Interview with David Ramos, Part 2

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Part 1, Part 2

As the founder of Latino Leadership Circle, the Rev. David Ramos works with other Latino leaders to provide venues for theological reflection, pastoral support, and educational forums. Also, in his capacity as a staff minister at Faith Fellowship Ministries, David serves as the Chancellor of Faith International Training School. In addition, he’s conducted missionary initiatives in Africa, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, India, Philippines, Turkey, Spain, and Venezuela. We decided to sit down with David to glean his insights regarding how he creates opportunities to give those who feel they’ve been excluded from the conversation the opportunity to have a real voice in the church.

What would you say to those who feel that you have to be ordained in order to serve as a religious leader?

You do not need to be ordained. In fact, the gospel talks about the priesthood of all believers. While I wanted to be ordained and am an ordained minister, for most of my life, I conducted ministry but was not ordained. I was what was known as a marketplace leader, who worked as a professional as well as within the church. Some of the most powerful strategic voices are people who are not ordained, but serve both God and people in strategic places in the kingdom of God and in the world. So, I really would encourage people not to get stuck on that.

Could you elaborate on the term "mosaic leadership" and how this concept informs your work?

Mosaic leadership integrates a tapestry of different people, along with their gifts, talents, worldviews, and various perspectives. This generation necessitates a mosaic leadership, because more than ever before, we've seen both politically and theologically the damage that can be done by ideology and ethnocentrism. But, I believe that if we have a Mosaic leadership that is very deliberate and sensitive to different positions and attempts to responsibly engage the other and create spaces where people's voices can be heard, then people can achieve full participation in the type of things that we're trying to achieve.

It's not always easy. Sometimes you may be deceived to think that you are operating that way until you realize that you, yourself, may have operated within particular enclaves, both theologically, racially, politically. And, hence, we continuously need to be open and sensitive to correction—by the Spirit of God, by friends, and by those who are interlocutors who oppose us. I think they are all educational opportunities.

How do you deal with the turf wars that always seem to happen when different groups try to come together to achieve a common goal?

If you have a heart to serve people, you'll always have opportunities. Some people try to rob your thunder or they try to circumvent you and take over. I think sharing is very, very important, both in process, as well as in distributing credit for any event or initiative that we do.

Also, one needs to step back if necessary. Sometimes, letting other people take the credit is okay. Now, you're not to be a doormat for people, and you need not be politically foolish. One can be wise and shrewd in the world and be able to halt abusive people or people who are solely politically motivated. We can do that without having this ambition for the limelight or an ambition of a personal agenda that auspicates the purposes of God and authentic spirituality.

What advice do you have for others who are working in multi-cultural settings as to how they can build up their leadership?

Get to know the people who know the grounds and include as many people as possible. Also, surround yourself with people who are unlike you theologically, politically, and racially. You can be of like-spirit in the sense of Spirit of God, but have different perspectives or different narratives. I think by us allowing ourselves to be informed and be touched by others, it changes our paradigms and enables us to have a much more global vision. In order for us to do that, we need to have an authentic openness. I don't think that can occur if we are so utterly locked within our own paradigms. If one is truly sensitive, one can be deliberate about a process.

Does it create more work? Sure. Are you going to make everyone happy? No. Are you able to retain control of your own leadership? Yes, if you can say, "Hey, listen. These are the things you want to do. These are the objectives we are trying to accomplish. And we would like to do this together. There are some things we can negotiate, and there are some things that are nonnegotiable." If you effectively communicate these things to the people you invite, I think they can respect you for making an honest attempt at honest dialog.

What advice do you have for those ministers who want to be multicultural but every time they plan an event, the gatherings tend to be almost all people like them?

One of the things is the issue of power. A lot of times we don't realize that our power paradigm speaks volumes to any relationship. If we're going to have authentic cross-cultural and cross-racial events and initiatives, then this power needs to be shared. When there is a shared power that may take you in different directions. Ask yourself if you are willing to do that. Are you willing to allow people to take you in a different path? Are you willing to allow it to look differently than your view of a particular event? How married are you to your vision?

I would highly recommend not to bring people in at the end of a particular thought process but to involve them from the very beginning. The earlier you bring people into the process of developing any type of endeavor, the better it is and the more authentic it is, because people will believe that you're having a valid, authentic dialog that started from the conception stage. If you allow people to inform the conception stage, then you allow them to have authentic ownership of the project.

How can outside organizations partner effectively with local grassroots groups?

A lot of times, people are afraid that their indigenous initiatives are going to be co-opted by outsiders. That could take many forms. For example, money is a form of power. A lot of times when people offer finances, there are very large strings attached. Those strings can be political with various agendas attached to this money that sometimes raises flags for people.

Instead of telling people, "We'll give you money, but you must be affiliated with our organization," try saying to them, "Listen, our heart is church planting. We realize we can't do this alone. The body of Christ is multifaceted and mosaic. We're so invested in this dream that we want to enable others to plant churches and to create their own visions. Our role is to provide a supportive reality, so that we could come alongside of what God is doing and allow other people to run with their dreams." I find that incredibly admirable. I've seen models like this such as Redeemer Presbyterian's Church Planting Initiative. They provide money for people who are doing church plants, and then they give them the autonomy and the ownership of those initiatives.

What have been some of your biggest learning experiences in working in urban settings here in the United States?

The issue of money really sticks out to me. As a social worker, one of the heart-wrenching things I've witnessed time and again is that when there is an economic crunch in the city, a lot of community-based organizations cannot survive this financial crunch. I've seen a host of extremely talented leadership and wonderful teams unable to survive because they don't have the finances. We must endeavor to create our own institutions and our own financial base that enables us to be liquid. It is going to take a lot of creative people to embark on this endeavor. But unless that happens, we're going to continue to see community-based organizations and church plants dry up on the vine for lack of finances.

What keeps you focused during extremely stressful times such as this current financial crisis?

The Rev. Dr. Ray Rivera mentions that one must have a transcendental vision. Why are we called to something? If we are truly called, then we're not seeking personal gain. Obviously, we need to survive. But we're not seeking to establish our own kingdom. We're here for others. If we have a transcendental vision and an authentic calling that comes from God, that means that regardless of what is happening around us—whether the wind is blowing in our favor or is blowing against us—we need to continue with this vision. We need to be committed to it, because it's right. That keeps us motivated and keeps us at the ground suffering with those who suffer, crying with those who cry, because it's right.