Written by Reinhold Titus, Director of Strategy and Inclusion of Operation Mobilisation (OM Ships)
The last few decades have seen a dramatic increase in cultural diversity in mission organisations founded in the West during the 19th and 20th centuries. Majority World (MW) people, who were historically seen as the object of Western missionary endeavours, are now not only members but, in many cases, occupy senior leadership roles in these Western Founded Global Mission Organisations (WFGMO’s).
These MW workers are not just numbers reflecting demographic shift and diversity. They bring
with them their unique cultural diversity, perspectives, and experience. And herein lies both an opportunity and challenge. Organisations boast about the diversity of their membership. However, a recent study among senior African leaders who lead in WFGMOs indicates that despite this increased diversity, the work of organisational inclusion has been much slower. Though overlapping and sometimes used interchangeably, inclusion and diversity have key and essential differences.
Organisational inclusion can be defined “as creating an environment that acknowledges, welcomes and accepts different approaches, styles, perspectives and experiences, to allow all to reach their potential and result in enhanced organizational success” (Winters, 2014). Fostering organisational inclusion includes “radical changes in … both structure and culture of most organizations – in their policies and practices, the skills and styles of their leaders, and the day-to-day interaction among all of their people” Miller and Katz and “requires a deep understanding of the taken-for-granted ways that organizations and societies create exclusion” Nkomo (2014, p.585)
WFGMO’s by virtue of being found in the west reflects Western cultures in their values, policies, structures, systems, processes and practices. For organisations to be truly global, the influence of the foundational assumptions and practices, especially their openness to and their extent and ability to become more globally inclusive, incorporating the fast-growing MW Church with its different cultural paradigms, needs to be examined and pursued intentionally.
Although Christianity is at its heart a message of inclusion of all people into the Kingdom of God (see Romans 11:12), Christian inclusion scholarship has not paralleled the breadth and depth produced in nonreligious/nonspiritual diversity and inclusion literature. A study of the Trinity, God’s natural creation, nations, body with its diverse members and ultimately that image in Revelation 7 clearly indicates all God’s diverse creation was intended to relate and function interdependently and inclusively (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). From a Christian perspective, the value of diversity is not just a matter of practicality but is at the heart of the Christian faith, Jesus’ mission and an expression of God’s multicultural Kingdom.
The diversity of all creation is a beautiful testimony to God’s unlimited creative omnipotence. However, the affirmation and honouring of God-created diversity has not always been the case in biblical times or subsequent Christian history as reflected in the church’s complicity in colonialism, slavery, racism, whiteness etc.
WFGMO’s have made significant contributions to the MW church’s growth, which must be acknowledged and celebrated. However, the collaboration of missions with the Western colonial project cannot be denied or ignored. Especially so for as Ingleby (2011, p.268) asserts, “Much of our thinking about mission is still too triumphalistic, too Eurocentric, too androcentric – in a word, too colonial”. Therefore, even in the current missionary enterprise, the colonial legacy of missions and the influence of the enlightenment on it cannot be casually dismissed as it continues to influence mindsets and behaviours.
The research indicated that Western organisational norms, standards, structures, and processes developed for and from a particular era remain barriers that reinforce views of superiority and inferiority and need to be changed. One participant, giving an example of the dominant Western interpretation of the values of efficiency and effectiveness, said: “The unintended dangerous impact is that it can be perceived that any other worldview or any other plan is not as efficient, is not as effective, and, therefore, will not be given the space to find its expression”. Participants also pointed out historical Western leadership norms as the standard in WFGMO’s, leading to the assumption of: “spiritual leadership as only coming from the West or when it is exhibited in a Western context, dressed in a Western garb, with Western cues, dynamics and styles … but spiritual leadership from another context is considered to be one that doesn’t meet the standard or the threshold”.
While some progress towards inclusion in WFGMO’s has been made, it has been slow. Motivations for organisational change stems from the awareness of the growth of the MW church and some (both MW and Western) leaders advocating for change in this regard. This has led some organisations to intentionally identify barriers to inclusion, reflect on scriptures related to this subject, mandate senior leadership to guide their inclusion efforts, and intentionally train leaders and organisational members on issues such as cultural intelligence. However, significant barriers such as superiority mindsets, absence of voices of those from non-dominant cultures in decision making, money and mission models, lack of understanding and intentionality of inclusion, insecurity and fear remain barriers that limit inclusion.
For WFGMO’s to fully embrace and integrate God’s global diversity, prayerful, honest and transparent conversations need to be had. Some attempts for such have been made in the past with limited results. For conversations to truly surface barriers and bring about lasting change, certain conditions need to be in place. These conditions include an unquestionable organisational commitment to change, prayer, a willingness to extend grace and forgiveness, psychological safety, humility, courage, inclusive participation, and addressing the important issue of power.
In conclusion, to fulfil God’s mission mandate, the status quo cannot be maintained. More inclusive mission paradigms are needed. And for such, to be formed fresh theological and missiological reflection that takes MW theological and missiological views seriously. As Homi Bhabha said, “The time for ‘assimilating’ minorities to holistic and organic notions of cultural values has dramatically passed”. Indeed, MW WFGMO workers are undergoing a renewed affirmation of their identity and deviance to expectations to assimilate into Western culture. This sense stems from awareness and conviction that their cultures, too, were created by God as equal to others and have an equal contribution to make to God’s missionary enterprise.
Bhabha, H. K. (1994) The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
Bosch, D. J. (1991) Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Brown, 2011, p.34
Eriksson, C. B. and Abernethy, A. D. (2014) ‘Integration in Multicultural Competence and Diversity Training: Engaging Difference and Grace’, Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42(2), pp. 174–187. doi: 10.1177/009164711404200205.
Ingleby, J. (2011) Beyond Empire: Postcolonialism & Mission in a Global Context. Central Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse.
Kwiyani, H. (2020) Multicultural Kingdom: Ethnic Diversity, Mission and the Church. London: SCM Press.
Miller, F. A. and Katz, J. H. (2002) The Inclusion Breakthrough: Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity. [E-Book]. Berret-Koehler. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1248443/inclusion-breakthrough-unleashing-the-real-power-of-diversity-pdf?queryID=c082bc7b97726a9a32f95a0cb6038ab2&searchIndexType=books. (Accessed: 14 June 2020).
Nkomo, S., M. (2014) ‘Inclusion: Old Wine in New Bottles?’, in Ferdman, B. M. and Deane, B. (eds.) Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 580–592.
Stroope, M. W. (2017) Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Winters, M. F. (2014) ‘From Diversity to Inclusion: An Inclusion Equation’, in Ferdman, B. M. and Deane, B. (eds.) Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 205–228.
 The study was an MA dissertation entitled: Fostering Globally Inclusive Mission Organisations: Exploring Inclusivity in Western Founded Global Mission Organisations through the experiences of senior African leaders serving in them. The research centred the voices of eleven African leaders serving as either the international leader of one of the associates in eight different WFGMO’s. (Reinhold Titus August 2021)