Let’s learn five (5) eye opening observations about Black Baptist Churches.
Learning Black Baptist Church Traditions
Black Baptist churches can be daunting if not properly prepared. So often, over the years, I took someone into our churches who had never been before. These experiences left some in shock and others pleasantly surprised.
When examining our traditions, there is much to speak about. The African American Churches largest denomination are Baptists. Although there are various types of Baptists, most are still so described.
The Baptist Church It has a long and storied history within the cultural context of America.
Check these statistics from Pew Research:
We could examine its beginnings but what is more important is focus on its evolution, or more importantly, lack thereof. Please do not mistake this with disparaging us. I love US, where we came from, who we are, and will continue to until Jesus calls me home.
Full disclosure: I am currently a Pastor of a missionary Baptist church. To put that into context — the congregation I currently pastor is 100% Black.
However, and unlike many of my colleagues, I spent a considerable number of years in non-denominational environments. Like many who left the church to ‘find themselves,’ I wandered into environments much different than that of my childhood.
My First Non-Baptist Church Experience
My first new experience was in a Catholic service in 1990. Sunday mornings, our Marine Corps drill instructors would wake our platoon and ask who wanted to attend ‘religious services’?
Being desperate to find a few minutes of relief from boot camp, I quickly volunteered. This was not only my first time in a non-black religious environment, but also attending a service with white worshippers.
Before going further, I am not, nor have I ever condoned racial segregation within the Christian experience. However, segregation has been a reality for the last four hundred (400+) years in America.
The only reason the ‘Black church’ exists, is others believed Jesus did not want us in their presence.
A scholarly article was written on segregation in white churches.
On the few occasions it was allowed, Black folk were segregated in a different section of the worship experience.
Jesus desired we rest from our burden when saying: “come unto me all you that burden and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” His REAL followers, however, said “we are not only going to PUT a burden on you, don’t come to us with them (or else)”!
Does this mean I do not agree with integrated congregations? No! Such a congregation would more accurately represent the entirety of God’s creation.
This does not suggest that a physically diverse congregation is any stronger than those with a single ethnicity. As I recently taught at a Bible study; we should focus more on diversity of gifts than diversity of race.
Baptist Church Special Sundays
Although this is changing with my generation’s church leadership, services had some form of ceremony involved.
For instance, on Easter (Passover-Resurrection) Sundays, we were not as focused on the worship experience as much as the ‘fashion show.’
Although this a newer version, same old church fashion show:
When I was a boy in this environment, it was the one-time I got new clothes. We were very poor, and these Sundays were special.
Easter clothes anybody? Did you ever mess up that Easter speech? Some understand how utterly ridiculous this yearly program could sometimes become. Another tradition was/is first Sunday communion.
On every first Sunday, the church mothers wore white and typically, the Pastor would either wear a white suit or white robe. Should one suggest having communion on any other day back then, this would have been considered heresy!
Questioning Our Traditions as a Pastor
When I became Pastor of a traditional congregation, I was not only a new pastor, but unsure of traditions.
As was pointed out, I had been in a non-denominational environment for years prior.
One question constantly had with our traditions was: “why do we do what we do”? I openly asked this question as, first, the interim Pastor and when voted in on a permanent basis.
Thanks goodness that my questions “fell on good ground.”
By the time I became Pastor, the Saints were ready to do something different. The reasons for this willingness were legion, but chief among them was I kept challenging them with — “why do we do this and where is this commanded in Scripture”?
For the radicals reading this article I, like you, believed because something was not in Scripture, it was wrong to practice. Let me explain. Jesus never commanded us to perform communion on a specific day, let alone Sundays.
What he did command was “as often as you do this: do this in remembrance of me.” However, is doing communion exclusively on first Sundays wrong?
This issue is not the ‘schedule’ rather when that schedule is taught as biblical doctrine!
Let us examine another example.
The Jewish temple had a specific design, commanded by God, and was to be followed when the first and second temples were built. The third Temple, to be built in the end times, will follow the same design.
In either the new or Old Testament, does God give a specific design for New Testament houses of worship? No. I am not speaking about the ‘church’ either (understand?) Since no such design specifications exist in God’s Word, what governs construction/design?
Here is the point — we are given liberty to construct houses of worship how we see fit. It is not how the house is designed, it’ is what goes on with the church that inhabits the house. As an old preacher used to say: “some of y’all are going to catch that when you get home.”
This is part of the biblical concept of liberty!
Pastors Who Are Sociopathic Dictators
Another more dangerous tradition is the dictatorial Pastor management model.
When interviewing for my current assignment, I was noticeably clear on this point: “although I, if assigned as your Pastor, understand I must make the final call, that determination cannot be made without your gifts.”
Based on my observations, this was a surprise to some in attendance.
Before the reader levels accusations of ‘mediocre leadership,’ I offer this: leadership is not about barking out orders and browbeating someone to follow.
Leadership, rather, is about influencing people to understand their gifts and how they fit into the church vision
Notice I didn’t say: “fit into the Pastor’s vision for the church.” More on that another time!
We have all seen commercials which say that by joining the United States military, one can be made into a leader. Having served, I say with the surety that military culture is not based on leadership.
Now understanding what leadership is (biblically), there are very few leaders serving. Most, in positions of authority, can be more accurately described as managers. This is not to suggest there are no leaders — only they are exceedingly rare.
The Difference Between Leadership and Managers
If someone of a higher rank order those of lower rank to do something, and such orders are refused, judgment is swift and often severe. The threat of prison, forced discharge, and public disgrace is a powerful deterrent.
Put more simply, the only reason orders are most often followed, is there is an immediate, and often life-changing consequence associated with non-compliance.
For those who still may not understand, those with higher ranks twist your arm, behind your back, and make you call them uncle! That is the secret of their ‘leadership.’ I could find no instance, biblically, were Jesus Christ demonstrated that brand of so-called leadership.
Leaders, with the gift to influence people, do not violate ‘free will’ rather, influence the surrender of it in a greater cause. Managers force compliance through the threat of immediate retaliation for refusal.
Here is one of the greatest leaders I had the privilege of following:
The man in the foreground is Gunnery Sgt. Nurse. He was our platoon sergeant when I was a young United States Marine. The picture was taken, by me, in the Australian Outback in 1992.
Nevertheless, Jesus never forced anyone into compliance, yet He is viewed as the greatest leader in history. One could argue that no one who has ever lived has so impacted history, as a leader, as did Jesus Christ.
Where is this leading?
In the African American church, our leadership must transition from dictatorial to that of free will influencers. I am not suggesting Pastors seek consensus, nor that sheep should tell the shepherd what to do.
I am suggesting there must be a matrix where gifts of leaders and the body meet to produce the best result: Kingdom outcomes!
Header Image Courtesy of Shvets Productions @Pexels
Statistics Image Courtesy of Pew Research
White Christian Image Courtesy of Equal Justice Initiative.
(i) Note: Fair Use Notice Claim.
Easter Suit Image Courtesy of Church Suits for Less (online)