Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Can the Predominantly African-American Church Be Reformed? 5

Not without reforming the pastor.

It seems that so much of the church's health rides on the health of the pastors/elders and the men of the church. And that's by God's design.

Pastors and elders are to be examples to the flock in everything (1 Tim. 4:12b). They are rightly looked to as a model of Christian faith, conduct and virtue. And their prominence and teaching role in the congregation more or less guarantees that they will impress their character upon that of the congregation. The congregation, over time, will think and act much like the elders/pastors think and act. Which is to say, over time they will think and act more like Jesus if that's the pastors' manner, or they will think and act in ways well beneath the calling of Christ if that be the pastors' way of life.

This makes reforming the man in the ministry of paramount importance. Will he leave the imprimatur of Christ on the people of God, or will he leave them stamped with the stains of his deficiency and unprepared to meet Christ on the Day of Judgment? Each time we enter the pulpit, each time we gather as the church, we confess our belief in the coming Day of the Lord. We need the kind of reformation of pastors that makes such faith in the coming Day clear in our lives, our pursuits, our preaching, etc. Here's how Lemuel Haynes expressed it in one ordination sermon:
[His preaching] is not to display his talents; but like one who feels the weight of eternal things, he will not address his hearers as though judgment was a mere empty sound; but viewing eternity just before him, and a congregation on the frontiers of it, whose eternal state depends upon a few uncertain moments; Oh! with what zeal and fervor will he speak! How will death, judgment, and eternity appear as it were in every feature, and every word! Out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will speak. His hearers will easily perceive, that the preacher is one who expects to give account. He will study and preach with reference to a judgment to come, and deliver every sermon in some respects, as if it were his last, not knowing when his Lord will call him, or his hearers to account. —We are not to suppose that his zeal will vent itself in the frightful bellowings of enthusiasm; but he will speak forth the words of truth in soberness, with modesty, and Christian decency.
The reformation of the African-American church--again, the entire church--will come when the men who shepherd her "feel the weight of eternal things" and leave off vain and trivial trifles. Eternity will press itself into their personal lives and will overflow in their public ministry. Fitness for heaven will be their grand theme. He will disdain the praise and applause of men, the diversions of the world, and the trappings of a perishing society, and choose instead the ineffable joys of glory in the presence of the Father and the Risen Lamb!

You don't get this at convention meetings, or seminaries for that matter. You get this primarily by sitting at the Master's feet, seeing the world the way He does, and usually through the careful discipleship and training offered by a godly, seasoned, serious pastor. The Lord and the church train men for this kind of ministry.

A couple weeks ago, a small swirl was created when Bro. Piper issued a call for ethnic minorities to join his staff. Now I, for one, would send every prospective African-American pastor I know to Bethlehem to learn from John. I would send every prospective African-American pastor I know to the internship program at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Both of these congregations and pastors give themselves to training future pastors, and I'd have no problem flooding their efforts with young ethnic brothers. Never mind the politics of race or the angst of affirmative action. We want the church reformed according to the Word of God and that will require reforming the men who lead her--"by any godly means necessary!"

I wish every solid African-American church had a similar training effort. But even lacking that, I would send every prospective African-American pastor I know to learn from Ken Jones, Tony Carter, Michael Leach and a thousand other faithful shepherds laboring in anonymity with the weight of eternity resting on their hearts and minds.


Josh Manley said...

Well said and well thought out, Thabiti.

In David Wells' book, "No Place for Truth," Wells writes, "the people who are most relevant to this world are those the world judges most irrelevant."

Phillip said...


I thank you for your comments. I am currently going through the 9Marks outlines and it has been very helpful. I did a paper on the African American church for my seminary work last year and there is truly a great disparity between the early days of the local church of African Americans and today.

The 9Marks are helpful in my preparation as an elder for a small African American church that is in desperate need of help.

What practically do you recommend in beginning with "reforming" the pastor?

Thank you,

FellowElder said...

Hi Phillip,
Thanks for commenting and for the excellent question.

You might start with any of a number of excellent books:
John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals
D.A. Carson, The Cross & Christian Ministry
Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

I highly recommend any of these reads.

Also, if you're reading 9Marks, you might be interested to attend a CHBC Weekender. That'll put a lot of moving flesh on some of that reading. You can get info on it at the CHBC website.

For fellowship with like-minded folks, consider the annual Miami Pastors' Conference at Glendale Baptist Church in Miami. It's an excellent conference focused on reform in the African American (and broader) context.

Preaching and Teaching
If you have the privilege of opening the Word to the congregation, commit yourself to exposition of the Scripture. Slowly and consistently pour the Word over the body. Apply the Word (in as many positive ways as possible) to the life of the church.

Pray and ask the Lord to show you a small crop of men into whom you can pour your life. If you have 3-5 men or so you can disciple and train in a model of faithful ministry, go for it! Meet with them regularly (every week or two) and study together some of the books above or a good systematic theology (Grudem, Bible Doctrine for example). Begin to pray and work for a cadre of men who would be likeminded and hopefully co-laborers with you in seeking the vitality and health you desire in the church.

I think that's how I'd start practically. Hope that helps.

FellowElder said...

One other thing. You mentioned you'd done some study of African American church history. Find a way to teach that glorious history of the African American church. Do a series of Wednesday night Bible studies on men who figure prominently in that history and their view of the ministry/church. Dig up illustrations that give the people a sense of what the church was and can be again by God's grace. I'm more and more convinced that a God-centered reading of history and teaching history is a good way to shape a congregation's thinking.

Phillip said...

Thank you for your wisdom and I will keep you update.

I just picked up Piper's book, along with his Supremacy of God in preaching.

You will be in my prayers during your trip.