Five Considerations for Thriving Clergy of Color

In April 2017, Portland Seminary received a $50,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. to explore the question of pastoral thriving. This is the first of five blogs that we are producing to share our findings, while soliciting continued discussions.

The five grant principals of the Thriving in Ministry Lilly Endowment grant

If you invite me to speak at your church, before I even say a word, as a person of Korean ethnicity, the congregants are making assumptions about me. Every pastor is embodied and visible in terms of his/her ethnicity, gender, body type, age, etc. Consequently, clergy of color face particular barriers to their own vocational thriving.

  1. Clergy of color must battle stereotyping. What do you think of when you see a Asian pastor? Whatever comes to your mind, remember that there are over 4 billion Asians in the world (UN estimate). Any stereotyping, both conscious and subconscious, will fall short of the full personhood of a pastor, whether black, Latino/a or other. Trust me, I’m a great driver!
  2. Clergy of color often serve in very complex social circumstances in the church. For example, the number of US-born Latino/a now outnumbers first generation immigrants. How does this change the dynamics of a Hispanic congregation? Making decisions on the worship service language will prevent large segments of a congregation from full participation. Perhaps we should just return to Latin. (I kid! Relax, millennial seekers!)
  3. Clergy of color must address broader issues than just spirituality. Too many pastors neglected to revise their sermons the Sunday after Ferguson. That option was not available to a black pastor. This is not restricted to clergy of color within ethnic churches. Clergy of color in either multicultural or predominantly Caucasian churches are often expected to serve as symbolic chaperones in ethnic tourism so predominant in evangelical circles.
  4. Clergy of color are often blocked from leadership positions on wider denominational levels. Even in the church, the bro network is deep, and it lacks pigmentation. Think of the most powerful members of ELCA, Episcopal Church, PCUSA, Southern Baptists, UMC, etc. Add to this list the presidents, deans, and professors of seminaries. I recognize that efforts are being made for inclusion, but there is a long way to go.[1]
  5. Research loosely correlates pastoral thriving to adequate compensation. This is not an exclusive problem for clergy of color, but of course, it is well-documented that many communities of color have diminished earnings. This naturally leads to challenges on the compensation for the pastoral staff.

Of course, these are merely considerations. As North American demographics continue to transform in regards to ethnicity, our conversations on pastoral thriving must include clergy of color. What would you add to this list?


[1] Incidentally, the last five faculty hires for Portland Seminary include four ethnic minorities, two women and zero Caucasian males. Hey, nothing against Caucasian males, but greater representation in ecclesial places of authority is a great step for clergy of color to thrive.

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