“An Increase in the Number of African American Megachurches” is the fifth trend that Martha Simmons wrote about in the African American Pulpit Spring Edition of 2007.
T.D. Jakes, Eddie Long, Creflo Dollar, Charles Blake, and many others are a part of a trend towards Mega Churches. Many African American preachers look toward these churches as models of where they wish to be. But is a Mega Church a good model of church health?
James Massey, in the same issue, brings forth a possible problem in some of these churches by saying:
The problem is their lack of attention, publicly at least, to a biblical or doctrinal foundation in what they publish and what they preach…I have been disappointed with the neglect of central truths of the Christian faith, such as: who Jesus is, why Jesus came, why Jesus died, what salvation means, the problem of sin, and the importance of conversion.
What Massey is stating is the necessity of Christian churches to hold on to that which makes it “Christian” even as it seeks to reach the “unchurched.”
Massey quotes Dr. Shayna Lee who states:
We have approached a new era in American Protestantism where neo-Pentecostal mega churches represent greatest challenge to the traditional black church has ever faced.
These mega churches, often non-denominational, have reduced the resources available in many of the smaller more traditional black churches that are connected often to denominations. These mega churches have often set up their own “denominational-like” structures where they publish their own materials, have their own camp meetings, etc. Sometimes these mega churches have accountability even for their leaders. However, often leaders have no checks or balances to their leadership. They are accountable to no one. Such a situation can cause abuse and corruption.
There are benefits to Mega Churches, but many of these can be obtained from grouping with other churches to gain the benefits. My own bias is that 10 200 member churches spread throughout a city would be more beneficial than 1 2000 member church. While that is my preference, I think that Mega Churches can be beneficial if its leaders are accountable to someone and they hold on to doctrinal foundations. It is my hope and prayer that the traditional Black church will find a way to work with the Mega Churches are we move towards the coming Kingdom.
The Reformed Blacks of America Blog has a post up on the community of care created by Alcoholics Anonymous groups. One seminary student said to the author:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Michael, I felt more accepted and received amongst that group of individuals than I do my own church family.Ã¢â‚¬Â
There were stark contrasts between the nature of the AA meeting and the nature of his church. The attendees at the AA meeting were more reflective and descriptive of their needs, aware of their struggles and openly honest about their emotional and mental situation, than were the members of his church.
How can we create a community where people can be open about their conflicts and struggles? How can we as preachers promote creating such a place in our ecclesial communities? Do our sermons demonstrate a “struggle” or always an easily packaged answer to every problem and issue? In other words is their place for Job’s struggle and Habakkuk’s questioning or must we always quickly get to the end of the story where our current tears are wiped away before we even experience them? Maybe one day the church will have the community that a Alcoholics Anonymous meeting has.
“Higher Compensation for Musicians” is the third trend that Martha Simmons wrote about in the African American Pulpit Spring Edition of 2007.
Simmons notes that many churches are finding it difficult to pay for quality music and thus have to go without. Certainly it places those pastors with musical ability in greater demand, but what can those of us who are musically challenged do to provide quality music to our congregations? Especially in light of the fact that most of our churches are smaller and cannot afford big salaries.
One thing that we can do is emphasize congregational singing. One thing that many of these “praise teams” have done is take the singing from the congregation. Sure the congregation is to sing, but too often you cannot hear them. All you hear is the melodious tones from a professionally trained few while the sound of the congregation is muted. Turn the professionals down and lets get back to hearing the soulful cry of the elderly woman in the third row who is a little flat, but very soulful and spiritual. Let’s hear the praise of the congregation. More on this when we get to the 16th trend.
Another thing that we can do is mix up the soloists. While we should attempt to give God our best, the male chorus may sound like all is in unison, but the praise of God will come in all packages when we get to heaven.
But back to our main point. Musician’s are being paid. They should be. The worker is worthy of his or her hire. In addition, we should not take advantage of musicians who are providing this valuable and great service to the church. However, let us not get to the point where we can’t sing because the musician ain’t here or we can’t praise God through song because the sound system ain’t working.
Now we continue our look in the I would encourage all to subscribe to the African American Pulpit Spring Edition of 2007. As noted before, that issue is dedicated to discussing 21 trends in the contemporary Black church.
The second trend that Martha Simmons speaks of is called: “From Sunday School to Theme-based Christian Education Classes.” Simmons notes that in traditional Sunday School classes the children were taught Bible stories like David and Goliath as well as other components of the Bible like the 10 commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. She then notes that the teens and adults were taught how to apply these to their daily lives.
However in recent years we are seeing a trend towards dealing with themes versus the fundamental stories upon which the African American community has always depended on. So you might have a Sunday School theme on Gospel Finance or Being a Good Parent. These themes will help people to get something valuable from the study of the Bible.
Such studies might be fine in and of themselves, but Katara Washington states:
While I applaud churches for addressing the various needs of the congregation and offering myriad options, I think we should be careful that we do not replace some of the rudimentary, foundational lessons often taught in Sunday school. Often, topical classes focus on issues people face today but do not fully explore biblical lessons. People in these classes are missing out on the study of the entire Bible and are often focusing more on their issues than the Word. While people need the application mode of study to transform their lives, I think we also need to know what the Bible says before we can adequately apply it to our lives to be transformed.
I would concur with Washington’s reservations and also state that where would we be without the stories. Certainly we must have some guidance on application of the stories, but as I noted in another post, African Americans have lived in the Biblical story.
Perhaps we can do a mixture of the two approaches. We need application, but as Washington states, we also need a deeper knowledge of that which we are trying to apply. Perhaps we can take a page out of the Book of the greatest Black Preachers. They always made the story come alive. Perhaps there is no dichotomy between the two theme and story, we just need to tell the story better? At any rate, we cannot leave the story behind in our quest to be relevant.
I would encourage all to subscribe to the African American Pulpit and especially purchase the Spring Edition of 2007. That issue is dedicated to discussing 21 trends in the contemporary Black church.
In that issue, Rev Deloris Harris has an article on Husband and Wife Ministerial Teams. In addition, Rev Martha Simmons’ list of trends includes this one as the first one.
What is this? It is the fact that many churches are recognizing the ministry that women are doing along side of their husbands. One might call this the Priscilla and Aquila model. In addition, it makes a ready made church staff for even smaller churches. I think one thing that is really good about this model is that it acknowledges that many times the Pastor’s Spouse is a Unpaid-Unacknowledged Pastor. While it is true that we often hold the “first lady” in high esteem, it is also true that we often do not acknowledge that the gifts she is often providing is ministerial and pastoral. This trend shows that that mindset is changing in our churches.
There are some drawbacks however, there is the issue of competition as Rev. Harris brings out. That can be devastating to both the ministry as well as the marriage. Another related one is for the church to favor one pastor over the other.
I think that this phenomenon can be good as long as it is the right marriage, the right church, and the right clergy-people. Certainly Married Ministerial Teams is not for every church or for every clergy couple, but we will certainly see this trend continue to grow in Black Churches.