The Next Iteration of the Black Church: Why Black Pastoral Leadership Matters

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The Church needs Black pastoral leadership.

On Sunday, September 25, something truly remarkable happened in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. At an AMC movie theater in one of the largest shopping malls in the Greater Milwaukee area, hundreds of people gathered to hear a message about racial justice.

The fact that they gathered is not the remarkable part—this seems to be happening everywhere in America these days, usually in response to a deadly encounter between law enforcement and the Black community or due to the recent election results. The remarkable part about September 25th is that the gathering was at a brand new church led by a Black church planter.

The congregation was multiracial and multiethnic (yes, there is a difference), and this was the church’s first Sunday service. One of our Nation’s most segregated cities may never be the same due to the launch of City of Light Church.

The next iteration of the Black Church has arrived, and it is surprisingly multiracial.

Let’s rewind to the early 1960s. In the Civil Rights era, the Black community found a unified voice in the pulpits of Black churches. The theologically rooted “sacred” and the publicly protesting “secular” pieces of the Civil Rights movement found common ground in the sermons preached in Black church pulpits and in subsequent Black church mobilization.

Biblically-based sermons focused on racial justice led to Christian feet in the street. Eventually, Black Christians were joined by white Christians and Christians of other races. At its apex, the Civil Rights movement was a truly multiethnic and multiracial coalition.

Over time, however, we lost the passion in our pulpits and the feet stopped marching. With the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it seemed that racial equality had finally arrived and equality was here to stay.

Sadly, equality never arrived. There have been great gains in some areas (yes, we have a Black President), but we have either stagnated or gone backwards in other areas (like the educational achievement of Black students). Over the ensuing decades, unrest among Blacks has resurfaced in tangible ways, and the Enemy has been planning to light the fuse of America’s racial powder keg.

In 2012, we heard about Trayvon Martin’s controversial death. The gun George Zimmerman used was eventually sold at auction for more than $250,000. This deadly confrontation was the first of many that have rocked our Nation’s psyche.

Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe.” Michael Brown. Ferguson, Missouri. Chicago. Baltimore. Minneapolis. Philando Castile, whose death was caught on video by his girlfriend and has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. Five police officers gunned down in Dallas … it has been a tough, violent, deadly few years in Black America. The recent election cycle has been a foretaste of further civil unrest that might be coming our way.

All across our nation, Black pastors are launching and leading churches that are “black-led and multiethnic.” In a nation that has seen a recent resurgence in public protests against racism, this emerging paradigm is a much needed breath of fresh air. These pastors and these churches are proving that not only do BLACK LIVES MATTER, but black leadership matters. Black pastoral leadership.

In recent interviews with several African-American church planters, three core themes arose that can give us some insight into the characteristics of what successful Black pastoral leadership will look like in our racially awakening America:

The ability to be “culturally bilingual.” Now more than ever Black pastors have to be able to speak both the language of the surrounding (urban) community and the language of their often suburban members. A high cultural IQ is critical. Successful Black pastors must be able to walk and talk in both worlds, often simultaneously.

Unusually thick skin. Because of the deeply stressed state of race relations in America, Black pastors need to be able to bring a sense of calm when necessary and be prepared to field some very, very inappropriate (and even hurtful) questions. People of all races have been wrestling silently with how they feel about race for years—even decades. Many are now experiencing a renewed sense of freedom and courage to ask previously “stuffed” questions. Black pastors need to be a safe place for curious people to ask these questions without being penalized.

A systematic theology of race and justice. In essence, the Black pastor needs to be able to differentiate between social justice (defined by society, ever changing) and biblical justice (defined by God’s word, thus unchanging). America needs pastors that can articulate a clear case for mobilizing their local churches to be God’s change agents in the area of racial justice. Unfortunately, we may once again need more feet in the streets and in places of power, and those feet have to be connected to a theological rationale for why they are there.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today – Chris Brooks

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