As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
I love the Black Church. I was raised in the Black Church. I was licensed and originally ordained into ministry through the Black Church. I learned about preaching, Kingdom justice, singing, a theology of celebration and suffering, and community leadership all within the Black Church. I’ve met Civil Right Movement workers, former gang members turned community development leaders, school principles, praying grandmothers, theologians, fraternity and sorority members, and committed fathers in the Black Church. I learned how to respect and honor African-American women in the Black Church. In many ways I am a product of the Black Church.
The Black Church today must become a Post-Black Church. This does not mean the end totally of the Black Church. What it does mean, is that for the Black Church to be healthy and missional into the future it must be able to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. We cannot prophetically call the White Church to racial righteousness and reconciliation and in turn let the Black Church off the hook. Both churches are equally held accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Scriptures. The Post-Black Church is one that is willing to share the gifts of the Black Church with the broader body of Christ without losing its soul. It’s a church that provides alternative methods of worship, evangelism, discipleship, and mission to all those within its surrounding community regardless of ethnicity. It’s a church that will provide a more holistic and justice focused model of global missions. In some cases this is already going on.
The Post-Black Church must move this direction by truly becoming even more of an African-American Church. Then it must grow into a multi-ethnic and missional church. This will lift up the fact that race in the form of Blackness and Whiteness are ultimately man made social constructs never intended by God. The Post-Black Church can take the lead in kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. If this doesn’t happen the Black Church will become enslaved to the same elements that hold the White Church captive (To learn more about this read the book, The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah). In many cases this is already happening.
Too many Black Churches are being held captive by individualism, capitalism, and consumerism. This combination can lead to empire building instead of Kingdom advancement. This happened through the drift theologically into the Word of Faith Movement and the Prosperity Gospel. Some Black Churches have moved away from the theologies of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins, and James Cone. Some Black Churches can’t hear the voices of Vashti McKenzie, Jeremiah Wright, Gardner C. Taylor, Calvin Butts, Floyd Flake, Frank Reid, and Brenda Salter McNeil. Instead some are captivated by television preachers promising wealth, rooted in a “casino theology.” Others want to grow large churches so badly that they’ll follow the theology of the closest mega church. Sad indeed. This has led to an institution that has historically been a champion of freedom, to become enslaved. The Post-Black Church is not just about sharing the theologies and ministry models that have made the Black Church missional and unique, but also the freeing of a church enslaved. I love the Black Church and I want it free.
A freed African-American church can lead to the freedom of the White Church from its captivity. We could use the help of Asian and Hispanic churches as well.
More on this topic in the future.