The Witness

Pastoral Advice for White Pastors Shepherding Minority Members

Jarvis Williams

Jesus died to reconcile Jews and Gentiles into one new man, so that they would live in reconciled community with each other (Gal. 2:11-14; Eph. 2:11-3:8). This reconciliation will in many cases create multi-ethnic churches, mono-ethnic churches with ethnic minority members, or mono-ethnic, minority churches with white members. The reconciling power of the gospel urges pastors to become familiar with the ethnic demographic they shepherd.

In this post, I want to focus on pastoral advice for white pastors shepherding ethnic minority Christians in predominately white churches. My next post will focus on pastoral advice for ethnic minority pastors shepherding ethnic majority members.

  1. Reject Color-Blind Shepherding

I’ve written several things against so-called color-blind Christianity. I don’t want to rehash those arguments. But color-blind pastoral ministry will make white pastors blind to the uniquely difficult challenges that some of their non-white members might experience in society because of their non-whiteness.

For example, immigrants, certain blacks, Latinos/as, and Asians (to name a few) often have very different experiences in their day to day lives as minorities living in a majority white culture than whites living in the same majority white culture. Color-blind shepherding will also enable white pastors of predominately white churches to prioritize their white majority culture. A white pastor who shepherds minority members with a color-blind perspective might downplay, overlook, or even ignore the unique challenges ethnic minority members experience as non-white people on a regular basis in a majority white culture.

  1. Don’t Avoid Discussions about Race Just Because They Make the White Members Uncomfortable

Discussions about race and racism are difficult, especially when folks do not listen to each other. I’ve personally observed in certain white church contexts that as soon as race or racism is brought up, many white members become nervous as deafening silence permeates throughout the room. One reason for this is because if Christians are going to have a serious discussion about race in the U.S., we must likewise talk about the benefits and privileges that have often come to the white majority in this country because of their race.

When some white Christians hear the words race and racism, they often become defensive because they accurately think that this discussion requires (1) an admission of benefitting from being part of majority culture in a country that has traditionally privileged whiteness, and (2) because they might think this admission requires an appropriate stewarding of that privilege.

These realities make certain white Christians uncomfortable. And, if the majority of the congregation is white, the pastor of minorities in a predominately white context might feel pressure to avoid discussions about race and racism in order to save face with his white majority members at the expense of the minority Christians in the congregation who (for various reasons) will remain in that church until death.

  1. Don’t Ask or Expect Non-White Members to become White

Whiteness is ideological, not biological. And white people, along with every other ethnic group, are very diverse. Whiteness is very complicated and hard to define. Yet, there are basic cultural differences between certain white people and certain non-white people. And there are general differences between certain white churches and certain non-white churches—both general differences in church traditions and in worship expressions.

White pastors might expect non-white members to become white (whatever that even means in different contexts) after joining their church. But if white Christians urge ethnic minorities to forfeit or abandon everything about their cultural heritage or those things in their cultural heritages that do not contradict the gospel, this request is a subtle form of Christian white supremacy, which is neither Christian nor of the gospel.

If white pastors place the burden upon their non-white members to abandon their gospel honoring cultural distinctions before these pastors are willing to have fellowship with them and serve with them in the church, then those pastors are no different in practice than the false teachers in Galatia or Peter in Antioch, neither of whom were walking in a straightforward manner in the truth of the gospel because they were requiring Gentile Christ-followers to live in a Jewish manner of life (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:11-14). Paul calls this a distortion of the gospel (Gal. 1:6), and he prays that those who preach a gospel rooted in one’s ethnic identity, as opposed to faith in Jesus Christ, would be set apart for God’s destruction on the Day of wrath (Gal. 1:8-9).

  1. Be Intentional To Get To Know Your Non-White Members

People generally feel comfortable with people whom they know and with people whom they share similarities. A natural connection that white people have with other white people is their whiteness, just as I, as a brown skin black man, have a natural connection with people with brown skin. I feel this connection the strongest when I’m in contexts where I’m one of few black or brown people.

White pastors shepherding non-white members may be naturally drawn toward fellow white members and drawn away from their non-white members. This reality should force white pastors shepherding non-white members to intentionally get to know their non-white members. I don’t mean they should give them special attention. But I do mean that their non-white status requires white pastors to give them attention, because white people in predominately white churches naturally receive the majority of the pastoral care.

  1. Ask Non-White Members What’s Their Experience Like As Members of A Predominately White Church

Unfortunately, I think there are many pastors out of touch with their people, because they simply do not know them. This is true in both large churches and in small churches. I think certain white pastors of predominately white churches who shepherd non-white members simply don’t take the time to talk to non-white members about the joys and the great difficulties and challenges of being a member of a predominately white church as a non-white person. The difficulties can come from the amount of white cultural illustrations used by the pastor in his sermons, the references to certain kinds of music, the one-sided references to only white authors, or the basic conversations that the majority of the membership might have the majority of the time—discussions that are influenced and shaped by their cultural whiteness.

The difficulties can also emerge from a lack of understanding of what it means to be an ethnic minority in an ethnically majority community and church. White pastors who genuinely care about their non-white sheep should make it a point to ask their non-white members what is their experience at a predominately white church. And they might just be surprised by what they hear. But at least they would be able to shepherd all of their sheep in a way that promotes the one new man in Christ, and the unification of all people and all things in Christ.

12 thoughts on “Pastoral Advice for White Pastors Shepherding Minority Members

  1. Lyn

    I have read some just right stuff here. Certainly
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  2. ALasche

    Can you tell us more about this? I’d want to find out more details.

  3. Kara

    Thank you.

  4. Wes S.

    I think we need to ask ourselves which is more important: our culture, or our Christ. If our every thought is truly on the truth of the promises of God, does our peace come from comfort in this world? Are you suffering in God’s name, or for worldly ideologies? We are all His creation, and not one is perfect but the Son of Man. Our focus should be on Him as we worship, not cultural differences. We are one body in His holy name!

  5. R Crabtree

    I offer the following with sincerity and love and with due respect to my brother in Christ who wrote it. I trust that my forthrightness will not be mistaken for rudeness…

    I am saddened by this article and find it profoundly unhelpful for a few reasons that I’ll list below:

    1) Arrogance
    This article is filled with patronizing and condescending assumptions made about white pastors and so-called “white churches.” One wonders if the author loves white Christians only in so far as he can critique them.

    2) Not Distinctively Christian
    There is little that is distinctly Christian (let alone Reformed) in the advice offered in this article. One might easily argue that it is merely a DIY guide for white pastors who, according to the author’s hackneyed assumptions, are by their nature prone break the “laws” of secular multiculturalism.

    3) Gospel-Plus
    Here is the biggest problem… This entire article assumes that genuine gospel ministry must be linked to secular multicultural philosophy. Without doing so, the author seems to suggest, blacks and whites will never happily worship together in the same church – nor will blacks be properly cared for by their culturally insensitive white pastors. But surely implying that the success of gospel ministry depends upon its union with the darling fair-haired philosophy of contemporary culture (i.e. the golden calf of American-Multiculturalism) is a very dangerous (not to mention unbiblical) concept.

    In conclusion, if white pastors and so-called “white churches” need to learn to better care for their black members (and perhaps they do!) then let whites be instructed apart from the arrogance of prejudicial assumptions. If white pastors need training to better care for black Christians let them receive this training in distinctively Christian terms. And finally, if white pastors need to be taught a new philosophy to better care for black parishioners then let it be a gospel centered philosophy… And let him who presumes to teach smash his own golden calf philosophies first.



  7. Sam Hart

    Brian H, as a white man I mean this in love: Your defensiveness IS the problem.

  8. Sam Hart

    Dude. That’s fire. So good!

  9. Ed B

    As an African American, who has been a member of a predominately white church for over 16 years, I understand Brian H’s point, but the reality is that many Black people who have been part of mostly white congregations have gotten the “this is how you behave” here message, not necessarily articulated in any formal manner, but rather through the unconscious ways, wherein Whites presume white and/or suburban middle-class culture as “normative” and either ignore or dismiss the diverse perspectives from their Black brothers and sisters.

    Personally, I’ve experienced several of the things the author writes about. For example, several weeks after the death of Michael Brown, I had a conversation with a pastor about racial justice issues and one of the first things he said to me was when I see you I don’t see race. I had to stop him and say to him that , if that was his perspective, he doesn’t really see all of me.

    I understood his intent, but he was blind to how his desire to be color-blind also wiped away part of my God-given identity.

    One of the things I believe we need to pay much closer attention to is the captivity of the American Evangelicalism to a particular cultural orientation, that is more Western than Biblical. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah writes about this in his book, the Next Evangelicalism…

    “American evangelicalism has more accurately reflected the values, culture and ethos of Western, white American culture than the values of Scripture. At times, the evangelical church has been indistinguishable from Western, white American culture.”

  10. Alex Clayton

    Excellent advice I appreciate the article immensely. A Pastor needs to see the blessing of God gifting the congregation with diversity, and at the same time know that a Christian who is a minority in the world faces persecutions that a Christian who is a majority will never face. Have the conversations – but keep them Christ centered by remembering who the real enemy is and who the real Saviour is. Thank you

    Ps white pastor majority congregation ethnic minority.

  11. Brian H

    I say this not in anger or in a superior feeling, but the more I read coming from this network the more I see “how white Christians should behave”.

    How would you feel if I wrote a blog entitled “how minority members of white churches should conduct themselves at church”?

  12. g

    It is true, these conversations are uncomfortable and yet some of us now know are obviously unavoidable if we are to honor God. How much more difficult for you though as you face ingrained resistance from all sides in your pursuit to honor God in HIs calling of you to this. How powerfully though He convicts some of us through you. Your strong gospel appeal to the Church to practice the fullness of it’s purpose in truth and justice are so powerful. I consider your tears and joys (even if I don’t know them) in my prayers for you. I will be honored to be in God’s presents as he rewards you on the day of Jesus for your sacrifice. Praying for you now.

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