Reverends Nicole and Jevon Caldwell-Gross believe that God has much more to say, and it could very well be from voices you may not have listened to yet.
Nicole currently serves at Noblesville First UMC, where she is the first female and black lead pastor the church has had. “They have been receptive for two reasons. The theology of the congregation is solid. There were women appointed there before me; they’ve watched a woman lead before. It’s also a credit to the people and their desire for growth. They looked at the profile of the church and my ministry experience. They were willing to do something different to see different results,” Nicole stated.
Jevon is the Pastor of Teaching and Guest Experience at St. Luke’s UMC (Indianapolis), serving in a variety of capacities. His role involves discipleship and preaching. Online ministries are a primary facet of his work, especially in the wake of COVID’s continuing impact on the church.
Jevon and Nicole moved to Indiana in 2018 to be able to (for a time) minister together in one place, moving from New Jersey to Indiana to do outreach and mobilization work at St. Luke’s together. As they served, they created a sermon series around the story of Joseph, revolving around the idea of seeing God’s bigger picture in our lives. The series had such an impact that congregants began telling them that they should write a book about it.
“We are big on community encouragement for where to go in ministry,” said Nicole. So they listened to that voice, followed God’s leading, and began working on a book.
And so, The Big Picture: Seeing God’s Dream for Your Life began to take shape. Jevon noted, “We talked about writing our own curriculum for years back in New Jersey…we had to do so much cultural translation.”
Jevon recalls using curriculum for a new member class. He realized that much of the message was falling on deaf ears. “This was not speaking to the community that I was speaking to,” Jevon said.
Jevon and Nicole purposefully incorporated some subtle cultural references in their book. “I’m a Survivor,” for example, is a reference to Beyonce and Destiny’s Child. It “works” even if someone doesn’t listen to that song or artist. It’s a subtle way of saying, “I see you.”
Nicole and Jevon both expressed that in ministry, it can be difficult to find resources—that aren’t geared towards race or justice—that are written by black voices. Writing their book gave them an opportunity to use their voices in a way that any church could use.
“For many congregations of color, using resources from authors who are white or other ethnic backgrounds is commonplace. It’s not commonplace in white places to seek out non-white voices unless it’s about race or justice,” Jevon noted.
Nicole and Jevon hope this work invites people to dream about what additional voices of authority could influence their theology. Jevon explained further, “Let’s say your congregation buys the book and does the DVD that goes with the curriculum. Our voices and faces are on the screen. The voice of authority is black now instead of white. You can see commonalities in our faith experiences, regardless of background or ethnicity. There are universal truths about who we are as humans. Tapping into that from a different voice is really great.”
You can find The Big Picture: Seeing God’s Dream For Your Life here.
Look at the curriculum you and your church are currently studying, and ask yourself these questions.
- Whose voices are being represented by these works?
- Are they primarily white voices?
- How can you broaden the spectrum of voices you are allowing to speak into your life and your congregation’s life?