Why Diversity is Essential When Hiring Church Leadership

Maina Mwaura | ChristianHeadlines.com Contributor | Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Why Diversity is Essential When Hiring Church Leadership

Why Diversity is Essential When Hiring Church Leadership

Christopher J. Harris, who is the leader of diversechurchjobs.com, is on a mission to help the Body of Christ embrace diversity and understand cultural differences. Harris isn't new to the battle for racial diversity. Harris serves as an executive pastor at Crossover Church, which is a diverse church in the Tampa Florida area. In a sit-down conversation with Christian Headlines, Harris lays out a plan and makes the case for why churches should consider diversity when hiring ministerial staff leaders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who are you and why do you feel led to help the body of Christ in the area of diversity?

I'm an executive pastor, an author, podcaster and church consultant. I've had the privilege to serve on multiple staffs in diverse and varied ministry environments for the last 22 years.  Over that time, I've seen a few unique opportunities to serve the Kingdom of God, beyond one local church. In this particular case, that's with launching the new platform DiverseChurchJobs.com. 

As it stands, there are limited career connection opportunities for people of color beyond their own network or individual searches. This gap exists for the Church as well. Often Pastors and Leaders are left to their own phone contacts, denominations, or social media connections to do national searches for highly critical positions and opportunities. DiverseChurchJobs.com wants to bridge that gap.  Beyond that, we want to empower candidates for those searches and equip them with the tools and skills necessary to present and perform well in the process. Additionally, DiverseChurchJobs.com specializes in providing strategies to assist churches (of all sizes) in ensuring that their systems and culture are as healthy as possible in order to make the greatest impact.

Why is hiring for diversity important within the local church?

Everyone wants a winning team and a winning organization. A core component of winning for any type of organization involves having diverse voices at the table and working collaboratively to make the vision become a reality. Diversity is the reality of our nation and our communities. Corporations, community agencies, governmental entities and non-profit organizations have listened to the research and have determined that their organizations make better decisions, have higher employee retention, and go further faster when there is racial and ethnic diversity around the decision-making table. This isn't hard to imagine. If you consider the racial make-up of our nation and all of the projections for the future, it is vital for churches to have a place to ensure that its staff and leadership are supplied with qualified diverse candidates beyond the music teams and facilities teams. I believe that this is a huge opportunity for the church to step into a volatile space in our nation, where we can be peacemakers, light and bridge-builders, that offer deep solutions to a divided world.

When did you know that you had to start diversechurchjobs.com?

WOW! I actually had the initial idea in 2008.  It started with frustration. Of course, at the time, we were all being early adopters to this thing called Facebook and social media and I'd started to sense a professional ministry transition in my own life. As I started looking around - including online - I saw opportunities and platforms for ministry jobs, but very few that were relevant to a person of color. I'd spend hours (AND HOURS!) looking through, what I thought, were great opportunities. In some cases, I even applied for some of the positions only to discover that they were only interested in a white person for the position. Or if the church was interested in hiring a person of color, the culture and tone of the church wasn't ready for that reality. The more I looked, the more frustrating the process became.  Career hunting is frustrating as it stands alone, but the conversation of color makes it even more complex. I sat on the idea for a few years, with it coming up every so often. I’d pitched the idea to a few existing search firms and for various reasons they weren't interested. I started doing searches and placements independently in 2016 and the more I helped people get hired and placed, the more I realized that I needed to formalize that work. At the end of 2018, I helped a gentleman get hired at a church and he asked me what the name of my search firm was because he wanted to refer a few friends that he knew were also looking for a change. I didn't have an answer – yet. So, officially in 2019, I started the foundational work and then officially launched on the weekend of January 2020, during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s national recognition.

What would you say to someone who may question the idea of diversity being important in church hiring?

I would invite them to go and sit in their local school cafeteria or go ask their children to show you their frequent calls on their cell phone, or friends that they engage with on social media. I believe what they'll find is a cross-section of race in those groups. All of the white kids no longer sit on one side of the cafeteria and the black kids on the other. All of the Asian kids don't fit the stereotypes. Our kids are living a multi-ethnic and multi-racial reality, and because of that, when they walk into our churches, they experience culture shock. It's been said for years that "Eleven O’clock is the most segregated hour of the week.” Churches that thrive in the future will be churches that reflect the world and neighborhood around them/us. Beyond that, the issues of culture and society should impact our preaching and teaching, our ministry model and our community involvement. Churches that don't embrace this will have significant challenges. The research and reality back up these ideas.

What advice would you give to churches who would like to take a step in the direction of hiring with diversity in mind?

(Laughing) Call DiverseChurchJobs.com! Seriously, I think this shift starts in the heart. Intellectually, any of us can talk ourselves out of this conversation. When the Holy Spirit and the Word of God start working on our hearts, it opens us up to the plans and desires of God. I would encourage a church to do two things. First, start an intentional prayer effort around this issue. Allow the Pastor to pray publicly. Invite the Leadership Team to pray privately when they gather. Allow ministry leaders to make it an agenda item to pray about together. See what God does with that time of prayer. Secondly, I'd invite Pastors and Leaders to make space to have a dialogue with diverse populations. Allow the environment to be healthy, non-combative, and redemptive. Prayer during these conversations and a commitment to long-term listening and learning is necessary. This creates space for God to bring revival and clarity to an area that’s often talked over when indeed the Holy Spirit has something to say.

What have you seen and heard from churches who have used your services?

Many people respond with, "Finally!" Others respond with, "Wow ... this is definitely needed!" Another surprising response is from the groups and organizations that want to know how they can partner with us. It's been really interesting and affirming that people have not questioned the “why”. Most immediately go to the “how.” How can I get involved and how does the process work? As our platform has grown, I've started to encounter more Pastors who are nervous and unsure about the health of their culture with regard to race and ethnicity. That's where our consulting and coaching approaches are of significant assistance.

If you were Jesus, getting ready to launch a worldwide, multi-generational movement, would you have picked the disciples that He picked?  I'm not sure how I would have responded. Yet, there was a process that he established to find unlikely candidates to become change agents for the future. I believe that DiverseChurchJobs.com wants to help churches and candidates get connected, in ways that may seem unlikely regarding race and ethnicity, and create teams that change the world.

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock

Why Diversity is Essential When Hiring Church Leadership