And it Continues…..Diversity in Church

One of the most influential books I’ve read in the past year has been Church Diversity by Scott Williams (the link will take you to my review of the book).  I say influential because it’s caused me to seriously reflect on how I view the issues of ethnic and age diversity in church congregations.  Living in the South (but coming from the North), I have noticed the deep racial divide here in many ways, but perhaps none so more obvious as church attendance.

Over the past five months we’ve visited a lot of churches, and this issue of diversity has been something we’ve talked about a lot.  To highlight how bad of an issue this is in the South (my friends from the North may not believe this story, but it’s true), let me quickly tell the story of what we noticed several weeks ago while visiting a church…. One of the things about Greenville is that there are lots of new church plants around (I don’t mean plants like those things that grow out of the dirt that you have to water, I mean plants as in start-up, new churches).  Many of these plants do not have home buildings, so they meet in schools, hotels, or even homes.  One week we visited a church that was meeting in one of these non-traditional locations and as we walked in I saw a really good mix of both black and white people walking in the door of the building.  I actually thought to myself, “Wow – now here’s a church that’s started to become more integrated!  Praise God!”  But then I got in the building…

I kid you not – there were two different rooms setup for two different churches.  All the black people went to one and all the white people went to another.  Now don’t misunderstand me – this was not one church with two different rooms for worship, it was simply two different churches that happened to meet in the same physical building in two different rooms.  But the contrast could not have been more severe – I actually had the thought in my head, “What is this?  1960?”

Now I don’t know what effort these two churches have made towards attracting and maintaining members of other races in their respective congregations, but I did have to wonder about it.  In the South it is very common for people to say that the racial division in churches is a result of the culture down here – and I believe there is a lot of truth to that.  But it’s not an excuse.  I was having a conversation recently with someone about this and asked about their view on reaching out to people from other backgrounds, specifically blacks, to bring them into the church.  This person responded to me that while they thought it was a great idea, they felt it would be a better idea to actually train up a black minister to go and reach black people with the gospel because as a white person he wasn’t sure he’d be able to connect with blacks and be respected by them.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Or does it?  I’ve also heard people say, “I can’t reach out to older people because I’m so young I’m just not respected and accepted, so I need to find an older person to reach them for me.”  Or, “If that person just had a white teacher instead of a black teacher he’d learn better.”  So let’s take race out of this discussion and replace it with any word that represents a portion of culture: food, music, whatever you want.  Haven’t you talked with people regarding music programs at churches who will tell you, “We have to be traditional/contemporary because that’s who we are and if we choose the other we will offend this particular group?” (or something along those lines?)

But here’s the bottom line: anytime, or perhaps I should say every time, we make a comment that because of our cultural background we can’t reach a certain set of people from a different background, we are limiting the power of God.  That’s right.  In essence, what the person whom I talked with that I mentioned earlier was saying was, “The power of the cultural barrier in Greenville is more powerful that the God I serve.”  What those who argue over music are saying is, “The power of musical style to divide us is greater than the power of God to unite us.”

And that’s a problem.  The problem ultimately isn’t our view of race, culture, music, or what-have-you; no, our problem is our view of God.  For me the main issue is not so much that we have segregated congregations (it’s an issue, but it’s not the main issue) – the main issue is what are we doing about it?  I get concerned for those who don’t recognize it is a problem that needs to be addressed.  I’m not saying I have the answer as to how to address it, I’m just saying we need to stop hiding behind the excuse of “that’s the culture here in the South” and start recognizing that the power of God to unify and reconcile is greater than the power of the enemy to divide.

Go back to the example I shared at the beginning of this post about the two different churches worshiping side-by-side in two different rooms…  I’m in no way suggesting I wouldn’t have been allowed in the room where the “black church” was meeting or that if a black person had tried to enter the room where the “white church” was he would have been turned away; I truly believe both sides would have welcomed a person of the different background into their group without making them feel uncomfortable.  I’m just wondering why it was up to me as a white person to enter the “black church” or for one of the black Christians to enter the “white church”.  Why do we always put the onus for change on the other person and rarely (if ever) ask, “What can I do to reach out to someone who is different from me?”

Does this mean the church we ultimately end up at will be a perfect representation of all the races and ethnicities found in Greenville?  No.  Does it mean the church we ultimately end up at is willing to start talking about this problem and acknowledging that it is a problem?  I certainly hope so.  Churches need to be asking the question – just start by asking the question.  And then let God take us where he wants us to go.


Best Books for 2011

Considering we’re over two weeks into 2012 and I’ve had this on my to-do-list since the end of December, it’s time for me to compile my list of favorite books I’ve read and reviewed in the last year.  But I’m going to do this a little differently than you’d probably expect.  I’m not going to pick my highest-rated books based on my reviews, but I’m going to list the books that have had the biggest impact on my life.  Yes, I read for enjoyment, but most of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog have also been because I’m seeking to learn and grow, so at the end of the year I’m looking back to reflect on which ones led to the most growth and change in my life.

So here goes – my best books of 2011 – and what I learned from them (for the record, these are listed in the alphabetical order, not in rank-order):

  • Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – This one almost seems obvious, given my love of Eldredge’s works, but when you also consider that I’ve reviewed other books by favorite authors (Yancey and Lucado to name a couple) and not included them on my list, you’ll realize this isn’t an exercise in listing my favorite authors. No, this is an exercise in listing those books that had the biggest impact on my growth over the past 12 months. It’s sad to say, but when I looked at the list of all my reviews I found myself saying, “Wow – I don’t even remember what that book was about!” That’s not the case with this one, though. Beautiful Outlaw challenged my view of Jesus in a way that few other books have ever done so. While I have some reservations (mentioned in the two reviews I post), I put this book down with a desire to know Jesus more personally and deeply than I had when I started – and it motivated me to spend more time in the Word and in conversation and fellowship with Him and others. To me that’s the mark of a book leading to change and growth.
  • Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby – just like Now I Walk on Death Row and While the World Watched helped me once again see the world through another’s eyes: this time through the eyes of those who are lost believing the lies of Islam. And it opened my heart to the necessity of reaching those people through my own actions – including gifts and prayers.
  • Church Diversity by Scott Williams – take Transformational Church and combine it with While the World Watched and you have an idea of the impact of Williams’ book. This book challenged me to think about worship and leadership in many new ways, it confirmed much of what I thought was happening in situations I was facing at various times throughout the year, and it offered insight into how I needed to approach some of those situations. This book is definitely deserving of being named to my list.
  • Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron – Here’s the surprise book on my list, especially considering I gave it such a horrible review. But here’s why I’ve got to put it on my list of best reads: it caused me to reflect on how often I share Jesus with other people and ask myself the question, “Do others see Jesus in me?” My complaint about the book was that it didn’t focus me enough on the life and work of Christ – which then convicted me to say, “How can I do a better job than this book did?” I guess it’s like the old adage that says “You can learn just as much (if not more) from a non-example than you can from an example.” As I said in my original the review, the book is an absolute blast to read – it just didn’t have the focus I was looking for. But, six months after I read it, I still find myself thinking about it and recognizing it had a positive impact on my spiritual growth, so I’ve got to put it on my list.
  • Money & Marriage by Matt Bell – I wish I could say that all our money struggles were fixed after I read this book and that I was able to take every suggestion Bell had and put it into practice. What I can tell you is that it did lead to changes in how I view and manage money – all for the better – and so in that sense this book marked the beginning of a slow process for the better.
  • Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale Recinella – Here’s a book that tells the story of a real-life person who gives up everything this world counts as precious and trades it for the opportunity to minister to “the least of these”. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to be a prison chaplain, or even that I am looking to be one, but this book helped remind me there are lost and hurting people everywhere who need the love of Jesus – and that it is possible to be an agent for good in a lost and hurting world.
  • Radical by David Platt – to this day I still think back to the seemingly simple challenge Dr. Platt refers to as “radical” (read your Bible, pray, and give). And to this day I still struggle to do it! One of the best lessons I learned from the book, though, is the importance of sharing Jesus with other people and being motivated to do it. Platt’s comment that there “is no plan B” has been on my mind practically every day for the past year – and I find it convicting and motivating.
  • Simply Sacred by Gary Thomas – I’m still reading this book every day and finding more and more truth in it than the first time I read it. Melissa and I have been working through it as our daily devotional now for a couple of months and the insights Thomas shares have caused me to really examine my own beliefs and behaviors as I work to match them up with what God has called us to be and do. And since it’s the book we’re using for our couple’s devotional, it’s also challenged me to reflect on how we can grow spiritually as both a couple and family. Perhaps more than any other book on the list, this book has led to real change in how I act.
  • Transformational Church – I’ve spent the last eight years studying and working to better understand what it means to worship and what a church should be. Transformational Church is one of the best book I’ve ever read that answers that question. Without going into a lot of detail, the concepts and teachings in this book are ones that I applied in my own ministry and ones everyone in ministry should study, learn, and implement.
  • While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry – I really didn’t anticipate or plan for this to be a “Top 10” list, but I guess it has ended up that way. This book really helped me see what it was like to live in a segregated society through the eyes of a black person. While segregation is something we learn about in school, since I was born after it was illegal (and because I grew up in the North) it was never anything I experienced. When I moved to North Carolina eight years ago I was shocked by the amount of racial tension I found here. While the past certainly doesn’t justify certain actions and policies that are present now, it absolutely helps explain them. This book really helped me see the world through someone else’s eyes.

So there you have it – my list of the most influential books on my life for the year 2011.  While I don’t make resolutions, I did start last year with a goal of reading at least one book a month – a goal I more than kept when I looked back and realized I reviewed 33 books last year.  While most were wonderful (and there are some I really considered putting on this list), the ones listed here are the ones that a year after reading them I can look back and say (without even looking at the list of my reviews), “I remember reading this book – here’s what I thought of it and here’s how it changed me.”  To me that’s what reading to grow is all about.  Sure, in reviewing the list of books I read I saw titles that caused me to say, “Oh yeah, I remember that – that was a great book!”  But their recollection needed a little reminder.  The ones on this list, though?  No reminder at all was needed.

So what’s coming next?  Here are some on my “To Read” shelf that will have reviews posted as soon as they’re completed:

  • Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll
  • Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas
  • Radical Together by David Platt
  • Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan
  • Why Jesus? by Ravi Zacharias
  • Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

That’s just a small list – thank you to all those who follow this blog and listen to my ramblings and reviews.  Hopefully you find them enlightening, encouraging, and maybe even a little entertaining.  Here’s looking forward to another year.

School Improvement Summit: Final Thoughts & Reflection

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the daily summary of the SIIS this past week I encourage you to read the daily summaries before you read this final reflection.  They can be accessed by clicking on the following links: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

There are a couple of key elements I’m walking away from this summit spending a great deal of time reflecting on: the importance of attitude, the radical change required to fully implement common core, and the importance of building equity into our school system.  If you read my daily summaries you know that I attended sessions on more than those three issues, but those are the ones that stick out.  Let’s look at them each individually, including my thoughts on what they mean for me in my current position as well as for us as a district.


Attitude is one of the most important aspects of our jobs.  Right now we are facing a lot of changes in education as a whole and those are all trickling down to us here in PCS: Race to the Top, Common Core, implementation of PD360 and Observation 360, a fairly new teacher-evaluation model, new leadership in several schools and in several key positions at central office (well, once the vacant positions are filled!)  That’s a lot of change.  And too often we allow ourselves to have negative attitudes towards change.  So let’s look at some of these changes together and talk about where we’re headed and how we can have a positive attitude about them.

RttT – I’m not sure how much any of us fully understand the implications being a RttT state and district will have on us.  But know that RttT is driving many of the changes we are experiencing – and most of them are for the good of our students (I’d say all but I have learned that one of the few constants in the universe is to never say all or always!).  One of the key components of RttT is to look at teacher effectiveness – yet teacher effectiveness is often times difficult to define.  The best thing we can do as educators is consistently strive to do better at honing our craft – and that is what the new teacher evaluation tool, PD360, and Observation 360 are all about.  They are empowering us to reflect on our teaching, learn how to teach better, and then put into place a system by which we can monitor those changes which will lead to improved teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, student achievement.  Jim Knight reminded me this week that teaching is a highly personal endeavor – criticizing someone’s teaching is like criticizing someone’s parenting – it is a reflection of who we are.  So one of the things we need to learn to do as observers is better communicate a desire and intent to help teachers grow in their craft, offering prescriptive feedback as well as specific praise.  One of the things teachers need to better learn is to accept that suggestions are given with a desire to help and improve and not a “gotcha” intent.  This takes trust and honesty on all our parts – and trust is built over time.  One of the things PD360 and Observation 360 will empower us to do is to have open, honest, constructive conversations on teaching and learning.  The question remains: will we?  My job is to prepare everyone to be ready to use these powerful tools the way they are intended.

CCSS – The Common Core State Standards, like the new teacher evaluation rubric, are forcing us to look at how we teach and not just what we teach.  They are going to require students learn both knowledge and skills.  Next week a team from PCS (which will include administrators, teachers, central office personnel, and instructional coaches) will spend two days at a training to begin looking at the CCSS in depth as well as develop a comprehensive plan to provide staff development to our district as we prepare to introduce the standards in 2012.  Additionally, with the passage of the budget last month we now will be using five of our staff development days this year to specifically look at, learn, and prepare for the transition to the CCSS and the NC Essential Standards.  The goal here is to offer as much training and support as is humanly possible so that everyone is ready for this transition.

After my initial post on attitude (which was day 1) I received several emails responses, which opened up an electronic conversation with several educators I know from around the country.  One of the things I talked about was how when I do classroom observations I observe, as best I can, for how attitude is communicated in the classroom.  Statements such as “The teacher smiles during the lesson” and “The teacher communicates a belief that all students can learn” are questions I look to answer in practically every room I enter.  When I was in graduate school I did an action research project with two other classmates (who are now administrators) looking for trends in students who failed the EOG.  We looked and analyzed at all sorts of data – but the one thing that stood out to me was that every single student who failed the test reported they could not agree with the statement, “My teacher communicates a belief that I can learn.”  That was powerful to me – and it was the only item we could find 100% correlation on!  We need, as educators, to do a better job of communicating confidence in our students.  Attitude is everything!

Common Core

I’ve touched on this above so I won’t spend a lot of time on it, but I do want to say that after attending the Summit I discovered that NC is actually in a pretty good situation in regards to the CCSS implementation.  While it will require a shift in thinking about how we deliver education, I can also say that part of that shift – a big part of it – has already taken place because of the new teacher evaluation instrument.  The new teacher evaluation instrument has forced us to look at areas such as critical thinking skills, 21st century skills, and integrating literacy across the curriculum – something the CCSS require as well.  In talking with educators from states from all over the nation I discovered many are far behind in these areas, so the transition to CCSS is going to be even more difficult for them.  Our focus as a district (translation: my focus as the one who helps design and schedule professional development J) is to prepare and plan trainings for teachers so they are confident and competent to teach to these new standards.  One of the first steps will be the five PD days we have scattered throughout the year to address this – so be looking throughout the year for PD sessions, online trainings, and the such!


Inequality in education is something that has bothered me ever since the beginning of my career: why is it teachers will have different standards for students who look or speak differently than they do.  I know that no teacher will readily admit out loud to this, but the fact of the matter is we live in a society where we see thing through our own cultural lens and that impacts how we interact with and communicate with people of other cultures and races.  I want to share two quotes with you.  The first from a guy named Scott Williams, a diversity expert from Oklahoma (who happens to be black):

Let me share a little more of my personal story…  I spent 11 years, 44 days, and 8 hours of my adult life in the prison system.  It was as crazy as you can imagine: 8×10 cell, razor wire, bad food, pent up anger…PRISON.  Relax, I was actually a warden in the prison system.  Why does a brother always have to be in the prison system?  Unfortunately, some people did not even make it to this sentence as they said to themselves, ‘I’m not reading a book from a convict.’  For everyone else, the curious nature of human beings propelled you to read on.”

The second is by Bruce Reyes-Chow from San Francisco, California:

“If I had to choose one struggle, it would be around the issues of ‘color-blindness’ that many well-meaning people have.  The ‘I don’t see you as [insert ethnic group here]’ perspective, while noble, does two things that are not helpful.  One, it assumes that one’s race is something that the person wants someone to see beyond and, two, too often the ‘beyond’ we are striving for is simply a generic ‘white’ culture that, in the end, perpetuates a ‘lesser than’ understanding of people of color.”

The problem with addressing the issue of equity (or inequity) is we always try to find a program, book, or professional development training to do it for us.  While those things are not bad in and of themself they don’t bring about the radical reformation that is required to truly address the problem.  The only way to address this problem is to have a transformation in our thinking and our attitudes (there’s that “a” word again!)  This is more than implementing Culturally Responsive Teaching in our classrooms and this is more than looking at test scores by sub-group.  For those of you with PD360 access watch this link with a video of Dr. John Covington from Kansas City Schools.  If it doesn’t convince you of the importance of this issue then I’m not sure what will.  This is not a black problem, a white problem, a Hispanic problem, or an Asian problem.  This is a human problem that needs to be addressed – and the ones who are suffering because of it are our kids.  If you don’t think it’s a problem at all I challenge you to read Curtis Linton & Glenn Singleton’s book Courageous Conversations About Race.

How will I address this in my job?  One of the areas is by drawing attention to it for our teachers, administrators, and district at large.  Another is to start developing a platform to hold those long-term conversations regarding the issue of race and equity among people in our district – be it face to face or even online.  Watch for more of this as the year roles on.

So there you have it: my reflection on the 2011 School Improvement Innovation Summit.  Feel free to comment below to share your thoughts and feelings.  I know I’ve opened up some hot-button issues, and I’m not claiming to have all the answers – but I do know they are questions which need to be addressed.

Book Review: Church Diversity by Scott Williams

I’ve read and reviewed a good number of books this year and this one is certainly one of the best.  Scott Williams holds no punches in the sharing the sad reality most churches – and the American Church at large – struggle with: we are still a segregated community.

The book starts by reminding us of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”  Williams begins with this statement and then travels forward almost 50 years to paint the reality that while business, government, and education have adjusted to change the reality of segregation the church has remained largely silent.  And, white people, before you get defensive, I’ll let you know that Williams is just as critical of his own race as he is of ours.

The first chapter is spent laying the ground work and giving some history regarding Williams himself.  One of the statements that hit me square in the face was this one:

“Let me share a little more of my personal story and testimony.  I have not always been a pastor, and I have not always been a part of these game-changing movements that I’m referring to.  As a matter of fact, I spent 11 years, 44 days, and 8 hours of my adult life in the prison system.  It was as crazy as you can imagine: 8×10 cell, razor wire, bad food, pent up anger…PRISON.  Relax, I was actually a warden in the prison system.  Why does a brother always have to be in the prison system?  Unfortunately, some people did not even make it to this sentence as they said to themselves, ‘I’m not reading a book from a convict.’  For everyone else, the curious nature of human beings propelled you to read on.  Thanks for doing so.” (p30)

Throughout the rest of the book Williams lays down the reality facing us today, addresses it as the problem (sin) it is, shares stories of both success and failure as churches have addressed this issue, and lays out an outline for churches to begin working towards diversity.

If you allow it to, this book will convict, challenge, and motivate you for change.  I’m going to share one other statement from the book, this one actually quoting Pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow from San Francisco, California:

“If I had to choose one struggle, it would be around the issues of ‘color-blindness’ that many well-meaning people have.  The ‘I don’t see you as [insert ethnic group here]’ perspective, while noble, does two things that are not helpful.  One, it assumes that one’s race is something that the person wants someone to see beyond and, two, too often the ‘beyond’ we are striving for is simply a generic ‘white’ culture that, in the end, perpetuates a ‘lesser than’ understanding of people of color.” (p137)

For the record, Williams does not attack or condemn the church (either white or another racial distinction) as consciously creating a segregated institution.  He never suggests this is a direct sin of commission where people have said, “You stay away because you are [insert ethnic group]”  What he does do is come right out and say that this is a problem in the church and it needs to be addressed – whether it has been created by sins of commission OR sins of omission, whether it has been created and perpetuated by whites or any other ethnic group (I keep referring to whites because I am white).

The only criticism of the book I have is that it limits its focus to racial diversity and does not directly address issues such as worship style, age, or even income diversity.  To be fair, Williams gives a passing mention of these other areas early on in the book, but I wish more time would have been spent addressing them as well.  But over all this book hit the nail on the head in addressing the elephant in the room.  Now it’s just time for church leaders to step up and join Williams in addressing this great sin the church has perpetuated.

This book gets a solid 5/5 stars – put it on your must read list!   Please note, a complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an open and honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.