Leroy Barber is Global Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, an international organization that works among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Rev. Barber is on the boards of Mission Year and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community, and Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World and was also chosen as a contributor to Tending to Eden, and the groundbreaking book UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters. His third book, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White, Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry, was just released.
KW: How does the message of Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White, Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight? intersect with the message of your book Everyday Missions?
LB: Everyday Missions invited everyone to see that it’s possible for God to use them. There are no disqualifications for missions and there are no high qualifications for missions as far as schooling and seminary that some may think of. Taking Dr. King’s idea that, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve” – you can serve wherever you are. That message connects with the new book in this way: now that we know we can all can serve – can we do that equally? Can everyone lead in a missions organization? Can everyone participate even if they can’t get the funding? So the first book invites everyone, this book critiques the current system that has developed in order that everyone can participate fully and be comfortable in their space.
KW: How has the church historically misunderstood or misrepresented the Missio Dei and how does it need to be redefined?
LB: The Missio Dei is defined as God’s heart for people and his heart for the world and it’s where we get our word missions. It’s about how much he cares for us and how much he loves us – and I think that’s what should drive mission. But the church has replaced that with a personal evangelism thrust. There’s nothing wrong with evangelism. But this evangelism thrust that often condemns people, puts them down, and lets them know how bad they are is not true to God’s heart. Jesus said he did not come to condemn the world – the world is condemned already – but he has come to bring life. I think the Missio Dei should represent the heart of God that brings life.
KW: What first step or recommendation can you provide for someone who wants to heed the call to diversity in missions?
LB: Before we try to diversify our organizations and missions, we need to begin with relationships. Start with diversifying and deepening your own personal relationships. Listen to those voices and pursue those friendships authentically. Out of real, diverse relationships, diverse organizations and pursuits will begin to develop more naturally.
KW: Can you describe further that philosophy of friendship and relationship you see as the key to growing diversity in the body of Christ?
LB: Our knee-jerk reaction is that we want to do something, we want to get something done. Instead, our first reaction should just be to want to be with people, we just want to know people, hear their stories, hang out with them. Something will come from that as those relationships deepen. But the first question shouldn’t be what should I do? because that ruins the relational aspect. If I think someone is coming to get to know me just so they can do something, or so they can help my life, then I don’t feel valued as a real person. We need to shift our perspectives and put authentic friendships first.
KW: What is some typical pushback you get with your message about diversity in missions and what is your response to those comments?
LB: I get a lot of pushback about evangelism because some people think I’m trying to lessen the idea of evangelism, that I’m preaching the “social gospel,” and that it’s not the most important thing we need to be talking about and doing. But actually, I’m trying to enhance evangelism. Evangelism is important but we need to think about the whole gospel and understand the full context. I feel like people get to know Jesus better if our lives are lived in a way that invites people to want to know him – I think that’s a more powerful way of evangelism.
KW: Are there any encouraging signs for you with regard to diversity in the church?
LB: Yes, the question is at least on the table now! When you talk about diversity and multiculturalism people know what you’re talking about, have a general understanding of its importance and want to engage with it. Many pastors and leaders want to know how their church can be more diverse. So I see good signs in the desire to pursue diversity, we still have some way to go, but there is good progress on that front.
KW: What one question should people be asking about diversity that they are not and why?
LB: I think the question is this: if you want to see diversity in your organization, you think it’s the right thing, and you see it’s presence and importance in scripture – why are you not walking towards that? Why are you not making commitments that will allow you to reach out to the “other”? Whether the “other” for you is the other gender, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Latinos, or Native Americans. What would it look like to really set some goals for yourself to reach out and get to know someone else? If it’s really as important as we say, we need to create practical steps and set goals.
KW: How would you encourage someone to do that in an environment that doesn’t seem to offer a lot of diversity?
LB: At work for example, even if everyone is the same color, not everyone is the same class, religious background, or even the same denominational background. Just start by reaching across boundaries, whatever they are in your environment, so that you can begin making that practice a part of your life. Go to lunch or coffee with someone, or read books from another perspective. Those are some great little things you can do to start the process.
KW: What message or challenge do you want leave with those who read this book?
LB: The message is to see that this is how God wants to see the world: we are one church, one body, and one voice with different expressions. Diversity is beautiful. To see that beauty, we need to get to know each other so that we can experience the fullness of God and the fullness of life that he offers. You can check out some resources to go along with the book here.