You don't drift to diversity - A note to fellow pastors.
This article was originally written for the Pastors Resources publication.
As pastors, we are tasked with representing the values and priorities of God‘s kingdom as a local outpost called the church. Those around us should know what God is like and who He cares about by how we live and love and lead.
But as leaders, many times we are also wearing many other hats. CEO, marketing expert, social media strategist, recruiter, hospital visitor, marriage counselor, community leader, and then spend all of the extra time preparing messages that rival the latest Catalyst or ted talk. Easy right?
My fear in writing this article is that I don't want to put extra weight on your back. You are already carrying so much. I don’t want you to read this and feel defeated. I hope that it'll not only encourage you but confirm with the Holy Spirit has already been speaking to your heart. That our churches need to reflect the diversity of Heaven.
We see words like multicultural and multigenerational thrown around church publications, but how accurate are they? Does the diversity in your church reflect the diversity in your local community? If not, why? How could you reach the people God has placed you around? The people He's commissioned you to influence? Often, the church that is multi generational tends to be one ethnicity. So you have your large Korean, Hispanic or Caucasian church. And the multiethnic church can tend to be one generation. All 20 or 30 somethings. It's the rare church that is truly multiethnic and multi generational.
I think there are a lot of reasons and I don't claim to be an expert but I think the most obvious reason is it’s not easy. It's actually really hard to reach people different than us. We tend to drift towards spending time with people like us, allocate resources to help people like us, and feel most comfortable when the crowd looks like us. So as a result, unintentially our staff, leaders, communicators, worship team, greeters, all look like whoever you have in positions of authority. If you're Asian, most likely they are too. If you're white, most likely they are too. If you're African-American, most likely they are too. If you're male, ... well you get the idea.
But if we aren’t careful, we can create a place that unintentionally sends messages to our community that some are not welcome or at minimum, some are not on our radar.
Take my city for example. We are roughly 36% white, 38% Hispanic, and 29% Asian. The hispanic and asian populations are the fastest growing. There came a point recently when we had to honestly ask if our leaders reflect those communities. In other words, do we have leaders in play that understand and can give voice to the unique challenges and nuances to those communities. For the most part, we did. But we also had to make some shifts and those were filled with some uncomfortable conversations.
I am half Japanese and half Korean. I understand what it’s like to be a child of immigrants from Southeast Asia. I know the struggles. I know the inside jokes. I know the food. I know what it's like to be on the other side of racism and stereotypes. I know what it's like to grow up in a Korean Presbyterian church. But I have no idea what it’s like to be Hispanic, white, African-American, or mixed. I don’t know their struggles, challenges, hopes, and inside jokes. I don't know their core fears or what it's like to grow up in a hispanic Catholic Church or a black charismatic church. That’s why I NEED to have strong voices in leadership positions around me to help me understand so I can lead better. I don’t know what the African-American community needs in the wake of atrocities like Charlottesville, but I need to. I don't know the systemic, generational mentalities a hispanic family thinks about when hearing about border walls, I.C.E, DACA and sanctuary cities. But I need to.
But as I talk to pastor friends who lead largely mono-ethnic or mono-generational congregations, they aren't content. Honestly, they just don't know what to do. I think we get caught up processing the next 10 steps and lose the power of just doing the right next step. I don't have all the answers, but here are some potential next steps for you to consider.
1) Look in your city. Look for people who are making a difference reaching people you aren't. For me, I think of people like TJ, a dynamic gay black christian man that grew up homeless who is doing so much for the homeless youth of our area. I love hanging out with him and asking a million questions.
2) Look on your team. Your board, staff, group leaders, and volunteers leaders. Do your leaders reflect the diversity you want to create? If you have a team of all one gender, ethnicity or age bracket, how could you add other voices? People are scanning your leadership page to see if "their people" are represented. Are they?
3) Ask for help. Ask people you trust how you could better understand their community. When racial violence was at a fever pitch, I reached out to several black friends and asked them to send me any videos or articles to better understand.
4) Ask for feedback. Ask those in your church who represent an age or ethnicity you'd like to see more of and ask questions. Lots of questions. Is there anything you do that makes their group feel alienated or offended? Is there anything you could do to better support them?
I know this is hard but so are most things worth doing. If I can help more, please reach out or go to www.voice.church.