While addressing the social and cultural challenges of contemporary society, the African American Church lacks relevance because it fails to employ transformational leadership in style, substance, and structure. There are three reasons why the leadership in the African American church fails to lead the church to impact contemporary society. First, the leaders of the church have not relinquished old traditions and customs in their approach. Second, the leaders have not equipped the church to be competitive in a postmodern society. Third, the leaders lack the ability to connect to the issues trending in a post-modern society.
A proponent of leadership change in the African American church, Eddie Glaude Jr. he is the Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. He professes that the “black church is dead” and no longer resides as the centrepiece of black life. He contends that the church is no longer a repository for social life and a barometer of the moral conscience of the nation. By continuing to embrace antiquated leadership models, the tone of today’s leaders in black churches seems inattentive to transformational leadership, which is a prerequisite for the effective ministry of the gospel in the postmodern society. As a result, Glaude’s observation is correct, “the routinization of the prophetic voice” and the focus on “the currency of the past” cripples the African American church.
The author intends to utilize the light of the Black community’s culture to critically examine the theological truths pertaining to the leadership in the church. First, the author intends to do this by examining the social and cultural changes which impact the African American church. Second, the author also will critically examine the current challenges to the status quo of leadership in the church.
This study will answer two questions. First, can the trend of leadership be reversed in the African American community? Second, can the Black church be restored as the social and cultural barometer of the African American community?
The history of the black community cannot be told without mentioning the Black Church which for a long time has and continues to be a fortification of the community. A number of extant and upcoming studies assume a close association between social actions and religious symbols such as praise, songs, and prayers among African Americans. The church’s long history of social gratification makes it a prominent pillar in the community’s political, socio-cultural, and economic dimensions. It has historically played a vital function to strengthen the culture of the Blacks, fostering equality, and addressing social vices. Well-known black religious leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Accelerated social change to the community’s advantage and make sure that the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal,” is fully exercised across the entire country. Even with all the efforts that the previous leaders put to bring the black family together, they are still struggling for equality which means racial realignment and prejudices in the church.
During the 18th century, preachers from the Methodist and Baptist churches converted thousands of them who started finding new roles in the church as preachers and leaders. The interpretation of the Bible gave them a different perception of their suffering by encouraging them to have hope in their dreams through the stories of deliverance such as the Exodus. For example, on August 21 1831, Nat Turner initiated a rebellion for the enslaved blacks, leading to the death of at least 50 whites. This among other series of rebellions led to the passage of a rule in Virginia that required that no black congregation meets without a white minister with similar restrictions in other states. However, free blacks led the Baptist Churches in cities to gain thousands of followers, most of who were slaves. This could not happen in the plantations and slaves in those farms were meeting secretively especially in the underground, offering a warm psychological refuge from the whites. They devised ways of communicating secretly which helped in planning revolts. Those who were attending church with white accompaniments also learned a lot about Christianity. Although the slaveholders were trying to interpret the Bible in their favour, the literate blacks tried as much as possible to convince the slaves to read and understand the Bible the way God wanted them to.
Free blacks continued to expand the church across various parts of the country. Churches in the North were more established, and they occasionally sent missions to the South to preach and educate the freed slaves. The churches were all over by the end of the reconstruction with much influence from the South despite having a Northern base. They were able to entirely disentangle from the whites during the postwar years to develop fire companies, fraternal orders, benevolent societies, and more importantly the black churches. Some moved to cities where rebuilding was a necessity and with the church being the focal point f the blacks, it portrayed their hope towards independent management as well as the power of the underground and virtual churches formed during the slavery.
Black preachers played a significant leadership role in the church. They offered a primary link between the whites and the blacks, facilitated economic growth, and encouraged education among the black community. The doctrine was the origin of many black schools which were community-funded together with other public services. However, the leaders had another political pursuit of advancing the black race. As a result, tension started to grow between the congregations in the South who wanted autonomy in totality and the black leaders of the North.
Male dominance was much observed and the females could not easily get chances for ordination; however, women still played a significant role in the church. For instance, middle-class women created missionary societies whose main aim is to address societal issues in the church and the country at large. They taught people to read and write, trained them for work, promoted the ideals for racial uplift, respectability, and womanhood, wrote religious periodicals, raised money for the African missions, and worked to improve the living conditions.
Among the major revolutions that the black churches stood behind was the American civil rights movement in which they held a leadership role. The church represented and was advocating for the freedom that the protesters sought. With the black leadership, the churches acted as the meeting points for protesters and most importantly offered spiritual, moral, physical, and emotional support to all the participants. Due to the discrimination that was ongoing in the country in the mid 20th century, the blacks were demanding equal protection and equal social opportunities regardless of a person’s characteristic such as religion or race.
When the war ended, people still continue to believe in the church and the church leaders and go to church to seek refuge in times of trouble. Hence, the black church remains a vital source of refuge for the blacks. When compared to the rest of the congregations in the USA, the black congregants are more inclined towards solving social issues as in the past such as racism, prison ministries, substance use, gang violence, and poverty. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.’s précis “the church cannot be silent while mankind faces the threat of nuclear annihilation” represents a policy that not only addressed an issue in social justice but also promoted a practice of global cohesion. King continued: If the church is true to her mission, he must call for an end to the arms race.”
The church has always played significant social and cultural roles for many decades. This is the most preferred place for most of the blacks to gather and celebrate their culture since the church has always wanted to promote race. Slavery times the black church would gather at times designated by the slave owner. Also, the slaves would gather at other times outside the boundaries of the slave owner. During these times of social gathering and worship, the African Americans would have more freedom of expression. The slaves could gather together for discussion, sharing meals, worship and social interaction.
For most blacks, the church has been the tool for social liberation, but tension continues to build as far as leadership is concerned. This fight continues many years after the emancipation proclamation. As the country’s capital structure continues to change it breaks down the association in the black church. The defects in structure create a gap that widens between the haves and the have nots. The new black middle class has the same dreams and ambitions as its white counterparts. Thus, as the black middle-class community continues to increase the diversification and division occur in the African American community. In the postmodern world, attendance and membership in the black church continue to decrease.
Today, more blacks from the middle class would prefer to attend multiracial churches over black churches. Statistics would prove that majority of the black community believes in God but only a few attend Sunday morning services. Therefore, the black church has lost its ability to compel the new-age postmodern black American to attend the black church. These factors lead to a weakening foundation in the black church and it struggles to remain viable.
According to Johnson (2020), the blacks still continue to view the church as their religion, community, and home despite the decline in masses. This is the reason why during the civil rights movement, the black church mobilized enough political and social power which made them the epicentre of the black community’s struggle for social change. In church, people get relief from the social pressure which makes the blacks more likely to seek church counsel than professional advisers. the religious leaders in these churches absorb the societal sufferings and ensure restoration of order by adhering to the Biblical teachings of being a “brother’s keeper.” In Matthew 19:22, Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” to sow the need of keeping an eye on one’s neighbour.
If the church is true to her mission, he must call for an end to the arms race.” As such, the church maintains its position in leading communities to realize that God loves them by helping them sustain their existential needs.Order Now