Last week I spent 4 days at The Ecclesia National Gathering in Chevy Chase, MD. This is usually one of the highlights of my year and this year didn’t disappoint. The pastors and leaders in this network consist of some of my closest friends. Dallas Willard and Bob and Mary Hopkins were the featured speakers this year. We also had a lot of opportunities to hear from other leaders from within the network during the week as well. Of course Dallas was pretty mindblowing, in fact, I’m still processing all he threw at us and I’m pretty convinced that I need to read his new book to even come close to having a chance of comprehending what the heck he was talking about. I do know that I really appreciated being at a conference where I wasn’t just confirmed in what I already believed, but I was challenged and critiqued in some significant ways.

Besides all the good content and conversation we had with Dallas, Bob and Mary, and the other leaders, perhaps the thing that impacted me the most was the discussion we had around the topic of diversity (or lack-thereof). You see, I’d venture to guess that of the 150 or so people who were there, there were only 4-5 people who were not white. Now, while we have room to grow we’ve actually done a pretty good job of having women represented in the network. But it was more clear than ever that we have a long, long way to go when it comes to being even a bit more non-white.

In fact, Drew Hart was in attendance and in a recent blog post he described the conference as “the whitest event I have ever been to.” A statement like this is something that tends to catch your attention! The church at large loves to talk about diversity, but often has a hard time living it out. The following statement from Drew’s blog cut deeply, “Despite everyone’s agreement through many conversations about the elephant in the room (lack of pigmentation), it didn’t seem hopeful that anything was really going to change.” Now, part of me wanted to get mad at Drew for saying this. But, he’s being honest and I really, really appreciate that. And frankly, he has a good point.

My good friend, Laurence Tom (the one Asian-American at the conference) delivered a beautiful talk in the last session on the last day. He took a que from Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart, and talked about Dallas’ VIM principle. The VIM principle basically helps layout a process for change. Dallas argues that you must have Vision, Intention and Means if you want to make any kind of change in your life. LT helpfully applied this principle to our diversity problem.

If we are going to see diversity in a network like Ecclesia, we must be thinking through all three. I believe we have vision for diversity. I know my brothers and sisters in the network well enough to know that we all lament the lack of diversity in the group and that we all understand that the Kingdom is not white and middle class. I believe we also even have intention. We want to do something about it. Drew’s blog post hurts because we really don’t want what he said to be true. We want to change it. We intend to change it. But intention is usually were it stops. It’s the “means” that is really, really hard.

So, what does the “means” look like for the Ecclesia Network? How do we go forward? How does a group as large as ours begin to make strides in this?

I think the problem and the answer lie in the beauty of our being a relational network. I think the relational nature of our group is actually the reason we are so white. To be a relational network means that you can’t just sign up somewhere to be part of it. You have to literally relationally connect to one or two churches/pastors/leaders in the network and begin a significant process of getting to know the network to see if partnership will really work for both parties. The fact is, as we have formed over the years, we have naturally made connections with people mostly like us. The people that came this year were people that we invited.

What this means is that if Ecclesia really is a relational network, and the national gathering lacked diversity, then it means too few of us have diverse friendships back home.

Sure, it’s human nature to want to associate with people who are like you. But, the Kingdom of God demands a different way forward. If Ecclesia is going to change it is going to be because we (the pastors, leaders and congregations that make up the network) are going to have to do the hard, grassroots work of intentionally building relationships with people who are not like us. This needs to start in our own towns, our own backyards and in our own neighborhoods.

Ecclesia will not get diverse because we have a Latino, Black or Asian speakers. Yes, that needs to happen because we need to honor the diversity of the Kingdom of God in our gatherings. But, having speakers will not necessarily make us diverse. If diversity is what we are after, we need more than diverse speakers at our gatherings. What we need are friendships. Real, honest to goodness, authentic friendships. This begins with people like me reaching out and growing friendships with the many local Latino leaders and congregations in my area.

We like to talk about how hard it is to move the titanic. While Ecclesia is a relatively small network, its still big enough to get overwhelmed about moving the whole thing. But, because we’re relational, we don’t have to move the Titanic. In fact, because we’re relational Ecclesia isn’t the Titanic.

Change in a relational network like Ecclesia happens from fringes, from the grassroots. If we want change, then we (the pastors, leaders and congregation) must be the ones leading it. We cannot sit around waiting for the “Ecclesia Network” to make changes (as if it were some large organizational entity!). We are the Ecclesia Network. If we want it to change then we need to start making changes ourselves.

Really, when it all comes down to it, diversity in the Ecclesia Network isn’t what we are after. What we are after is a more authentic expression of the Kingdom of God. A diverse network is a nice, happy by-product of our churches being more authentic expressions of the Kingdom of God.

In 2011, the diversity will only happen if, in 2010, the seeds of friendships are sowed.  In fact, we might not see those seeds sprout till 2012.  Long lasting change doesn’t usually happen from gimmicks or tricks.  Long lasting change usually comes from having, as Eugene Peterson would say, ” a long obedience in the same direction.”

So, thanks to my brother LT, I believe I understand my role in the “means.” I need to start some friendships and, as LT said in his talk, I need to put myself in a ton of situations where I’m the only white guy in the room. If you are part of Ecclesia, will you join me in being the awkward, goofy looking white guy in the room more often this year?

There have been a number of others who have posted their thoughts on the gathering as well: