Albert Tate: Reconciliation Starts With Empathy—Part 1

In 2012, Albert Tate and his wife LaRosa planted Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California, which is one of the fastest-growing multiethnic churches in the United States. In addition to this, he hosts the Albert Tate Podcast and Good News Today, a live weekday morning devotional show, and serves as teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church.

Tate also is on the board of trustees at Azusa Pacific University, the Museum of the Bible, Harambee Ministries and the Global Leadership Summit. He is author of How We Love Matters: A Call to Practice Relentless Racial Reconciliation (FaithWords). Written as an honest, aching, sometimes humorous, and insightfully provocative series of open letters, this new book calls Christians of all backgrounds to reckon empathetically and honestly with the divisions that have become so painfully visible, particularly divisions of race.

Outreach editor-at-large Paul J. Pastor caught up with Tate to hear about his journey to ministry, some of the key challenges and beauties of multiethnic ministry and why our generation needs Christians committed to going the extra mile more than ever.

Let’s start with your five-minute biography. Where are you today, and what has been your journey in ministry?

This year I celebrate 20 years of marriage and 10 years of pastoring the church my wife and I planted, Fellowship Church. We have two girls and two boys in a wide age range: 15, 13, 10 and 3. There is a lot of prayer and a lot of fun in this household.

I was born and raised in a Christian home in rural Rankin County, Mississippi. I was part of a heritage of ministry. Both my grandfathers spent about 40 years pastoring in rural towns. My mother was a musician at the church where I grew up. My father, a deacon. I preached my first sermon on May 2, 1999. I was 21. So as a young man, I accepted the call to go into ministry.

I began pastoring a small church called Sweet Home Church of Christ Holiness USA in Pelahatchie, Mississippi. On a big day we’d have 14 people. What I say is that we started with about seven and we doubled in size. I was there for about five years. On the biggest days, we’d hit up to 21—I’m talking about my mama, my sisters, my cousins all showing up. When my mama couldn’t come, I was like, “What do you mean you can’t come? You’re the whole praise team, Mama. I need you here.”

“The very act of the incarnation is a grand gesture of empathy. Before he saved us, Christ empathized with us.”

But the Lord opened doors. Bryan Loritts became a mentor of mine. He heavily influenced me and opened my eyes to a much larger world. He took me to South Africa, and while sitting together in Nelson Mandela Square, we began to dream, because I was wrapping up my time in Bible college. I had been pastoring this small church for about five years, and I didn’t know what to do next. Bryan said, “Albert, you should go to seminary.”

That statement was a big deal. I had flunked out of high school and had to get my GED. One of the labels that I carried inside was that I was not smart. That I was not an intellectual. That’s just not my thing, I’d think. So when Bryan said that, it was something that I could never imagine me possibly accomplishing. I couldn’t believe that I was graduating college at that point.

When he said “seminary,” there was another guy sitting at the table, who brought up Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. Bryan replied, “Well, if you go to Fuller, I used to work at Lake Avenue Congregational Church across the street. I could recommend you.”

So the dream that quickly developed over pizza in Johannesburg became a prayer. About six months later, I was accepted to Fuller Seminary and was offered a youth pastor leadership job at Lake Avenue. My wife and I moved to Southern California and served at the historic church for about six years. It was out of the ministry there that the Lord gave the vision to plant a gospel-centered, multiethnic church in Monrovia, California.

You also have had a recent role as teaching pastor with Willow Creek.

After Bill Hybels left, they needed help with that transition. Like so many other leaders, Willow has had such an impact on my leadership. I’ve learned so much from them. And the church is such a giving church. So when they extended the invitation to help with the teaching, I thought it was the least I could do for a church and for a people that had helped so many people.

Regardless of how you feel about Hybels, the actual church, the actual people, the actual folks who served leaders all across the country and the world, I thought they were worthy of me coming and spending time and pouring into them. Yes, leadership made some mistakes, and there was confusion and a big ole mess, but the people of that church are still worthy of love and a healthy diet of the Word of God. You could just boycott and try to cancel everybody because of some mistakes, or you could really see the people on the ground there in Illinois and say, “You know what? This was your church, and you just served, and you deserve to be served in a moment when you need it the most.”

So I jumped at the opportunity. And when Dave [Dummitt] came along as the new senior pastor, he asked if I would stay on and contribute to the teaching team. I look at that role as an honor and a gift. 

Tell me about your early vision for a multiethnic church community. What needs did you see?

In Bible college, I was one of the few pieces of “chocolate” in the room. It felt like nobody was there who looked like me. Having grown up in an all-Black church, it was my first time being in a pretty much all-white Christian setting with brothers and sisters in Christ. I remember seeing the distinct difference in their view and mine, in how they understood their hope and mine.

As I looked at Scripture and saw the oneness of the church, I began to realize that segregation in churches wasn’t just happenstance. I began to realize, Wow, this is intentional, even if subconscious. According to what I just learned, we were supposed to live and work as one body, but I remember receiving a full theological education, intended to be the preparation for my classmates and me to go out and start churches, and nothing in our ministry education had ever said to us, “Come together.” Nothing in our education said, “Let’s do it differently.” Nothing in our education said, “Let’s create a greater, bigger story for the next generation.”

“It’s hard to love one another well in Christ if you don’t know one another well.”

It bummed me out because I was still very mu