When we own our story, we become able to hear and empathize with other people’s stories. That empathy allows us to embrace our differences and become stronger as a community.
The challenge of diversity facing the church and other organizations today is the challenge I encounter on a smaller scale in my classroom on a daily basis, that is, creating a community from a collection of diverse individuals who start out as strangers on the first day of class. My students are a very diverse mix of individuals in terms of:
- socioeconomic background
- profession and career
- religion, beliefs, and values
- passions and interests
- cognitive strengths and weaknesses
- learning styles and personalities
Many times the only thing they have in common is a desire to improve their English communication skills, but even then precisely which skills each student wants to work on varies.
As an educator, I have come to embrace a view of humanity through the lens of “individual differences.” In other words, I see each individual student as a unique makeup of strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, cognitive profile, and personality type. I further believe that our unique makeup is part of God’s intentional design. Pastor Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life that “God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes. He has a reason for everything he creates.” That includes everything under the umbrella of “individual difference.”
This brings us back to the question of creating community with all this diversity. It has been said that Sunday morning is the most highly segregated time of the week, and I have observed that most people tend to avoid diversity assuming that under such circumstances, cohesion and community will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible. However, I have found that it is possible; my students often state that the diversity of the class is a major asset, one of the key benefits of being in this educational program. Therefore, I would like to share a few strategies I have found effective in creating a sense of community within my classroom:
- present shared goals and shared mission regularly
- identify and activate individual strengths
- identify and (gently) manage disruptive personality quirks
- provide opportunity for individual expression
- use a combination of small group and large group activities
These strategies can be applied in a variety of contexts, anytime a diverse group of people are coming together for a common purpose.
I believe diversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. I am sure you will find, as I have, that we have much more in common than not, that your life will be enriched, and that the Kingdom of God will be furthered as you embrace diversity in your own life.