Leading the Conversation - An Interview with Tim Winters

Dream of Destiny Executive Director, Lisa McGloiry, sits down with Tim Winters, Executive Pastor of Shepherd Church to discuss racial unity and diversity in the Church.

1. Tell us about your first experience with racism and its impact on you now. 

My first personal experience with racism was watching a person use a racial slur against someone who worked for our family. My grandpa punched the guy in the face as a result. I knew this man’s skin color was a little darker than mine but I didn’t even think of him as any different than my grandfather and me until this incident occurred. I think the impact on me today is my desire to always protect anyone who is being put down simply because of their race or ethnicity.

2. Why was the tragic death of George Floyd both a turning point and wake-up call for churches to confront racism in this country? 

George Floyd’s death was a wake-up call for the Church and our entire nation. At Shepherd, we felt that for the past 30 years, we had made a ton of progress in promoting racial unity. Diversity has always been one of our Church’s pillars, even when we started with 300 people and grew to over 10,000. Shepherd is recognized and celebrated for being the most multi-racial and multi-cultural Church in Los Angeles.

And yet, people started questioning our stance on diversity when this happened because they believed that we should have done more. We realized that maybe there were more in-depth issues that we needed to address. We started to engage in deeper conversations to rethink diversity and put some action plans in place. I believe this has been a turning point for both the Church and each of us individually to commit to championing diversity in every way we can.

3. What would you say to pastors who want to become more intentional about fostering diversity in their churches but don’t know where to start?

Fostering more diversity in any church starts at the top, with the pastor, elders, and senior staff. At Shepherd, we began by making sure our worship team was more inclusive. When visitors came to our Church, they saw a rainbow of colors on stage — a group of people that represented them. Next, we wanted our volunteers to be a tapestry of individuals serving in our various ministries. When a biracial couple visited our Church, they said they saw volunteers who looked like them when they drove into our parking lot, making them feel safe. 

So, as a first step, I would encourage pastors to diversify their worship team, leadership, and their staff. Secondly, they should plan to preach at least one sermon on race relations each year, along with their annual messages on marriage/family or finances. 

I have had pastors tell me that you can’t force diversity, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. It’s not manipulative to find ways to make people feel more comfortable, whether that’s adjusting the people that your audience will see, modifying the songs you sing, or rethinking some of the things you do.

4. Is their hope for pastors whose surrounding communities are not diverse? 

Churches should represent their surrounding community. When you go into a grocery store or gas station in your area, your Church should represent this particular demographic. I know many pastors who beat themselves up because their Church and surrounding community are not diverse. I admit they will have a lot more work to do in this area, but it can be done.

Take our Church, for example. Shepherd is located in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles County. At our main campus in Porter Ranch, this community’s demographics is made up of 60.9% White, 26.8% Asian, 7.5% Latino, 1.8% black and 3.0% other races. Yet, because we were intentional about becoming a diverse congregation, our Church is comprised of 15% Blacks, 17% Latinos, 16% Asians, along with 50% of whites who attend regularly.

5. How has Shepherd helped to champion diversity and make a difference within their community?

We started a ministry called Dream of Destiny to help leaders foster racial unity, diversity, and inclusion in the Church. This has been the heartbeat and passion of our Senior Pastor, Dudley Rutherford, who founded this ministry many years ago. 

Secondly, we intentionally ensure that our various communications, graphics, and media all reflect the demographics of our community. I’m a white guy from the Midwest, and if it were up to me, I would want to hear country music all the time. Yet, I know that I must have other voices who can weigh in on everything we produce or show on stage. We consider diversity in everything we do so that whenever people encounter Shepherd, they feel welcome here. 

6. Why do you believe small groups are essential to cultivating an environment of racial understanding, empathy, and common ground within the Body of Christ?

Small Groups happen in an intimate setting where people can do life together. It also sets the stage to understand the nuances and undertones of diversity. It’s one thing for me to go to a sporting event or concert and sit next to thousands of people from all backgrounds and nationalities and call that diversity. It’s quite another thing for me to sit down with people in a Small Group who don’t look like me and just do life together. 

Small Groups help us get down to the nitty and gritty of life, engage with each other, share our experiences, and even discuss how certain word choices can affect us all differently. We live in a culture where it’s either one way or another, but Small Groups allow us to meet somewhere in the middle. It’s a place where we can find common ground to understand each other better and grow in Christ. 

7. Give us one example of something you learned from having these types of conversations?

When I asked some of our pastors what I could do differently to help break down racial barriers, one of them told me that I should stop using the word “redneck.” He said that when I talked about being a redneck, it scared him. He said that my view of a redneck is quite different than how other people perceive it. I had no idea that this particular word could be interpreted so negatively. After our conversation, I came away with a much greater understanding of how it affected him and others much differently. I will not use that word again because I don’t want to offend anyone knowingly. 

Conversations like these can help us understand what causes fear and angst in other people. This is important, so we don’t discount how others are feeling. We all need to listen more because we all process things differently. 

8. What words of wisdom can you give to people who say, “I’m tired of talking about race. Tell me what I can do to promote real change within my inner circle?”

I would encourage people to push through it and not give up. I know how this feels because I’ve felt the same way, especially during these difficult times. I felt like giving up and moving back to the Midwest to live on a farm and escape all the drama. But, I reminded myself that God had me here for a reason, and there was no going back. Championing more diversity is not easy because it can bring out many differences and hard feelings in people. Advocating racial unity comes with a tension that we all have to manage, but in the end, it’s what God has called us to do, and it’s worth it.

I would encourage anyone seeking to promote real change to look at their inner circle and ask the question, “Do all of these people look like me?” I know we all like to be around our tribe because it’s more comfortable, but we need to have people in our lives who don’t look like us and have varying opinions. I’ve said this to some people, and they’ve responded, “I don’t have any black friends” and that’s when I tell them, “Well, there lies the problem!” I think we can personally promote real change if we start with diversifying our tribe.

9. Do you believe that local churches can support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as a way to come alongside the African-American community? 

Whether to support the BLM movement or not has been a polarizing and political issue that has divided the Church. For example, at Shepherd, our congregation is made up of half Democrats and half Republicans. As we all know, both parties tend to look at the same issues quite differently, including this one.

Our pastoral team is quite diverse, and some of them attended BLM’s peaceful protests right here in Los Angeles. We had people in our congregation question our leadership because we participated in a demonstration supporting BLM. They didn’t understand that we wanted to come alongside our black brothers and sisters in Christ who were hurting, and we will continue to do this. At the same time, I believe that churches can say, “Black Lives Matter” and yet not support the organization’s entire ideology. We need to focus on loving people. Let’s stop pushing a particular agenda because this divides our country, and Satan is having a field day at our expense.

10. If Jesus was alive on earth now, how would He challenge us to live out Revelation 7:9-10 today?

Jesus would say that a person who looks and thinks differently than us is a person he died for — one of his children. He would tell us that He doesn’t see them in the same way you and I see them. He would remind us that we can think, talk, and live differently from others and still accept and love them.

Our nation recently mourned the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her former colleague, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was one of her closest friends. The cool thing about their relationship was that they were polar opposites regarding their viewpoints, politics, and rulings. Yet, they respected and cared for one another.

Jesus would question why we can’t all respectfully disagree and still empathize, listen, and support one another. My prayer is that we each ask God to help us look at others through His lens. I would also remind people that if they have a problem with people of another race, they will not like heaven.

11. What is a favorite Bible verse that you have been standing on during this turbulent time that can serve as an encouraging word for others?

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 says, “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.” That’s what I want to be known for. Love covers a multitude of problems, and it’s so missing in our nation today. We make God, Christianity, and the Bible so complicated, and it’s not. 

We are called to love God and love people. We look at the world and say it’s all messed up, but if we Christians acted like Christians, it wouldn’t be so bad. It doesn’t matter what social tension is grappling our nation today or what biggest threat is coming against the Church. Our responsibility is to love others and keep pointing them to Jesus.