A Word to Minority Leaders in Majority Contexts

I often tell people that I walked into multi-ethnic ministry the way Jonah walked into Memphis, and that’s not a good thing.  After a few sleepless nights in less than five star accommodations, Jonah made his entrance into Nineveh angry. His unrighteous indignation is understandable.  As a Jew he’s a part of a people who were being oppressed, and in a gracious twist of irony, God uses Jonah to usher in revival among his oppressors.  Seething over their salvation, the book of Jonah crash-lands, as the prophets anger has metastasized into bitterness.  

Yep, it’s hard for minorities to minister in majority culture contexts, especially when that majority represents their historical oppressors 

In my recent book, Right Color/Wrong Culture, I argue that at the highest levels of any organization that is aspiring to trend towards diversity, there must be what I call C2 leadership.  A C2 leader is one who is able to relate to various cultures without losing their identity.  But there’s more.  Redemptive C2 leadership refuses to lead out of anger or bitterness, choosing instead to lead out of our most precious relational resource- love.  

If I could go back in time and give my 20 something year old self a good talking to, I would say that it’s impossible to lead people you are suspicious of, angry towards or bitter with.  Jonah might have seen results as a prophet, but he would have made a horrible pastor.

Maybe this is why God pulled the plug on Moses’ ministry.  Moses’ striking of the rock was the expression of unrighteous anger, and it’s impossible to lead God’s people well while being angry or bitter towards those very same people.  So God said, “Time’s up Moses”.  

As an African American man who has spent most of his ministry years leading in majority white contexts, I’ve learned the hard way that an angry, suspicious, guilty-until-proven-innocent disposition is a recipe for failed leadership.  Not only is it not inspiring, but it’s cancerous to the team, dishonoring to God, manipulative and outright sinful.  If these bitter waters are not addressed in a minority leaders soul he or she will find themselves headed for burnout, and tearing up their ministry context in the process.  So how do we move towards loving, redemptive C2 leadership?

1. You must answer the question, Am I called to multi-ethnic ministry?  If you are then it’s time to stop striking the rock.  No more grumbling or complaining.  If you are called to multi-ethnic ministry then there’s no room for using race in manipulative ways to play into the white guilt of our brothers and sisters we are called to serve alongside of.  

2. Are you experiencing genuine, life-giving community with the majority group you are called to serve?  I’m the only black man in my Monday morning men’s group.  Immersing myself in the lives of these men has helped to soften the hardened edges that I once had towards my white brothers and sisters.  I love these men.

3. Are you loving the majority group in tangible ways that they can feel?  For me this starts with prayer.  I remember some years ago writing up a prayer card that said, “Lord help me to love white people in ways they can feel,” and then I wrote out John 13:34-35.  Here’s what I discovered: It’s next to impossible to be harsh or condemning with people you are constantly praying for.

Let’s not end like Jonah, in bitterness.  I want to grow softer and sweeter in my leadership the older I get.  I want to be more loving and kind.  I hope you do too.