Charlie Dates Tells Black Ministers-in-Training, ‘Don’t Give up on the Black Church’

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It just happened again. There he sat in my office looking for answers. He is a young twenty-something black male freshly graduated from a predominantly white evangelical Bible college. He is also an aspiring theologian and pastor. He grew up in the hood and came to faith in a black church. But before college was over he felt a strange disorientation, a tug to disavow the black church.

His story is not uncommon. His tribe seems to increase with each passing spring semester at graduation.

He had been asking to meet for a while. He wanted to talk about some of my research on the health of black preaching in late 20th century Chicago. Now anybody who has interest in my narrowly themed dissertation becomes a welcome companion. I thought we were going to talk about Parson and narrative discourse in preaching. I prepared to tell him about how the black Chicago neighborhoods became black ghettos through governmental experiments like “The Neighborhood Composition Rule.” I wanted to tell him about how black pastors bravely fought systemic injustice; recognizing it as a responsibility of the righteousness they preached. It turns out the conversation was different.

While studying theology at his small Bible college, he started to run up against the not so subtle jabs aimed at the black church. His professors and his peers wondered why someone so bright would return to the “simplistic, unsophisticated” preaching of the black church. Far be it from them to name it heresy, but some of them came close. Black churches, he was told, don’t disciple well. Their preachers lack integrity, and their theology is overrun by prosperity teaching. He started to believe it. Before he knew it, he was a critic of the black church in which he got saved. And worse, he condemned the same preaching through which he met Christ.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened or how, but the movement is gaining steam. It is drawing young black aspiring pastors, theologians, and churchmen away from the black church. I felt compelled to say something. So I began urging young black preachers: Don’t let your newfound training turn you away from the black church! One brother replied asking I say more. So here it is.

My journey

By the grace of God alone I serve a growing, vibrant black church in Chicago, Progressive Baptist Church. I am young, sometimes restless, but not reformed. At our church, we are doing the hard work of church revitalization. We are developing ministry that neither alienates the elderly-traditional crowd nor ignores the younger-incoming crowd. For 96 years our church has demonstrated its passion to disciple its membership. More recently, we have turned our focus outward and it is bearing fruit. A hallmark at Progressive is the decidedly expositional, Spirit-filled preaching. We are a local, thriving black church in the hood. And we are not an anomaly.

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Source: Christianity Today | Charlie Dates

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