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May  2015 12
Nurturing Leaders: Ready for the U.S. of 2040?

Scripture: Isaiah 56.7

Symbols are important. In 2012, the Pew Research Center reported that Protestants in the U.S. moved below 50 percent of the population for the first time in the country’s history (Pew reports we are at 46.5 percent today). The shift from majority to minority status for Protestants in 2012 is a powerful symbol of the changing religious landscape.

The year 2040 is another symbol, for around that time, the U.S. will become a minority majority nation.

There are many churches that are not ready for that world. While there has been some increase in the number of congregations that represent more than one racial-ethnic group, overall, denominations in the U.S. such as The United Methodist Church have remained right around 90 percent white (I cite the UMC because their stats are available online).

A recent survey shows movement in nearly all mainline Protestant denominations to becoming more racially and ethnically inclusive, we are all a ways away from “looking like America” (see the details in the recent Pew survey).

I wonder what today’s mainline congregations will look like in 25 years. If current trends continue, many will be smaller and as about as segregated as today.

Personally, I cringe at the image of churches being even more racially, culturally, and economically segregated communities. Such churches distort the gospel beyond recognition.

In the seminary I serve, I’ve been saying I don’t want us to be a school for a white enclave church. So, we’re increasing the attention we are paying to diversity—not for the sake of diversity per se, because diversity is not the endgame. Rather, we seek a community that recognizes, affirms, and utilizes all the gifts brought by community participants for the sake of fulfilling our mission.

A community that is predominantly mono-racial and mono-cultural is also likely to be mono-tone; such a community will be deaf to most channels on which God is speaking and blind to most places where God is acting.

At every level of the churches, we need to pay more attention to identifying, nurturing, and calling persons who have the gift of bridging. By bridging I mean doing the work of knowing and owning one’s own culture and moving back and forth between cultures, creating meaningful “traffic” and relationships. Bridging with curiosity and with humility. Listening. Attending. Learning to translate.

If we the mainline churches want to be ready for where faith leads in the world of 2040, we need to identify and raise up bridge builders. Do you know such persons? Encourage them!

Prayer: Deliver us, God of all peoples, from the ties that bind our minds and the walls that we think keep us safe but only keep us isolated. Sharpen our eyes as we seek the bridge-building leaders we need.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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