What I Learned From the Black Church Part 2

When I was 21 I heard the story of Jesus and his gospel from a co-worker. Prior to this, my only exposure to the person of Jesus had come from Christmas nativity scenes and South Park episodes. My heart was captured by the story of the gospel, and I soon became a follower of Jesus. Largely because the only Christians I knew at this time were all black, I spent the next three years of my life attending predominantly black churches wherever I lived. By "predominantly black churches" I mean they were just "black churches" until my white behind sat in the pew. As I now leave the multi-ethnic church I've pastored for the past 9 years and prepare to move into a new country and culture in Mexico, I've been thinking a lot about the many things I learned from the Black Church. This blog series covers a few of them. 

Lesson 2: Everyone has something to contribute

Every church I have ever attended has affirmed that Jesus' body consists of many members, all of whom have things to contribute for the good of the church. Yet I have never seen this affirmation incarnated anywhere as fully as I have in the Black Church. In the Black Church, everyone has a role, whether formal or informal. 

 @@Yet I have never seen this affirmation incarnated anywhere as fully as I have in the Black Church@@

Informally, every member of the congregation has a role in the Sunday gathering. Not everyone has a microphone, but everyone has a voice and is encouraged to use it from their pew. This happens as members participate in the delivery of the sermon, speaking words of encouragement to the preacher and praises to God in response to what they hear. It also happens during musical worship, as members not only sing and clap along, but also support the vocalist with shouts like “sang girl!” - or even comforting words like “that’s alright!” or “you’re worshiping” when the singer makes a mistake.  In many black churches, such participation extends into the time of offering. During the time of offering members joyfully, audibly, and visibly celebrate the opportunity to praise God with their finances. It is also common for those who have an offering to give a portion of their offering to someone in their pew who does not have money to give. This is done so everyone can experience the joy of giving. 

Formally, the Black Church provides regular opportunities for everyone to play a significant role in the church gathering. Many black churches do this by having specific Sundays led by a specific sub-group in the congregation. For example, Youth Sunday, Women’s Sunday, and Men’s Sunday. On these Sundays the appropriate sub-group takes responsibility for planning and leading the gathering. Everything from the announcements, to the music, to the sermon might be delivered by one or more members of the sub-group. This assures that the congregation as a whole is regularly benefiting from the many gifts God has granted to the church, and that each individual in the congregation is given the opportunity to use the specific gifts God has entrusted to him or her. It also allows for the development of preachers of all ages who show signs of calling and gifting, whether or not they have received any formal training.  Another way the Black Church gives everyone a role in the worship service is through testimony time. In testimony time, anyone who has experienced God’s grace that week is invited to stand up and share their story with the entire church. This turns everyone into a worship leader and teaches the congregation they can learn about Jesus from more than just the pastor. 

The Black Church also bestows honor to a number of its members by creating positions such as church mother, church missionary, and church usher. If you have never attended a black church, you may think “mother” refers to a young parent, “missionary” to a minister on foreign soil, and “usher” to someone who helps you find your seat. In the Black Church these titles mean something else entirely. Mothers and missionaries are generally older women in the faith who are honored for the wisdom they carry from years of following Jesus, and given opportunity to share it. Ushers are essentially the Black Church’s equivalent to the Secret Service. They are granted almost unrestricted power and tasked with protecting the sanctity of the worship gathering at all costs. You do not want to get in their way. These are just a few of the ways people in the pews are given opportunity to minister and honored as important contributors. 

@@Ushers are essentially the Black Church's equivalent to the Secret Service@@ 

Every pastor wants the members of his church to play an active role in the Body of Christ. Yet most of us create a Sunday gathering where only those on the stage are given a voice, and only the most professional are invited to the stage. This creates a church culture where everyone else is a spectator by default. In the Black Church, there is no such thing as a spectator. Everyone is given opportunity to participate in worship and minister to one another. I am grateful the Black Church not just taught me - but showed me - that everyone has something to contribute. I am still searching for ways to do the same through my pastoring.

@@In the Black Church, there is no such thing as a spectator@@ 

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook