There is a lot of talk in our culture today about diversity. It is a buzz word that is cast around in the news, on social media, and in conversations. It seems if you want your organization or institution to be seen as current and relevant than you should be actively pursuing ‘diversity’. What does that mean and is this something Christian groups and organizations should focus on?
Diversity is defined many ways and depends on who you ask to define it. At the most basic level, diversity means having people from an array of different cultures, religious understandings, economic and/or various other backgrounds within your organization.
The idea of raising awareness of diversity has been around for some time. In the 1980’s, work places and schools offered and sometimes required classes on cultural diversity and sensitivity. The awareness of diversity continues because we live in a world where people migrate frequently and interaction with someone of a different background is all but guaranteed. Raising the idea of diversity awareness can make people cringe because it can bring up memories of sitting through a mind-numbing, low budget film about the topic. But as Christians, it is a topic we must consider because we are tasked with taking the Gospel to a diverse world.
The first step in addressing this topic is to remember that God’s people are extremely diverse. Jesus emphatically hammered this message of diversity into his proud disciples. His message was not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles. This was a hard lesson for them to learn. But we are grateful they got the picture. It is also worth pointing out that the 12 disciples were a very diverse group. They all shared a similar cultural background, but they came from vastly different economic, political, and religious (various sects) backgrounds.
The next step is to develop a sense of cultural humility. This is perhaps the hardest step to take. If a person cannot take this step, they will make it no farther. They will actually become a barrier to increasing diversity in your youth ministry or organization. This step can only be accomplished through prayer and soul searching. It is a long process that usually lasts a lifetime to fully develop. A simple acknowledgement that your personal culture or subculture is not superior to all others in every way is enough to begin. Once you can admit this, you can begin to have a conversation about diversity.
Discussion is the next and most important step of increasing diversity. Once a person can assume an attitude of cultural humility, they can be open to discussing cultural differences. This will inevitably lead to better understanding between all parties. Discussion may show that another culture simply does or sees things differently. We may discover that perhaps in fact they do have a better method of doing or seeing something. We may also end up discussing points of truth upon which we differ. A better understanding of those who differ from us is the ultimate goal of the push for diversity. All Christian groups and organizations seek to reach a wider audience with the Gospel. The most logical way to reach people with a different background or culture from your own is to talk with someone who has that background or culture. When you bring someone with a diverse background into your organization or group, the understanding is even more valuable and rewarding. Your target audience will also see someone with whom they can more easily identify.
Final thoughts on future steps. We should not seek diversity simply because it is trendy. As Christians we should seek to understand more about those around us so that we can serve them better and more easily point them to Jesus. It may not be practical for your group or organization to bring people from several different backgrounds onto your ministry staff. There may simply not be any funding or available positions to do so. However, you can certainly seek out the perspective of diverse people groups and ask them how they feel about your ministry and mission. At the very least, you should seek to be welcoming to a diverse audience. This will likely require some ‘market research’ to determine if the way things are done are off-putting or even offensive to others of a different background. You cannot seek to please everyone. But as Paul admonished, we Christians should seek to be all things to all people. It is our duty to nudge every person a little closer to Christ.
Yes, there is a lot of talk about diversity in today’s world. A bit of cultural humility and a lot of grace will go a long way toward increasing personal and corporate diversity. Remember we are not perfect people; we are practice people. We are always practicing to be more like Christ. There is always something we can learn from someone no matter how different they are.
Used with permission from David Garner
David F. Garner is a youth ministry worker in Nashville, Tennessee and Web Publisher at www.outdoorlessons.com. He loves to use the outdoors as a medium for teaching Bible principles just as Jesus did. He has worked in youth ministry for over nine years and especially enjoys summer camp ministry.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.