Called To Serve And Lead Well With Different Ethnicities
Published by Denise Posie
Discipleship in Redemptive Diversity (DRD) Coach
My desire to serve different ethnicities in affirming, supporting, and celebrating our identity, calling, and giftedness goes back to how my parents raised us to treat all people in our community with respect. They saw people as God’s people, and for that reason, we treated them as someone who was part of our neighborhood. That meant children called adults by their last names prefixed with Mr. or Mrs. Those same neighbors corrected us if necessary or told our parents what we did. We did not hold it against them; we got over it! Our neighbors even had fun with us. We had a few whites, Jews, Jamaicans, and mostly blacks who owned small stores or homes to raise their families. There was a strong sense of community.
My father was a part-time pastor in the Baptist denomination and a bus driver full-time for the Detroit Street Railways, and my mother was a nurse’s aide at a nursing home. They cared about the wellbeing of the racially diverse populations they served on their jobs and the families in our blue-collared neighborhood. I did not understand why my mother’s best friend and her family, one of the few white neighbors at the time, moved to the suburbs in the late 60s. Still, they remained friends by sharing and celebrating milestones in life until her friend died. The neighborhood changed quickly, there were only a few white families, but it was a nurturing place to grow up. They planted seeds of racial diversity way back then – the foundation for service and leadership.
Those seeds produced fruit after I graduated from high school. I held positions in racially diverse workplaces from the administrative offices of the Detroit Public Schools to the laboratories of chemists and physicists from all over the world at the General Motors Research Laboratories, and the halls of information technology at International Business Machines (IBM). Diversity training offered in corporate settings and on-the-job experiences were opportunities to grow in learning to work with people who were not like me. There are weavings of racial diversity throughout my background in significant ways that shaped my life.
In my seminary training at Columbia International University in Columbia, SC, where there is a high population of international students, I experienced God’s favor in interacting on a personal level with many of them. They invited me to gatherings for international students. I attribute this to what my parents taught us as children, to respect all God’s people.
After seminary, I served in a racially diverse congregation in an urban setting. Since I felt in my heart that I would go anywhere in the world for the sake of Jesus Christ, I never thought about moving back to Michigan. I accepted a call to be a pastor at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan in a different culture than my own and part of a denomination with a vision for God’s diverse and unified family. I felt a burning desire to become part of something beyond what man could orchestrate.
God used my 13-year tenure as preparation to serve in the Reformed Leadership Initiative, which is a Reformed Church and Christian Reformed Church DeVos funded collaboration. As co-director, it was my role to assist in creating congregational leadership learning networks in six different locations in Central California; Central Iowa; Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; New Jersey (Koreans); Central California (Latino/a); and New Jersey (Multiethnic). At that time, I did not realize how valuable the experiences during our visits would influence my thoughts, feelings, and behavior in serving ethnic minority leaders in my current role. Here are some of the lessons I learned directly or indirectly. I believe they will help us serve and lead with different ethnicities in affirming, supporting, and celebrating their identity, calling, and giftedness.
1. Make room for other ethnic groups.
Typically, we do not have a natural inclination to give up control, power, and space. We prefer our comfort zones. Admitting the difficulty of this work provides an excellent place to begin practicing humility and incorporating accountability checkpoints. We must allow minorities to be part of creating ways and holding the majority culture accountable for making room for other ethnic leaders.
I believe if our churches, educational institutions, workplaces, and communities would incorporate accountability checkpoints, others will take us more seriously.
2. Take a posture of mutual humility by admitting the challenge of living into God’s vision of racial diversity.
I like this point in light of Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” From the beginning of a working relationship with a minority ethnic leader, there must be an acknowledgment that this is hard work, and we will continue learning together. We are going to make mistakes and offend each other. Why not say this from the get-go? An approach such as this allows for honesty and builds trust, which is much needed.
3. Practice spiritual listening.
It helps individuals from the beginning to understand each other on a deeper level by being fully present. Henri Nouwen says, “Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” Too often, we get in the way because we want to control the conversation. It takes the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts. When we engage in a conversation with someone who practices spiritual listening, it is a warm, accepting feeling.
When others come into a majority environment, they are strangers. They live in two different worlds, maybe three. Spiritual listening makes a person believe they are part of a community that appreciates all people.
4. Acknowledge other learning and leadership styles.
I like when ethnic minority leaders introduce other learning styles. Maybe we need to pause sometimes to ask our minority leaders what learning style would be most helpful. Each one of our six learning networks were unique. We experienced different forms of worship, learning, and leadership. The leaders supported each other and leveraged their strengths, because they took time to get to know each other at the beginning. Open the door for ethnic minorities to create an atmosphere that is conducive to flourishing!
What I experienced was hopeful and lifegiving for these leaders, including ethnic minority leaders, and for us. As co-directors, it was essential for us to keep an open mind and a posture of humility – not a high posture as an expert! We called the entire experience a “grace gift!”
Where am I today? In 2017, I became the director of the Leadership Diversity Initiative, formerly called Leadership Development Women’s and Ethnic Ministry. It has the mandate to affirm and support women and ethnic leaders in churches, ministries, and denominational offices. We help churches and ministries create a culture in which men and women thrive in pursuit of God’s mission in the world together.
Two things unify Leadership Diversity’s work: the denomination values biblical diversity and the variety of gifts given to the body of Christ for God’s mission. In the book of Revelation, God’s servant John testifies, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). In Romans 12:5-6, the apostle Paul teaches, “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
The vision is not homogeneous. No, it is an “eschatological vision” of a great multitude of ethnically diverse people. It is an inclusive vision of men and women.
The more that this vision is embedded in our hearts and etched in our minds, the more likely we are to avail ourselves to the Holy Spirit to make God’s will on Earth as it is in Heaven. May we resist the temptation to say subtly hurtful things to put others down and elevate ourselves. May we resist the temptation to keep our circles narrow and comfortable for ourselves, but instead live as God’s diverse and unified family. God’s reason is far greater.
Jesus expresses in the gospel of John 17:20-21, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” May this also be our prayer!
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