A Brief Review
In the previous post, we discussed our racial diversity from several angles. One, we were encouraged to be grateful for what we do have, although we need to become more understanding of what we do not yet have and work to improve. Primarily, we need to look more closely at the overall combination of cultures in our local church and use discussion groups representing this combination to figure out how to improve our relationships (not saying that they are bad, but they do need improving). From there, we need to figure out what church services, activities and relationships would best represent our composition.
Then we talked about having a racial balance that represented the population of the city or town where our congregation is located. Although this consideration can be taken in a personal way and become offensive (as some might say, “We are becoming too white,” or, “We are becoming too black”), this possibility cannot allow us to avoid the subject nor to address its solutions when needed.
Those potentially offensive phrases are most often aimed at cultural and behavioral issues, but I am addressing only percentages of our membership composition in comparison to the population of our city. However, while we work toward attaining that balance, whichever group is dominant, they need to make concerted efforts to be open, accepting, and celebratory of all groups.
Obtaining and Maintaining a Leadership Balance
This issue has been the proverbial elephant in the living room for years. As noted in the previous post, our movement of churches had its start in a primarily white setting. After our conversions became much more racially diverse, the church culture didn’t change much (although black singers helped our song services improve considerably). We remained in many ways, “white church.” This was certainly true when it came to leadership of all types within the church.
We have to be careful not to make this an issue primarily centered on the concept of “representation.” If we succumb to that temptation, we can appoint leaders prematurely, which hurts both them and the church. Leaders must have two things going for them, both God-given. One, a gift of leadership that is commensurate with the role of leadership they are being considered for or are stepping into. Two, they must be spiritual. Leaders must have a good base of both of these qualities, although they can keep growing in them as they lead. Appointing someone to a leadership role solely on the basis of color, without those accompanying two qualities, is a mistake we cannot afford to make.
Training is Imperative
When we discussed how to get a racial balance in our church that represents our community makeup, the solution was simple to describe (although perhaps not as easy to put into practice). The same is true of how we develop a racial balance in our leadership, both on the ministry staff and in non-staff leadership roles. In whatever ways we are out of balance, our more mature leaders must address this by first identifying those with spiritual leadership potential and then start training them. Training can follow several avenues, both formal and informal, but the informal is essential and often, the most effective.
Last year, I wrote a book about my own spiritual journey entitled My Three Lives. The journey that led to my becoming a minister was more than surprising; it was shocking. In the church we attended as a young married couple, the “Young Marrieds Class” was fairly large for the size of the overall church membership. I felt like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. In other words, I felt out of place ─ incredibly so. Not only was I still quite worldly (smoking, drinking, cursing), I knew very little Bible. Plus, I was extremely fearful in public settings. If you have never read my book, The Victory of Surrender, it would be worth the read just to see how fearful I really was. Any idea back then that I would end up preaching before an audience would have seemed absolutely ludicrous.
Given that background of mine, compared to the large numbers of more knowledgeable, spiritually minded, confident young men in the class, why would any leader choose me to train? That’s a very good question and I have no idea what the answer was, for the preacher who came after me is now deceased. He started his quest to train me by asking me to take him fishing in my boat, somehow knowing that I had a boat and knew how to catch fish. I didn’t know him well enough to have carried on a conversation with him long enough to tell him such things. But he somehow knew, and he came after me. I was not pleased with the pursuit, to put it mildly, but he paid no attention to my attitudes and invited himself along. The end of the story was shockingly phenomenal, to me at least, and shocking to my friends and family who knew the worldly Gordon.
Have Enough Faith For Two
Why do I mention my story? Obviously to build our faith that people can be raised up to leadership far beyond where their own faith is in the beginning. I had no desire to be a “churchy” leader of any type, and thus faith on my part in becoming such was totally absent from the equation. What mattered is that the leader who sought me out had enough faith to totally overcome my absence of both desire and of faith. We have young men and women of all colors and backgrounds in our churches who can become leaders ─ if we believe it and act on that belief. People who believe in themselves scare me; people who don’t believe in themselves are like kindling wood just awaiting a match to light their flame. As leaders, we are that match.
How did Jesus choose that motley group of disciples? He started off by spending enough time with them to really get to know them. He knew their personalities, their potentials, their spiritual ambitions, their weaknesses, and everything else that God in the flesh could know. Then he prayed all night before making his final selection. After that, they were by his side almost constantly for the next three years, being trained for the world’s greatest mission.
By comparison, we leaders are certainly not infinite, so we will never know everything about someone, and we likely will make some wrong choices about who should become leaders. But, if we spend enough time with them and pray enough, we will be right far more often than wrong. God will lead and bless us to lead and bless others through the selection process. While I believe in formal training (of the right type) for ministry, it cannot replace being trained informally by just walking with those whom we are trying to raise up to leadership roles.
No Excuses Allowed
Excuses are easy to make, and among the easiest are quick observations about not having qualified people to raise up as leaders, especially those from the minority group in the church. Until I have spent a lot of time with people in all sorts of settings (maybe in a fishing boat or through other recreational pursuits), I can’t possibly know what their potential is.
Would you have chosen the Twelve that Jesus chose to train and ultimately send out to conquer the world? Me neither. Jesus didn’t see a Cephas; he saw a Peter. Jesus didn’t see a Saul; he saw a Paul. I’m not sure how to put everything down on paper that potential leaders should demonstrate, but I am sure that I do not have to. God is in control, and with desire, common sense, faith and prayer on our parts, he will lead us to those who can be trained as leaders.
I have spent much time through the years with young people of all types, and have seen all types become effective leaders. In time, you become pretty adept at recognizing potential, often seen in the most ordinary ways that demonstrate what is in their hearts. I have worked to develop the balances needed in those filling leadership roles, and God has blessed my desire to see this balance become reality.
I’m blessed now to be a part of a church where we have a pretty good racial mix in our leadership. When I walk into a church service, I want to see all of the diversity possible and dive into that precious fellowship. When I walk into a leader’s meeting of whatever type, I want to see that same diversity and embrace it (and those how comprise it).
Love and Unity Will Change the World!
Jesus said that love and unity were the two things we demonstrate as a group that would draw the world to him (John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-23). Sometimes we believe ourselves to be limited in our ability to work with those who are quite unlike us and to really love them. Remember this: the more we become like God, the more people we can love more deeply.
One of the best gauges of the effectiveness of any leader is found in the variety of types of people he or she can work well with and train effectively. Sometimes we lack faith to believe that we can have real unity in our diversity. Remember this: our past attempts to force unity were artificial and failed; unity must be forged, and that will not fail unless we fail to keep trying.
Our churches should not be “white” churches, and we shouldn’t want them to appear like they are. Nor should we want them to appear like they are black churches, even if the majority of the membership is black. Our goal is to make all types comfortable visiting us and be drawn in by our diversity. And, of course, we want all of our membership to be totally comfortable in our fellowship. That is the primary goal toward which we are striving.
Racial diversity must go far beyond the mix that assembles for worship; it must permeate everything about us, certainly including our leadership. Our blending of cultures is a wonderful thing; let’s allow its wonder be seen! Our next blog will address broader ways to enjoy that in the membership as a whole. Until then…