Justin Jordan, a Black Eagle Scout born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, jokes that, as a child, he was “one of them drug babies. My mom drug me to church.” Whether he wanted to be there or not, every Sunday he was at Sunday school, the first or the 11 o’clock service and serving on the usher board, singing in the choir, or doing the call to worship–in a suit and tie, except for youth Sunday when he got to wear jeans. He was also present for Wednesday Bible study, Saturday meetings, prayer meetings, and lock-ins. His family attended one of the big-name black Baptist churches in Winston-Salem he described as more white-collar and monied, with a lot of lawyer and doctor types. But, he added, it was “dead in the middle of the hood.”
The rubber met the road for him in college. He was playing football at Tennessee State but a lot had gone wrong. His grades weren’t great, he was hurt and wasn’t playing. He felt a growing tension between the inspirational Bible verses he’d written on his shoes, like Philippians 4:13 and Romans 8:28, and his life. He felt his reality was that he couldn’t do all things, and nothing was working together for his good.
Jordan moved to Charlotte in 2009 when he transferred to UNC Charlotte and has been there ever since. It was in Charlotte where he had his real come-to-faith moment. Despite growing up in the church, being baptized, and self-identifying as a Christian, from about 2:00 PM on Sunday until 8:45 AM the Sunday next, he was doing what he wanted to do.
In 2009, he “just kind of did me for a little bit.” That same year, he joined the campus ministry of a local church in Charlotte, Crossway Community Church, called Mission 28 at UNC Charlotte and really got to see and grapple with the Bible and with who God was, with what his sin and Christ’s death and resurrection actually meant, and had his eyes opened. He recalls, “the scales came off my eyes.” From that point on he became increasingly involved with their ministry, eventually serving in student leadership and then official Crossway staff until the spring of 2015.
Crossway, a Sovereign Grace church under the overarching umbrella of C.J. Mahaney, was largely white. He himself made up about 40 percent of the Black population. He was learning a lot of great doctrine and how to apply his faith. He was growing in his ability to express the gospel and share it with others. But at the end of the day, he felt unknown and unknowable there.
He found entering a room and having to perform before others who didn’t look like him exhausting. At Sovereign Grace, most everybody knew Justin by the name “Juice.” “Juice” was the life of the party, a wild card who cussed and kept you on your toes. Now, Justin refuses to go by that name since realizing that “Juice” was as Black as he was allowed to be in that space. It was not the whole of who he was. He confessed, “Justin has anger and Justin is not always fun or smiling. Justin, actually, is often on the verge of blowing up.” But “Juice” didn’t–and couldn’t–ruffle feathers.
He also longed for mentorship on how to be a Black Christian man, something unavailable at Crossway. His campus minister recognized this and introduced him to Charles McKnight, then a pastoral intern at Christ Central. They started chatting about Justin’s seminary ambitions and soon developed a friendship.
After graduation in May 2015, Justin returned to Winston-Salem and resumed helping out with youth ministry at his home church for about a year. However, when life took him back to Charlotte, he did not want to make the drive every Sunday to Winston-Salem for church, so he began looking for a new one with his brother, with whom he’d moved in together.
They hopped around to various places that promised diversity, only to find out they were its sole source. He and his brother made up 60 percent of the Black people at most places they went. They also visited Black churches but a part of him didn’t want to be part of a monolith. Sovereign Grace was fairly homogenous; with a few exceptions, everybody was conservative and everybody home-schooled their kids. Anything that wasn’t Republican or conservative was off-limits. So he returned to his Black church. As he weighed both churches, he grew discouraged over the division and distrust between them.
He remembered Charles attended Christ Central so he decided to check it out. The Sunday he visited was the Sunday that Charles got prayed over to leave for West Charlotte. Justin and his brother had just signed a year lease in Matthews so he knew attending Charles’ church in West Charlotte was not going to work. Besides Charles, he had one other connection at Christ Central so he decided to stay. What kept him was the vibe. While there were some elements of Christ Central that reminded him of Sovereign Grace, much of Christ Central felt familiar. For example, the music and worship were loud and he felt free to dance and get a little rowdy during the service. He explained, “I’m not just out here lifting holy hands. I want to get a little Milly rock out here, you know what I’m saying?” But what really made an impression was the announcement Pastor Howard Brown made at the end of the service: “Hey, guys, this is a diverse church. We really need to be mindful of what we are posting on social media because your political adversary may be sitting right beside you.”
A politically diverse church was new to him. A space where more conversations could happen and where you could look around and see people your age, people older, people younger, parents, singles, Black people, and white people was just what he was looking for. After that first service, he and his brother met separately with Howard who explained more about the PCA. At that time, he didn’t concern himself too much with denominations, “Church is church,” he said.
After becoming a member, the thing that made him feel most at home was a friendly roasting battle with a complete stranger at one of the pastors’ homes during a new members’ meeting. He hadn’t been able to roast anybody without seeming like a bully in the years. But he experienced immediate chemistry and connection.
Having attended Sovereign Grace, Justin knew what it was like to look to his left or right and see white people. What was weird was seeing Black people his age who he could see himself becoming friends with. As an introvert, just adjusting to new people was hard as well. But one white couple in particular helped with the transition by inviting Justin to dinners they hosted for college students. Although they had mistaken him for a college student, he attended anyway. That group helped him ease into that community and provided many things he was looking for from a church.
As time goes by, he’s discovering how unique Christ Central is within the PCA. Although they hold to a lot of PCA traditions, several elements make them distinct. All of their regular preachers are minorities. The big voices in the church were willing to talk and willing to listen. People he didn’t even know would reach out and want to get to know him. Such welcome allowed him to ease into the denomination without much hardship. Christ Central also has an event called First Week, their version of a Wednesday night service that is more teaching and discussion-based.
During the pandemic, a group of about eight or nine other Black Christ Central members around Justin’s age organically formed. One night on a Zoom call, everyone was able to express themselves freely. Processing all of the traumatic current events together with people who were like-minded in their understanding of Jesus and Scripture, in the idea of being made in the image and likeness of God, and being intentional and specific about their God-given culture—was a unique part of the experience as Black folks that gave Justin strength to continue being involved in Christ Central.
When asked if Justin could go to a PCA church that was predominantly white, he answered that he “could,” but explained he is “not in the business of turning down my Blackness for their comfort. It’s gonna be Justin Jordan, live in living color.” But actually choosing to go would require conversations with leadership and the understanding that he could not be “the Black member, the Black encyclopedia for the congregation.”
Justin has now been at Christ Central for about four or five years. He sings on the praise team and is active with youth ministry as well. Summing up his experience there, he explained, “I love the leadership there. I love what we got going on. I’m happy to be a part of it.”