I Was The First Black Youth Pastor at My Church
Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 24 years since I began my journey into ministry.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I remember having a conversation with Dr. Jackson, a seminary professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We discussed the lack of diversity in the church, and I shared how I feared venturing into the unknown of ministry. To be honest, I had little hope that a place would even be available for me, because of my skin color. At that time, only a handful of African American youth pastors were serving full time.
Dr. Jackson’s response to my question is a phrase I regularly repeat: “Maina, if God has called you into ministry, there will always be room for you—in fact, the sky is the limit.” Those words have guided me through the ever-changing culture of Christian ministry and the ever-present challenge of racism in the church.
Over the years, I’ve served on three staffs where I was their first minority pastoral hire. Along the way I’ve seen and learned so much. In this ever-fluctuating church culture, I’m very encouraged that a number of churches are looking outside of their cultural box to hire people who look different than they do. This shift is one I believe Christ wants the church to make and maintain.
There are four hard truths I believe churches and people should embrace as they take steps to diversify their church cultures:
- Don’t be you. Yeah, I said it. We tend to want to be around people just like us. If a church or a person is going to step outside of their culture box, they’re going to have to choose to intentionally leave some of the racial baggage behind. Recently, I was speaking with Mark DeYmaz, a foremost church and cultural guru, about the topic of race. He expressed that churches should look at racial diversity as if it were a salad. To make a salad, one must combine many different fruits, vegetables, and proteins that each bring a unique taste. The more variety, the better the salad. What a lot churches tend to do is take ranch dressing and drench the salad so that all the parts taste and look the same.[bctt tweet=”Uniformity is not the same as unity. ” username=”ys_scoop”]In fact, it’s our God-given uniqueness that builds the body of Christ to completion.
- Don’t claim to be color-blind. When a church decides they’re going to make their first minority hire, they cannot ignore the fact that the person’s race does matter. Many well-meaning people assert that they are color-blind. By saying this, the person is claiming that they’re not racist—but the statement actually reveals a lack of understanding of the importance of a person’s identity and background. Throughout Scripture we see how people’s backgrounds and cultures shape them. As believers and employers, one of the worst thing we can say is that a person’s background and identity don’t matter in ministry.
- Don’t seek color for the sake of color. From time to time I receive phone calls from churches looking to recruit a person of color because they wish to diversify their staff. Diversifying is a good thing—however, hiring solely on the basis of skin color isn’t wise. Any new hire should bring character and competency to the ministry. When I was offered my current position at West Ridge, it was very clear that I wasn’t being hired because of my skin color—I was chosen because my experience, character, competency, and skill set were a good match for the church’s needs. It was important to them to diversify the staff—they had been praying to find someone who was African American—but it wasn’t the only reason they hired me. I probably wouldn’t have taken the position if I thought I was being brought on solely because of my race. It’s just as wrong for a minority to accept a ministry position that’s offered solely on the basis of race.
- Honor racial background. A church should prayerfully consider the barriers and rewards for bringing someone of color on their team. Yes, there are many rewards for bringing on minority staff members—in fact, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus clearly states that his house is a house of prayer for all nations. As I previously mentioned, I’ve served on three different church staffs where I was the first minority pastoral staff hire. Being the first at anything can be tough, but I’m thankful for the rewards and relationships each ministry brought. The rewards have totally outweighed the hardships. In Revelation 5:9 and 21:26, Scripture makes it very clear that every tribe and language will be gathered around the throne of God. If our main goal as believers is to live up to the standard of what’s to come, we should diligently work toward racial unity. And this should begin at the top levels of our church leadership. I truly believe that we will not see a difference in church racial relations until we see every tribe and nation represented in the highest levels of church leadership. With this standard as our guide, we have a long way to go.
I was recently in Memphis to speak at a youth retreat. During some free time, I visited the Civil Rights Museum where Dr. Martin Luther King lost his life. I was reminded that while we’ve made a lot of progress, we still have a lot more progress to make. Dr. King eloquently stated this in his final sermon:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
As Christ followers, confronting the issue of race and unity should keep us constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” If the answer is no, we should continue to work to move the church along on the diversity road.
MAINA MWAURA loves to guide student leaders. He is the husband of Tiffiney and has a two year old daughter name Zyan. Maina, lives in the Atlanta area and is the mobilization pastor at West Ridge Church. Check out more info at MAINASPEAKS.COM
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.