I’ve spent most of my career being led by people who are different from me: people of the opposite gender, other races, different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. I learned early on how to succeed in work environments in which I was a minority. I did my best to act like the people in charge, trying to think like them and even talk like them. I was pretty successful at it, and that made the achiever in me very happy.
Yet when I found myself moving into leadership positions, I realized that my desire and need to conform left me unsure of my own voice and perspective. I realized that my previous work experiences had not prepared me to trust and value my ability to lead and create change. Conformity had been valued over diversity of opinion, and there was very little room for me to exercise my own voice.
Looking back, I wonder what might have been if I had realized the value of my unique perspective—a perspective shaped by my heritage, gender, and life experiences.
Today, I have the privilege of working with a multicultural congregation in downtown Chicago. I get to lead an amazing group of people that includes different races, ethnicities, ages, economic classes, and political views. Navigating through the many perspectives can be challenging, but I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. By serving among so many different people, I have learned more about myself, God, and how to lead and love better than I ever thought possible.
Leading Toward Inclusion
I often meet with other leaders who are interested in planting or leading diverse congregations, and they want to know what it takes to lead in a diverse context. My response? “That depends. Do you want to lead a church where everyone conforms? Or do you want to be a leader who creates a space for everyone to be heard and valued?”1