In the past few weeks, our country has been reminded of the reality of racism. As Christian leaders, how should we as the church respond? And what can we do on an individual basis? 

The Reality of Racism & What the Church (and You) Can Do

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While some of us may not be affected by or see racism on a regular basis, the issue was brought to light in a significant way in recent weeks due to the death of George Floyd (among other incidents). As I considered this issue, I knew this was something I wanted to address on this podcast. Yet I knew that I needed to invite someone who has the expertise to speak to this topic.

In this episode, I’m talking with my friend Dr. Shannon Polk. Shannon shares her leadership journey and how she ended up as a lawyer, associate pastor, wife, and mother. Despite being encouraged in her leadership gifts for most of her childhood and young adult years, she still faced doubts about her gifts and leadership ability later in adulthood.

We also dive into the topic of racism and how the church can and should respond. Shannon provides both historical and personal insights into this issue, helping us to understand the origins of some of the practices that still live on today (even if they are no longer policies).

Finally, Shannon and I dive into how we can practically respond as individuals, as well as one caveat we should all be looking out for as we navigate this season. This incredibly powerful conversation is a must-listen for all Christian leaders (not just women), so I encourage you to consider sharing it after you listen.

Key Points Discussed:

  • Shannon’s current life & leadership [4:06]
  • Her leadership journey [7:20]
    • Natural gifting for leadership
    • Encouragement from family and other leaders
  • When Shannon faced doubts about her leadership [16:00]
  • The current events involving racism and the church’s response [28:48]
    • The need to speak up if you see racism happening
    • The importance of listening
    • Shannon’s own experiences
    • The issue of dehumanization 
  • The issue of segregation of our churches & how it started [40:00]
    • Historical background
    • Redlining and how this impacts the segregation
    • Look at the message you are sending to the black community
  • Dealing with the discomfort [50:15]
    • Asking God to search our hearts
    • Examining our own biases
    • The need to change policies and practices
  • The practical ways that we can do better as individuals (even if you’re in a predominantly white area) [59:44]
    • Educate yourself
    • Adopt a listening posture
  • Speaking up vs. doing the inner work [1:05:00]
    • Communication is key
    • Recognize you may not get it right
    • Look at your structures and see if you have people who can help you craft the message
    • Don’t let the fear of saying the wrong thing stop you from saying anything
    • Build the relationships 
  • Caution about the rush to normalcy [1:11:20]
  • Leaders are learners [1:13:45] 


Go where you are celebrated, not where you're tolerated. Dr. Shannon Polk

Key Quotes from the Episode:

Quotes are by Shannon Polk unless otherwise noted.

  • “We are women and there’s a place for us in the body and there’s a place for us outside of the body.”
  • “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.”
  • “If we want to really release women to do all that God has created them to do, we need to let them lead with all of who they are.” 
  • “Imagine living in that tension every day; where the simplest encounter could escalate beyond your wildest imagination.” 
  • “You wouldn’t leave your sex education of your kids up to Netflix, so why would you leave the education of race up to Netflix, up to the media, up to the neighbors next door?” 
  • “We have to ask ourselves: are we willing to be uncomfortable?” 
  • “Are you willing to lock arms with your black brothers and sisters in a way that could inconvenience you, and could possibly even harm you?”
  • “Instagram activism is super easy…. Are you willing to be that person to stand up and say ‘this isn’t right’ if it could cost you your job?”
  • “What Christian authors are you reading that are not white?”
  • “We’re not expecting you to get it right, but we’re expecting you to participate in the journey.”

Links and Resources Mentioned:

Connect with Dr. Shannon Polk:


Shannon Polk, JD, DMin is an associate pastor at Riverside Tabernacle in Flint, Michigan.  She is an attorney and consultant on issues of race, gender, faith, and leadership.

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In this bonus episode, hear from Dr. Shannon Polk about:

  • How she defines leadership
  • Her favorite tool or resource for embracing her gifts
  • A habit or routine that helps Shannon stay healthy
  • Advice she would give to another woman who wants to grow as a leader
  • Bonus fun question!

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Dr. Shannon Polk quote about racism