The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Going Beyond Diversity and Inclusion to Racial Healing“
October 26, 2020
Tim Samuel and Frank Eastham
Intro: This summer, we experienced upheaval regarding race in our country and around the world. Do you believe the Christian workplace should be the model for racial healing amid civil unrest? Well, today’s episode highlights a multicultural workplace that is doing just that. Listen now to learn how.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Normally, I’m joined on the podcast with one guest, but today I’m honored and grateful to welcome two tremendous leaders serving one dynamic multicultural church outside of Baltimore, Maryland. In the next few minutes, we’re going to talk about a historic challenge and opportunity facing the church in America right now. Their ministry perspective, their stories, their devotion to love, and their desire to serve Jesus Christ will certainly inspire you, if nothing else. I want to welcome Frank Eastham, the chief operating officer, and Tim Samuel, the chief financial officer, for Bridgeway Community Church in the Columbia and Owings Mills regions outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Frank, Tim, thanks for joining me here on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Tim Samuel: Yeah, it’s great to be here, and thank you so much for having us.
Al: We’re really looking forward to our conversation.
So, there are so many good things that we could do to open our conversation. But I’m going to start with a simple 10-word phrase on your church website, under the words About Us. And there it says, “Building into one another as we build bridges to our community.” So let me ask you, Frank, what do these words really mean, and what are they all about at Bridgeway Community Church?
Frank Eastham: Well, at Bridgeway, for us, it really is all about vision and mission. And we developed these statements many years ago, just a few years after we had begun our ministry in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor. And very few words have changed in either one of these statements over the years. But in the mission, building into one another as we build bridges to our community, right in the middle, we changed the “as we.” It used to say, “and.” So it would read, “build into one another and build bridges to our community.” And we realized that we didn’t want it to be two separate things, but we really wanted it to go together. We wanted to build into one another while at the same time we wanted to reach out beyond the walls of our church, into our community and our culture and our world, and build bridges with those folks so that we could actually bring them into our church so that we can accomplish our vision, which is also very important to us. So we really want to do both at the same time. We want to focus on each other, and we want to focus on our community.
Al: Well, that’s great. And everything we’re talking about points also to your senior pastor, Dr. David Anderson. How would you describe his character and leadership? I’m sure that these words are really connected to him. What makes him God’s servant for God’s people at Bridgeway Community Church today? Perhaps you have a favorite story.
Frank: Well, Pastor David often says that he flew into this area and landed on a parachute, and he just wanted to build a multicultural body of fully devoted followers of Christ who were moving forward to reach Jesus Christ for our community, culture, and world. It all began in the early days with a book, Letters Across the Divide. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute, which is a predominantly white institution. And he came into this very diverse area, and he wanted to have this multicultural church. And many people said that he couldn’t do it. In fact, one of his closest friends didn’t want to come out to this area to begin the church with him, because he said, “You know, I really don’t get that multicultural thing, David. I mean, that was in the past. And I really don’t see that being very relevant in today’s culture.” And so they began writing some letters to one another. And a year or so later, Pastor David happened to be in a conversation at a conference with a publicist, and he was talking about these letters and how powerful they were. And they would just answer questions like, why are blacks so mad, and why is it that whites are always being dominant in conversations?, those kinds of things. And these letters, his publicist actually said, “You know, this is a book. We need to publish these letters.” And she took these letters and published them into a book called Letters Across the Divide. And that really laid the foundation for what he wanted to accomplish at Bridgeway. He wanted to build a bridge for the divide with our community.
Tim: Dr. Anderson is a brilliant author, and that’s kind of how I became known of the church. I was reading one of his books one day, Multicultural Ministry, and in that book, he makes an example of bringing people together through food. And so he often shares an illustration of when you serve a common dish that we can all enjoy, we can accent it with different dishes so we can all try. So bring people to a common table. And that’s a leader that he does. That’s a leader that my mother taught me to do. That’s a leader that I can inspire and to be around, especially in race relations. And so I’ve been serving under him for about over a decade right now.
And this one Sunday, I’ll never forget, he comes and says, ”Hey, Tim, come in here. I have some guests I would like you to meet.” And he is a magnificent host. Even on Sunday mornings, even as he preaches, he often hosts people. And so this Sunday, after one service is done, I meet someone from the National Rifle Association, and at the same time I meet someone who’s a social activist, in the same room, at the same time, worshiping the same Jesus.
And so despite of all our culture and this bipolarization that is happening, Dr. Anderson has been able to create a culture that he lives out, bringing people from all different backgrounds, of different races, in all different cultures to one table to be able to share and worship together. I believe he’s large and in charge while at the same time humbly serving others. And so this is one—he gets really personal, and in multicultural bridge-building work, that’s what you got to do. Sometimes the easiest way to cross a bridge is through pain. And so I still am shocked and I still remember that text message I get when my father had a terrible fall from his job, at work, and I didn’t know if he was going to make it. Dr. Anderson said, “Go be with your family.” I think this was right around Easter as well. And so, like, the most busy time for church, he valued family first.
Then after that, Praise the Lord, as my dad was recovering, I get this text message from him with a picture of him and my dad. And I’m like, huh? He’s three and a half hours away. What? How is this happening? You’re busy. You have engagements all over. But he happened to have a speaking engagement that was about 45 minutes away, and he took the time to go out of his way to come meet with my dad. And so this is the servant of God that’s pastoring this church, representing kind of this movement.
Al: Well, that’s a great story. Thanks, Tim.
And now Frank and Tim, you know, both of you jump into this. Let’s get right down to it. I can only imagine how the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the real-time upheaval of race in our country have entered into conversations at Bridgeway. Can you talk about that for a minute?
Tim: Well, Al, I just want to say thank you for saying their names. And before we get into it, I would like just to pray for their families and our nation.
Dear God, thank you for this day. And I pray specifically now for George Floyd’s family, Breonna Taylor’s family, and all the families and the officers and our nation, who is dealing with the loss of life, dealing with the struggle of law enforcement versus justice versus injustices. Lord, may you bring wisdom that comes from above. In Jesus’s name, amen.
We believe that God can answer this. We believe God is the solution to racism, hence the term that Dr. Anderson coined called gracism. And so here at Bridgeway Community Church, we kind of, with the leadership of Dr. David Anderson, teach five ways to engage towards racial and healing amid civil unrest.
See, a lot of times we fall prey to three forces against civic unity. The first force that we kind of fall prey to is polarization caused by fear. Oftentimes, we polarize ourself from something we fear. A second thing we’re seeing a lot in today’s society is politicization fueled by anger. There’s a lot of anger, but it’s sometimes politicization of these matters is giving the fuel. And the last thing is radicalization enflamed by injustice. And so as we see these three forces against civic unity happening in our nation right now, we’re calling for a movement. And you could go and sign this creed on embracegracism.com. It’s called the Grace and Creed book. We’re asking people instead of letting these fall prey, let’s step up; instead, pursue perspective and peace with the five actions below.
The first action we talk about is be committed to your cross-cultural relationships. This is the time to stay in relationship with others who are different than you across color lines, and don’t revert to your racial isolation. Don’t go back into your corner. Don’t give up. Engage, especially those who are around you.
The second thing we talk about is be there for black America. Speak up and support those who are African American, as they are hit the hardest by the systematic racism. It’s always time. Not the easiest. For some of you, it comes naturally. But really, this is the time to speak up. If you have the opportunity when you’re hanging out with friends, if you have the opportunity to vote a certain way, if you have an opportunity to cook a certain meal for somebody, hey, do what God has called you to.
The third point—so we talked about a relationship. We saw that be there. The third thing is lead your group towards gracism. So sometimes the best time to have these real conversations is within your own racial group, it’s within your own culture. You kind of could have freedom to talk about things that others may not be able to talk about. And so it’s an important time in our nation. Again, let’s engage. Let’s not be a Christian or a work place that steps back and looks at this time in history and says the Christian church or the church has not involved. Again, we believe that Jesus could bring healing to all.
The fourth item is give your time and money. Serve or donate to any reputable organization that’s committed to overturning and uprooting racism. We have Bridgeway Community Church with BridgeLeader Network. And again, this is not a shout out to us. Please go do your own research and find an organization that is engaged. But give your time and money.
And finally, if you feel inclined, yes, join a protest. But do not loot, do not riot, or do not break the law.
Again, five ways to engage towards racial healing amidst civil unrest. We believe and we see that polarization caused by fear, politicization fueled by anger, and radicalization inflamed by justice. If you could just pick one of the five actions below, we believe that you could be bringing racial healing under the auspice of Jesus Christ to our world.
Al: I love that, Tim. Thanks.
Frank, anything else on this point?
Frank: Well, I think that it’s important that we do two things as a church. We want to unify people. Absolutely, we want to unify people. But we also need to take a stand. Those two things are really not different from one another. In order to unify one another, we have to take a stand, and we have to be there for others whose voice might not be heard without us. And we don’t do that in a superior way or in a dominant way, but it really is extending positive favor to other people, regardless of, and sometimes because of, their color, class, and culture. And Pastor David wrote a book in 2008, I believe it was, and it’s called Gracism: The Art of Inclusion. And it really is an art. It’s not just a checklist that you can go through.
And so what does this look like when you ask the question about starting the conversation? So how do we start the conversation? Well, first of all, we look for people in our community, in our culture, in our world, that are marginalized, that don’t have a voice at the table. And we say, “I will lift you up. I will lift up the humble around us by elevating them toward success.” And that is so important. And “I will cover you. I will protect those in our community from embarrassment and harm who might otherwise get that embarrassment and that harm.” And this is what I was talking about a minute ago about, I will stand with you. I will commit to stand with the weak, with the marginalized, and lift them up and stand with them in their times of trouble.
The fourth thing is I will honor you. I will recognize those who are the most humble heroes among us, regardless of color, class, and culture. And five, I will stand with you, committing to stand with the weak. And number six, I will consider you having equal concern for our neighbors. And so we really need to look, when we talk about considering others, we need to look around, and we need to say, “Who are those people in our communities whose perspective and needs are not being considered?” And finally, we need to celebrate with those around us and rejoicing when the humble and the less fortunate among us are helped.
And I know that we often talk about equality and equity. And equality is when everybody gets the same thing, but that’s not necessarily equity. Equity is when people get what they need in order to be on equal footing with others within their community. And so I think as a church, we often think about peace. God calls us to be peacemakers. But sometimes in order to be a peacemaker, we have to take a stand, and we have to stand for those within our community.
Al: I really like what we’re saying, and we’ve had a lot to think about already. And having perspective and peace, the five elements you talked about, Tim, just great. And Frank, your point—unify people, take a stand, and honor others. Just really great information.
You know, it’s one thing for people to say we’re all about diversity and inclusion in what we do and who we serve. But what strikes me about Bridgeway is that you just don’t stop at diversity and inclusion. Instead, your mission and vision see everyone in your multicultural congregation and workplace culture as one unified body of Christ. And I’d love you to share with our listeners what this looks like. You know, take a crack at your opening phrase of your vision to be a multicultural body of fully devoted followers of Christ. Name a favorite story or talk about what this means to you.
Frank: So, Al, one of the things that we have to learn when we want to be multicultural is really understanding the beauty of the culture of those folks that we want to serve and that we want to be a part of our community. And I’ll never forget, a number of years ago, we had a food drive, and we wanted to give away the food to those in our community who were in need. So we created fliers, and we had them translated into Spanish because we have a number of Spanish-speaking community members in our community. And we distributed them in all of the schools in my community, where I happen to live. And we set up stations at different apartment communities within our village. And we were all ready to give away this food, and no one was coming. And we were like, “What’s going on? We put out all these fliers, translated fliers, and nobody was coming.” And in that moment, I realized that we hadn’t yet involved the community in our effort to serve the community.
I was a principal, at the time, of a local high school, and I called one of my parents. And I said to her, “Miss Marie, we are having a food giveaway. And I know you know this community more than anyone. Would you call your friends who might be in need? And would you let them know that we’re at this particular school, and we’re at this particular apartment community, and we have a lot of food that we would like to bless our community with.” In 15 to 20 minutes, we had lines all the way down the street at both of our locations, because when we involved the community member who knew the community, who knew how to communicate best to the community, rather than the way that we thought was best, then we were able to achieve our goal.
And so sometimes when we seek to be multicultural, we don’t bother to embrace the culture of the folks that we’re actually trying to have community with. And so at Bridgeway, we have just learned that, and we’ve reinforced it over the years, that we really must understand the culture of the folks that we’re trying to serve.
And related to that, what’s that look like? Well, when you come into our church, we want you to see yourself and be yourself within our church. And so we intentionally diverse folks on our stage. We have diverse folks in the lobby, introducing themselves to folks, greeting them, welcoming them to our church, because we want to be intentional about it. We want people to use an analogy. We want people to be able to change the thermostat in our church. How many people could come into your home and actually walk up to the thermostat and make it warmer or cooler because they wanted the temperature slightly different. I mean, somebody who would do that would be really comfortable in your home, and that’s a sign of a strong relationship. Well, Pastor David has said for years, “I want people to be able to change the thermostat in our church. I want people to really feel as though they are a part of our family where we are all one family.”
Al: I love that, Frank. I don’t know that—we have a little thing with my sister who lives in Florida, and air conditioning. Turning the temperature down for us more Northern climate people is something that’s a little testy. But I love your change-the-thermostat example. You know, it’s like, who do you let into your house that’s okay to go in and open the refrigerator. That’s kind of the same type of a thing. But, yeah, really having a comfortable relationship is great.
Tim, you’ve got a story.
Tim: So, I believe stories are so awesome. And so I can tell you a story. When our school system had racial incidents and they called upon the church, and we sent kind of our youth pastor and a couple teammates to go help with them. That is so awesome. I could tell you a story of some of our pastors who’ve done work in Kenya, and the word gracism caught on. And there’s one state in Kenya that they attest, not us, that there was in 2008—correct me if I’m wrong, Frank—there was no post-violence election in their village in there. And they date back to kind of the work that our pastors and ministers did alongside with them. We only could give credit to God on that one.
And so I love telling multicultural stories. But what’s really cool right now in 2020, during COVID, when we’re filming or recording this podcast, is that we didn’t stop. Just because we couldn’t meet, church is not cancelled at Bridgeway. Just because we didn’t meet, we didn’t go into our corners and lose all that ground of this community of unity. And so what I love seeing now is the increase online, whether it’s a Zoom meeting with Puerto Ricans and Caucasians and African Americans gathering early in the morning, like 6:00 a.m., or whether they’re gathering for prayer at ten o’clock or whether they’re listening to the same kind of worship song or the creative set from Sunday, they are experiencing life together through digital. And we have seen tremendous gains, and we have reached more people. And during this season we’re in, this is kind of when the world needs to see that why does the world know that Jesus is alive? Because we love one another. And it’s really so cool to see this kind of online digital transformation occurring within our own eyes, based on the foundation of multicultural and diversity.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Well, I love that. And you’ve got real integrity in your church because your number one, top 10, most favorable item in your Employee Engagement Survey is, diversity is clearly valued by people at Bridgeway Community Church. How about another story of how your employees are involved in this multicultural work, even amongst themselves?
Frank: So, I have a story of a pastor. He’s white, and he was leading a lay leader at our church, supervising a lay leader in our church, who was in charge of a very large ministry, and that lay leader was African American. And there was significant tension with that relationship because the African American came to our church, and he wanted to have a multicultural experience. But he came from a foundation of a lot of oppression and a lot of hatred, and he brought that in his heart. So when they entered into any kind of tension, that white pastor represented every negative interaction he had had with a white person. And so the lay leader was coming to me, and then the pastor was coming to me, and so I did what I called diversity coaching. I sat with each one of those leaders individually, the pastor and the lay leader, and we talked through what it meant to build a reconciled relationship with one another. And I was able to help the white pastor realize the trigger terms that he might use that would bring back all of those memories of those white, dominant males in his life who had caused just oppression and hatred and demeaning behavior. And through that coaching, was able to help those two build a relationship where not only did the lay leader build a flourishing ministry within our church, but that pastor wrote a reconciliation creed, if you will, when we were having some sermon series on race and diversity. And he wrote this proclamation for himself that, really, all of us, we could read this and it would behoove us to practice these commitments. And those two on our stage just hugged one another and cried when this commitment was being read. But in order to do that, we have to go through a tunnel of chaos, right? We have to be willing to get dirty in this. We have to be willing to wrestle with things that are uncomfortable and have these discussions, knowing that God promises there’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel if we do this. And so that’s one of the most significant memories of mine in this church, just watching God work and watching God bring people together from different backgrounds with different experiences and just build a solid relationship.
Al: That’s great. Thanks, Frank. Your stories confirm the fact that Bridgeway certainly is one of the healthiest, most engaged staff cultures of all the churches that we survey and work with. In fact, you’re in the top 13 percentile. And you mentioned that you’ve really doubled down on culture and not necessarily to get a good score, if you will, on an assessment, just really because it was important to you. Tell us a little bit about that.
Tim: We believe intentional leadership will help whatever leadership problem you have. So we focused on this, not particularly on the best Christian workplace, but on a thriving culture. And so we said, “Hey, how do we want to do this?” And so we intentionally addressed cultural issues and structural issues that led to significant gains for two years in a row. We didn’t stop when we got a little gains. We kept on going. But we had intentionally addressed cultural issues and structural issues. We moved, like you said, from a critical point to flourishing.
So what did we do? Well, we created organizational structures that responded to the needs of our employees. That’s kind of strange when you look back and sit back, that an org chart could actually respond to the needs of our employees. One thing we did was we created what’s known as a clergy team. So before, we had clergy that would report just under the org chart but would be somewhat disconnected from our senior pastor. And when you look back on it, you’re like, isn’t the clergy team supposed to, like, hence the name, senior pastor, but they’re disconnected. Well, in the org chart, you might have some pastors under somebody, another pastor. You might have a person like me, a CFO, that leads another pastor. So there was a disconnect. And so while thinking about it and a lot of discussions, we said, “Hey, how about once a month the clergy team talks about clergy issues, and they kind of all get directed by our senior pastor?” So despite of what the org chart looks like, let’s create an operational side and a spiritual side, and let’s make sure that the top team—another team that we created called the chief’s team, which consists of the senior pastor and two operational persons, the CFO and COO—so the operations, all the CFO and COO report, and that comes under. But the spiritual side, the senior pastor kind of takes on. And yes, that team has to be in great communications because you know and many leaders know that sometimes those lines are blurred. So a great trust between, “Hey, I think this is a clergy issue or on the clergy side.” “I think that’s an operational issue.” So passing that back and forth and defining that was clutch.
And result. What did this new clergy team and chief’s team do? Well, people wanted to know the why behind our decisions, and they got to hear it. Why the spiritual matters got to be discussed at the clergy team. The operations’ matters got discussed with the operations’ sides of things. And so people clearly saw leadership from the operations and the spiritual side. And when they combined, it made complete sense to our staff. People wanted to know, not even the why or how the decisions were made. And guess what. Rather than having all these random meetings, now they’re part of the decision-making process. “Hey, we’re considering the idea of this online campus. What do you guys think about this? We’re considering changing holidays. We’re considering…” whatever the issue is, you kind of bring it up there, and you get to float it on an operational basis or a spiritual basis. And then people were part of this decision-making process.
Frank, I’ll let you talk about the cultural changes that we did with Gallup Strengths.
Frank: So before I get into that, I’d like to say that the Best Christian Workplace Survey results is really a tool. It’s a starting point. As Tim said, it’s not an end point. We didn’t go about this trying to improve our score. We hoped that it would improve. But what we really used was the results as a tool. And I keep the results on my desk. I have them right here.
And what we do is we look initially, when I first came on board two years ago, we looked at our results, and we looked at the factors that we did not do well in. And we looked at the areas that needed to improve. And we didn’t hide those. We took them into our staff meeting, and we posted them. We put them on the PowerPoint. We put them around the walls. And we said, “What are some things that we need to do differently if we want to improve in these areas?”
And Tim mentioned about the structural changes. Some of the things were much deeper than what the staff might come up with at a staff meeting, but we knew that we even needed to go deeper than that. And so we created the chief’s team. We created the clergy team. And I have to say, Tim mentioned that we’ve had two years of significantly improved scores, right? We went from a critical point to flourishing, and we did that by changing some structures. But we didn’t stop there. We got this great score this year, and we could have said, “Okay, great, awesome. We can coast for a year.” But we didn’t, because what we noticed in our areas of opportunities for improvement this year was that we could have stronger teamwork and that our supervisors needed some skills in order to lead their teams. And so we created another group of supervisors and a team for supervisors.
And what are we focusing on with our supervisors? We’re focusing on teamwork, what’s one of the major areas. And the other area, which is from the year before, which is conflict. We know that conflict is something that is often avoided. And if we avoid it, we will never achieve the work culture that we want. So we have to hit it dead on, and we have to say, “Hey, we have some issues related to conflict. We have some issues related to teamwork. We have some issues related to supervision. And so what can we do differently?” So this year have begun these supervisor meetings to focus on this.
But the other thing that we have done over the past couple of years is we have doubled-down on our Gallup Strengths work. We became a Strengths-based organization a number of years ago, and that was wonderful, and it was very helpful for us in running our organization. About two years ago, we decided that we needed to reboot our work with Strengths. And so the church invested in sending me to Gallup to become a certified Strengths coach. And then I worked with our lay leaders and other leaders to coach them and to develop them so that they could also be Strengths coaches within their different teams this year. And how are we approaching teamwork? We’re doing it through our strengths. So rather than focusing on, here’s what we’re doing wrong, and here’s what we need to fix; we’re looking at what are the strengths of our teams, what are the strengths of our supervisors, and how can we leverage those strengths to have stronger teamwork and to manage the conflict that we know is there?
And also I’d like to say, so we have structural changes, and those structural changes help to change and influence the culture. But we also have to very intentionally, as Tim mentioned, manage the culture because the culture is going to happen. It’s going to be impacted whether we pay attention to it or not. And quite frankly, we realized that we had some cultural gatekeepers within our organization, and those gatekeepers were making it very well known within their tight circles what was acceptable and what wasn’t acceptable. And there were narratives that were being created and exacerbated about different things within our organization. And so we actually had to make sure that the positive culture that we were attempting to foster was stronger than that behind-the-scenes, negative culture to the point that it became uncomfortable for that subculture to exist. And we were able to do that because of the things that we put in place, because of these structural changes, and then the cultural changes that we made.
Tim: Finally, because culture was so strong, it was so strong that sometimes we had disengaged employees among our midst. All organizations have disengaged employees. And as a church, we believe that God has created you for a purpose. I believe and Jesus says you are the light of the world. And so if your light’s not shining, we want your light to shine somewhere else. And so we’re really open. God bless you when you’re here, and God bless you when you move on. And so because of this strong culture, people realized, “You know what. Maybe this is not the culture I want to be in. Maybe God’s calling me somewhere else.” And that is okay. And some employees transition during these times. And I’m so happy for that because now they’re at a place where God designed them to be, right? And so don’t hold onto your part. And maybe that also was a reason of why we went from kind of a critical point to flourishing. And so think of just this strong culture, and, hey, now some of the things that I’ve been frustrated about, maybe it’s not the organization. It may be kind of where God is calling me to be. And so it’s really cool to see our ministry launch some great level leaders into their new role, as well as continue to work on culture and structural changes.
And finally, we worked on small, little things that some pone communication that goes out once a week that has a lot of the information that you would receive rather be there a text message via email, via a phone call. Vehle and planning center line. We took all of these communications and said, hey, submit it so we can submit it all together. We had montheople may overlook. But, hey, we instituted a weekly newsflash. What’s that? It’s one communication that goes out once a week that has a lot of the information that you would receive via a text message, via email, via a phone call, via a planning center line. We took all of these communications and said, “Hey, submit it so we can submit it all together.” We are now having monthly employee meetings. We went away for that for a while because for whatever reason, our culture said, “Hey, we don’t need employees meeting once a month.” We have monthly clergy meetings, and we have weekly kind of leadership meetings. We doubled-down on communications. Meetings, when run well, could really make a difference, because if your culture is right, meetings actually get accomplished what they’re striving to accomplish. It’s just not another meeting for a meeting. The norms are defined. The outcomes are defined. And you really could get a lot of things accomplished.
Al: That’s fantastic. I love what both you guys are saying. I love your focus on culture building. You didn’t use that term, but basically through Strengths, you’re building your culture, and you’re really eliminating the culture busting, where people are kind of busting and breaking your culture, and redefining what’s acceptable on a positive rather than creating environments of fear or mistrust. I love that. And, you know, the data just reflects that. Two years ago, you had 20 percent of your folks disengaged. This last year, there was nobody that was in that disengaged category. So that’s tremendous work.
As you know, at BCWI ,we’re all about transparency. So let me throw this out to you. Certainly, there are work days where you’ve come to the end of yourself as a leader. You know, something blows up. There’s a communications breakdown. Conflict emerges, maybe even involves race. You know, I’m curious. Is there a story you can tell where God has used Bridgeway’s multicultural diversity to help fellow employees, maybe even worshipers, to be humble, compassionate, eyes and ears of Jesus, to reconcile and move forward with mutual trust?
Frank: So, one of the things that we do at Bridgeway is we offer bridge-building classes. We used to call them reconciliation classes, and they became less popular, I think, because reconciliation is one of those terms that can be misunderstood, and it can sound painful, like why would I sign up to go have a root canal, you know? But when we really changed the name to reflect our vision of building bridges, we began attracting more folks to those classes. But they are designed for our leaders as well as our attendees, the folks who are a part of our congregation. And they have been very helpful in helping to bring people from different color classes and cultures together.
And one story that just sticks out. In one of these classes, we had spent two Saturdays together. So we’re at the end of this two-day class, and we’re circled up, and I’m having people talk about what is one thing that they’re going to take away from this class. Different people were sharing different parts of the class and different pieces of content and the relationships that they have developed as a part of this class. And at one place in the circle, there was an African American woman standing next to an African woman. And when we got to them in the circle, the African American woman stood there, and she gripped the hand of the African woman who was standing next to her. And she said, “It wasn’t until now that I’ve actually met an African that I like.”
Frank: That was—we needed to let that sit, right? And the African woman gave this African American woman a hug, and she said, “Until this class, I have never felt like I was accepted by an African American.” And oftentimes when we think of race and when we think of diversity, we think about it in very myopic terms. But this topic is very, very complex. And if we want to be effective with bridge building, if we want to be effective with cross-cultural relationship building, we have to create spaces like this, where we allow this work to be done and where we allow these relationships to be developed and the barriers to be broken and the bridges to be built. And if we don’t do that, then we’re really just being surface.
And one of the passages that is a foundational passage for these classes comes out of Colossians 3. And this is where Paul is trying to help guide us against false teaching. In the middle of this passage, as Paul is telling us here’s what it looks like to be in Christ, here’s what it looks like to live as Christ wants us to live, there is this verse, and it says, “Here there is no Jew, Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” You could read that whole passage and leave verse 11 out of there, and it would make perfect sense. But when we begin talking about, how are we supposed to live once we are in Christ, God acknowledges we’re going to have to cross those boundaries that are created because of our colors, our classes, and our cultures. And my favorite verse is 13. We need to bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances that we may have against one another. And we need to bind all of this in with love because love is what unifies us. And the reason that I love that verse so much is that oftentimes people can think that this bridge building, this multi-cultural ministry that we have is kind of like standing there with your lighter lit and your hand above your head, singing “We Are the World.” And it’s just this Kumbaya moment. It’s just awesome. But God knows that’s not the way it was going to be, and that’s why He gives us these passages in the Bible. He says we’re actually going to have to bear with one another if we want to do this well.
Al: Yeah. Bear with one another. Love is what unifies us. Boy, I love what you’re saying there. Thank you very much.
Frank, Tim, gosh, I’ve really enjoyed all that we’ve learned today. You know, it really reminds me it’s all about relationships, isn’t it, and how we build relationships with one another. And over and over, the concept of building bridges, nobody wants to talk about reconciliation, but let’s talk about building bridges. And that’s what this conversation has been all about, that we can build bridges through relationships, that we can break down barriers, we can break down stereotypes, that we can break down the things that really keep us from knowing one another by being in relationship. And as you say, to bear with one another, to bind with love, love is what unifies us. This has really been great.
So let me ask. Is there a final thought or encouragement each of you might leave with our listeners today?
Tim: So if you’re listening to this right now, and you’re at a critical point, cry out to God, and I believe He’s anointed you for this time. Lead. Lead your people. Lead your family. And if you’re interested in leading a diverse community, that is what the kingdom of God one day will look like. And so I pray for you. I bless you through that microphone, because when you start with a relationship of love, you will change structures, and you will change systems. And God will give you the wisdom to make you lead through this.
Frank: I would also add to that that this multicultural ministry can seem overwhelming, but we actually can begin with one conversation. And our senior pastor, Dr. David Anderson, says comprehension begins with conversation. And so I would urge you today to begin a conversation with somebody who doesn’t look like you, who may not be of the same political party as you, who may not live in the same neighborhood as you, but begin a conversation so that you can end with some comprehension about how you might build a cross-cultural relationship.
Al: Frank Eastham, chief operating officer; Tim Samuel, chief financial officer, for Bridgeway Community Church in the Columbia and Owings Mills regions outside of Baltimore, Maryland, thank you for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories. They’ve been great today. And thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today.
Frank: Thank you for inviting us to be here.
Tim: Yeah, thank you so much.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
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