I am privileged to share today on the blog a guest post by Ted Esler. Ted serves as the Executive VP for Pioneers USA. Ted has a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Seminary. He was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts as an organizational leader to some of the issues raised in this series. Quick to affirm that neither he nor Pioneers have all the answers, I appreciate his vulnerability to share in a public forum how his organization is approaching these problems. You can engage more with Ted in the comments below, on his website or on twitter.
As a leader in Pioneers USA I have been a part of a team that seeks greater diversity in our missionary force. It has been pointed out earlier in this blog series that the support-raising system is a contributor to the “whiteness” of ministries. From my perspective as an agency leader there is much truth to this charge.
The following list is from notes from our leadership team’s internal study of the issue. I call this list “Advice to Ourselves,” because we know we have a problem and we know we can address it. There are certainly more radical approaches to the problem but we are who we are. Our organization has a long way to go before we reflect the demographic changes occurring in the United States. As I write this post, this morning I will be speaking to a group of about 45 new staff candidates. I note that this group of candidates has more African Americans that possibly any other group we have had on our campus.
Advice to Ourselves
- 1. Understand the dynamics of the support-raising paradigm and it’s effect on organizations.
It would be easy to ignore the fact that the support-raising paradigm does make it difficult from some ethnic groups to participate in the life of your organization. It’s not that these systems are designed to do so, of course, but that they are culturally bound to the majority culture’s church history and development.
- 2. See each ethnic group in their own context. Lumping them into one category reflects a majority viewpoint.
I frequently read/hear advocates of diversity in missions discuss this topic
in a way that categorizes all minorities into one group. In our organization’s experience this defeats the need for cultural/racial sensitivity. For example, our previous leader in the area of recruitment (an Asian American) was committed to avoiding the hiring of an “ethnic mobilizer.” His view was that people don’t want to be labeled as identifying primarily with their subgroup and recruiting them on this premise was a negative influence in the pursuit of diversity. African American mobilizers, on the other hand, have assured me that until we give them a unique track into our organization they will feel sidelined.
- 3. Leaders, like myself, must be personally involved in the process.
Leaders at the highest levels of the organization must see and appreciate the problems inherent in mobilizing the minority church in the USA. Tough decisions will need to be made. For example, as long as majority culture people sit in
￼the seats of authority those same seats will not be made available to others. We leaders must be very willing to vacate and move on in order to see our organizations transformed positively.
- 4. Change the board membership.
Boards provide for unique opportunity to be inclusive. Organizational boards
are not subject to the support-raising paradigm. They are influential and can guide senior leaders in making institutional change. Use of the board’s rotation schedule makes board transformation possible. This is hard work: we struggle to find competent, available minority leaders that can meaningfully contribute to the organization. They are out there, of course, but (similar to the support-raising issues noted elsewhere) we simply don’t have a relationship with them. Thus, it is hard for us to find them and challenge them to participate.
- 5. Focus on the local churches that support the organization.
Understand the role of the local church in each community as fundamentally different. Start with this distinction in mind. See the culture of the church, not just the objective of the organization when talking with pastors. In most ethnic churches the pastor has a stronger, more centralized leadership role. One cannot plan to relate directly to people involved in a church. Pastors, in many of these churches, are gatekeepers.
- 6. Look at alternative funding paradigms.
Many people have suggested that we must adopt a different system of financing mission. While I applaud their efforts, this is a very hard thing to see happen. Agencies can and should be experimenting with alternate ways of sending. Examples are organizations like Movein (tentmaking) and Positive Impact (business as mission). Another suggestion has been to layer “general fund” support-raising on top of existing mission agencies to directly fund workers. Be aware of sustainability in these paradigms. Also be aware that organizations that utilize these methods (like World Vision, World Relief and Samaritan’s Purse) wrap their objectives around fund-able projects. The more abstract the organization’s objective is (like church planting) the more difficult it will be to attract donations.
- 7. Partner.
Allow for partnerships that you might not otherwise consider or see unless you have an eye for minority mobilization. For example, look for a minority-led organization that you can partner with to achieve both organization’s goals. In the process you will learn from them. You may also find that backing their efforts will yield far greater involvement of a minority group than through recruitment to your organization. Be generous to these fledgling organizations both in resources and time. Be willing to go outside of your organizational objectives to do this when necessary.
- 8. Look at your staff mix.
Look at the mix between support-raised positions and salaried roles on your staff. All agencies have some salaried positions. In our organization support-raising is not a requirement to hold any position. Obviously, those who come “off the field” and have raised support often have a greater likelihood of rising to prominent positions. Even so, we have a number of positions that are held by senior leaders who do not raise funds. When possible, leverage these salaried roles.
- 9. Challenge the minority church.
Minority churches could and should encourage a culture of support-raising. The model is, in part, taken from the pages of the Bible. Simply accepting the status quo among minority congregations sells them short of their potential.
- 10.Look deep down the pipeline.
Missionaries don’t just appear overseas one day. There is typically a long pipeline that gets them there. It often starts with missions experiences that expose people to cross-cultural realities. Working with minority mobilization may mean engineering experiences for them that start in the early formation of a person’s missiology. A church may, for example, decide to allow people to take short-term mission trips that grow a person deeper in their exposure. The first year they may be on a short-term trip to their own ethic background culture (such as Africa or China). If they want to go short-term again, a church could require that the second experience be in a completely different culture. We can’t transform the current situation by simply looking at organizations: a developmental model of people in the “missions pipeline” must be considered.
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