Friday, July 13, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Addressing Diversity

At present there is a lot of talk in our culture about diversity. It is a buzz word that is cast around a lot in the news, on social media, and in conversations. It seems if you want your organization or institution to be seen as current and relevant than you should be actively pursuing ‘diversity’. What does that mean and is this something Christian groups and organizations should focus on?

Diversity is defined many ways depending on who you ask to define it. At the most basic level having diversity means having people from an array of backgrounds within your group or organization. It means the leaders and staff do not have the same upbringing. Their backgrounds may differ culturally, religiously, economically, or in other ways. It may also mean your group members have different backgrounds. 

The concept of raising awareness of diversity has been around for some time. As far back as at least the 1980’s work places and schools offered or required classes on cultural sensitivity. We live in a world where people migrate frequently and interacting and working along side someone of a different background is all but guaranteed. This topic often makes people cringe if only because they don’t want to sit through another mind numbing low budget film about the topic. It can also be a generally uncomfortable topic for many reasons. But as Christians it is a topic we must consider because we are tasked with taking the Gospel to a diverse world. 

The first step to addressing this topic is to remember that God’s people are extremely diverse. Jesus emphatically hammered a message of diversity into his proud disciples. His message was not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles. This was a hard lesson for them to learn. But we are now grateful they got the picture. It is also worth pointing out that the 12 disciples were a very diverse group. They all shared a similar cultural background but they came from vastly different economic, political, and religious backgrounds (various sects). 

The next step to understanding this topic is perhaps the hardest. If a person cannot take this step they will make it no farther and may become a barrier to increasing diversity and even to the mission of your group or organization. This step is to develop a sense of cultural humility. This can only be accomplished through prayer and soul searching. It is a long process that usually lasts a lifetime to fully develop. A simple acknowledgement that your personal culture or subculture is not superior to all others in every way is enough to begin with. Once you can admit this you can begin to have a conversation about diversity. 

One caveat is needed here. By admitting our culture/subculture is not necessarily superior to others we do not simultaneously concede the superiority of our doctrine or truth. Culture is a framework of tradition often built around a shared history and sometimes a shared body of truth. Culture is a set of attitudes and behaviors shared by a group. Culture could be seen as how we live out the truth we have. Simply count the numerous cultures that share the core teachings of Christianity and you will see this distinction. So we can discuss the diverse ways in which various cultures live out their beliefs or truths without immediately resorting to attacking and defending those beliefs or truths. 

Once a person can assume an attitude of cultural humility they can be open to discussing cultural differences. Discussion is the next and most important step of increasing diversity. This will inevitably lead to better understanding between all parties. Discussion may show that another culture simply does or sees things differently or perhaps does in fact have a better method of doing or of seeing something. We may also end up discussing points of truth upon which we differ. 

A better understanding of those who differ from us is the ultimate goal of the push for diversity. Improving your understanding of diverse people will aid your group or organization in carrying out its mission. All Christian groups and organizations seek to reach a wider audience with the Gospel. The most logical way to reach people with a different background or culture from your own is to talk with someone who has that background or culture. Bringing someone with that background into your organization or group means they are always present as a reference. And it means your target audience will see someone they can more easily identify with. Most importantly diversity within your group or organization is a reminder that God created diversity and it exists throughout the body of Christ.

We should not seek diversity simply because it is trendy. As Christians we should simply seek to understand more about those around us so that we can serve them better and more easily point them to Jesus. It may or may not be practical for your group or organization to seek to bring people from several different backgrounds on board. There may simply not be room. But you can certainly seek the perspective of diverse people about how you go about operations and fulfilling your mission. Seeking to bring at least one person of a different background can be beneficial because they will likely think about things in a different way and provide valuable insights. At the very least you should seek to be welcoming to a diverse audience. This will likely require some ‘market research’ to determine if the way things are done are off-putting or even offensive to others of a different background. 

You cannot seek to please everyone. But as Paul admonished, we Christians should seek to be all things to all people. It is our duty to nudge every person a little closer to Christ. We will not convert everyone to our brand of Christianity. But we should strive to show that Christ loves every person no matter how different they are from us. A bit of cultural humility and a lot of grace will go a long way toward achieving that goal. We must also remember that we are not perfect people, we are practice people. We are always practicing to be more like Christ. There is always something we can learn from someone no matter how different they are.

Written by David F. Garner