Acts 4:20 (KJV)
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
I believe that these words uttered in antiquity by Peter and John have much to offer those of us wrestling with the pressing circumstances of modernity. Particularly the quandary pertaining to the necessity of the Black church. There are those who seem to believe that the institution known as the Black church has run its course, and is no longer necessary. This paradigm seems to make sense, after all there is little doubt that African Americans, as a collective, have achieved wealth and social status equal to any other ethnic group within the United States. In addition, society has seemingly erased the color line. There is no longer legislated segregation. Hence the question arises, why do we segregate ourselves, particularly on Sunday morning; is there a need for the Black church?
To begin, I need to make a clarifying statement. The Black church neither is now, nor has it ever been a monolithic institution. It has always had as varied a theological and socio-economic outlook as the skin pigmentation of it’s congregants. However, when I refer to the Black church I am referring to that blessed institution which first began as an invisible institution in the backwoods of the antebellum south. That institution which buoyed up the down cast and downtrodden slaves, the institution that mobilized and organized slaves to revolt and fight the social evil of slavery; the institution that spurred the establishment of denominations, and colleges. The institution that birthed King, and the greatest revival in this nations history the Civil Rights movement. This is the Black church.
I believe with out a shadow of a doubt that the Black church is no less than essential to the flourishing of the United States. It has served and must continue to sere as the siren to the soul of this country. The Black church has been the a voice of truth, confession, confrontation, and correction for the nation. When slavery and her bastard child segregation were the normative de facto laws of the land it was the Black church who constantly blew the whistle, gave voice to the voice less and called for change.
In addition, Paul and John’s commentary in the aforementioned passage explain in a sense the dire necessity of the Black church. The apostles state that they can not help but bear witness to the events which they have experienced. This is in short the thesis of Tom Long’s seminal work The Witness of Preaching. Hence experience with a particular text is the basis for proclamation. As African Americans our experiences have been quite different from the experiences of the dominant culture. For this reason, our expression is different. In the immortal words of Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, in response to the media’s lynching of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, â€œdifferent experiences lead to different expressions.â€
The Black church is a reminder that Christianity is not a cookie cutter religion, meaning it is not monolithic. It is an expression of faith in a God who appears differently to different people. God is quite capable of remaining God and yet being relevant in different ways to different people. Just as people in the U.S. May be experiencing Summer presently and people in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing winter; and it is presently day light on one part of the world and yet night in another; in the same vein God may be experienced as the guaranteer of success and the vanguard of the status quo to one population, and yet still be considered as a resting place and co-conspirer for those longing for revolution.
God is simply that vast and inexhaustible, so much so that we as individuals with our limited experiences can’t even hope to grasp the magnitude of God. Instead, it takes the whole of community, the human community to begin to get a peep-hole glimpse of the enormous grandeur that is God. In essence, without the Black church’s unique perspective of God based on it’s experience the whole of humanity can not hope to ever get a better understanding of God. For it is the Black church who taught the world that God is a mother to the motherless child a long way from home, it is the Black church who taught the world of God’s approachable-ness in that we could steal away to God. The Black church taught us all that Precious Jesus would come and take our tired week and weary hands and lead us on and let us stand. The Black church taught us that King Jesus is a listenin’. Is there a need for the Black church certainly Lawd, certainly, certainly, certainly Lawd.
Now we continue our discussion of Charles Adams’ 9 suggestions to preachers that Teresa Fry Brown reported on page 164 and 165 of her book Weary Throats and New Songs.
Brown notes: “We preach with people not at, over, or under them.” That is a very compact and powerful statement that deserves some unpacking. First, we do not preach at the people. Preaching at, over, or under the people would seem to infer that the people do not play the proper role in the sermon creation as well as sermon delivery. We all have heard the preachers who do not take the people into account in their preaching. Sometimes the preachers use language that does not help, but hinders the reception. Some preachers seem to attempt to prove their intelligence or their preparation time. They are always throwing greek terms in their sermons and using technical terms from their seminary days. While I think that Greek should be an intimate part of your preparation, in presentation we should attempt to translate the ideas into language understood by the people.
In addition, there are those who preach under the people. Some preachers never give the people anything but milk and never attempt meat. They never attempt to give the people the things that will push them to a higher level in Jesus. In addition, there are those who preach as if they are talking to children. Your sermons should take into account who is in your audience.
Yes the we must preach with the people. That means that when the people tell you something is hard to understand (maybe through puzzled looks or even vocally) then you should expand on that point. when people tell you that they want to linger there a little bit more, go ahead and linger. Sure you must preach what God has given you to preach, but the preaching must be WITH the people and not TO them. If you preach with the people, your presentations will be much more effective communications of the gospel.
In this post, we will continue our discussion of Charles Adams’ 9 suggestions to preachers that Teresa Fry Brown reported on page 164 and 165 of her book Weary Throats and New Songs.
Adams, through Brown, stated “Don’t be monotonous.” Then Adams, through Brown, provides musical language by stating: “Inflection, melody, and tempo changes are essential.” Here we see that the key to overcoming being monotonous is to use vocal change. We can speed up or slow down our speaking. In addition, we can raise the tone or lower the tone as well as put together strings of tones. Finally, we can use inflection in our preaching. The key to all this is vocal change.
Now one might ask, “should we attempt to change these things or should we simply let it flow?” I think generally, we should just let it flow. Listen to two people in an animated conversation. Listen to how the speed and pitch of the voice changes based on what is said. The person in the conversation doesn’t attempt to artificially change these things, it just comes naturally when one is invested in what one is saying. Likewise, preachers should put their emphasis on being invested in what they are preaching. After having said that, many preachers have to practice so that they can be natural. There is no getting around it, the preacher is not talking to one in a natural animated conversation, but is in front of 50 (or 5, 500, or 5000) people in an artificial situation. Some will have difficulty, especially at first, being “natural” in such an “artificial” situation. The preacher might have to practice sounding “natural” with all the natural vocal changes.
Then Adams, through Brown, makes a very interesting statement: “If used correctly, the voice can paint a picture with minimal language.” Because how you use your voice is as important as what you are saying, one should do everything that that one can do to help people get the message. Here the preacher embodies the message and becomes the message. Let us embody our messages and work on being natural. When one does this, one’s messages connect with the people in greater ways.
We continue looking at Teresa Fry Brown’s description of Charles Adams’ lecture on preaching found on page 164 and 165 of her book Weary Throats and New Songs.
In this point, Adams, through Brown, suggests that we take care of our vocal mechanism. He notes that there is an over reliance on the microphone and not on “projection” among many preachers. Preachers must practice even without the microphone. The microphone cannot cover up mechanical problems that the preacher might have in speaking. Go to your church while it is empty and preach without a microphone. Listen to how the sound bounces off the walls. Of course it will sound different when there are people sitting in there, but you will at least see that you can project further than you think you can.
In addition, Adams notes one of the greatest problems that many Black preachers have which is “‘yelling’ instead of learning to use the voice wisely.” As we have noted in other posts, increasing volume is not the only way to increase intensity for the sermon. I have heard preachers yell all the way through their messages. These preachers are limiting their future effectiveness. Projection and effective vocal presentation will increase the effectiveness of the preacher for years to come.