The Pressing Matter of Diversifying Our Conversations & Leadership
Every year surrounding MLK Day, we have an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come. Yet the day also serves as an annual reminder of how much work there is still to do to reach a place where the beauty and richness of God-created diversity is fully celebrated. (If you missed it, be sure to check out Lesa Engelthaler’s article from last week, “Finding the Strength to Love from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”).
The magnitude of these challenges can overwhelm us so much that it’s hard to even know where to begin. But, regardless of what kind of diversity we’re longing to welcome, I’m finding a strange opportunity in our feelings of powerlessness.
I’ve been part of many conversations with churches and Christian organizations who want to invite more women and minorites. It’s an honorable and spirit-led exploration. Often a staff group or board of predominantly white men have become aware that they lack a diversity of perspectives. Sometimes it includes a deep longing to reflect the multi-faceted nature of the body of Christ.
When I enter a conversation like this, there’s often an earnestness, a willingness to act, perhaps a little anxiety.
The conversation is often lively as various challenges are discussed and solutions proposed. The conversation moves to planning and the delegation of action steps. As the conversation unfolds there’s often a moment where a woman or minority in the room wants to say, “It’s not as simple as just changing your music or website, you know?” So a humble (and slightly weary) man might sigh, “So where do we start? Please tell us what to do to help you feel welcome.”
The question often receives blank stares. Women and minorities can’t always put their finger on why they don’t feel welcome or understood. So at this point in the conversation it often seems we’ll never make progress.Women and minorities can’t always put their finger on why they don’t feel welcome or understood. So at this point in the conversation it often seems we’ll never make progress. Click To Tweet
The teachable men who invite me to join these conversations are eager to hear my opinion, so in my desire to be helpful I’ve usually arrived armed with books and suggestions. But in recent years, I’ve learned one surprisingly powerful and uncomplicated—although not always easy—way forward.
Power & Understanding As Obstacles to Transformation
It sounds a little cliche but my best advice is to pray. “Of course they should pray!” you say. And whenever I give this advice, many of these folks already have prayed. But here’s why I believe in the power of prayer to bring breakthrough in these important moments. When a group of Christian leaders who have been in the majority discover something needs to change, it’s their habit to take the problem into their own hands, to understand and fix it. While the specifics of this problem may be new, in many ways, nothing has really changed in their approach or worldview.
What really brings about change is when this same group can stop their earnest action mode and confess however they are unable to fix it. When folks who are accustomed to understanding begin to acknowledge what they don’t understand, some new perspective is gained. When a group of folks who are used to fixing things can confess the ways they feel unable to fix, new possibilities are revealed. As they lament what they can’t do, they are forced to confront their own limitation, their own need for God. In short, people who are used to power find themselves powerless. And if they stop their problem-solving long enough to face that powerlessness, it is transformative.When a group of folks who are used to fixing things can confess the ways they feel unable to fix, new possibilities are revealed. Click To Tweet
And here’s where something hopeful takes place. These majority folks begin to experience a little of the powerlessness of the very people they’re working so hard to understand. That very same desperation that grows from their inability to understand the marginalized now begins to provide a glimpse of what they long to know. A new kind of understanding breaks in, a new awareness of their need for others and for God, a tender reminder of their humanness. Something about them seems different, maybe something a little broken or fragile (or free?) shows, even when they return to action. And when these majority folks, through this kind of prayer, confront their weakness, they begin to seem a little different when they meet women and minorities who live that experience of weakness every day. Women and minorities may not be able to put their finger on it but something about these majority folks will feel a little more familiar, a little more relatable. And something new might just become possible.
We Need Stories of Breakthrough in Diversity
Have you seen or experienced this in your own context? These would be incredible stories to share with one another as they would help cultivate an imagination for how God’s kingdom breaks forth in our midst!