The Journey Toward Kingdom Diversity
The Journey Toward Kingdom Diversity
10 Steps to Moving Your Organization Forward
The Holy Spirit has pricked your heart. You realize that injustice exists within American society. You’ve seen the unjust treatment of underrepresented groups, and as a leader of a Christian school, you’re wondering what you can do to help your institution better resemble the kingdom vision portrayed in Revelation 7:9. That verse depicts a beautiful scene around God’s throne. John the apostle writes,
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
In your mind, you envision this glorious tapestry made up of multiple races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, all contributing their unique perspectives to the mission and vision of your educational institution. But there’s one major question that you can’t quite answer. You’re probably thinking, “How do I do this?” Like a person cooking a meal for the first time, the question is not just, “How do I do this?”, but “How do I do this without burning everything down?!”
There are ten steps that you must follow if you want to inaugurate change in this area. No longer do you have to remain inert and fearful. Here’s the blueprint.
Step 1: PRAY for wisdom and God’s guidance.
Diversity and inclusion have become hot button issues in contemporary society, and Christians are often confused on what should be embraced and what should be ignored. Some people reject the Black Lives Matter movement, Critical Race Theory, and texts like White Fragility, fearing that they undermine the gospel and incite bitterness. Others feel like Christians need to be conversant in what these movements and resources espouse. They recommend that you eat the fruit, but spit out the “seeds” of heterodoxy. Which way do you go?
The issues are so complex and nuanced that your stance as a leader cannot be derived from CNN or Fox News sound bites. You must do what Solomon did. As a young king, probably around twenty-two years of age, he knew that the task of leading Israel was beyond his ability. So he prayed in 2 Kings 3:9, “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”
Your posture must be the same. The encroachment of anti-biblical movements and lifestyles into Christian environments means you must be vigilant in distinguishing between truth and falsehood, while still leading the way on racial/ethnic unity. With the Word in your hands and your head bowed, God will direct your path.
Step 2: COMMUNICATE the rationale. Show that diversity and belonging are central to the gospel.
Your constituents must know that what you are urging them to do aligns with the gospel. They must trust that the journey you’re embarking upon is essential to effectively and faithfully living out biblical truth. If you yourself are not convinced, then you cannot effectively lead this effort. You must study resources that draw these connections and then have conversations with leaders in the field so you can emphatically communicate the centrality of diversity and belonging work to the gospel. Read anything (books, blogs, and articles) by John Perkins, Brenda Salter McNeil, Latasha Morrison, Charles Marsh, and Esau McCauley. Be able to clearly articulate why your school should take decisive steps to improve its achievement in the area of diversity and belonging.
Once you have read, prayed, and consulted with leaders in this field, began sharing this message with your core constituencies. Talk to your board and share with them what God is placing on your heart. After gaining their support, talk to your leadership team and share your vision. Once the leadership team and board are behind you, begin speaking to your faculty and staff to create anticipation and cooperation for the journey that lies ahead.
Don’t forget to communicate with your parents who may be among the more skeptical and resistant members of your community on this topic. Keep proclaiming and referring to the Word of God, and you should begin to at least soften some of the initial resistance.
Step 3: ASSESS your organization’s progress in diversity and belonging.
You won’t know where to start if you don’t know where you are. What level of readiness is your community currently displaying? What is the current climate of your school around the issues of diversity and belonging? Do your minority students and faculty members feel safe? Do you even have a constituency of minority students and faculty members? These are questions that a diversity assessment will ask and answer for you. If the majority of your parents are resistant to discussions about race and diversity, your assessment process will unearth these perspectives. If your community collectively feels , “it’s about time, what took you so long!”, then you know that you can move swiftly and comprehensively to begin addressing your diversity challenges.
The best way to do this is to hire a consultant who specializes in administering assessments. This allows for anonymity of respondents and for questions that have been previously used successfully. Most firms also work with you to create questions that are germane to your specific community. Depending on the consulting firm, they can also conduct focus groups and other kinds of qualitative assessments that include specific stakeholder groups, including parents, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and board members, to help you gain a deeper understanding of the existing differences within your entire community.
Step 4: CREATE a coalition of stakeholders who use the data to formulate a strategic plan.
Once you have your results, form a diverse coalition of stakeholders who will engage with the information you’ve discovered about your school’s culture around diversity. Be sure to choose members of each constituency so that your entire community is represented. If you do this correctly, people will also take your next steps seriously because key leaders and influential figures will be in this coalition. There should be board members, members of the leadership team, faculty, staff, alumni, and current students who are included. Twelve to twenty members should provide both the breadth and depth you need to successfully plan and implement initiatives.
In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus prayed all night long before he selected his disciples. This is a key step in the process, so carefully listening to God’s direction is of utmost importance. Selecting the wrong people can derail the journey, introduce division and strife into your school community, and lead to acrimony and resentment amongst your stakeholders. Choose those who are extremely passionate about diversity, are wise and humble, and who are known for speaking and acting with Christ’s love. When at all possible, include those who come from underrepresented ethnicities.
Step 5: WRITE a strategic plan outlining diversity goals for the short and long term future.
Based upon the data, some type of overall vision should emerge that identifies where the school is headed over the next three to five years.
This step demonstrates why having a coalition representing all stakeholders groups is important. Sometimes plans are written that can’t be successfully implemented because they ignore the situations and circumstances of those who are charged with implementing them. For example, a plan may conclude that “teachers will identify and select diverse texts for use within their classrooms.” But if teachers are already overwhelmed with additional planning duties due to COVID-19 or other circumstances, they may resist having an additional responsibility. Here’s where having a teacher on the coalition can provide useful feedback for directives that involve them. In this case, maybe a grade level chairperson or academic dean provides a list, and teachers can then choose texts based upon it.
In the plan, be sure to generate some quick wins. In the short term, there should be some things you plan that can be done with minimal or basic planning, budgetary resources, and coordination. For instance, decorating bulletin boards and placing more diverse music in school playlists are things that can be done right away. You can also select more minority speakers for chapel and convocations, and contact churches with sizable black, Latino, or Asian populations in order to recruit students. Each of these tasks represents low hanging fruit that can help energize your more long term efforts. These wins begin to produce momentum and help your more skeptical team members buy in. Be sure to also provide longer term goals, objectives, and strategies that keep the organization on track toward fulfilling the vision.
Step 6: SHARE the plan throughout the organization.
Your strategic plan will be the hub of your diversity and belonging efforts moving forward; therefore, the process needs to be deliberate and inclusive. Ensure that the person leading the planning efforts has significant experience in strategic planning. Don’t rush this step. Make sure you get this right, which then allows members of the coalition to become the biggest supporters and cheerleaders for the plan.
Share the plan publicly. Place it on the website and have your communications division develop a booklet that outlines its major points. Just like you send out requests for financial gifts or announcements recognizing academic awards and achievements, treat this plan as having the same significance and value. After the vision has been written, if no one knows what it says, then it will have limited impact. Habakkuk 2:2 instructs us, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.” Your stakeholders will know what’s on the horizon and what role they will be expected to play because of the visibility and widespread dissemination of your diversity and belonging strategic plan.
To see an example of a strong plan, please check out CESA Candidate Timothy Christian Schools’ (IL) Bridge Builder Initiative by clicking here.
Step 7: BUILD the initiatives written in the plan.
After the plan has been disseminated to all stakeholders, the hard work of creating and sustaining initiatives begins. The timeline associated with the sequence of steps will vary based upon your organization. Some of you may need a year of having conversations that show how diversity and belonging are central to the gospel. Others may take one semester to assess their community, and another semester to unpack the data and create a plan. That means some people may take two years to get to step number 5, while other organizations that are farther along the continuum toward kingdom diversity may get to step 7 within a school year (especially if they have already completed some of the prior steps). Trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance for your timeline, and keep moving.
The main point is that building your initiatives is when you begin to change the structures and systems that impede and undermine kingdom diversity and belonging. This is the Acts 6 phase. In this chapter, the Greek speaking widows were ignored during the distribution of food and complained to the apostles. They appointed seven Greek speaking leaders to handle that process to ensure that these women were not neglected. Creating these just systems in your school will take work, but this is when the complexion of your organization really begins to change, and your public image starts to become associated with achievement and success in this area.
Step 8: CONFRONT resistance with grace, love, and truth.
Hatred in any form is against the character the God and it is demonic. The Word of God tells us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Here’s the inconvenient truth. If you pursue diversity and belonging, you will face resistance internally and externally. You will face resistance because you are encroaching on territory that Satan has carefully cultivated and protected for hundreds of years. The enemy has fostered and supported division within American society on the basis of race since America’s birth, and this division entered the church and we still experience this separation today.
Parents will tell you, “talking about race is what produces racism.” Teachers will tell you, “The focus on diversity distracts from what I’ve been hired to do, which is teach all children.” You will receive negative emails. You will have donors threaten to withdraw their support. This simply means you are further along the journey than you were before and you are on the right path.
Do not become angry, bitter, or resentful, but speak the truth in love. Remember and repeat steps 1 and 2. Lean on the Word of God. Pray more than you’ve ever prayed, and the Holy Spirit will fill your mouth and give you the words to say.
Martin Luther King, Jr. in his sermon, Transformed Nonconformist, warns the church of the danger of conformity. He declared,
Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution that has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion. The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war, and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God. Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows. Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.
Understanding this, King challenges Christian leaders to make a choice. He asks,
“Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds? Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity? More than ever before, we are today challenged by the words of yesterday, ‘Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’.”
The criticism and abuse will come, but you must remain steadfast.
Step 9: EVALUATE your progress.
As you begin to create and build your initiatives, you will need to evaluate your progress to see how your community is receiving and reacting to the changes. For example, are your black students offended and feeling more excluded as a result of the new Black History celebration, or do they find that it imparts confidence and self-esteem? If they feel excluded or somehow targeted, that doesn’t mean you stop it altogether, but you should invite them and their parents to suggest ways to celebrate their culture that create joy and engagement rather than trepidation and aversion.
As a leader, regularly check in with your guiding coalition, your leadership team, and each of your stakeholder groups (especially your students) to gauge their responses, which keeps your finger on the pulse of your community. Develop mini-surveys that assess the impactfulness of your initiatives and that tell you how to modify them for maximum effectiveness.
Know that some constituents will be more skeptical, because focusing on race will be new to them and many will not have the historical understanding of why this is important (which makes step 2 all the more important). If some stakeholders view the new initiatives as non-effective, be sure to balance that feedback with the feedback of the other groups that constitute your community.
Step 10: CELEBRATE the victories!
I called this article “The Journey Toward Kingdom Diversity,” rather than the “The Journey to Kingdom Diversity,” because diversity and belonging is always a journey and never a destination. While you can more fully embrace and resemble the kingdom, there is always more work to be done to eradicate the sin of racial pride and superiority that infiltrates human hearts. Like the removal of any other sin, vigilance is necessary to protect against setbacks and diversions.
Because the journey is ongoing, you must celebrate your victories. Testify to one another about the great things that God is doing in your midst. Create a diversity section on your website, if you don’t already have one, where you cheerfully announce your successful accomplishments. Create a newsletter in which you share your progress with your community. Recognize and applaud those who helped you achieve your goals and objectives.
Most of all, celebrate your victories through praise and worship. Use your chapels and other gatherings to give thanks to God in song and through the Word for all that He’s doing in your school. As you express gratitude for the Holy Spirit’s work, He is pleased to pour out even more.
As you have discovered after reading this, the journey toward kingdom diversity is time-intensive, exhausting, and requires diligence and resilience. Once you have completed a step, realize that you may have to return back to it periodically during the journey. This is especially true of Steps 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 10. If you receive feedback, for example, that people have not bought into your vision, repeat step number 2. You may have to bring in guest speakers and consultants to underscore its importance, but emphasize it nonetheless. If you are confused as to how you should confront an employee or board member who is actively undermining your efforts, you will have to revisit Step 1 and pray for wisdom and guidance.
There are easier things that you can do, but Jesus doesn’t call us to the easy road. Rather, he calls us to the road upon which we must carry our cross as we die to ourselves and are formed into humility and obedience. Enjoy the journey, and embrace the peace of knowing that you are pleasing Him. Know that by resolutely pursuing diversity and belonging, you are leaving a legacy that will benefit and inspire generations to come.
Want to know more? If your school is enrolled in The CESA Collective, watch his Short Course join one of two dialogues with Dr. Howard, even if your role does not place you in these affinity groups.
- Wednesday, March 24
- Diversity and Heads of School Affinity Group, Inclusivity: A Philosophical and Biblical Methodology with Dr. Aaron Howard @ 1 pm EST
- Friday, March 26
- Christian Life Affinity Group, Inclusivity: A Philosophical and Biblical Methodology with Dr. Aaron Howard @ 1 pm EST
Aaron Howard is Founder and CEO of As One Christian Diversity Staffing, a consulting organization that provides biblical solutions for Christian schools, universities, and organizations seeking kingdom diversity: www.asonediversity.com
He will also begin serving as Assistant Professor of Ethics and Reconciliation at Lipscomb University beginning this fall. He earned his PhD in Ethics and Society from Vanderbilt University and an MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.