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Two Pastors on Leading by Giftedness and Stewarding Diversity

Kizombo Kalumbula and Artie M. Lindsay Sr. helped found a church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, modeled on leading by giftedness. Gradually Tabernacle Community Church realized that their natural diversity was a gift from God meant to be stewarded during “such a time as this” in American culture.

Kizombo Kalumbula is pastor of community formation at Tabernacle Community Church (TCC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches psychology at Grace Christian University and works as a licensed professional counselor. Artie M. Lindsay Sr. is TCC pastor of spiritual formation. Lindsay also serves as Flourishing Faith Communities director with the Urban Church Leadership Center. In this edited conversation, Kalumbula and Lindsay talk about valuing gifts and diversity in worship and in outward mission. 

Pastor Artie, can you briefly describe your path to ministry?  

AL: I was born in Detroit and raised in a small Baptist church where discipleship was really important. I became a Christ follower at 15. My pastor gave me an opportunity to teach junior high boys in Sunday school. I sensed a call to ministry at age 18, shared that with my pastor, and preached my first message just before I turned 19. The community affirmed my gift after my trial sermon. At the time I was on a full scholarship at the University of Michigan, so my pastor advised me to finish my political science degree there because I would need a degree to attend seminary. 

In 1995 I came to Grand Rapids, worked as the minority affairs director in admissions at what is now Cornerstone University, and started attending what is now Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. I eventually became an assistant pastor at Messiah Baptist Church. I also worked for a coalition of city churches called the Emmanuel Empowerment Corporation. My office was housed at New Hope Baptist Church. I developed a summer youth program for the coalition, which is where I met Kizombo Kalumbula and Marvin Williams. Marvin was New Hope’s associate pastor of youth and education then. 

And your path, Pastor Kizombo? 

KK: I grew up in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo, in Bukavu, which is in South Kivu province, very close to the Rwandan border. My dad is a pastor, and I came to Christ at age 12 at home, led by my parents. My parents moved to Grand Rapids when I was 16 so my dad could attend what is now Grace Christian University. I moved to Grand Rapids at age 19 and planned to return to Congo after studying business and religious education at Grace. But the Rwandan refugee crisis overwhelmed my home city, and I was unable to return. 

After graduation, I worked as a paid discipleship counselor at Mel Trotter Ministries, which works with people battling addictions, hunger, and homelessness. Meanwhile, I attended New Hope Baptist Church and assisted in children’s ministries. I followed the same path that Artie has described of declaring a call and preaching a trial sermon. My call was affirmed when I was 24. 

Why did you decide to start Tabernacle Community Church? 

KK: It was through God’s providence that Artie and Marvin and I met. In 1999, Marvin joined the teaching team at Calvary Church, mentored by Ed Dobson. Marvin was the main preacher at Calvary’s popular Saturday-night services. During that time, we began to dream about what a disciple-making congregation would look like. We prayed and talked together with our pastors and other leaders about how to plant a church rather than splitting away in a way that dishonored the places where we’d worshiped or the men who had mentored us. The idea matured over the next three years. 

AL: We weren’t in a hurry because we were all having kids, growing in our ministries and careers, earning graduate degrees, and waiting patiently to seek God’s timing. In 2001 we announced at Messiah and Calvary that we’d be planting a church with a three-in-one model where we three would share the office of pastor. We did so with the blessing of both Dr. Clifton Rhodes Jr. and Dr. Ed Dobson, who had faithfully poured into us.  

How did the three-in-one model work? 

KK: Baptist churches follow a biblical model of hierarchy, but we chose to be an independent church so we could invite all of Christendom, as taught in the Scriptures. We wanted to avoid denominationalism or tribalism. We were trying to emulate how Scripture says that we are all given good gifts. Marvin had pronounced giftedness in preaching. Artie can preach well and is gifted in administration. I can do some of those things, but I am gifted in mercy ministry and counseling. People who come from a traditional hierarchy often wonder who’s the senior or lead pastor at Tabernacle, but that’s not how we do it. 

AL: When we began, Marvin preached about 50 percent (of the time), and I did about 30 percent. When Marvin left in 2010 to become lead pastor at Trinity Church in Lansing, Michigan, I began preaching half the time. Kizombo and other men share in the rest of preaching now. Those with a gift of preaching include a seminary professor, a pastoral resident, and a local businessman who serves as a TCC elder. 

How does your leading-by-giftedness model work out in practice now? 

KK: Artie still focuses on preaching, teaching, and vision casting. I still lead in fulfilling needs related to care, counseling, and family issues. When families have individual issues, it affects our whole church body. But we are not exclusively bound by these roles. Sometimes Artie counsels people too. 

Have TCC demographics changed since the church was founded?

KK: From the start we were diverse racially, ethnically, and in age, work, and educational levels. Marvin was ministering at Calvary, a mostly white congregation. Grace Christian University was 99 percent white when I went there, and I met my wife at Grace.  

I was worshiping and serving at New Hope Baptist church, and Artie was serving at Messiah Baptist Church, congregations which are mostly Black. TCC didn’t start out by emphasizing diversity. We simply welcomed everyone, and we lived diversity at home and work. Gradually we came to see our diversity as more than just a God-given gift but also a responsibility to be stewarded for the kingdom. 

Can you say more about actively stewarding diversity? 

AL: We had already helped found Alger Garfield Neighbors Collaborative, which is housed at our church. 

But the Michael Brown situation in 2014 helped us realize that our TCC diversity is a gift that comes with responsibility. We began to see that God has placed a call on TCC to influence our city. We are collectively becoming the tsaddaqim who are in pursuit of the multiethnic vision of the kingdom. We gather on Sunday but are scattered throughout the city into various places. Our hope is to help bridge the gap between Sunday and Monday for people and to focus on the work of the church as equipping the church at work. 

KK: To focus on our part in God’s multiethnic kingdom, we redid our vision and mission statements. We see ourselves as becoming the tsaddaqim—a Hebrew word that can be summarized as “those who disadvantage themselves for the advantage of others.” TCC exists ”to make new and better Christ followers who influence the culture and impact the city and the world for the glory of God.” 

Has your call to steward diversity and influence the city changed your worship? 

KK: Has our worship changed? Yes, it has, in that we have different worship leaders. And no, it hasn’t, in that we consistently remain biblical as we bring in new songs, styles, and worship practices. We are interested in valuing the diversity of what we already have. So, we have sung songs and refrains in Igbo, Spanish, and Swahili. We are exploring what it means to be multicultural and multilingual. 

AL: Before COVID we were about 50 percent Black, 45 percent white, and 5 percent Hispanic and other ethnicities. COVID impacted our diversity and in-person attendance. In general, our white families returned to in-person much more quickly than our Black families. We are now starting to see more and more families return to in-person services, while others remain online. We have growing numbers of people from many countries—Brazil, Burma, Cameroon, Chile, Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. 

There’s been a lot of struggle, but now there’s a sense of excitement in becoming more multiethnic and multilingual. Kizombo has prayed in English, French, Lingala, and Swahili. We’ve had prayers spoken in Mandarin. Satrina Reid, our worship director, has brought in resources from many cultural traditions. One time we did the Korean style of prayer where we all pray out loud—all at once. For the most part, people here are open to trying new things. 

Has your preaching changed? 

AL: As we try to bring an outward mission focus into worship, that has affected sermons. There’s more emphasis on what God is calling us to in such a time as this in American culture now. As I prayerfully develop the preaching schedule for the church, members of our teaching team, which includes Satrina Reid, all contribute to helping shape our liturgy in ways that challenge and encourage God’s people to live into what it means to be culture makers and influencers. For example, justice and the integration of faith, work, and economic (FWE) wisdom are two focus areas in our annual preaching diet. We teach to the behaviors we want to see in the lives of people as identified in Scripture.