We live in a society where a disproportionate number of African Americans are impacted by high unemployment, poor health, violence, and low graduation rates. Their interest in, and knowledge of, Christian theology can sometimes take a low priority simply because of the need to survive day-to-day.
The struggles for economic opportunity of black congregations were once led by the black church. Our messages and interaction must be constant going forth; not just when evil shocks our community. We must also be willing to be rejected by the very ones that we reach out to help.
This means offering love as an alternative to selfishness and hatred, and a common bonding with humanity instead of tribalism and dominion.
So what can be done?
Individually. If we haven’t, we need to get ourselves together—do right instead of wrong. Ask God for help. But, if you are not willing to obey the law—you will and should suffer the consequences.
Family. Proverbs 4:3-4 stresses that parents are given to children to impart wisdom. Out of their own seasoning, struggles, and sufferings, parents can offer experience and insight that will help the next generation get started on the right course. Strong, tight-knit, faithful, and loving families is our desire for society. So goes the family, so goes the neighborhood, so goes the society.
If the church is to be credible as it communicates the message of good news of the reign of God, it must demonstrate the values of the kingdom, including humility, honesty, integrity, purity of life, justice and compassion.
In addition to teaching, the fact remains that our children are living in a world which is drastically different from the one we grew up in. Not only has technology changed, but cultural and religious pluralism is a way of life and will become much more pervasive in the future. As we teach our children and local congregations our beliefs about salvation and Jesus as Lord, we must prepare them to be loving in their approach to interacting with others who may be of a different religious persuasion or even an unbeliever. The challenge for us is to develop a missional hermeneutic that is both personal and cosmic in its appeal. It has been done in the past.
The founders of early-twentieth-century pastoral care did, in relation to science and its emerging professions and institutions, exactly that which is now called for in relation to new bodies of knowledge and institutions. The founders of pastoral care went into communities, the hospitals, and other institutions, where they had neither acceptance nor a place at the table, learned by experience what they needed to know, and brought their unique perspectives into the fluidity of the situation.
Community. As people of faith, it is our responsibility to remind society that God’s original purpose for the world will ultimately be fulfilled even as God gives us freedom to operate in a world where we sometimes bring more harm than good. Our world is filled with ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, yet we as Christians must navigate through the pluralism and convey the message of love and hope. Andrew Lester describes this hope:
Used theologically, the word hope describes a person’s trusting anticipation of the future based on an understanding of a God who is trustworthy and who calls us into an open-ended future. This God keeps promises of deliverance, liberation, and salvation.
Surely there are some who will rely on prosperity as a means to a happy world, but in the absence of foundational love for God and genuine love and concern for our neighbors, our local communities, nation, and world will always be fractious, compelled to preserve self-interests, and ultimately unwilling to strive for what is best for humanity. My reflection is meant to offer an alternative to this type of thinking at a local level.
Practical and Spiritual Perspectives
- Discipline within the home – Discipline is more than punishment. It also involves explain the “why” of a certain thing. Toddlers learn very early “why” they should not touch a stove. We must not only talk to our children but listen to them as well. It may help us to prevent some future problems.
- Caring concerned parents – Collaborating with churches and community organizations.
- Sound financial management principles – Health and life insurance—we need to learn to manage our money!
- Value the need for education – School and life—including common sense.
- Foster a sense of community – We are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keepers.
There is urgency in developing our congregation and community because of the deterioration in the religious experience, witness, and desire to live healthy, holy lives for God. The church of our grandparents, although very limited in formal education, nonetheless was rooted and grounded in spiritual formation and cared about community. They lived out the creed of being “my brother’s keeper” and sacrificed much to move the black church and black community to a clearer vision and hope for the future, especially during the Civil Rights era. Carlyle Fielding Stewart makes a sobering observation,
Churches that don’t grow, that die slow and sudden deaths, have usually closed their doors to the community in some form or another. In fact, in urban areas where crime and poverty are rampant and churches have declined in membership, doors have been shut out of fear. Many of the mainline denominations in predominately black urban environments have not grown because they have failed to develop outreach programs which address the real needs of community residents.
As a part of our church culture and core values, we have no choice but to cultivate the kind of members who will make our congregation more effective at ministry and foster improvement within the community. There are six core values which we must adhere to:
- Choice: We must offer a choice to everyone that God’s way is the best way. We do so with the intent that lives can truly be transformed through the Gospel message and the care of the church.
- Urgency: Too many of our people have become disillusioned and dismissive in believing that God does provide grace. The longer it takes for us to reach them the more devastating the problems will become.
- Education: We must take both personal and communal responsibility to religiously and socially educate our parishioners and community members about the stakes that are at hand.
- Relationships: The only way to improve lives is to stress the importance of relationships with God and with each other. We cannot win individually if the entire community is deteriorating.
- Commitment/Responsibility: God expects each of us to do our part and to persevere in the midst of difficulties.
- Honesty/Objective Performance Feedback: Everyone needs to know the truth and objectively participate in continuous improvement and personal renewal.
- There are no silver bullets. Our problems did not appear overnight; they are not going to be solved overnight. In fact, if someone had already figured out the solution, we wouldn’t be wrestling with this today.
- Get involved—individually and collectively.
- We must maintain faith, hope, and believe that there is a brighter day ahead. The future is indeed in God’s hands.
- Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve ….. Joshua 24:14-15 (NRSV)
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the regions beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. [Or as is the case of modern society, greed or corruption, or violence, or hatred, or drugs & alcohol abuse, or immorality, or anything else that goes against the will of God.] But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.
 U.S. Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 p.5.
 Eddie Gibbs, LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 40.
 Pamela D. Couture, Seeing Children, Seeing God: A Practical Theology of Children and Poverty (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 125.
 Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 62.
 Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, African American Church Growth (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 120.
 http:www.employee-training-programs.com/shop/Inscape-Publishing-Dimensions-of-Leadership (accessed March 6, 2012).