It was just one year ago when I came on as executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. In that time, I’ve hired six new staff members; three new hires are from different ethnic backgrounds than I am, and an additional two are women. Out of the six people I’ve hired, only one is a white male.
Creating a diverse team is something I’ve approached deliberately. I believe it is greatly beneficial to both my staff and the mission Jesus has called us to carry out. As church and organizational leaders, diversity in our teams—and even more so in our leadership—provides the opportunity to transform our churches and ministries. This is not to say it’s easy. When people from different cultures become part of one team, it takes time to learn how to work together. But it’s worth it.
Let me offer three reasons this is the case, and then I will share a couple of challenges you may face as you intentionally seek diversity.
1. Diverse leadership lets us experience more of what we will see in eternity.
In heaven, there will be men and women from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 7:9). Yet, the church on Earth tends to be divided. Too often, we seek to surround ourselves with those who are just like us. This only reinforces the silos that Christ desires to see torn down.
We are all one in Christ. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Sunday morning was the most segregated time of the week. The longer we prolong this segregation, the more we delay the benefits of worshipping with others and working together for God’s glory.
2. Diverse leadership helps us reflect eternity to those outside the church.
The church is supposed to be the visible representation of the invisible kingdom. If it doesn’t have the diversity of leadership that we would expect in a reflection of heaven, then those outside the church will find other places to turn.
Our diversity is an outward expression of our desire to see people from all backgrounds come into our churches. Seeking multicultural leadership is one way to display our commitment to reach our whole world—not only those like us—for Jesus.
3. Diverse leadership requires us to take the time to learn about others.
In learning the distinctions of different cultures, contexts and people, we are able to act like Jesus. We are able to be people of service, people of the towel. Jesus took up a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. In a sense, as we learn from others and their cultures, we humble ourselves—and our culture. We will likely find that we actually appreciate the differences and begin to integrate them into the very fabric of our churches.
Although diversity in leadership provides us with ample opportunities, we’d be naive to think we won’t encounter some challenges, as well. The reality is that if we are going to be a multicultural church, things are going to go more slowly. Homogeneous units tend to grow more quickly because people know each other and they invite their friends.
Your church is more likely to grow slowly as you include diversity in your leadership. You will need to take the time to get to know one another. Some cultures tend to lead more directly, others more indirectly. Some tend to push hard to get things done quickly; others are more thoughtful and contemplative.
Secondly, it can be hard for non-Christians who are not accustomed to crossing social and cultural barriers to find a way to connect quickly. Integrating different cultures into leadership can lead to an amazing representation of the true body of Christ if done well. But if done haphazardly and too quickly, it can create a feeling of chaos, especially for those who are new to the church.
As we pursue diversity in our churches, we must do so strategically and with the big picture in mind. For instance, how does incorporating “X” into our culture benefit us? What challenges will it create? As we grow in diversity, we must do so with our congregations in mind while also remembering those we are trying to reach. They must be a core audience for us.
Developing a leadership team that is racially and ethnically diverse requires hard work. It must not be done for the sake of being done, but with the mission of God in mind. If you’ve got the right people on your team, anything is possible. I encourage you to take the risk. You—and the church you lead—will be better off for it.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.