Many Christians in the Western World have confused culturally determined expressions of the Christian faith with the faith itself.”
That quote from analyst Christian Schwarz, leader of the Natural Church Development movement, is all too telling. As our world becomes more diverse, we’ll need to examine our own “culturally determined expressions” of Christianity in light of the gospel.
Much of what we believe in the United States simply doesn’t make sense in other countries, which tells me we haven’t found a spiritual truth, but rather a Western approach to life. One of those areas, I believe, is our approach to leadership, specifically our leadership criteria.
I doubt I have to tell you that your town or city is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse by the day. Below are some ways your church can begin to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of its neighborhood and empower people from diverse walks of life to become the people God created them to be:
1) Diversify your leadership. Look around. Who is on your staff? A bunch of middle-aged white men? If you’re in a culturally diverse neighborhood—and you care about reaching the people in that neighborhood—consider looking for leaders with which your community can identify the next time you fill a staff position.
2) Recruit young. When you put young people into ministry, you plant seeds for your church’s future. The young people in your church already understand cultural diversity. Their schools are culturally and ethnically diverse. Train them as ministers, and they will make a difference.
3) Create opportunities for leadership. Proactively look for and discover the talents and giftings of the people God has placed in your church. Get to know those who aren’t currently serving in ministry. Create, or better yet, empower them to create and lead ministries that match their passion and vision.
4) Tell the story. You know those giant screens in your sanctuary? Use them to share people’s stories. Tell the story of a guy in recovery (make sure he’s in a stable place) or the mom who didn’t think she could make it. Help the people in your congregation get to know each other outside the Sunday morning arm pump.
5) Work together. If cultural diversity has some real kickback in your church, start with the men. Enlist some of your key male leaders to be on a work team with other men from a different socio-economic grouping and ask them to work together for a few months. My experience has been that as groups work side-by-side and get to know each other, unity develops. Check back regularly to ensure cultural differences haven’t become the focus of the group.
6) Connect with the neighborhood. Sometimes the real problem is that your congregation isn’t a good representation of the neighborhood. If the people in your church are commuting and the people of the neighborhood are sleeping in on Sunday, you need to create opportunities for people in the neighborhood to feel welcomed. Find ways to celebrate what makes your neighborhood unique by connecting with the community and discovering their concerns.
God put your church in your location for a reason. He isn’t surprised that the neighborhood has changed; in fact, He wants to help you reach this new, diverse group of people. Leadership in mixed cultural situations can be challenging, but communication and an understanding of the strength that diversity brings will help you create a firm foundation for growth now and in the months and years to come.
Your first step is to take an honest, hard look at the makeup of your church leadership, your congregation and the surrounding neighborhood. Does your leadership reflect the congregation? Is your congregation a fair representative of the community? Take these disparities to prayer and discover God’s starting point for your unique situation.
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor working primarily in urban areas. She has a master’s in Theology from Fuller Seminary and is a contributor to Linked2Leadership.com. Connect with her on her blog Deepimprints.com and on Twitter @KimMartinez.
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