High-Definition Leaders for High-Definition Churches

High-Definition Leaders for High-Definition Churches December 16, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 2.47.36 PMThe challenge of this decade and the next can be reduced to one question: Will your church become high-definition or will it remain mono-cultural? The challenge to become multi-ethnic churches requires multi-ethnic leaders, or what Derwin Gray calls The High-Definition Leader. I totally agree with him, and I wonder how many see the problem and want to be part of the solution? [This is one of the Jesus Creed Books of the Year.]

I have only one question: How diverse is your church? (Or, How diverse is your love for others?) One of the most gospel-drenched measures of “success” in a church is making the invisible visible, or putting on display the reality of demographic diversity by finding demographic unity in the church.

This fact in the Bible remains solid: the final kingdom of God will be an exhibition of a high-definition reality. God’s people is not restricted by race, by ethnicity, by economic status or by educational achievements. The final kingdom of God is for all and will be a magnificent display of the reach of God’s graces.

In 1960, the population of the United States was 85 percent white; by 2060, it will be only 43 percent.2 The face of America is no longer just black and white, like those old televisions from back in the day. America is in high definition now, filled with different colored people. America is now a beautiful mosaic that includes Asian and Latino brothers and sisters.

I know this to be true from personal experience; my wife is a white girl from rural Montana, and I’m a black guy from urban San Antonio, Texas. We have two stunningly beautiful children. When our children are asked to fill out an ethnicity questionnaire, they write, “We are first children of God who happen to have a black father and a white mother (2).

Homogenous church — that’s the USA tradition and it’s the USA temptation. But homogenous churches have an impact, so notice these words from Derwin:

Homogeneous local churches can perpetuate sins like racism. When you are only around your tribe or your own kind, you don’ have to interact with other ethnicities, so your potential racist attitudes go unchallenged. Homogeneous local churches can perpetuate the sin of classism and inequality. When we choose to be with people of our socioeconomic tribe, we can become callous and dismissive of the plight of others. Homogeneous local churches can perpetuate the sin of systemic injustice. If we know only people like ourselves, our hearts shrink and concerns for others and their struggles never teach us to carry one another’s burdens. Homogeneous local churches can perpetuate the sin of economic injustice. We must shift from “Let’s help the poor” to “Let’s be among the poor and do life with the poor.” There is a great opportunity for mutual and beneficial exchanges to take place. When we stay segregated and separated, we find ourselves as Christians living in different worlds even though we may be right next door to one another. (6-7).

Some more reality about churches in the USA:

Marinate on this sad reality: only 13.7 percent of churches in America are multiethnic. This means that 86.3 percent churches are homogeneous. And here’s more to be sad about: churches are ten times more segregated than the neighborhoods they are in and twenty times more segregated than the nearby schools.

Our neighborhoods are ethnically diverse, but the local church, which is supposed to exist as a community of God’s reconciliation, is not. Our public schools are ethnically diverse, but the local church, which is supposed to exist as a display of God’s love for all people, is not. Our military is multiethnic, but the local church, which exists as a showcase of Jesus’ unifying power, is not. Our nightclubs are ethnically diverse, but the local church, which exists as God’s new humanity brought into being through life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, is not.

Doesn’t this seem hypocritical and beneath the gospel? Doesn’t this seem shallow and a mere shadow of the early church? (15-16)

What we need is not more chatter but more high-definition leaders working toward high-definition leadership and high-definition churches with churches filled with high-definition Christians:

We need high-definition leaders who can lead the church into America’s multicolored future. Just as high-definition television allows one to see colors vividly, clearly, and beautifully, we need church leaders who can build multicolored local churches through the Spirit’s power so America can clearly see God’s character vividly, clearly, and beautifully through his diverse people.

A high-definition leader is a leader who is so passionate about the glory of God being revealed through the local church that he or she is willing to learn how to be a cross-cultural, gospel-of-grace preaching, organizational-strategizing, leader-developing disciple of people who partners with the Lord Jesus in building local churches that reflect the future of the church in the present. (See Revelation 5:9-12.) (17).

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  • Joe Muradyan

    Hi Dr. McKnight,
    My name is Joseph Muradyan and I’m an Armenian who is part of an Armenian Pentecostal Church. My church is 99.9% Armenian. We speak in Armenian and sometimes in Russian or English when a guest speaker does not speak Armenian. I have not read The High-Definition Leader (or The Fellowship of Differents), but I plan on doing so, hopefully in the coming year.

    The issue of ethnic and racial diversity is also an issue that I struggle with in our community. It is difficult for us to invite people of diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds because we speak in Armenian and half the members don’t understand English. We do speak and sing in English within our youth service about 50% of the time, since many of the youth do not understand Armenian well enough. I believe diversity is very important and it is something my community needs to grow in much more.

    That being said, I do worry about the push for diversity, especially for small ethnic communities. When I hear people within and outside our community saying that we need to be more diverse ethnically and racially, it sounds threatening. This is what I mean: When a truly minority community like the Armenian one I am a part of lives in the midst of a majority “American” culture, diversity sounds like assimilation. And the ones usually calling for more diversity are often telling Armenians that they need to stop being Armenian and assimilate into the “American” way of doing Christianity. In other words, diversity is another way of telling Armenian’s to embrace “American Evangelical Christianity” and let go of our Armenian culture. They say that in Christ, there is not Jew or Greek or Armenian but that we are some sort of third race. But in reality, the so-called “third race” is simply the race of the dominant culture pressing in and squeezing out the distinct cultural ways of the truly minority cultures, in my case, my Armenian community.

    I am all for diversity, but diversity should not be at the expense of destroying the distinctiveness of the minority communities peculiarities. There is no easy solution to this, but I do have a suggestion. For those who insist that we need to be diverse (which is rarely the truly minority culture pressing for diversity but rather usually the dominant and prominent majority culture), we must ask: are they willing to enter the minority culture and adopt their language and culture. In other words, if someone outside the Armenian community looks into our community and says that we are not diverse, then instead of them telling us to step out of our culture, they should step out of their culture and enter our community and become a part of our community by learning our language and culture. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that many people want diversity at the expense and destruction of the truly minority community, which in my case is the Armenian community. Whenever the Armenian community feels threatened because they are told to stop being Armenian and start being “Christian first” what is really being said is that we need to reject Armenian culture and embrace American culture.

    I do not believe in Christianity being a third race. Rather, all cultures and ethnicities and races are in Christ. In Christ, Armenian, American, Jewish, Greek, Russian, African America, Latin, and every other culture is not destroyed but rather transformed. Thus, when I am in Christ as an Armenian, my ethnic peculiarity is not destroyed but rather transformed. Yet this does not mean I stop being Armenian; rather, I am now a different kind of Armenian, molded and shaped in the image of Christ to love God and love my neighbors.

    Hopefully this makes sense. I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue. How can we work towards a fellowship of differents without forcing the truly minority culture to give up their culture? How can we honor the diverse minority cultures without forcing them to assimilate into the dominant culture?


  • scotmcknight

    Joe, my book is about this topic. Diversity does not obliterate culture but celebrates difference while transcending it in a new kind of unity in Christ. Derwin is not asking us to obliterate blackness or whiteness or brownness but to come together …

    … so for you, I’m for your 3d to last paragraph. Yes non Armenians need to enter into your culture and celebrate and let it become part of one’s non-Armenian-ness! And Armenians can enter into other cultures.

    Churches need to be both safe havens from the dominant culture while not segregating from the whole Body of Christ. The fear of assimilation will be undone in the new heavens and new earth, eh?

  • Joe Muradyan

    Thanks for your response, Dr. McKnight!

    I look forward to reading your book and The High Definition Leader to learn more about this issue.

    Even more so, I look forward to the day when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem, and fear of one another will be no more in God’s new creation. In the meantime, as you note, our church communities need to be safe havens, where fear of “the other” must be replaced with love for one another.
    Thanks again,