Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Diversity and Incarnational Leadership

In a recent post on her blog Tribal Church, Carol Howard Merritt raised concerns about the relative lack of diversity among church leadership.  As a child of the evangelical movement who has found a home in the oldline, she's particularly troubled by the lack of women's voices in the church.  She's also troubled by the cultural homogeneity in the church.  I feel that, and it's a good issue to raise.

We Jesus People, being people, are really rather craptacular at selecting leadership that doesn't look like us or sound like us.  If a pastor doesn't affirm what a church already knows, they won't want that person as a leader.  I understand how repressive this can be to those who aren't viewed as leadership material by a dominant culture.   But I also struggle with how effective leadership can be possible if a leader doesn't represent a community.

Take the church I'm serving.  I like folks here.  I really do.  They're good people.  But I am..well..different, different enough that it impedes my ability to be effective.  There's the surface level stuff, of course.  This Sunday, I took a gander around the room as the worship gathered steam.  About 10 minutes in, I was the only non-Asian in attendance.  That, frankly, didn't bug me.  Never has. Most of the time, I don't even notice it. 

More significant, though, are the expectations of a community formed by the experience of being second generation Asian Americans.   The family-tight bonds forged in a Korean church youth group are a powerful thing, one I can appreciate conceptually, but just isn't the way I do church.  The theology of folks coming out of a conservative and evangelical tradition just isn't mine, either.  There are powerful commonalities around Christ, sure.  The bonds of faith and the Spirit are shared.  I can worship and laugh and enjoy the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.  But the way I express my faith just doesn't articulate community enough for me to work as a leader.   As I've conveyed to the cadre of young folks at my church with some real sadness, I'm just not a good match.

To be effective, I'm convinced that leadership needs to manifest the essence of a community.  It's a bit like worship that way.  Good, moving worship is contextual and incarnational, expressing the musical and liturgical sensibilities of a particular gathered body.  It's part of a shared identity.  Similarly, a congregation will seek a leader who visibly manifests and personifies their identity as a fellowship.

The issue here, though, is that such leadership does not really challenge a community to make changes.  If there are systemic injustices, the incarnational leader will not address them.  If there are systemic failings, the incarnational leader will often embody them.

Incarnational leaders aren't prophets.  They can be agents of growth, but they aren't agents of transformation.  There's a huge difference...and that's a problem for churches as human institutions.