Thursday, April 17, 2008

The emergence of diverse leadership

I was on the Strong Coffee blog this morning and responded to a comment about the sometimes competing values of excellence and diversity in our world. This particular situation was in response to struggles and challenges in denominational life for Texas Baptists. In his original post, Ken made this comment:

Suffice it to say that when excellence is supplanted by the pursuit of diversity, the organization will have some people in it who are simply not up to the task. It is not that they are bad people. It is that they are in over their heads. I know some of you will think I am racist, but I am just being honest as to what I have observed.

I definitely don't think Ken is a racist. But his comment made me think--is excellence a more important value than diversity? They don't have to be in competition with each other, but the reality is that sometimes they are in the short term. Over the long haul of generations, I do not believe that pursuing diversity is detrimental to excellence in organizational leadership. Here's part of what I wrote:

Second, while I don't believe what you said was racist, I will say that I believe the value of excellence does not trump the value of diversity. Yes, in the short term there will be OTJ training issues for those who have not had the kinds of experience in the worlds of church and organizational leadership that maybe a "more qualified" person might have. But I do believe that as a convention we must surf on the wave of diversity and not be trying to swim catch-up from behind. If the environmental ethos of the last half of the 20th century-both inside and outside the church-constructed obstacles that did not allow non-white Texas Baptists leaders to emerge and grow, we should not be surprised if there appears to be a dearth of "more qualified" leaders in those communities. We cannot spend several generations prohibiting ethnically diverse believers access to the experiences that lead to the natural emergence of leadership and then decry the apparent lack of experienced, qualified leaders to serve on the convention staff. The BGCT EB staff should be proactive in identifying, recruiting, hiring and training for convention leadership members of those communities who may not yet have all the experience to be "up to the task" but are emerging leaders and influencers in their communities. Yes, this may mean that someone gets in over their heads. But I have seen in my young life plenty of successful white ministers that have become ineffective as they moved into denominational or parachurch leadership roles. The Peter Principle knows no ethnicity.

Now let me state it here, I think there are some awesome leaders in the BGCT staff from all ethnic communities. I think that there is often only the appearance of a lack of quality because of the differing cultural values among diverse people. There are hundreds of illustrations of this, but perhaps none more poignant than the views of time vs. people in various cultures. Those who value time over people will make certain decisions that those who value people over time will not. This is NOT a matter of excellence, it is a matter of value, and the case can be made for either to be right or wrong, but usually they are just different. Diversity demands a gracious spirit to those kinds of differences, especially on the part of the dominant culture.

I'm not a proponent of hiring quotas, but I believe diversity is just as important as excellence when it comes to corporate values.


BWolf30 said...

Arnoldo, a couple of questions for you: Why should anything be diverse? Is this a Biblical value? Certainly it is an unquestioned imperative in much of our culture, but I have yet to see a real argument for diversity that arises consistently from the presuppositions of the worldview being embraced. How do you define excellence? The answer to this will betray a host of philosophical and theologial assumptions. It is naive to assume anyone is using biblically defined concepts in this discussion, even in churchy settings. Without this first labor of definition how can the argument proceed in the proper manner? Have we just once again taken a secular position and tried to christianize it without examining the underlying commitments? I will refrain from presenting my thoughts until you respond.

Arnie Adkison said...

Bwolf, like many things in our complex world, diversity is not a simple "connect the dots" command from the Bible. So I will tell you 3 thoughts that jump out as places the Bible is promoting a passion for diversity.

First, the description of the throng around the throne in Revelation 7.9-17 talks about the diversity of the fully-realized kingdom of God. So if I believe that the church's role today is to partner with God to make the world look like God's dream for it ("thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"; see also Ephesians 1, esp. verses 21-23) then I believe that diversity is worth pursuing from a biblical perspective because it has kingdom value.

Second, it is a real way to live out "love your neighbor." The scandal of that story in Luke 10.25-37 is that an unclean Samaritan--different ethnicity, different religious belief and practice--acted like a neighbor and Jesus told the jewish lawyer to "go and do likewise." Diversity, while not the major theme here, is certainly a practical outworking of Jesus' point.

Finally, there is the concept of being "above reproach" with outsiders. 1 Timothy 3.7 says that a pastor should be "well thought of by outsiders". It goes without saying (because I know you would bring it up) that this does not mean that you can violate clear biblical commands in order to look good to outsiders. But in today's world diversity is a value that the lack thereof brings much reproach on the church. We ought to work to change that as much as we have the power to do so (see Colossians 4.5-6 and 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12).

That's my take.