On the Journey

As I make my way through the corridors of my office, I’m keenly aware of my palpitating heart. It’s time for my first performance review with my boss, and I’m thinking, I’ve given this my all, and I’ve done okay—but what have I missed?

Quick rewind. Earlier in the year, I’d jumped from leading discipleship at a thriving local church to leading discipleship for an entire denomination of churches across North America. And to be honest, it was a steep jump. I started as both the youngest executive and the first person of color to lead discipleship for our movement. So, you better believe that I was giving the job my all. My main motivation, of course, was to glorify God. But if I’m honest, I was also striving to prove that those who took the chance to hire me—young, Black, female me—had made the right choice.

Here I am. Inhale. I knock and my boss ushers me in with his characteristically warm welcome. We take our seats—the senior White male on one side, the junior Black female on the other. I’m eager as usual to make myself acceptable. We engage in small talk. “How is your family?” he inquires. “Have you found a church you like?” It’s not an obligatory exercise. This man was on the search team that chose me, and he was among the first to enthusiastically congratulate me. It’s clear to me that he cares— about me, my family, and my flourishing.

The review begins. I remain calm and on top of my game. He showers me with affirmations. Yet my heart is clenched. Okay—but what have I missed? What else is coming? I finally sense him shifting gears to constructive feedback mode, and I brace myself. Have I not been relational enough as a manager? Have I done enough on the ministry field? Have I made enough progress on such- and-such initiative?

Finally, he ventures, “Michelle, I’ve noticed a pattern. It seems that most White people within our movement appreciate you, yet there are some Black folks who aren’t fans. Why do you think that is?”

What happens next is a blur. My confident facade shatters and, to my horror, I erupt in tears. Now hear me: I don’t cry at work. Nevertheless, that day my tears flow, and flow, and continue to flow as we press through the conversation. I struggle to remain in the present, yet I am undeniably pulled to the past. My scars are aflame. I watch my childhood bullies parade by in quick succession. Punching a hole through the wall of years, they taunt me again in this moment with the refrain that I am an Oreo cookie— Black on the outside, White on the inside, and (I fear) ultimately unacceptable to all sides. Once again, I am that little girl, frightened and ashamed. Will it never stop? Never enough, never enough. I have no home. I am haunted by race. I’m not White, so I’ll certainly never be “White enough” for Whites. And apparently I can’t be “Black enough” for Blacks. So . . . who am I? And what am I supposed to do?

I realize that not everyone will have a dramatic incident like this one that prompts them to ask deeper questions about race. That said, I would argue that our generation has experienced some pretty dramatic events as a society, events that galvanized the most widespread protests in U.S. history. As disciples, we are invited to be like the people of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). And if you do accept that invitation, you might find yourself considering questions like the ones God prompted in me: Who is God calling me to be in this moment? What am I supposed to do? And where do I begin? For disciples of Jesus, the answer to “Where do I begin?” is as simple as it is profound: As disciples of Jesus, we start with Jesus.

For my part, I took my racial challenges to Jesus . . . eventually. Previously, I had—quite frankly—not been taught to engage race as a disciple. My Christian discipleship had been characterized by a color-blind approach rather than a color-courageous one. So I would be taking this journey without a map.

I left for the day shortly after my review, and on the long drive home, I wailed inside my sedan and soaked my steering wheel with tears. It took me a long time to move past my pain and discomfort and enter into the racial challenges before me with a clear head and a learning posture.

Yet God was patient with me. He whispered, “Hey, there, discipleship leader! Remember that at the end of the day, race is a matter of discipleship too.” God was reminding me that the journey of color-courageous discipleship—like any other—starts and ends with Jesus.

If you identify as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I invite you to begin again now with him too. I invite you to ask your king, “What am I missing? How can I grow?” Only Jesus can answer these questions in their fullness. He loves you, and he will show you. Maybe you’ve already started the color-courageous disci- pleship journey. Good. Very good. But don’t stop now. Ask again. Keep on asking. And I guarantee that Jesus will keep on discipling you in new and surprising ways.

As we recommit to Jesus amid our human factions and controversies, I’m reminded of Joshua’s encounter with the “commander of the army of the Lord” prior to the fall of Jericho:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:13–14)

When it comes to race (and everything else for that matter), the ultimate question for a disciple is not “Is Jesus on my side?” The ultimate questions are ones like: “Am I on Jesus’s side? Am I centering my racial discipleship on Jesus Christ? And, in all this, what message does Jesus have for me?”

To be clear, I do not claim to have all the definitive answers to these questions as it concerns your personal discipleship journey. I am still on the journey too. What I do know, though, is that these are the right questions for disciples to ask. So let’s dive in together—starting again with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Excerpted from Color-Courageous Discipleship by Michelle T. Sanchez. Copyright © 2022 by Michelle T. Sanchez. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Used with permission

Michelle Sanchez
Michelle Sanchezhttps://michelletsanchez.com/

Michelle T. Sanchez has served in various discipleship and evangelism leadership roles for more than a decade, most recently as executive minister of make and deepen disciples for the Evangelical Covenant Church. She’s the author of Color-Courageous Discipleship (WaterBrook).