tests to accentuate the importance for their congregations of color to get tested.

We are in ongoing, robust conversations with activists, the chamber of commerce and faith leaders in Memphis to seriously attack economic injustice. We are one example of how the church of Jesus Christ can leverage its platform, trust and credibility to be the conscience and compassionate arm of the gospel.

Factors contributing to our growth this year—intentionally creating an environment where people of different ethnicities can come together and celebrate their faith and lives. Going the extra mile to make people feel wanted, not just welcomed. Besides regular messaging from the pulpit, we’ve developed programs that get everyone into the same room so that they can talk with each other about their struggles and successes.

I chair an organization called the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, a coalition of 40+ pastors with a covenant to cultivate fellowship across denominational and ethnic lines, for the purpose of bridging trust gaps among senior pastors. In our quest for unity, a serious misunderstanding occurred between two gentlemen of different denominations. It was painful, but the incident serendipitously galvanized the friendship of these two godly men, which has greatly benefited the understanding and effectiveness of their influential churches. A Genesis 50:20 moment for sure: “The Enemy meant to do us harm, but God meant it for good … with many people’s lives being saved.”

I’ve learned afresh and leaned afresh on the assurance of Psalm 75:6–7, “that exaltation is from the Lord, It is he that lifts up one and lowers another.” Therein lies my spiritual self-esteem, which humbly emboldens me to make hard, God-honoring decisions, independent from the applause of men or the fear of people’s retribution.

I believe the multiethnic, intergenerational church is the strongest sustaining vehicle to biblically drive out the entrenched social ills of racial and economic injustice. When a critical percentage of people diverse in age and ethnicity can consistently appreciate and celebrate worship together on the weekend, they can more organically cultivate empathetic relationships and live life together during the weekday. This tandem can resolve a whole lot of problems.

Read more Lessons From 2020 »

Lora Schrock
Lora Schrock

Lora Schrock is editor of Outreach magazine.