10 Ways Privilege Hurts The Church

Privilege hurts the church. It robs us of what God intended for us. It stands in stark contrast to the life of Jesus.

In Philippians 2:5-11 we read a powerful example of how Jesus set aside his privilege(s) for you and I.

…who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!

Jesus emptied out His privilege for our sake. He let go of what was His, so that we could have what wasn’t ours. He released His privilege and took on hopelessness so that we could receive hope and receive His privilege. So why is it that we hold onto our real (or perceived) privilege while Jesus let go of His true privilege?

Injustice exists in our world today. And privilege has existed in abundance among many different ethnic groups at many times in the past as well. This post attempts to identify privilege today in some ways you might not be used to, while also addressing the impact of privilege (both real and perceived) on the church.

As you consider privilege, you may be reminded of past or present privilege or injustices that have caused pain in your life. You likely will also see ways your own privilege, abuse of privilege, or seeking privilege has hurt yourself, the church, and society.

But we would like to challenge you to 1. reconsider your views of privilege, 2. consider how your privilege(s) or holding onto privilege impacts others, and 3. honestly wrestle with one or two areas of privilege that you may need to release.

The only privileges any of us should seek or hope for are those we eagerly await and yet already can claim on account of what Christ has done for us. May we celebrate the privilege of our relationship with Him and release the privileges that have hurt others, ourselves, or the church.


10 Ways Privilege Hurts The Church

1. Limited Worship Styles

This is seen when we believe that we have a right to worship as we please. We don’t like how this ethnicity or that ethnicity worships; we would prefer to worship “the way I connect with God best.”

Think about that statement. It is all about ME! What if you asked how we could create worship services that were expressions of the diversity of the body of Christ rather than targeting them at homogeneous groups? You would find yourself valuing all ethnicities rather than contributing to the ways privilege hurts the church.

2. Preaching

When we have a great preacher, we need to make sure we hear more and more of that person, right? NO! Give your pastor the opportunity to develop other preachers from multiple ethnicities to better reach the community and diversify teaching. Allowing that one pastor to do all the preaching only further exacerbates the problem of how privilege hurts the church.

3. Friendships

When you go to your church service, you have the right to pick your friends and make sure they look like, act like, and worship like you, right? Yes…if you don’t believe all people were made in God’s image. No…if you believe all people are made in God’s image and have inherent worth. Look at your friendships, who you gravitate to, and who you are spending time with on Sunday morning.

4. Lack of Community Outreach

“We are proud to be sending 35 short-term mission teams to other countries this year.” But what about all the the team’s you aren’t sending into the neighborhoods in your own city? What about the people who don’t know Christ who need something to eat, need job skills, need a friend, etc in your own city? Don’t neglect those who are geographically close to you and your church building.

5. Non-Diverse Church Leadership

Hiring all your pastors from one consistent seminary may sound good, but what happens when they are homogeneously African-American, Caucasian, Latino, etc? How could you better demonstrate the diversity of the body of Christ by hiring a multi-ethnic staff?

6. Gate Keeper Mentality

We come across with this mentality when we focus on the fact that our church has done a particular style the entire existence of the church, so this is how it should continue to always be done. The focus is upon preserving legacy instead of preserving transformation. The opportunities for insightful and creative change are lost due to a selfish need to carry on (potentially) useless traditions.

7. Acting as Glorified Rescue Workers

This notion identifies how we enter into a community and assume that people want us there and that we know the “correct solution.” Instead of standing back and asking questions, we plunge in head first thinking that we know what is best for that community. Mission-mindedness is sidelined by the need to fulfill self-centered objectives.

8. Finances

Money is not always the answer to the problem. Many times money becomes a distraction and crutch for dealing with the hard work of reconciliation. If we just throw some money at the problem, then maybe it will go away. Right?

The better solution might be to get totally invested in the people and help them raise the money. Otherwise we are just contributing to another one of the ways privilege hurts the church.

9. Blind to Reality

Diversity is crippled when parties appear to be blind to injustice. Where there is not value for justice and equality, then privilege is already in place. The church must be cognizant of the mishaps that are happening to the people in their community, while the burden of being a brother or sister must be real.

10. Identity

How real and all encompassing is the imago dei (image of God)? To exclude others because of racial, structural or economic difference is an extreme hindrance to the body of Christ.

The need to have an image of God that is accepting is not only evangelical, but also a theological necessity. This is not a tangible category, but an intangible reality that must be worked out in a clear understanding of love. When privilege becomes the qualifier for identity, then God’s image suffers; this then cascades to having all of us suffer.


The Malphurs Group offers a Sunday Secret Shopper Visit and outside ministry navigators (otherwise known as Church Consultants) to walk your church through the strategic growth process. These services can ignite tremendous growth in your church and reinvigorate your ministry. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.


Brian Foulks is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently working on his Masters in Sacred Theology at Lenior-Rhyne University‘s Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. He blogs regularly at Syncopated Hustle, speaks all over America on racial reconciliation, is a father. | @brianfoulks | Website

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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