We need culturally competent leadership in churches now more than ever.
More recently than you’d believe, one of the executive pastors at a church I worked for, walked into a room and said something that shocked me.
We were about to go on the stage to record our worship service for the week (this was during COVID) and were taking a minute as a team to hang out and get ready as the fog machine filled the room and the camera team prepped their equipment.
People in the room had struck up random conversations and for some reason, even though it was almost the end of March, people in the room were talking about Black History Month.
The room got quiet as a member of the band said “we should get rid of black history month. If we just stop talking about race then the problem of racism will go away. There’s only racism because people talk about it.”
To this comment there was a peppering of laughter and agreement across the room.
As the band member made this comment, the executive pastor walked into the room. She entered with an enthusiastic grin on her face, like she’d been waiting years for a moment to voice her opinion on this. Confidently and boldly she made her thoughts known to all of us in the room “OH, we’re talking about black history month? Here’s what I want to know, WHY isn’t there a white history month, huh?”
I was so taken aback by her question that I initially thought she was telling a joke. When she didn’t add on to her question, and when I realized people in the room were nodding in agreement with her, I realized it was necessary to provide an answer.
So I replied “Black history month exists to celebrate and honor black contributions to history that often don’t get celebrated. Most of the history we discuss in schools, in TV, in day to day life, is white history. Black people have historically made significant contributions to this country that have allowed it to flourish, and the month of February is a time where we work to intentionally honor those contributions”.
After saying this, even as people laughed at my answer and jeered amongst themselves, I gave even further context. “As an example, a large part of the TV world is predominately white actors, and the proportion of white lead roles compared to black lead roles, let alone lead roles starring any people of color still have a long way to go.”
In response to my explanation, through a scoff, she said “So you haven’t seen all the movies that Will Smith and Samuel L Jackson have starred in?” As I attempted to answer her questions, the people in the room continued to laugh and chime in their agreement with her points.
To end the discussion, literally right as we were about to walk on to stage because the camera team was ready, the executive pastor said “I love joining conversations like this because no one listens to white people in these conversations anyway- everyone just yells at us”.
Let’s go lead people into worship.
Our senior pastor and as a result, entire executive team, was very vocal about their desire to grow in diversity and become one of the largest multicultural churches in the state.
The unfortunate experience I had, illustrates just how harmful it can be to have uninformed leaders as the heads of multicultural movements. My experience alludes to a larger problem in many of the growing churches in America.
So many churches desire to lead multicultural movements, and yet are simultaneously so ignorant about the cultures of the people they want to lead— let alone the obstacles they face as a result of their cultural background.
Among the leaders that had that unfortunate conversation, none of them could see why it was wrong. This is why it is imperative that church leaders are culturally competent!
It is not enough to say you care about diversity and value multicultural voices.
These statements HAVE to turn into action. It is a leader's personal responsibility to continue to learn.
The diversity and the multicultural voices Churches claim to care about are not responsible for your education! In the 21st century, especially in 2022, we live in the age information. At our fingertips we have access to deep wells of information; Google is free. Libraries are open. Audible has a free trial.
Information has never been more accessible! On average, Americans spend 7 hours and 11 minutes looking at their phones every day.
Learning about the diverse people we lead and the issues, holidays, practices, and obstacles that make up their lives should certainly at least be a part of our day to day phone usage if we’ve decided that our mission is to lead diverse churches.
What we value should become a priority in our lives.
If an individual says they value diversity, what that really means is that: They are committed to creating space for diversity, learning about diversity, and addressing the obstacles that block diversity.
You can’t neutrally value diversity. Action must follow suite.
Diversity without cultural competency is tokenism.
People of color in a church are not models to prove to outsiders that a church body is diverse by putting them in every photo. The people of color attending a church, are sons and daughters of God made in the image of God, with a purpose from God, and a destiny to know God.
They are attending Church, whether they realize this or not, because they need to be shepherded—pastored— into deeper relationship with God. Discipled into looking more like Jesus. Refined into people that represent Christ in every area of their lives. They need to fellowship with other believers and experience the blessing that comes from serving God in healthy community.
We need culturally competent pastors who are learned allies and understand the challenges their diverse congregants face.
A church that values diversity and hopes to attract diversity will hire diversity and utilize diversity in the highest levels of leadership. One is not enough. Representation matters. It may seem innocent, but to the people of color visiting churches, the question IS asked “why does no one that looks like me work here?”.
It’s bigger than meeting a quota or presenting an image.
It’s not about having diverse staff members for the sake of having them.
It is about empowering and elevating the voices, perspectives, gifts, and experiences of people of color in leadership in order to relate to and minister to the multicultural voices these churches have the ability to reach.
It’s time to do away with gestures of tokenism in the name of inclusion.
It is time to actively value the diversity in the Church from the top to bottom.
It is God’s heart to see people from every tribe and every tongue receive salvation. This means it is imperative that churches create space within their staff environments, for the leaders who are culturally equipped to reach diverse people-groups.
It is time for churches to diversify their conference and guest speaker lineups.
When I was a youth student, I had attended church conferences for over 10 years before ever seeing a black pastor as the main speaker. Today there are so many vibrant, dynamic, anointed speakers of color whose ministry would edify any congregation, were they to have the opportunity. It’s time to bring in fresh voices, seasoned voices, voices of color, and voices of women to the events we create.
Cultural competency is no longer an option— it's a necessity!