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Why This Willow Creek Pastor Will Never Be Part of a ‘Church Body That Is Not Diverse’

Aspects of his family history that he eventually learned about, says Ollie, include a great-uncle who was beheaded by the Ku Klux Klan. Major experiences as well as various “microaggressions” shape and inform people over time, says the pastor. “Until you’ve experienced oppression, you have no idea how a person sees the world.”

Pastor Shawn Williams on a ‘Myopic Perspective’

Williams, who is white, grew up in Texas with little awareness of race and racism, he admits. In that regard, “experience is a pretty imperfect teacher, if I view my life only through my experience.” The onus, says Williams, is on him to discover what he doesn’t know and doesn’t see; he needs to “intentionally” take steps to overcome that “myopic perspective.”

As an example, Williams describes being challenged by a mentor who asked how many books he’d read by black theologians. The answer turned out to be zero, which wasn’t intentional. But Williams, who attended seminary at a “small Bible college in the middle of Missouri,” now says, “I need to be willing to submit my journey to other voices.”

Of pastors, Williams adds, “I think it’s impossible to lead a multi-ethnic church if we’re unwilling to live a multi-ethnic life.” The Holy Spirit must guide those decisions, he says, opening up our lives and our eyes. It’s “absolutely critical,” says the pastor, for church leaders to sit and listen to one another because “there’s too much at stake not to get it right.”

To wrap up their conversation, Ollie and Williams talk about their dreams of increased diversity as well as ways the pandemic is affecting congregations and worship. “Digital discipleship is here to stay,” says Ollie. “There will be in-person worship, but it will not be the same as it has been…at least for a good season.”

Ollie adds, “We have an entire generation that’s coming of age in solitude and silence and isolation. I believe that we as a people of color as well as others, we have a unique opportunity to take things further in both relationship and a response to the gospel that can be a real beacon.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.