When it comes to racial reconciliation in the church, there is a wide gap between the vision of the pastor and the opinions of his or her congregation.
According to new Lifeway research, 90 percent of pastors believe their congregations would be receptive to sermons about racial reconciliation, but 71 percent of evangelical churchgoers say their church is currently diverse enough.
“Most pastors appear to be taking a leadership role in encouraging racial reconciliation,” Executive Director of Lifeway Research Scott McConnell said. “Nine in 10 pastors say they recently have done something to encourage racial reconciliation. [However] it seems like most congregations are eager for somebody else to do the work of reconciliation rather than embrace it for themselves.”
The research—both now and previously in 2014—suggests most pastors have a different vision for ethnic diversity in their church than their congregants do. For many pastors, this has led to embracing racial reconciliation from avenues other than the pulpit. Fifty-seven percent of pastors say in the last three months they’ve intentionally socialized with neighbors from other ethnic groups than their own, 40 percent met with pastors of other ethnicities, 51 percent have discussed the issue with leaders of their church, and 72 percent say they’ve had a conversation with an ethnically diverse small group of people (less than 10) in the past month.
What this means for pastors attempting to lead a more ethnically-diverse church is the answer may not come solely from the pulpit, but also through example. Attempting to lead a congregation toward racial reconciliation could start with the simple act of living out racial inclusion in a pastor’s day-to-day life and then calling the leaders of his or her church to do the same.
In an interview with the Christian Post, David Bailey, executive producer of the Urban Doxology Project, a Richmond, Virginia, based ministry that promotes racial reconciliation and urban community development, said the most important way pastors can influence their church toward ethnic inclusion is to focus less on the pulpit and more on their own journey.
“Nothing gets done right without investing time and money, and in relationships,” Bailey said. “Too often pastors try to get this work done without a cost. If a pastor is not willing to invest, it would be better for them not to start. After hearing just one sermon or even a sermon series, people revert to the status quo.”
For pastors, this means leading their church toward racial reconciliation will be a long road of slow influence, which could feel discouraging. However, God’s call to pastors is to faithfully follow his heart for ethnic unity in the body of Christ in their own day-to-day lives: reaching out, asking questions, listening and building intentional friendships.