Real and creative transformation only comes when people from differing cultural backgrounds are empowered to sit at the top table.
So where do we start? Let’s ask three questions, writes Malcolm Patten
It’s over a year after the murder of George Floyd and what seemed urgent at the time begins to slide further down the list of priorities. Why is that? For many the issues don’t affect them personally and the effort of advocating for others becomes tiresome as time goes on. For some they don’t really know what to do about it.
An organisation I am familiar with, that immediately emblazoned their website with the George Floyd wall art and acknowledged the lack of black and brown people within their structures, was soon putting out job advertisements which clearly were designed to promote from within. There was an obvious blind spot there: if you are fishing in a pool which doesn’t have any trout then you aint gonna catch no trout!
Real and creative transformation only comes when people from differing cultural backgrounds are empowered to sit at the top table. So where do we start? Let’s ask three questions:
1. Where are the potential leaders that are different to what we already have?
Intrinsic to the Baptist way of doing church is recruitment. If our reason for being is to empower our people to participate in the worship, life and mission of the local church then we need to give over a significant amount of time to recruitment and development. This involves identifying those with appropriate gifts, coming alongside them and getting to know them, and then looking for opportunities for them to participate. It’s necessary to help them build their own confidence to participate in an environment where they stand out as different and help those around them to catch the vision of a multiethnic team.
Within my church I was frustrated that all of our worship leaders were white British. One day I was standing at the back of the church and asking the Lord, ‘Where are the worship leaders from other cultural backgrounds? How do I know who they are?’
The Lord spoke very clearly to me, ‘Look for the worshippers, those who worship me in season and out of season.’
I looked around and saw two women, one Jamaican and one Nigerian who always lifted their hands and praised God, whether things were good in their lives or difficult, whether the music group was in tune or not. I began by asking them to lead a part of the service, then a bit more. They were not musicians so the group had to adjust to how the service planning takes place. But some years on they are firmly established and one is now an Elder of the church.
Empowerment must be intentional, purposeful, supportive and involve the whole organisation.
2. What does the change mean for me?
Diversifying our leadership team will mean change for everyone. White people will need to accept that they need to sacrifice some of their influence and position to make space for others. Meetings will take longer to enable us to listen and understand different perspectives on issues. We will need to review whether ‘efficient’ meetings where everyone goes home ‘happy’ actually fulfils our key objectives.
Geert Hofstede, in his analysis of cultures across the world, highlighted four areas where people from different cultural backgrounds differed in their approach; and the potential for misunderstanding and conflict was significant.
First is how we defer (or not) to those in authority over us. English people have little problem challenging their superiors but others may not wish to disagree with the Pastor.
Second is the extent we see ourselves as individuals or embedded in community. So English Pastors are more likely to move on from church to church than say a Jamaican Pastor where the church is like family.
Third is the perception of whether roles are ‘female’ or ‘male’. Hofstede’s research found that English culture is significantly high in its patriarchalism when compared to many other cultures.
Fourth is the way we handle conflict itself; English people are masters of avoiding confrontation and kicking things into the long grass rather than having the ability to participate in heated conversations and yet remain friends. Other cultures are much more prepared to face difficult issues head on without falling out.
The implications of these cultural differences and how they affect the way we process decision making in leadership teams is not difficult to see.
3. How do I build a new vision for multicultural leadership within my organisation?
First I think we need to learn and acknowledge what are the helpful and unhelpful aspects of English cultural ways of doing things, so we can stop ourselves from thinking that ‘my way is the biblical way’! This self reflection, seeing ourselves as one culture amongst many within the global church is key to progress.
Secondly, diversifying our teams means drawing in new people who haven’t been part of our journey so far. This immediately disadvantages their ability to join in with the conversation and understand past references. We need to go the extra mile to create new memories and shared journeys together through eating, retreating and playing in new ways. This in turn generates renewed ambition for the future shape of our leadership.
Here’s the thing, change is possible and it moves us into the best and most creative kind of leadership for our churches and Baptist organisations. More to the point, it is biblical and helps us fulfil the mission of Christ in our world.
Malcolm is the senior minister of Blackhorse Road Baptist Church in Walthamstow, east London. His doctoral thesis was based on qualitative research into a multicultural church.
He is the author of Multiethnic Church, a Baptists Together course for small groups to help develop healthy, integrated churches, as well as the book Leading a Multicultural Church.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G., & Minkov, M. (2010), Cultures and Organizations, London: McGraw Hill.
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