Interview with Byron Davis

Byron Davis

By Brad Dupray

Dream of Destiny is casting a vision for Christian churches and churches of Christ across America to increase their evangelistic outreach through ethnic diversity in ministry. Dudley Rutherford, senior pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, California, challenged Byron Davis to spearhead the venture as a member of the staff at Shepherd. Byron left a career in pharmaceutical sales to join the church staff. He was a member of the U.S. National Swim Team from 1994 to 1996, was an eight-time All-American swimmer at UCLA, and was a U.S. Olympic team alternate in the butterfly. Byron and his wife, Annett (who plays on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour), have been married 14 years and have two children, Mya and Victoria.

For more information about how you and your church or ministry can be more effective in fostering ministry through diversity, visit www.dreamofdestiny.org.

How was the “Dream of Destiny” concept born?

Shepherd of the Hills Church had gone through a transformation. If you compared 1998 to today you would see two different congregations. Dudley (Rutherford) has always had a heart for diversity, not just diversity for diversity’s sake, but seeing the downside of homogenous groupings and how we’re missing out on God’s master plan if we allow social norms to drive the protocol of our services. He said, “Byron let’s see if we can create something that would equip and empower other churches and ministries in our brotherhood to be intentional about diversity.” So he asked me to come on board to be the architect and craft what this thing would look like.

What does it look like?

Dream of Destiny is a movement that encourages ministries to do three things: number one, reach and raise young people of diversity, empowering them to be leaders in the Christian church movement. Number two, for ministry leaders to diversify their inner network, their core network. And number three, reach ever-changing communities for Christ. Those are the three pillars. How we do it splinters into different projects and initiatives that reach into each of those lanes.

What is the goal of Dream of Destiny?

The ultimate goal is to be a catalyst for diversity within the Christian church/church of Christ movement in North America. If we could take a snapshot 25 years from now and compare it to a snapshot of the Christian church today, our hope is it would be as different as Shepherd from 1998 to 2010, where there is a rainbow of colors, backgrounds, and ages—all fellowshipping together in one community.

How would you describe the diversity of Shepherd of the Hills Church?

About 20 percent of those living in the city of Porter Ranch are nonwhite, about 3 percent being African-American. But the demographic of our church is about 55 percent minority and about 45 percent Caucasian. I think the reason that’s happened is Shepherd has developed a reputation within the community of being a very welcoming church, not just in heart, but in procedure. Meaning when someone comes in, even if they don’t see their own color from the pulpit they’ll still see a very distinct blend of diversity from the platform. That’s done intentionally.

How so?

We make sure everyone—from our worship band to our associate pastoral team, through our staff and volunteers—illustrate diversity.

If an African-American feels comfortable seeing African-Americans in leadership, why not simply attend an African-American church?

That’s a kingdom question. One of the big barriers any church or ministry has to overcome is the natural inertia toward homogenous clustering. A ministry has to present something compelling enough that it inspires or motivates someone to release that initial social comfort. But there is a more insidious and devastating downside we need to be aware of.

The downside being . . .

Homogenous clusters, especially in the church, tend to perpetuate stereotypes, prejudices, and fears that work against spreading the gospel to all nations.

So this really is a Great Commission matter.

The bottom line is evangelism. Too much of the church has surgically removed the “go” part out of the call. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We’ve cancelled that out when we choose to stay comfortable in homogenous clusters.

We have historically been a Caucasian movement. How do we diversify? How do we create something out of nothing?

This is the challenge! There is art in this process and that is why I stress that Dream of Destiny cannot be seen as a stand-alone ministry but a movement that ministries embrace and own locally in their own community. Every leader will have to own and be responsible for addressing those three pillars right where they are.

You’re saying we have to work together.

We tend to hoard resources in silos. There are resources, information, and opportunities that one church will not know exists because it’s not in the same network as another homogenous church. Problems that could easily be solved in one community go unsolved because they not only don’t have access to the resources, they don’t even know the resources are available! The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

How can a ministry like Dream of Destiny provide the necessary networking reference point?

It’s so important for ministry leaders to be intentional about diversifying their network, their core inner-circle network. Because when we know, like, and trust each other, we can share resources. If I have a job opportunity or an extra two tickets to the North American Christian Convention, I can give what I have to someone who may be in need and vice versa. If these relationships don’t exist it’s impossible for each of us to leverage the others’ strengths, minimize our own weaknesses, and benefit the kingdom at large.

How does someone sign on to become a part of the dream?

Our online headquarters, www.dreamofdestiny.org, offers resources and a helpful social community that will facilitate a leader applying the three pillars. But ultimately it comes down to each leader allowing God to really bolster the burden and sense of urgency of this matter in his own heart.

If a person has that sense of urgency, what is a practical way to move toward action?

It starts there with getting a fresh look at what your community truly looks like. A practical first step is to go to www.zipskinny.com to get a fresh, up-to-date snapshot of the demographics of the community you serve.

Don’t most people have a pretty fair idea of what their community looks like?

I find when speaking to leaders that many of them are operating without updated information. They’re assuming their community only looks African-American or only looks white. But when they cross-reference zip codes that are in the database with what’s current on zipskinny.com, they’re always surprised to see how different they are. “Wow, we have that many Latinos in our community? I didn’t know. Wow, there’s this Korean opportunity just five miles from the church. I didn’t know.”

So you get a look at your community. What’s next?

The second step is to transition from having a welcoming heart that’s based on an attraction model. Churches will say “we’ll welcome anyone in,” but what they don’t recognize is you’re making some assumptions. First, that a person would actually come on their own volition—“come and see”—when the mandate or the call for the day is to “go and be.”

What does “go and be” mean?

I don’t know when it happened, but over the last 25 years we have stopped the intentionality of reaching others with the gospel and turned to more tools, programs, and events to hopefully attract someone to our church. It’s my conviction that diversity will happen organically when more and more Christians are intentional about engaging others with the gospel.

Engaging them in what ways?

It’s being intentional about evangelism on your block, at your local supermarket, and at the high school football game. Everywhere the community meets, believers should be present to engage their neighbors with the gospel—especially neighbors who look different than they do. With the increase and the dynamic change of the landscape of America comes the greater gap between the churched and the unchurched.

Who is doing a better job of exemplifying diversity, the church or the unchurched?

The unchurched are doing a better job of diversity because they want to capitalize on, and recognize the advantages of, diversity. Hollywood sees value in putting more Latinos on the screen because they are attracting a greater Latino audience. Music recognizes and embraces hip-hop because they see it’s crossing cultural barriers and reaching everyone. More people means more money regardless of what those people look like. It seems like the Christian church is the last at recognizing our advantages in our diversity.

So we need “spiritual entrepreneurship”?

Church planters and most pastors have entrepreneurial spirits, but I think we get so bogged down by trying to maintain the status quo that we undermine the very nature God wired us for. So, in effect, we’re fighting against ourselves, trying to stay comfortable. This is evidenced in our ever-decreasing ability to reach North America. When God calls us to step out of our comfort zones and step up, there’s a greater call he has on our life.

How can an ethnic worker in a ministry maintain his cultural identity while trying to work in a ministry where he or she is clearly a minority?

The feeling of being overwhelmed and out of place is natural in the short run, but we’ve got to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. During the time where minorities will start to attend your church or you hire a minority and he or she is the only one on staff, there will be a lot of friction points. As you start to see more and more diversity take place in your ministry, you’re going to experience even more friction points. In music, in styles of worship, in how long the pastor preaches, all the way down to how the congregation interacts with the speaker during the service. Different people will naturally bring different expressions of worship into the same place.

How does the church address those friction points?

My encouragement is to welcome and encourage them and not be afraid of them. I believe churches are already experiencing diversity opportunities but they’re sometimes extinguishing the fire when these friction points pop up.

How do you fan the fire?

By being open to our differences, celebrating our differences, and not seeing logistical matters as either/or, but to start seeing them as and/and. For instance, why do we have to always sing hymns out of the hymnbook? Or, why does a message have to be 26 minutes where you have two songs and close in prayer? We have to stop confusing the administration of our ministry with authentic ministry itself.

How does Dream of Destiny open opportunities?

One of the resources we have at dreamofdestiny.com is a membership community. The goal is to leverage this global village, where ministry leaders whose network may not naturally be diverse right now can actually become diverse by engaging in the community. On the site you can meet and connect with others via messages, e-mails, and special interest groups that you can create within the community. You can be as intentional as you want about engaging and fostering relationships with other ministry leaders who don’t look like you.

What tools exist on the site that churches and ministries can use to increase diversity?

We have what we call being a “Five Star Ministry” or a “Five Star Church.” We give five basic things they can do. Click on “Five Star Leader” and then there are five “low-hanging fruits” you can pick that will start to turn the ship in the direction of fostering unity through diversity in a more natural way.

How can the church move toward racial diversity in lay leadership? What if there are no qualified spiritual leaders who would reflect diversity?

They can leverage the community by sending out a wire asking for help. Just like we do with Facebook or Twitter—“Hey does anybody know if this restaurant is good?”—they can utilize the mind share of the community. If people are intentional about doing those five things on the site, they are going to experience ways to work through friction points and they’re going to start seeing change.

What are the benefits to a church or ministry being a part of the Five Star Initiative?

You get access to ministry resources designed to help your ministry accomplish what you want it to. An immediate benefit is your church and your Web site gets promoted and gets put on the radar of other churches, other Bible colleges, and other parachurch ministries that are part of our brotherhood. So your church has a direct link; when someone scrolls down the Five Star Initiative they see your name, and they can click on your link and be taken directly to your Web site.

What do you see as the long-term objective for the site?

Our goal with the Five Star Initiative is to get 500 of the 5,000 ministries in our brotherhood on board. We believe we can create a tipping point where this thing can take on its own life if we can get 500 of those 5,000 ministries being intentional about doing these things on a regular basis.

Brad Dupray is senior vice president, ministry development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

You Might Also Like

A Mirror in the Manger

A Mirror in the Manger

A Second Coming

A Second Coming

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Free!

Subscribe to gain free access to all of our digital content,
including our new digital magazine,
and we'll let you know when new digital issues are ready to view!