the shape of leadership

Diversity Matters

Coexisting is not enough. God calls us to love one another.

Sarah Jackson on March 5, 2020

It was just after 8 in the morning on September 20. A text from a Chi Alpha alumna glared at me. A highly offensive racial slur and a message telling blacks to “leave” had been spray-painted on a campus building overnight, and it was inciting our university community.

This was 2016, an election year. Division and racial tensions were simmering across the nation. Recent racially charged police shootings had many on edge. Activists everywhere reminded us that “black lives matter,” while others shouted, “All lives matter!”

It was another day to face ugly realities. As a white woman, I don’t experience racism in the same way as my minority friends and family members. But as the wife of a black man and the mother of biracial children, these issues are deeply personal for me.

And as the Chi Alpha campus missionary leader of a diverse group of students at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, my response matters. This incident was highly visible, but smaller ones happen all around me every day that also matter. Sadly, it is often far easier to be reactionary than proactive.

In every space, there is a majority and a minority. In the Early Church, there were majority and minority populations. In our Fellowship, there are majority and minority members. In our ministries, there are majority and minority groups. And with this truth come real challenges. How we respond matters.

We must seek understanding, acknowledge the challenges we face, and proactively work toward resolving them.

Minority challenges when interacting with majority groups include the following:

  • Consistent stress to fit in and meet the majority group’s expectations.
  • Feeling excluded when cultural values are less valuable to the majority culture.
  • Suppression of cultural norms to appease the majority cultural preference.
  • A general sense of not being understood by majority persons.

Majority challenges when interacting with minority groups include the following:

  • Reluctance to let go of tradition and comfort to build relational bridges.
  • Resistance to change because of a lack of value for the change.
  • Struggle to embrace minority culture and values at a heart level.
  • Lack of investment relationally to understand the needs and struggles of minorities.
Scripture calls us to love one another deeply, from the heart.

Such challenges often lead to coexisting rather than interexisting, and staying independent versus interdependent. But as members of the body of Christ, we cannot afford to remain divided. Scripture calls us to love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

In Acts 6, there was a dispute regarding the care of widows, which was a majority/minority issue. In Acts 15, the Council in Jerusalem had to process a majority/minority issue. In each situation, we see the Church taking steps to consider and care for those who were not the majority. This was not a momentary response of appeasement. It was a proactive response that changed the trajectory of the entire Church.

John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus, His Son. Christ perfectly shows us the example of coming into a space that was not like His and yet loving it well.

I’ve taken several missions trips over the years. Each time, I sought a deeper understanding of the people and culture we are going to serve before we even arrived in the country. That has led me to ask myself, Am I taking more time to understand a people group I will serve for one week than I am a minority person who has been in my community for years?

In premarital counseling, we take weeks to help engaged couples get to know each other better. Why? Because we don’t want the marriage to be based merely on feelings but on true understanding of value, vision and calling.

If couples in love misunderstand each other, how much easier is it for neighbors, co-workers and church members to be worlds apart? How often do we interact with a minority person and feel we know them without taking the time to learn more about who they are and what they are all about?

Sadly, we tend to realize our differences only when societal moments draw attention to them. Then, out of a lack of relational investment, we make snap judgments. This ought not be.

The Assemblies of God is a diverse fellowship. Yet there is still much to understand about our diversity. As we continually become more diverse, how can we be sure we aren’t just coexisting?

We are witnessing the rise of the most diverse generation America has known. But do our congregations and church leadership teams reflect this diversity? It’s time to move beyond feeling good about diversity — and become intentional about understanding it.

Diversity matters. You matter. Your response matters.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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