By Ronald E. Keener
Dudley Rutherford Senior Pastor: Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, CA.
Shepherd of the Hills is known as one of the most diverse churches in the country. The mayor of Los Angeles once noted publicly that the church is the most racially diverse church in Los Angeles, says Senior Pastor Dudley Rutherford. “I do not believe that is just because we live in Los Angeles. Right across the street from our church is another church that is all one race. There are churches all over this city that have not been successful at breaking down the barriers that divide.”
Breaking down racial barriers goes back to Rutherford’s youth, he says. “I decided to become a minister in the ninth grade, and when I was 16 years old, I invited one of my basketball teammates – a 6 foot 5, African American kid – to come to my primarily all-white church. I remember the look on everyone’s faces as they turned around and wondered who this was that had just walked into their church.
“That was the first time it dawned on me that churches should not be all one color or race. In that moment, I decided that when I had my church, I was going to make sure that it was a racially diverse church. The diversity of Shepherd is not a result of me jumping on the bandwagon a couple of years ago; I have had this burden for a long, long time and I’ve been intentional about it since the beginning, believing and understanding that the church of Jesus Christ needs to be diverse.”
You have a heart for diversity. How hard is this to accomplish?
Los Angeles is a melting pot of diverse races, ethnicities and nationalities, and this is true in every arena — politics, education, the entertainment industry and professional sports. We drive the freeways together, attend all the athletic events together, and shop at the supermarket together, but when it comes to church – even in Los Angeles – 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.
When the church is not diverse, I see several problems with that. First, it’s a sign that we’re not fulfilling the Great Commission to go into the whole world and reach people of all nationalities. It seems a little hypocritical to me that we would send missionaries around the world to reach people of color, and yet we won’t do it in the very city in which we live.
Second, segregation sends a message to the residents of our city. When a church is all one race, it communicates to the city’s diverse residents that perhaps they’re not welcome and they’re not included in that church. Third, Revelation 7:9 explains that when we get to Heaven, there’s going to be people of every nation, tribe, people, and language worshipping the Lord together.
The church is supposed to be preparing all people for that grand reunion, and we’re not doing a very good job at that.
So what should churches be doing about it?
There are several steps a church can take to become a more diverse church. When we walk into a church of all one race, there has to be a burden in our hearts to change the flavor of what’s going on today. So, it begins with intentionality; we must be able to recognize the problem and be committed to making a difference.
The next critical step is to transform the platform of your church so that any time anyone from any background walks into your church they feel welcome based on the fact that there is so much diversity on the platform. Most of us live in cities where there is some diversity; there is at least some pocket of diversity in every city. So, when we diversify our platform – the worship team, the choir, and the guy doing announcements or the greeting – visitors will look up and see someone on stage who represents them, and they know immediately, “Hey, I am welcome at this church.”
It slowly transforms who is sitting out in your audience. At Shepherd, we found that when we diversified our platform, it actually contributed to our growth, because whenever anyone walked into our church from a different ethnic or racial background, they would see that they were welcomed right away, and oftentimes they chose to stay. It all began with being intentional and diversifying our platform.
Of all the entities that exist in America, the church shouldn’t be lagging behind in regards to this diversity issue; the church should be on the cutting edge, leading by our example. The church should be saying to the rest of the world, “Let us show you how to break down the walls that divide us racially.”
What is your personal hope?
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will move across the churches in America – especially the New Testament, Restoration churches – that somehow we would be burdened with this particular issue and make the changes that are necessary. Once your church starts to include people of all races, it’s like a snowball effect; it empowers the church to grow even beyond what you thought or imagined was possible because you’re including people from all nationalities and people groups.
And once you’ve experienced what heaven is going to be like – in the church on earth – there’s something that speaks to your spirit and there’s something that speaks to others. It speaks volumes to the community, that we care about people, that we’re not bigoted or prejudiced, that we’re not interested in serving only ourselves, that we’re not a little social club — we are truly interested in getting outside of our four walls and influencing the people of this day and this culture.
Today Shepherd of the Hills runs nearly 9,000 people in attendance each weekend, with close to 12,000 members, on two main campuses and three satellite campuses.
In working at diversity, what is “Dream of Destiny.”
1. Be intentional about making your platform/stage diverse (i.e. worship team, teaching, announcements).
2. Be intentional about diversity within your leaders, staff and elder board.
3. Make sure all promotional material, bulletins, and weekly service programs reflect the diversity you desire within your ministry
4. Fund scholarship opportunities (directly through a Bible college or through the DOD scholarship fund).
5. Host internship opportunities for prospective candidates that represent the diversity that we desire to have on our staff and in our congregation.
Your congregation was the result of a merger. How is merger a solution for where you are located?
In California there are many churches that are closing their doors because, financially, it is difficult to keep a church afloat. The land, the cost to build and the cost of living for just one staff person is much higher in California. So oftentimes, churches will consider things they wouldn’t ordinarily consider.
When push comes to shove and it’s either close the door or merge with another church, they will sometimes choose to merge. I don’t think you go around looking for churches to merge with unless you are in a desperate situation. We certainly weren’t looking for it; it came knocking at our door, and we simply decided that as long as God kept that door open, we would continue to walk through each door every day until the Lord closed the door.
You’ve said that “it’s not a sin to be a small church, but it is a sin to stay a small church.” How so?
My father has said that it’s not a sin to belong to a small church, but it’s a sin to remain a small church. I repeated that once, and it was quoted in a newspaper. Afterward, a pastor sent me a letter; he was upset, because he pastored a small church and felt I was taking a pot shot at him. He thought I was criticizing him, and he explained that he felt God had called him to lead a small church. However, I wasn’t talking about pastoring; I was talking about the church itself.
I’m fully aware that there are different pastors who are gifted in different ways: some are gifted to lead a small church, some gifted to lead a medium-sized church, and some pastors are gifted to lead a larger church. But it doesn’t matter if you have 40 people in the church or if you have 4,000, because the size of your church is not a sin. What is a sin, I believe, is if you’re the same size week after week, and there isn’t any growth in your church.
I believe God intended for the church to grow — it’s embedded within our very DNA. He didn’t intend for all churches to be the same size, but with Holy Spirit-provided synergy and energy, every church should be able to grow. Yes, there will always be hurdles, but we should be able to overcome all of these hurdles by the grace and power of God.
If you’re in a church that’s not growing, someone needs to sit down, take a serious inventory, and figure out why it’s not growing. To be a dead, dry or stagnant church is not what I see in the book of Acts where the number of believers grew so quickly that, eventually, there were too many to count. And I’m not talking merely about numbers, but about counting true disciples of Jesus Christ.
How did you change your management style as the church grew in numbers?
I think that the larger the church grows, the less you are involved in things and the more you have to delegate responsibility. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a little bit ahead of that curve. We have an incredible executive pastor in Tim Winters, and he takes so much off my plate and worries about so many things, which enable me to study, pray, preach, lead, and cast vision.
In a large church, you’re in a constant mode of restructuring and reorganizing, but I believe my executive pastor does more of that than I do. I’ve never been in a church that wasn’t in an upward trend as far as growth, and so we’ve always just stayed ahead of the curve by delegating to an executive pastor who, in turn, delegates to a very committed and loyal staff.
Southern California has been called “a laboratory of church innovation.” Has your church added to that innovation over the years?
I think our church has been very innovative. I don’t think you can pastor a church in California if you don’t have some type of creativity and innovation. Land is very expensive; it’s difficult to get in buildings and to get city permits. So, you’ve got to go to multiple services and multiple campuses in order to grow and thrive.
If you think you’re going to come into California and start a church and that it’s going to be smooth sailing, you’re going to find out in just a few short months that this is one of the most difficult areas in the country to grow a church. One reason is that there are a million things for people to do on any given weekend, especially here in Southern California.
They can go to Disneyland one weekend and snowboarding the next. They can take a relatively short drive to Vegas or San Francisco or visit the San Diego Zoo or Sea World. Here in Los Angeles, the weather is amicable probably three-fourths of the year, so families can drive to the beach for the day or go golfing or to soccer and little league games. Thus, there are always activities that compete with church on any given weekend.
You’re also fighting Hollywood – creative geniuses who produce movies and television shows – and so when people do come to church, there’s a certain quality you’ve got to be prepared to bring people in order to keep their interest.
However, what we do have is a lot of lost people who are hurting and have messed up lives. So, if you can find a way to minister to them, care for the needy, be a blessing to those who are hurting, lift up Jesus, and boldly preach the truths from God’s word, I believe that people will come. Soon, your problem is going to be finding a place to seat them all, and that’s where the creativity comes in.
‘Unleashed’: Turning the world upside down
Dudley Rutherford is president this year of the North American Christian Convention, meeting in Cincinnati July 5-8. It is a gathering of several thousand from Christian Churches and churches of Christ [ www.gotonacc.org ]. Here Rutherford talks about the event:
At the NACC, held since 1927, we gather to be encouraged, to network, to worship, to hear some of the best speakers in the country. It is the yearly connecting place for some 5,000 to 6,000 thousand churches and really gives an identity to the independent Christian church. We have no state, regional, or national headquarters, because we’re all independent. But this yearly convention is that one moment in the year where we get together.
What sets the NACC apart is that the churches that gather there are truly New Testament-following Christian churches. It’s also one of the few family conventions; there are worship, leadership, and church planting conventions, but this is a convention for the entire family. We have programs and activities for children, for junior high and high school students, for men and women, and for seniors that cover all those areas.
The theme “Unleashed” comes from the intent of my heart to have a convention that encourages the church in America to uncover and recapture the foundational principles of the church in the first century. It is my belief that every church in America needs to look like the church in Acts. So, as people come to the convention, we’re going to have nine different sermons that take us through the book of Acts. So, the idea behind the Unleashed theme is that God unleashed His Spirit upon the church in Acts 1 and 2 and the rest of the entire book of Acts, starting with chapter 3, details how God then unleashed the church upon the world. And by the time you get to Acts 17:6, the church is accused of turning the world upside down.