Scott Williams – RightNow 2010 – Church Diversity: Confronting the Elephant in the Pew Breakout

Scott Williams is a campus pastor at

I spent 11 years, 46 days and 12 hours of my adult life in the prison system, 8×10 cell, razor wire, penned up anger prison, over 11 years of my adult life…

I was a warden in the prison system.  At the age of 25 I was one of the youngest warden’s in the prison system.  I learned there are a lot of similarities between leading in the prison system and the church.

In both settings, the only way it works is if you genuinely care about the people.  I walked the yard every day.  Here’s the deal.  They’re the ones actually running the place.  With 1200 inmates and 50-100 staff, the inmates ran the church.  I had to understand they were my biggest assets or biggest pain in the assets.  The same is true in church.  It all depends on how the leader leads them, if the leader truly cares about the people.

Individuals are both led by a specific set of rules.  In prison, you mind your own business, you respect everyone, etc.  In church, we have tons of other rules, how you dress, should the pastor preach with an iPad or with the Bible, what should we sing?  It goes on and on, but it’s not about the rules, it’s about loving people and spreading the Word.

Both the church and the prison system are the most segregated institutions in the world.  93% of all churches in America are racially segregated.  Those numbers are staggering.  Dr. King said this 44 years ago, "We must face the sad fact that the 11:00 hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America."

If we’re talking about leading beyond our walls, doing what God called us to do, then we have to be willing to confront this elephant in the pew because there’s a big elephant in 93% of the churches represented in this room?  What do we do about that?  Why does it even matter?  Why do we call it the elephant in the pew?

We don’t want to concern ourselves with this.  We want to focus on things that don’t even matter to the heart of God.

Does this really matter?  Why does this matter?

First of all, because it matters to God, if we’re serious about reaching those who are far from God and those who are seeking and those who are lost.  It matters because God has called us to be stewards of this mystery.

Ephesians 3 – This mystery is that through the Gospel gentiles are members of one body, sharers of hte promise, etc.

This is saying that Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites will join together and experience this mystery that we know as Christ.  That’s why it matters because it matters to God.  Paul tells us what this mystery we’re trying to steward is all about.  Paul’s life was about the Gospel, but it was also about Gentile inclusion.  There’s a reason why that’s important.

Acts 2:43 – All the believers were together and had everything in common.  What did they have in common?  It was Jesus.  It wasn’t about race.

Every industry except the Church has figured this out.  Entertainment, sports, but when it comes to the Church on Sunday morning, God’s house.  We can’t worship the God of the universe hand in hand, but we can worship these other things hand in hand.

Bill Hybels says it like this, "The local church is the hope of the world, and its future primarily rests in the hands of its leaders."  There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that.  What are we going to do with that?  How do we steward this responsibility?  We have to be open to change.

In college I stayed in the dorms.  The cool things about the dorms are that you meet all these crazy people and all of these types of people.  I met a guy named Jesse who chewed and spit into a 20 oz bottle of pop and left it on the dorm room desk.  If you do that, you’re nasty and going to hell.  I wish I could make these stories up.  I can’t.  The next semester I walk in and my roommate is laying there all in red and asks me, what’s up dude, are you a crip?  The thing about Oklahoma is that it’s the Bible belt, so you can go to church on Sunday and bang on Monday.  I went to all different kinds of churches with all different kinds of people.

I went in one day to get my shoes shined by Slim, the shoe shine guy.  Slim starts talking to me about his church, and I got really intrigues.  So I asked him, "Is it a black church or a white church?"  Slim said, "Young man, that’s the stupidest question you could ask.  It’s not a black church.  It’s not a white church.  It’s God’s church."  I had a lot of friends and a lot of different experiences, and I was asking one of the most ignorant questions I could.

I started going to LifeChurch.  We liked it, but we were asking ourselves the question, "Do I feel welcome here?"  It was us and two other African-American families.  It wasn’t anything anyone did.  It was just a question we felt.

About 10 years ago Craig was reading an e-mail he got from a black woman who had been mistreated by someone in the 99.9% white congregation.  And he took the church to task for it, told those people where the exits were.

I went to lunch with Craig and asked him the question, "Where is your heart as it relates to diversity?"  He leaned over across the table and said, "Help me."  That was a real defining moment.

I don’t care what your role is, "Where is your heart as it relates to diversity?"  How is the Holy Spirit prompting you?  I hope you wrestle that question all the way home.  I hope you wrestle with it as long as you’re a disciple of Christ.  Can you lean across the aisle, across the train tracks and say, "Help me?"

I want you guys to know that no matter what it is, it all starts with the heart of the senior leader.

We planted the NW Oklahoma City campus near a rough neighborhood.  I went into an elementary school and asked what we could do to help.  He asked if we were going to just talk the talk which most churches do or are we going to walk the walk.  I said we’ll walk the walk.  All we wanted to do was bless them.

When you go into a community, you need to determine who the top 10 stakeholders in your community are and develop relationships with them.  When they know you just want to serve alongside them.

Here’s the deal as it relates to diversity.  I felt like God was saying, you’re not ready for this multi-ethnic community, so he was going to see how we stewarded what he gave us.  Our youth ministry was 50% black, 50% white.  God started softening the hearts of our team.  It has to start with that senior leader, that ministry leader’s heart.

I’ve identified 7 things, 2 things to check, 5 to be

  1. Check your Heart – Ask the difficult questions, lay out past prejudices. Until the heart is there, nothing else matters.  It’s kinda like giving. It’s more about the heart than what you’re doing.
  2. Check your Thoughts – What are you thinking about, what are the strategies, what do your hiring practices look like?  Whatever it is, you need to have some strategy.  What are you putting on your platform?  Celebrate the minor wins.
  3. Be Prayerful – Ask God, "Give me a burden for the things that break your heart."  I’m telling you right now that for God to see his chosen vessel, the church, to be the most segregated organization in 2010 breaks his heart.  Don’t confuse your burden for diversity for a large-scale vision shift.  Expand your prayers, stop thinking just right where you are.  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart, change your thoughts.
  4. Be Intentional – It’s not about affirmative action, but it is about reaching out.  It’s why it was called forced bussing.  We won’t do it on our own.  On our own we won’t make the changes.  We have to be intentional.  We have to be willing to make those changes.  Coroporations are intentional about it.  I looked at the top ten diverse corporations.  They put effort into it.  It’s sad that Coca-Cola cares more about diversity and reaching all of their customer base than the Church.  They found themselves on the wrong side of the biggest discrimination lawsuit in history, but that caused them to take stock and become a more diverse company.  And that’s for a soda pop.  We’re talking about living water.  DTS gave the first doctorate to an African American in 1982.  That was just the other day.
  5. Be Confrontational – Sometimes I have to have difficult and hard conversations.  Some of you are sitting in churches and you know your senior pastor’s heart is not this.  You may have to send an e-mail or have a hard conversation.  Let the Holy Spirit prompt you.
  6. Be Authentic – Authenticity is so important.  It’s easy to try to imitate others.  Ask what this means for us.  Ask God to lead you to the books you need to read.
  7. Be Patient – It doesn’t matter if you’re a ministry leader waiting to embrace diversity or you lead a congregation, you have to be patient.  Wait to see what God will do.  This is not a black or white church issue.  It’s all of the churches.

Diversity is about the mission of the Church.  It’s about the Great Commission.  If it’s a Biblically based church, your mission has to be the Great Commission.  That’s what we’re all about.

That’s not really what we’re about.  We’re about the Great Ommission: "Therefore go and make disciples ________, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

What happened to the "C"? The church dropped it.

Church diversity is not about the color of skin.  It’s about the wages of sin.  There are people outside the church going to hell, and we’re concerned about our music and making sure we’re relevant to a group of people.

I’m talking about race, but that’s just what we can see.  It might be segregation based on blue/white collar workers.

Posted at 2:36 PM on November 12th, 2010
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