African American Church Survival Strategies
In this article, I will discuss some basic African American church survival strategies.
African American Churches Remember God’s Word
(Begin Transcript) Let’s review today’s Sunday School Lesson titled Liberating Passover — The Resolve to Remember.
These verses are based on the devotional reading in Deuteronomy 7: 6–11. The background scripture is Deuteronomy 8. The print passage is Genesis 8: 1–11.
And the key verse: “be aware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statute, which I commanded you to this day.”
The introduction says: (Begin) “Have you ever taken a moment to read the inscriptions on the cornerstone of your church? People often go in and out of church buildings without any thought to underlying history.
(continue read) There are often not mindful of the people who sacrificed to pave the way for their experiences. While we, as African Americans, speak of voting rights, school choice, and other civil liberties, we should never neglect to celebrate our freedom to worship freely.
There was a time when Black people could not worship without the presence of a slave master or overseer and were forbidden by law from learning to read any document, including the Bible.
While reading was eventually allowed, many slaves were only given access to a text known as the Negro Bible.
This bible was a collection of selected verses, stripped of the divine messages of hope and deliverance. It was limited to passages on servitude and submissiveness.
One might imagine that such prolonged physical and spiritual oppression would have robbed Black people of their faith in God. However, God sustained the hope and spirit of those who endure.
Black Christians, in this generation, must not diminish the significance of the religious and personal freedom, which God allows them to enjoy.” (End introduction)
(Commentary) I want to briefly say, before going to the biblical context, there is an assault on who we are as a people. This is not necessarily coming from white folks trying to strip our history away either.
Much of the assault comes from African Americans who are the ‘learned’ among us. I refer to them as the religious educated bourgeoisie.
I have been dealing with these sorts lately. Especially in the last lesson series, I dealt with the Black religious bourgeoisie. Having achieved advanced education, they have run away, and forgotten, where we came from.
Our Church Must Recapture the Vision
For instance, the Bible talks about “without a vision, the people perish.” If you follow the disintegration of our communities, there is an origination point.
Statistically, whether crime, homelessness, single parent homes, or lack of marriage, it began around 1971. This was only three (3) years after Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968.
Because, and as scripture points out: “without a vision, the people perish.” Teachers and preachers have gotten up in front of God’s people and said: “you have been taught nothing.”
When you listen to what they teach, you quickly discover they say the same things as previous generations.
It does not sound like our ancestor’s speech, but what they say is nothing new! There is a saying: “if it is new than it is not true. If it is true, then it is not new.” So, we have a religious educated bourgeoisie, who are often unmindful of the people that came before.
A further example is when you see the direction church is headed. There is a noticeable fall-off in the last 20 years. COVID19 has made this worse. I am not suggesting the church is dying. It will never die.
But local bodies, if you statistically look at Pew Research data, are diminishing.
What is interesting, is the more educated the leader is (with PhD, THDs MDs, etc.) the less people are attending congregations.
It seemed, and statistics would show the less educated our Pastors were, more people attended church. This means those who came before, being less educated, were more effective than our more ‘educated’ generation!
I realize that, statistically, there can be outliers, and several other things should be taken into consideration. However, the moral degradation in our communities is indisputable.
What do you think that says?
I want to encourage us to not be dismissive of those that came before. Those are the people that laid the groundwork for our ability to even receive the education.
If black people want to go other places, and have other religious worship experiences, that is fine. But somebody once said: “only a fool crosses a bridge, and burns it, so that other people, in the same situation, can’t cross over behind them.”
Let us move forward with the biblical context of our lesson (reading). “The Book of Deuteronomy was presented to the children of Israel in a series of four sermons. Moses did not want the generations of Israelites, who would possess the land, to forget the Lord and His commandment. Israel would inherit many long-awaited blessings, including the land, which God has promised them. God would honor His covenant with the people, but He did not want them to become overly confident in themselves, or self-congratulatory.” (end reading)
We Must Reject Foolish Educated Leaders
(Commentary) Let me offer just a few things — that is where we are saints, and it is difficult to think about. However, we now have a little bit of education, a little bit of money, and great credit.
Our people live better than every other African American generation who came before.
We say “Jesus is the Passover Lamb” and preach it each Sunday, but we have forgotten His Words!
God, our Provider, has provided these things, but most of us have forgotten where we have come from. We are only here by the Lord’s hand, just as the Children of Israel.
Many of us have a left the ways of our forebears, forsaken the faith, and their wisdom as well. There was nothing wrong with leaving slavery. There was nothing wrong with confronting unjust Jim Crow Laws.
In fact, leaving Jim Crow behind was right. There was nothing wrong with leaving wicked slave overseers either. But what was wrong, is we have forgotten the wisdom of those who guided us spiritually through those times.
Many of whom could not even read the Bible!
As it was passed down to me, most old Black preachers had someone read the Bible to them.
If you can prove statistically, that our churches are better off now then with those uneducated, sharecropping, cotton picking, tobacco hanging church leaders — present the data!
You will not be able to prove it. We are spiritually worse off than the previous generation, and the data proves it.
Now let us review the analysis of the biblical text (Begin Read). ‘Remember The Humbling.’ Deuteronomy 8:1–3. “All the commandments, which I command this day, shall you observe to do that. You may live and multiply and go in and possess the land, which the Lord swear unto your fathers and the usual. Remember all that, which the Lord, your God, led you these 40 years in the wilderness to humble you, and to prove you, and to know what is in your heart. Whether you will keep My commandments or no. And he humbled you, and as you and suffered you to hunger, and he fed you with manna, which you did not even know what it was.
(Continue Read) Neither did your fathers know what it was that he might make, you know, that you do not live by bread alone, but out of every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.” (end read)
And the description of these texts (Begin read) — “Moses charged the people to keep all the commandments of the Lord. Moses’ message was a spiritual refresher. He laid out the numerous benefits and blessings of committing to the Lord.
Then He would only allow them to live in the land, but also would multiply them in the land, just that he had promised their ancestors. They had to remember all the ways that God had led them through the 40-year period in the wilderness.” (end read)
Church Folk Must Keep God’s Ways
(Commentary) Saints, we cannot forget the commandments He has given to us. We cannot forget what He has done for us.
And even in our drudgery, even though we, as a people, were in chains and in bonds, He kept our ancestors.
As Moses is telling the Children of Israel here, we should keep His ways, and then He will bless us. If we would not keep His ways, something terrible was going to happen.
What lessons has God taught you in the wilderness of this world? Which of your wilderness experiences did God allow you to repeat to ensure that you were humbled and learned your lesson?
While growing up, I had been taught that hard work pays off. I thought, up until I was 30, if I worked hard enough, things would work out. Therefore, I worked my hands to the bone.
And at the end of the day, this devastating event happened which totally changed my paradigm on the subject. Prior to this event, and for the prior two (2) years, I worked 70 hours weekly.
All of this simply did not matter in the end. I lost a contract, a career, and housing. It was also distressing because I was newly married as well.
This taught me that hard work does pay off if you keep hard work in perspective. By that, I mean, challenging work will pay off if you learn the lessons of hard work.
But it will not always pay off in tangible ways one can see.
For instance, you may think you have worked hard enough for a promotion. There is also the thought you have worked hard enough to be exalted in the church.
That is not how God works. Sorry.
We will dig more into that another time. Nevertheless, you may think you have worked hard enough, and that thing might be ripped away from you.
Hard work may not always pay off in ways you can see, and things will be ripped away you think are well deserved. So, when we talk about that, understand that we must remain humble with whatever favor, whatever command and lessons God provides.
Finally, stop kicking against the pricks. Can you imagine if Paul kept kicking against the pricks after Jesus told him how useless it was?
We will continue our lessons series next week and learn what Jesus did after the Resurrection.
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