How can we increase diversity in Evangelical leadership?

In my first post, I looked at some of the stats on diversity within Evangelicalism. Though diversity within the FIEC is in line with the national average, as we look at the places in which BME people are concentrated and focus on churches in those areas, we are oftentimes lagging behind diversity in the local area. You can read that post here.

I followed up on that post with a discussion of why we lack diversity in Evangelicalism. I argued that we struggle to raise up BME leaders because of our inherent culture, our implicit biases and because we often look for shortcuts and shibboleths in raising up leaders. I then considered how middle-class people are able to utilise these things for their own advancement. You can read that post here.

Today, I wanted to bat around some ideas as to how we can try to resolve this issue. How can we increase diversity in Evangelical leadership? Is there anything we can do to make sure that minority voices get heard and have the possibility of taking up leadership positions in our churches? I think there are a few possible things we can do that might help.

First, we need to work hard to give minorities a voice in the church. Often, we treat minorities as though they are only there to give the impression that we’re diverse and welcoming by plastering them all over our publicity. We home in on the guy wearing trackies or we make sure our pictures include a few non-white faces. All too often, this is at the expense of actually listening to any of their concerns or giving them any influence in the church. They are welcomed so long as they conform to our cultural standards.

Duncan Forbes, in a recent blog post, put it this way:

We show deferential treatment to the majority culture boys, whilst often ignoring or downplaying the views of the minorities. Sometimes its even cringeworthy hearing majority culture leaders say how understanding they are of minorities, when you’ve been sitting there for an hour feeling talked down to. We are almost visible in terms of having a seat, but its a kiddie seat, we’re invisible in terms of being considered an equal.

One of the ways we will see BME and working-class people raised up to leadership is if we give them enough influence in our churches that other people from their culture will see yours is a place for people like them. It’s only as people come into our churches and have influence over our church culture that we will begin to take off our own cultural blinkers and open up to the possibility of people unlike us taking up leadership roles.

Second, we need to be much more intentional about nurturing leaders in our churches. All too often those who push themselves forward, who flatter and fawn over us, who have what we deem to be an appropriate educational background and fit in with our culture are those who make it to leadership. Essentially, they’ve got to ask and they’ve got to prove – by whatever unbiblical measure we’re choosing to judge it – that they are cut out for leadership. Quite frankly, it is an approach that stinks to high heaven.

Instead, we need to be proactively nurturing leaders. We need to be giving people increasing amounts of responsibility in the church and testing them that way. We need to judge suitability by the standards of godliness laid down in scripture, not by the standards of education, profession or networking ability. There’s nothing wrong with having people who are good at those latter things, but we need to be clear they’re neither necessary nor Biblical.

We need to accept that some people with a great ability to handle the Bible and network are ruled out of leadership on scriptural grounds. Similarly, we need to accept that those who can’t (or wouldn’t) give a lecture-style sermon and have neither been through higher education nor to a networking event in their life may just be qualified for eldership when weighed against the scriptural criteria. We need to be intentional about who we are going to train for leadership rather than simply settling for pushiness and a few middle-class shibboleths.

Third, we need to be actively praying that we will raise up a diverse leadership. It is ultimately the Lord who will bring in and grow his people. It, therefore, pays to actually ask him to raise up the kinds of people we need. More than that, when we commit to praying for a more diverse leadership, we may just find the Lord helps us to view potential leaders biblically, rather than culturally. As we actively pray for the Lord to raise up leaders from minority backgrounds, we must also be asking the Lord to help us see what is scriptural, what is cultural and to lead us to those who would be right for church leadership.