A Prophetic, Patient and Persistent Calling
Introducing the EFCA's director of multicultural ministry
Have you ever wondered about the “all people” in the EFCA mission statement: “We exist to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people”?
The EFCA refined that statement back in 1999—and the last phrase carries the intent that in our gospel efforts we don’t overlook anyone because of ethnicity, gender, ability or socioeconomic situation.
To help the movement focus on this all-encompassing passion, the EFCA formed its All People Initiative—a national coalition of leaders committed to disciplemaking and gospel impact, with its first emphasis being multicultural ministry. The initiative’s executive director is Alex Mandes.
Steven Weathers has recently been named director of multicultural ministry—a new role that will offer greater support to ethnic and multiethnic churches while expanding the multiethnic character of the entire EFCA movement.
For the past two years, Steven served as intercultural development director for Trinity International University, working with students to develop a climate that affirms their own cultural uniqueness while striving for intercultural solidarity with others. Steven and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 19 years and live in Highwood, Illinois, with their three children.
EFCA Now sat down with Steven and Alex to learn more about this new role in advancing the EFCA mission. Interviewer is Dennis Hesselbarth, interim pastor of United EFC in Seattle, Washington.
Alex, what were you initially looking for—in the search to fill this role?
Alex: The No. 1 quality we were looking for was humility, because a humble leader is a learner. A humble leader is a servant.
Second, I wanted someone who’s spiritual. I wanted someone who, though highly educated or experienced, is on his or her knees, listening to the Word, trying to sense, Where is the Holy Spirit at work?
The third quality I was looking for is a “churchman.” It’s Jesus’ church, He’s the head of the church, and that takes all the pressure off.
Steven, how has God prepared you for this new role?
Steven: I grew up in a neighborhood that was extremely diverse. On my right there was my friend from the Philippines; on my left, my friend from Puerto Rico; across the street, African Americans; next door to them, Guatemalans; next door to them Hondurans; Cubans down the street; white people there too.
But I began to think, Why is it that every time we go to church, we’re at different churches? After I read the Scriptures and found Jesus’ desire in John 17 for unity and oneness, I developed a heart for it. Over the years I’ve served in African-American, Anglo and multiethnic congregations, and I’m still learning how to engage people who are different.
Academically, I’m continuing to learn about the reasons for diversity and the reasons for division in a local church. We’re also shaped by the trajectories of our parents. My father was run out of Mississippi at 15 years old for something racial. That’s how I came to grow up in Miami. That history informs who I am.
Alex, how will you and Steven work together?
Alex: I’ll initially help him run his lane and then, as we discover more of what Steven’s “sweet spots” are, I’ll get out of his way so he can teach me.
Steven: I love the fact that even with Alex’s expertise, he continues to talk about partnerships. I work better with people than on my own and I look forward to learning from him.
What will be Steven’s priorities?
Alex: I want to set Steven up to succeed. [Turning to Steven] You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. What I really want you to do first—and you’ve heard me say this—is get to know who we are. Each of our churches is a unique body in a unique location, and each of our leaders brings specific passions and priorities to the table.
The second priority is to be thinking multicultural ministry. The day when we had a black director, a Hispanic director, an Asian director, a women’s director, a disability director—that’s over. Steven is African American, but that is not all that defines him. He and I sync in that our passion is multicultural ministry. No doubt his experiences are in the African-American community, and that will be a great benefit to African Americans, but he also thinks all people. So the key benefit to our churches and districts is an additional All People national leader able to advise and help develop pathways for their churches to become more diverse.
Third priority is multiplication. One of the things I’ve seen a lot in ethnic and immigrant churches is a We’ve got to survive mentality. There’s also a seduction that to succeed we’ve got to have degrees, that we’ve got to have chairs and budgets. And it’s killing us. It’s killing us. I’d much rather that we be out there multiplying disciples and planting churches and identifying young leaders than waiting till we have all of this before we start doing it. Steven will help our churches do more than survive.
Fourth priority: Love the EFCA. We’ve got warts. We’ve got issues. But they’re our issues. I’m very trans-denominational, I love partnerships. But this is my tribe. When I go take a hill, these are the people I want to take it with. So for me, loving the EFCA is a given.
Fifth and very, very important: Teams are everything. One of the biggest things I want to model for Steven, if I model anything, is the ability to work in a team, to say, “We’re equal at this table; let’s hear what God says together.”
You both have spoken about the “tone” of the All People Initiative. What do you mean?
Alex: It’s not only what we want to say but how we want to say it.
Steven: Obviously, we’ll be trying to speak in tones of love and grace; and we’ll also be trying to train people’s ears. That means, if I say something that’s harsh because of the immense pain of my situation, you as a believer might be able to look beyond the tone and see my injured heart.
We’ll have conversations, prayerfully, where we can say, “I heard what you said. I don’t quite like how you said it, but I’m going to hear your heart.”
How can the All People Initiative help our EFCA leaders in our increasingly polarized culture?
Alex: The National Association of Evangelicals did a survey regarding top policy issues. One of the conclusions was that 46 percent of evangelicals prioritized immigration. However, according to a report by LifeWay Research, only 2 percent considered their local church as the greatest influence on their thinking on immigration.
So we need to encourage our pastors to speak about these difficult issues, because their people do want to hear about them. They’ve got to be courageous. We also have to provide tools and stepping stones and pathways to talk about them.
Steven: To add to what Alex said, I would say that pastors should be prophetic, and address tough topics according to God’s Word. But pastors also need to be patient, because we have been entrenched in racial strife and racial misunderstanding in our country for the last 350-400 years. And then I think pastors need to be persistent. You can’t just speak about unity once. After all, it is a core value in the New Testament.
Steven, what are a few of your dreams for what the EFCA All People movement will become in the years ahead?
Steven: I have both internal and external dreams. Internally, I hope that I grow together with this new family, my co-laborers, and begin to develop some kind of camaraderie that causes people to realize, Man, Steven loves me.
But I would also like to see congregations begin to intentionally take steps to dissolve racial strife from a gospel perspective, such that people who are different from them would not only come to their churches but be able to lead at the highest levels of their church hierarchy as pastors, elders and ministry directors. As it stands, it seems that individuals from the majority culture have the tendency to avoid being led by persons of minority status.
Any Last words?
Alex: These have been really tough, difficult times, with the shootings and all the racial issues. Many in the EFCA have been asking, “What’s the Evangelical Free Church going to say about this, that or the other?” I kept telling them that we needed to wait for this crucial partner—our director of multicultural ministry—to come onboard and have this conversation with us.
It’s also important to listen to our young leaders and listen to our sisters. Women are at least half of the population; they certainly want to speak into our plans for All People ministry.
So we’ll start by making sure the right voices are called into this conversation to help us talk about tone/priorities/strategies. The next steps have a whole lot more to do with listening than declaring.
Steven: I want us to be asking: What are the specific, concrete steps we need to take to produce tangible results, so that the Evangelical Free Church is actually showing fruit? That’s what we hope for at the end of all this.