Be careful what you wish for

February 27th, 2017

There are many things a church — particularly a declining church — wants. But they rarely ever think through how things might change if they actually get what they want.

A friend of mine was appointed as pastor to a church that was seeking a young person of color. I assume the church figured they could kill two birds with one stone. A young person would bring in young people and a person of color might bring more diversity.

To say that the church is predominantly Anglo is an understatement, and the church is also in a neighborhood that is predominantly white.

I know that “diversity” is something many of our churches strive for, but to be diverse for the sake of being diverse sometimes brings about more problems than solutions. Besides, it’s one thing to aim for diversity if your surrounding neighborhood is diverse. But if the neighborhood is mostly one ethnicity, I feel that it’s OK for your church to reflect your neighborhood’s makeup.

Like many churches that say they want change, this one wasn't really prepared for change and resisted it. They liked the idea of change but really they wanted everything to stay the same. As open to diversity as this congregation thought it was, it simply wasn't ready for the different kind of worldview that would come from a woman of color in her 30s.

(Here’s something I’ve noticed about some churches that want diversity just for the sake of diversity: They don’t seem to want persons of color to have opinions — or at least to share their opinions if they're different from the majority of the church. It's easy to check off “diversity” from a list of what we feel makes a church grow but not as easy to wrestle with the differing, sometimes even opposing thoughts and ideas that can come with that diversity.)

Everything came to a climax the Sunday after the U.S. presidential election. My friend preached on the legitimate fears that she and her friends were wrestling with in light of the election results. The heart of the message (which I was sent a copy of) was about rising above fear and being compelled by love, even if it goes against our common sense. It was a well written sermon. Unfortunately, all some people heard was an attack on the new president-elect. The most vocal folks were in an uproar. They threatened to fire her and questioned her loyalty: “How dare you speak about my president like that!”

One of the parishioners stormed into her office between services berating her while addressing her as “Girl.”

The church leadership eventually decided not to have her return to the church. It’s such a tragic ending because there was no chance of reconciliation; no chance of conversations and dialogue; no chance of walking things through together; no hope of healing. I’m certain that the grace of God would’ve won out and the outcome could've been different if they'd just been willing to work at it. 

But like many churches, this one wanted change without change.

If we’re OK with the status quo, then let’s live with it; let’s be content. But if we say we want change and diversity, then we must be willing to make room for perspectives and thoughts that may be different from our own.

When we do, it just might fill a hole in our church we didn’t even know was there and we may find ourselves on a path that makes the Kingdom tangible for every nation, tribe, people and language. 

comments powered by Disqus