January Series Speaker Explains Why an Inclusive Church Still Needs to be Realized

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Leroy Barber 235 Rev. Barber delivered a passionate appeal to include people who are not part of the majority culture.Sweat beading his bald pate, Rev. Leroy Barber made it clear early-on he had more in mind than delivering a feel-good sermon.

Barber, who spoke during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Calvin College’s January Series, delivered a passionate appeal for missions boards and churches to reexamine the reasons why mostly-white leaders are recruited to accomplish the Lord’s work, specifically to spread the gospel abroad and help the underprivileged in the United States.

Reason for the imbalance

“Eighty-five percent of organizations are led by white folks for 60 percent of those who are people of color,” Barber said, college pastor at Kilns College in Bend, Ore and author of “Red, Brown, yellow, Black and White: Who’s More Precious In His Sight?” a book that calls for more diversity in Christian missions and ministry.

“There is an imbalance,” said Barber. “They are not making dreams in most of these organizations.”

Barber touched on four major problems that make it difficult for people of color to have their voice heard by those who live, what he called, a “privileged life”: leadership, finances, biased board of directors for nonprofits and ministries and lack of cross cultural relationships.

The customary way white people raise money to go on the mission field, for example, is through individual fundraising, Barber said. This time-tested method works so well it’s hard for some to wrap their heads around why this method doesn’t work for everyone.

Community, not individualism

But there are flaws to this method when applied to people of color because they live in cash-strapped communities that often make fundraising difficult, if not impossible. Compounding the problem is they are often judged by the amount of money they raise or, more specifically, don’t raise.

There is a better way, said Barber: Work together.

“We have taken the idea of individualism as a cultural norm rather than the idea of community that is in Scripture,” Barber said. “Most are relying on a system that is built around having extra resources. Our boards are lacking cross cultural relationships. We don’t know each other.”

The reason there’s a dearth of cross cultural relationships is because the social lives for many are from the same culture and that culture is comprised of people from the predominate ethnic group of white people Barber termed as “elites.”

“Has God changed?” Barber said. “Does God in 2016 only call elites? Our theology needs to reexamine itself. Who is most affected negatively? Who is suffering? Whose humanity is denied? Are those questions asked when looking for leaders?”

Jesus’ earthly ministry is populated with ministering to the outsiders of His time: the Canaanitewoman (none-Jew) who pleads with Him to heal her daughter of the demons that tormented her; inviting tax collector Zacchaeus to eat with Him; and choosing Mary as Him earthly mother rather than someone of nobility.

Jesus understood their suffering

Dr. King saw similar parallels when he was alive during the civil rights movement, added Barber: German shepherds attacking blacks; police using tear gas, and rubber bullets and fire hoses, all as an effort to dissuade them from achieving more just lives.

“Dr. King talked to those beaten down about Jesus, the one who understood their suffering,” Barber said. “There was this hope even when they were suffering. They came to Jesus wanting some healing.”

“This is how we are to understand Jesus,” added Barber. “We live for the others. We learn these lessons down below (with the downtrodden) because the church started as a diverse movement. They were people from many places.”



Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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