Formation

The Parable of the White Pastor

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The following is adapted from a forum discussion at Missio Alliance’s Awakenings Gathering 2019. You can access all conference audio here.


A few weeks ago, I was asked to contribute to a panel on “the multicultural future of the Church” (multicultural being an intentionally broadened term, inclusive of multiethnic, multi-gender, multi-socioeconomic, multi-abled community). My immediate reaction was to talk about power.

The majority of conversations I have witnessed and participated in over the past ten years have been about multicultural programming, not multicultural community. True multicultural community is to commune with one another over the long haul—and this will require a significant renewal in the way the church understands power.

The majority of conversations I have witnessed and participated in over the past ten years have been about multicultural programming, not multicultural community. Click To Tweet

Pursuing multiculturalism within the same power assumptions inherited from either the corporate world (Babylon), or inherited from a traditional, homogenous church culture is destined to fall short and disappoint, leaving leaders grasping around in the fog for clean answers to the wrong questions. Tweaked worship gatherings, new hires, new vision statements, and even universally elevated intercultural competency can only go so far without a deep reimagining of the church’s understanding of and relationship to power.

For my panel presentation, instead of diving into a lecture, I wrote a simple parable. This parable has emerged from my own learning journey and the complexity of my own place in leadership serving a multicultural community I adore.

Parable of the White Pastor

A white male pastor approached Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit a multicultural community?”

Jesus said, “Tell me how you’ve been intentional about that so far?”

“I’ve held perfectly to the principles of multiethnic programming. I ensure the hospitality team is exactly 50% men and 50% women and a perfect reflection of the ethnic demographics of our city.  I appointed an African American man to open our services in prayer and a south Asian woman to do the announcements. I created a committee to decide on how to manage our parking, which is chaired by a Mexican American man. I’ve directed our worship team to design a setlist of songs in 4 different languages, and in 4 different cultural music styles, as close to reflecting the demographics of the city as possible. I added the word multiethnic to our vision statement, put the new vision statement on the marquee outside, and put a vinyl sticker about racial reconciliation in the lobby. I hired 3 new leaders of color to support roles on our staff team. All these principles,  I have kept since I graduated seminary.”

Jesus looked at him with compassion and longing, and invited him deeper. “You still lack one thing: divest all of your unjustly inherited and unearned social power, give it away to marginalized people, then come, and follow me. Oh dear white man pastor, you’ve given away representation but you haven’t given away much power, and the little power you have given away is shallow, operational, or first order power.

What about the power to decide internal language—the terms we hold dear and the meaning those terms derive?

What about the power to influence and create core values—values which both envision and codify the life we aspire to live in Christ individually and communally?

What about the power to interpret and define reality for the broader community, to cultivate a common narrative of the present, a narrative we can all find ourselves within, and a common hope for the future?

What about the power to interpret and define history for the broader community, the lessons we mine out from the past and carry with us in the present?

What about the power to determine what is worth celebrating and what is worth mourning, or the power to decide how we celebrate and how we mourn?

What about the power to decide body politic on how decisions are made, who makes them, how both first order and second order power spaces are determined and pursued?

What about the power to imagine and design the built environments we find ourselves in, which continue to shape us in return?

What about the power to listen for, hear, and act on a calling from Jesus to do something new? What about the power to discern the voice of God, break from script, and be trusted as a prophet?

Brother, you wield so much power you don’t even realize you hold. Divest from that power, entrust it to others, and follow me.”

When the white man pastor heard this, he saw the truth and could not disagree, but he walked away sad because he had grown accustomed to a standard of power which he could not imagine giving up.

Jesus looked at him as he walked away and said, “How hard it is for a white man to lead a multicultural community.  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a white man to lead a multicultural community.”

And the white male leaders reading this article on their smartphones inwardly scream, “Who, then, can lead a multicultural community?!  God called me to do this, and I’ve sacrificed a whole lot to pursue this kind of Kingdom community!”

And to that angst Jesus says: What is impossible with man is possible with God.

(…and a few pages later, God indeed does the impossible in the heart of Zacchaeus, which results in radical divestment).

Can a white pastor lead a church to become a multicultural community? What is impossible with man is possible with God...but let's talk about the power you'll need to give up. Click To Tweet

Being White Isn’t a Disqualification, Just a Longer Distance to Run

It’s not that the rich are disqualified from the Kingdom, but that the rich are some of the least qualified because they have a longer distance to run, the most to disentangle from, and the most to lose on the way to the material ethics of the Kingdom.

Similarly, it’s not that white men are disqualified from leading a multicultural community, but we are certainly the least qualified because we have a longer distance to run, the most to disentangle from, and the most to lose on the way to the ethics of power in the Kingdom.

So, it is my conviction—and my hope—that the bright and beautiful future of the church will not only be multicultural, but must also be minority led.

May we white male leaders, at the front door of the Kingdom, divest from our social power and entrust ourselves to the Kingdom power and spiritual authority of leaders on the margins.  And may we trust God to do that which is impossible for us to do—lead the church into her multicultural future.

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