One of our desires when we started our church was to reflect our increasingly multicultural world through the beauty of a multicultural church community. We still have many areas to grow and many things to learn in these efforts but we’ve been blessed to experience a growing diversity of cultures represented by the people who are our church. I think diverse leadership has been an essential factor in cultivating these dynamics. However, a collaborative leadership model was not in our DNA when we started the church. This led to some early missteps.
Evaluating a multicultural approach.
Prior to planting our church, my pastoral training was in predominately Korean/Asian American contexts. I continue to recognize the benefits of those experiences, such as a valuing of the communal over the individual. Conveying the significance of a community where people sacrifice for one another came naturally to me.
Yet, as much as communal thinking is valued, another important value in many Asian cultures is a high view of elders who are to be accorded much honor and authority. In many Korean churches, then, the senior pastor position has traditionally been lofty with the pastor’s word authoritative.
So without a conscious recognition of it, my leadership style was very top-down, authority-driven—a hybrid of my cultural background and the strong, charismatic leadership style I observed in most of the Evangelical churches I looked to emulate at the time.
Though we saw some growth and fruit in our early days, we also experienced a lot of organizational brokenness related to this. In God’s mercy, I was led to seek another way lest the church and I implode. That is when a vision for collaborative leadership began to shape our community.
Aside from our church health, I recognized that a shared leadership structure was essential for reaching our city’s diverse communities. It is encouraging to witness an increasing move toward building intentionally multiethnic churches yet in many of these communities the leadership remains culturally homogenous. At the Village Church we became convinced that to truly be a multicultural community, our leadership group would need to be multicultural. We were determined to ask how we might exhibit greater diverse collaboration.
Looking toward the community.
In our early days, we had a difficult time reaching those native to our local Baltimore neighborhood, particularly as many faced challenges such as poverty and addictions. However, in the past few years, this segment of the population has grown as part of our community. This kind of ministry is not without its challenges but it is marvelous to witness once hardened criminals and addicts confessing Christ, getting baptized, and joining the church alongside of clean-cut, well-educated suburban transplants and students.
I’m frequently asked how I led the church to accomplish this and I’m mindful not to take the credit. It’s not an effort to be humble. Rather, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that we began to see a greater number of our local neighbors experience belonging in our church right around the same time that we installed one of our Pastoral Interns, Rob.
Rob was born and bred in our neighborhood and has a very dramatic story of how Jesus redeemed him from a life of drugs, violence, and prison. Part of Rob’s journey included discovering his first church community as he began walking with us. As he grew, Rob was eventually invited to join our leadership team to be trained in urban mission. The result was—for the first time—local neighbors didn’t just see these strangers inviting them to church; they saw one of their own with a very prominent position of leadership in the church.
It would be insulting to our leaders to suggest we select them merely because of the cultural background they represent. We choose potential leaders who show great promise regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic background. However, the reality is we live in a city similar to many around the country—fractured along ethnic and cultural lines.
Sadly this divide is just as prevalent, if not more, in churches. In the midst of this volatile cultural setting, we are firmly convinced that a church community comprised of a diversity of cultures bridging barriers to walk with one another speaks a powerful word of hope. I believe that in our current social climate, the most powerful apologetic for our Christian faith may be the intentional reconciliation among different cultures standing hand in hand as one united people led by a diversity of voices.
Collaboration, not tokenism
As part of this reconciliation, the Church must reject the temptation to resort to easy solutions of tokenism for the sake of the appearance of unity. True reconciliation will require the harder steps of collaboration. It will mean inviting other voices to join yours with equal weight at a shared table of leadership. It may mean that leadership development takes longer than you’re typically used to as candidates for ministry represent many different cultures and factors requiring more time to cultivate. It will mean submitting to another in a learning posture, humbly waiting to be invited to tables different than yours…and to not be the main voice of authority at that table.
Efforts for reconciliation apart from true collaboration can be detrimental. Any person on the outside looking in can tell when attempts at diversity are merely for show. (Ask any minority who has ever been asked to be photographed for church promo literature.) But there is a significant difference when—as an outsider to a church—you see someone who looks like you being given the shared authority to lead, particularly in areas of teaching and preaching. That is empowering, freeing, and unifying. It is the power of multicultural team leadership.
Featured image is a screen grab from the Village promo video.