Wings to Rise



Rev. Dr. Darnell K. Williams, Sr


A Pipeline for Diverse Leadership

The winds of change are blowing around us. During the past year, we’ve experienced racialunrest, political division, financial uncertainty, and the COVID-19 pandemic.The events of 2020 will continue to shape our world in the new year and beyond. Butthere are other changes happening as well — developments that are far less noisy but no lessimpactful. Among them are the racial and ethnic shift our nation is making toward a majority-lesssociety.

In 2019, 40% of Americans identified as a race or ethnicity other than “white alone, not Hispanic orLatino,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That share will increase to more than 50% by 2044, theCensus Bureau projects. Our nation is experiencing an increase in diversity that will continue toclimb.

This trend is reflected in the Assemblies of God USA, with non-white adherents making up 44% ofour Fellowship.How do we capitalize on this moment with proactive initiatives that glorify the Lord? As an AfricanAmerican leading a diverse congregation, I recognize the opportunity before us. But it’s not just anopportunity for some of us. It’s an opportunity for the entire Church to pursue Christ’s vision ofpreaching the good news to all nations (Mark 13:10).

Granted, not all communities are seeing the impact of this shift. But those of us who are in a diversesetting have a responsibility to serve and represent all our neighbors.We need to create systems for raising up, retaining, and releasing ethnically and racially diverseleaders in the local church. We need to recognize those with leadership capacity and give themplaces to serve.I can attest to the life-giving power of this. Others in leadership have affirmed my calling and value bycreating space for me to be seen and heard, and by investing in my learning and growth.

Some leaders struggle with the tension of intentionality versus tokenism. They fear being moreinclusive means creating a quota system that is all about box checking. But that mindset suggestsdiversity and competence are mutually exclusive, which is certainly not the case.When Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey desegregated Major LeagueBaseball, he chose to bring in Jack “Jackie” Roosevelt Robinson.Robinson was black and a great player. He helped the Dodgers capture six pennants and win the1955 World Series. In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.Recruiting diverse leadership is a matter of promoting biblical justice and identifying quality peoplewho might not get a chance to lead unless you open the door for them.

Here are four ways to create a diverse leadership pipeline in your church:

1. Reflection

Reflection can be a powerful process. A great place to begin is with the question, “Why?” Why am Imotivated to raise up diverse leaders? Am I upholding a biblical value, or am I just giving a nod toenvironmental pressures? Am I responding to cultural trends or Kingdom priorities? Is this a fleetingmoment of conviction or a challenge toward a new mission?

Reflection brings clarity and releases passion for the journey ahead. I went through this process withthe last staff pastor position we filled. As I reflected on the ideal candidate, I considered who wasmissing from our team in terms of diversity.I recognized that a younger leader would add value. I saw wealso could benefit from someone white or Hispanic. Thisprocess proved invaluable because it opened my heart to gaps Imight not have previously considered.

2. Vision

As you formulate a vision of investing in diverse leaders, beginto dream, with pen on paper, about the future. A clear vision canshape values, define where to invest your energy, and keep youon task during times of testing.

Our church developed a written statement that captures ourvision for diversity. It speaks to how we fulfill the five attributesof the New Testament Church: worship, fellowship, discipleship,service and outreach. We cast a vision around the value of our multiethnic identity as a localcongregation in this declaration:

We dream of a place where the love of Christ is made known within the local church and thegreater community. A place where people, regardless of their gender, race, income, ethnicity, orage, can be a part of the Lord’s work that is happening at One Church, Lima.Keeping this statement before our congregation has helped keep our vision for diversity vibrant andfresh.

3. Culture

We can do all the right things, for all the right reasons, with all the right motives, and still not make alasting difference. That’s where culture comes in.The reality is, sometimes vision and culture collide. If we take a strong vision and immerse it in anunhealthy culture, that culture will stifle and suffocate the vision. As author Sam Chand says, “Cultureeats vision for lunch.”

If the culture cannot sustain the vision, then go to work on the culture. The folks we lead may notstruggle with change as much as they struggle with the transitions the change brings. Help peopledeal with the emotional, financial, psychological and relational impact of the change so they canmanage the new reality.We recently built a new facility, and while most congregants were excited about it, I noticed somewere struggling with the idea.

One young man in his 20s said about the former facility, “Pastor, I love this building! I love thememories and relationships I built in youth ministry. I’m away at college, and part of coming home iscoming to worship in this building. I don’t know how I’ll handle never worshipping here again.”

I took a moment to process these emotions with him and shared why this move was a good thing.Acknowledging what he was feeling and talking together about the new place God was taking ushelped him deal with the transition.Similarly, increasing your church’s commitment to diversity may make some people uncomfortable.Work through those issues with love and grace, take steps toward creating a more inclusive culture,and move forward together.

4. Development

In Multiplying Missional Leaders, Mike Breen suggests four steps for developing leaders: recruiting,training, deploying, and reviewing.Recruiting involves finding and onboarding qualified candidates for leadership. Build relationships with influencers who can help you identify diverse leaders. Your network could include local pastors,ministers from other areas, educators, and marketplace leaders.Training means taking the time to provide new leaders with the necessary tools to be successful.

Follow this with an ongoing investment in their personal growth.Deploying leaders is all about releasing them to serve and giving them grace to make mistakes.Reviewing is a matter of following up on progress at regular intervals. Continued engagement,involvement and communication can go a long way toward helping your diverse leaders feel safe andvalued.In Scripture, the tribe of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1Chronicles 12:32). Likewise, today’s church leaders need to model an awareness of our times.

Andthose who can formulate a plan of action should do so.God calls us to recognize where the Lord is working and join in with Him. May we seek to lead ourchurches to become what Jesus envisioned in Mark 11:17: “a house of prayer for all nations.”This article appears in the January–March 2021 edition of Influence magazine

How to Use Business Models ofLeadership Biblically

Spiritual leaders sometimes wonder what to do with secular leadership books like Good toGreat by Jim Collins, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, or ThePractice of Management by Peter F. Drucker. As ministers, we want to grow our capacityand enhance our skills. But we also know the priorities and perspectives of the Churchare distinct from those of corporations.

These tensions often lead to conflicts. It’s easy to write off as unspiritual issues like organizationaleffectiveness, team collaboration, strategic planning, and staff coaching. This seems like theterritory of CEOs, executives, and business school thinkers.

Nevertheless, spiritual leaders face a subtle frustration. Ministerial education does a great job ofpreparing students for preaching, but sometimes leaves them ill-equipped for administrative,managerial and visionary roles.

Ministers may seek out the trusted spiritual voices of such authors as John Maxwell and Sam Chand,leaders who have seemingly bridged the void between the sacred calling and secular responsibility.Yet there can also be wisdom in secular leadership material.The question is, how can ministers strike the right balance of gleaning valuable insight from thecorporate world while staying focused on a Kingdom vision?

Here are three best practices :

Seek Truth

Look for points of convergence, where the secular resource aligns with biblical truth. For instance, inManaging the Nonprofit Organization, Drucker notes that relying solely on charismatic influencewhile neglecting character development hurts leaders and their followers.This is clearly a scriptural principle. While Drucker brings the what to the surface for all leaders, thespiritual leader knows the how is in God’s Word and the work of the Spirit.

Use Discernment

In Good to Great, Collins famously advises getting “the rightpeople on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the rightpeople in the right seats.”

As the leader of a spiritual community, I’m not sure how thisworks. Do we have some subjective litmus test to determinewho we will and will not welcome? Does this apply to staffinghires? What about volunteers? Is it OK for us to create a culturewhere someone who needs to grow and develop has margin to fail?

As Karl Vaters noted in Small Church Essentials, “There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ people, just ourpeople, our resources, our options, and our bus.”It takes discernment to see what is applicable to our unique context and what is not.

Practice Vulnerability

The Church is God’s primary means of reaching people with the good news. Each local church hasmissional objectives and a Kingdom purpose. Each church is also an organization — with a distinctculture, dynamics, systems, structures and realities.

As leaders, we can develop blind spots to things that are hindering our organization or feedingunhealthy elements within it. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies the firstdysfunction as the absence of trust. He explains that when team members don’t trust one another,dysfunction grows.

It’s easy to assume all is well with the team we lead. But Lencioni advises assuming your team isdysfunctional until proven otherwise.Being vulnerable enough to entertain the notion that there is room for improvement is often the firststep toward creating a culture that recognizes and overcomes dysfunction.

While we certainly can find wisdom in secular books, it’s important to remember the Bible is thegreatest volume on leadership ever written.Recently, while scrolling through Twitter, I observed an exchange between Marcus Lemonis and afollower. The follower asked Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and host of the reality television showThe Profit, to recommend a great book on business building and leadership.

Lemonis responded, “The Bible.”

Where We Stand Shapes What WeSee

Will There Finally Be Justice?

Darnell K. Williams Sr.

My wife and I sat in horror as we heard the news of George Floyd dying in police custody. We turnedto each other and tearfully said, “Again!”Another life lost, another name joined to this seeming unending list of people — Black people — whohave died. Our emotions were still raw as we were processing the senseless losses of both BreonnaTaylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

We were battling through that all-too-familiar feeling of numbnessmingled with frustration.As we watched the horrific video of Floyd’s life slowly draining from his body, hearing his words, “Ican’t breathe,” and watching a restrained and helpless man cry out for his mother, we cried together.We pondered that painful, aching question Black people in America have asked again and again: Willthere finally be justice?

Sadly, this emotional space is well traveled. The space where I have to role play with my son how torespond if he is ever stopped by the police. The space where I hear his mother weeping before theLord, begging for His protection. The space where we have to convince our white brothers andsisters that this is something real.We are not like the proverbial scared child hearing noises and seeing ghosts in the night. Themonsters of evil and racism are real!

Now, with George Floyd, it feels like we are finally being believed,finally being heard.One white friend called me and asked, “What can I do to help?” Here’s my response:

1. Listen.

The dangers of building anything homogeneously,whether our personal lives or organizations, is that we can missnecessary and needed paradigm shifts.The call to listen means inviting someone into your life who canhelp you understand and gain a different vantage point.

Keep in mind Black people are working through the grief cycle:denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, andacceptance. So, at any given moment, we may be emoting any of those feelings.

2. Learn.

Recently, I was educated about learning. I was in a staff meeting, and I mentioned a femaleminister and declared, “She can preach as good as any man.”One of my female staff members replied, “Being a man is not the gold standard of being a greatpreacher! If she’s a good preacher, Pastor, just say that.”

I learned! Learning is about having the relational vulnerability to be called out and corrected. As weare dealing with issues of racism and inequality, part of good leadership is becoming a learner.

3. Lament.

Grieve with us. Shed tears with us. Practice compassion, empathy and pastoral presence.Let your voice be heard. It is not a time for the status quo to remain in place.

Joel 2 highlights the power of lament. The prophet uses phrases like “fasting and weeping andmourning” (verse 12). What if the body of Christ came together to fast, weep and mourn before theLord?Finally, as long as these issues remain Black issues, they will continue to be viewed marginally.

Whatwill give them wings to rise is the voice of white America declaring, “Enough.”As Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, butthe silence of our friends.”Darnell K. Williams Sr., D.Min., is senior pastor of New Life Church (AG) in Lima, Ohio; vice presidentof the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God; and a nonresident executive presbyter forthe AG


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