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.
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.
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?