Two Major Priorities for the Black Church in 2013

Timothy-Jones-Head-Shot

“Reflections from a Restless Mind”

On January 15th of each year, I join the chorus of folk celebrating the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though I seek to live into his dream daily, Dr. King’s birthday always serves as a day to purposefully reflect upon his great vision and mission in this world. Typically I am challenged by this reflection, noting with increasing urgency my need to set priorities in my life that fit within the God given ideals that Dr. King lost his life proclaiming. Inspired again by a recollection of Dr. King’s work, I want to apply this same practice of setting priorities to his beloved Black Church. From my restless mind, prompted by Dr. King’s work, here are two of my top priorities for the Black Church in 2013. I acknowledge that these two priorities are things that I am especially interested in and that this is by no means an exhaustive list. My goal is to simply begin a conversation. I would love to hear what you feel are some of the top priorities for this beautiful, vibrant, and diverse entity that we lovingly call the Black Church.

1) Recovering our prophetic voice

I took pride this year as pastors across the country addressed major social justice issues. Twitter overflowed with clips from “Hoodie Sunday” services, sermons wrestling with the injustice of Troy Davis’ execution and the aftermath of the Newtown, CT slayings. But we can and must do more. The prophetic voice of the Black Church is not as strong as it once, but I believe that there is a revival under way. I feel a shift as there are a growing number of preachers who are not concerned with fancy buildings, thousands of members, or designer suits. They are still countless clergy who are concerned with advancing God’s Kingdom in this dark world. Our preachers must continue to speak truth to power and deliver messages that point out the injustices of this world and remind people of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. We pray that these messages inspire ministry amongst the people and bring about “justice rolling down like waters [and] righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

I also pray that prophetic pastors find ways to be critical of the leadership of our government and President Obama in ways that contribute to our joint success. Now that President Obama has been reelected to his second term, we can figure out ways to challenge his leadership without being concerned about tempering our message for the sake of his reelection. It may be that our prophetic work will not come through boisterous messages on Sunday morning but maybe there is a new kind of subversive prophetic work, in the model of Nathan’s interaction with King David about Bathsheba that is waiting to be birthed. What does effective prophetic ministry look like in 2013? I dare not presume to know the answer, but I am certain that answering this question is a top priority of 2013.

2) Dealing with diversity

Our neighborhoods are changing and many black churches in the urban center are going to find themselves situated in places where there are people of many different ethnicities. The Black Church will have to figure out how it is going to adapt to these changing neighborhoods. We could use the same strategy that white churches used in the 60s and 70s of fleeing the urban center for the suburbs to avoid any new kinds of members. I believe that most Black pastors would want to avoid that sort of reaction and would preach that the doors of the church are open to everyone. The problem is that we have not necessarily thought and prayed through what it would be to be a historically black, multiethnic church. How does preaching change in this context? How is ministry different? Would our churches still be “Black” churches? How can we nurture our Black identity in multiethnic contexts? Can Black theology become more inclusive? The questions abound about how to make ministry work in these new and changing contexts. I believe that the survival of the Black church necessitates a serious wrestling with this issue.

So now I’d like to hear from you. What do you see as some of the top priorities for the Black Church in 2013? What do you think that we need to prioritize?

 

Timothy L. Jones affectionately known as “PT” is Senior Pastor at Community Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. A native of Richmond, VA, he played basketball at Amherst College while majoring in Psychology. He received his Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology in 2009 with a specialization in Multicultural Theology. PT is currently pursuing his PH.D. at Boston University in Practical Theology with a focus on homiletics and the building of multiethnic community. He is joined in life and ministry by his wife Nelly and his children Sofia Esperanza and Ezekiel Levi.

3 Comments

  1. Pastor E

    January 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Good article, Rev. Jones. To the first point, Nathan addressed a personal impropriety to David in an appropriate way. Dr. King, as well as prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and others addressed the overall society, and to Dr. King’s credit, the world. It’s not solely a Black Church voice that has been lost. When President Obama realizes that he must address the basic issue of humanity for mass incarcerated men and women of color, gun violence in the African American community, systemic racism in the African American community, and all the other social ills that affect people of color and impoverished people disproportionately, he will need a voice like Isaiah or John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. You are a psychologist: I believe he suffers from issues of abandonment by his father and it is reflected on how he addresses issues of concern for African Americans, in general, and Black males, specifically. While I applaud his stances on gay marriage, the rights of undocumented aliens, the rights of women, and every other group that I, like him, a straight African American male, am not a member of, he refuses to deal with those issues that affect our lot. What are your thoughts?

    Also, dealing with diversity is not a problem for my church. I’d doubt that you will find churches running away from communities because of gentrification. Many are dying because of their lack of relevance to the community. My church, Nia Community of Faith, is a new faith community that targets people of African descent but welcomes “who so ever may come” in our doors. The real issue for churches is open the doors for the marginalized of all communities and ethnicities. That’s where true social justice and reclamation of the prophetic voice begins.

  2. Tim

    January 26, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Pastor E,
    I appreciate your response. While I recognize the personal nature of Nathan’s prophecy, I was wondering if the prophetic word for our times, prophetic action that is going to provoke change, will need to take place behind closed doors with the people of power. I think about the influence of someone like Samuel Dewitt Proctor, who certainly had a powerful and prophetic voice in his preaching but he also had an audience with power players in Washington and he was able to influence their decisions behind closed doors to help bring about some major change. I’m praying that there are some Nathan’s behind closed doors that can get to the President and speak quietly these words that need to be heard.

    I majored in Psychology, not a psychologist, big difference but I see what you’re saying. While that may be true, I’d want to know what issues he hasn’t addressed. What is it that he needs to do, and can do, for the black community that he hasn’t done?

    As it comes to Diversity, I would argue that your church is the exception. I agree that churches may not run away, but I do think that they’re struggling with how to minister to new folk in their community. And while I agree that our call is to welcome whosoever, my point is that churches that have existed for quite some time as monoethnic have a difficult but necessary task to continue to be that city on the hill for the community. I applaud the work of your church but as a new church plant that can from the outset be explicit about the desire to be multiethnic, you are in a an easier situation. Easier ONLY in the sense that you can attract a diverse audience. NOT easier in general, I pray for church planters daily!
    God Bless you sir and I appreciate the feedback and am always open to more dialogue!
    Tim

  3. Vishes

    January 26, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I appreciate the article, but I am not encouraged. I write as a registered Democrat/Independent, and Christian black male who works extensively within the black church and theological circles.

    1. The Black Church has never garnered the courage to challenge President Obama on a number of issues that are the quintessential insult to the memory and legacy of service of MLK:

    a. We have a Nobel Peace Prize President with a KILL LIST.

    b. President Obama has prosecuted whistleblowers and created a climate of fear amongst would-be whistleblowers.

    c. President Obama has glamorized the culture of War.

    d. President Obama has hyped the Drone Bomb war, killing multiple innocent children.

    e. President Obama has ignored comment on the millions of black babies that die because they are ‘unwanted’ or ‘a mistake’. White supremacists love this position, because it encourages genocide and diminishes the value of black lives.

    f. President Obama has broadened the Patriot Act, and (under the darkness of night) signed into law the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), which diminishes civil rights of all Americans.

    g. President Obama has ignored poor people of color, refusing to speak directly and to develop policies to put the poor (yes, black people) back to work. The “rising tide that lifts all boats” metaphor fails.

    h. President Obama has protected his Wall Street relationships (playing golf routinely with its moguls), and rewarded their abuse and criminality of American dollars with unrestricted bonuses, perks, and stock options. When he had the opportunity to protect homeowners from the vultures of Wall Street, he chose to do nothing.

    i. President Obama “is saddened and outraged” at the gun violence that killed 20 innocent (white) children. And he and all of society should be. However, he shed no public tears about 300+ murders in his own city of Chicago last year. President Obama sends a clear message to black people and the pooer that important public policy on gun control only matters when it affects those who are NOT BLACK, BROWN or DARK SKINNED.

    The record is clear: It is only politically and socially advantageous for President Obama to act in the interest of those he deems as having financial, social, and political influence and power.

    If you are waiting to ‘expect’ something from President Obama, you’re dreaming.

    Too many in the black church see their own identity as a PATHOLOGICAL linkage to either the President, his WIFE, or their CHILDREN. Vicarious living can often do more harm than good.

    If you are waiting for the church at-large to garner the courage to challenge this president on his egregious record of human rights, and ignoring people of color, then don’t hold your breath.

    –Vishes