Leadership Summit 2008 | JOHN BURKE & EFREM SMITH: Leading in New Cultural Realities

Posted on August 7, 2008


SESSION 4. Summit Page (Burke), (Smith).


“Making and maintaining good soil is everything when it comes to growing [flowers] and people. What kind of soil are we cultivating so that people really can grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

“We have a responsibility to cultivate the right soil, the right environment for spiritual growth. And it’s going to be messy. Are we willing to get messy as leaders?”

“What does it mean if we call ourselves Christian leaders, but we’re not messy with the soil of the people Jesus came to call?”

How do we lead?

1. Cultivate the soil with grace giving environments. If you saw a priceless Rembrandt that was covered in mud. Would you discard it? Or, would you carefully cleanse and restore the painting to it’s original beauty? Grace makes beauty out of messy, ugly things. [VIA: I suggest a nuance, that grace reveals and calls out beauty out of messy things that are perceived to be ugly.]

2. Cultivate the soil with authentic confessional community. The core issue is not behavioral, but broken relationships with God and with others. We are reconnecting people to God and others. Spiritual leadership is the art of getting many people to do one thing, together.


“This is a … multicultural, multiracial, diverse, globalized, technological … world we lead in, and we must decide to be change agents in it.”

30 years ago, 1 in 100 children were born of mixed race. Now, it’s 1 of 19. In some places, like Texas and New York, it’s 1 in 10. There is a new generation that will not grow up under the traditional classes of race division. [We can’t sing “red and yellow black and white” anymore. That’s a nice kiddy song…we’ve all got to grow up now.]

We must be a loving leader. We must be able to step out, not as experts, or the qualified, but as the ones willing to have things crucified in us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the term “Beloved Community” to describe this diverse group. But there is no “Beloved Community” without “beloved leaders,” leaders that allow God to flow in and through you with His love (1 John 4:7). A leader in a multicultural world, a faith leader, is one that is both simultaneously loved and loving.

“When Jesus comes back, that will be ultimate justice, but until then it’s  just us.”

We must be an abiding leader. We must abide in something other than us.

We haven’t stepped out in leading multiculturally, because we don’t feel qualified, and we use that as an excuse. It’s not about qualification, it’s about being picked up by a force beyond yourself. And “I think…I heard God say to me, that the church must be multiracial, multicultural, and diverse.”

Tribalism is still a deep and evil force that leaders must take on. This is a time for humble, sacrificial leadership that will go to where the people will go. We get that by abiding in the force of God’s love and in the people that are beloved by God. We must find, then, dwelling places where we will lead in this world.

We must be confessing leaders. One of the best things a leader can say is “my bad.” I’ve heard that storms are created by high pressure meeting low pressure. Maybe the reason why we have racial “storms” is because the high pressure of what God wants to do meets the low pressure of what we want to do.

The confessing leader is one that says, “I don’t know what to do.” And, wherever you are, confess your hang-ups. Then, what if we looked at what caused the problem in the first place, and then saw ourselves beyond the color? What if we came to the conclusion that race labels is really not who we are.

We must be a perfecting leader. We must be willing to grow and get better at what we do.


1. We must take an organic approach; be open to create communities where people from diverse backgrounds can find reconciliation and healing.
2. Sometimes this has to be programmatic.

Be released from the trap that “you’re white,” or “you’re black,” etc. You are way more than that. I’m not what my momma called me, I’m not what my daddy called me… I am more than that, so stand up and claim who you are!


Smith’s approach to multi-culturalism is quite distinct from the congregation that I’m in where diversity “just happened.”

I’m still wondering which is better; organically allowing diversity to happen as the people around us (and within us) grow naturally diverse, or being highly intentional at the cultural offerings and programming that we as churches do. Given my penchant for paradoxes, I’m probably in a tension between the two, believing that God will do with His church what He will in the areas of diversity, yet, we have a responsibility to strive for the “Biblical diversity” that Smith discussed.

One of the things that was not mentioned, that I think must be highlighted, is that diversity, though seemingly “heavenly” as many refer it to, can actually be quite hellish. The prejudices and stereotypes of people really do emerge when placed in situations of diversity. There’s no more hiding, and no more mere “tolerance.” This is not to say that the value of diversity ought to be diminished. It is to say that there are great challenges and struggles when cultures collide. Add to that religious ideologies that have specific cultural flare and nuance, and you’ve got a recipe for potential conflict.

Regardless, there is something inspiring when churches, congregations, and other ministries are able to overcome those challenges, to captivate the organic developments, and to be wise in their diverse intentionality to reap a harvest of growth and spiritual maturity!