Thursday, February 22, 2007

How to make room in your ministry

I received the following comment on my blog the other day:
Would you be willing to give some wisdom to those of us who've begun black reformed churches with the hope of making a more direct impact within the greater black community[?]. For example, though I've been extremely blessed to have gifted, godly and reformed musicians I know that's not always the case for small black reformed churches. Also it seems that almost all of us could use gifted brothers like yourself to help share the load with teaching, preaching and just being an example.

You mentioned that the leadership in black evangelical churches tended to be autocratic and controlling so perhaps you could give some wisdom re: that.

Basically, it's my conviction that black reformed churches will especially need those brothers and sisters who've embraced reformed theology and practice to help us in our press to reform our church and culture. So how can we make room in our ministries for your presence and gifts?

Thanks for your help.
Here is my response:
I found the pastoral leadership in the two Black evangelical churches that my family and I became involved with to be controlling and autocratic. In both cases, the senior pastors were also the founding pastors. Maybe, that was part of the problem. Both pastors were highly protective of their “baby”—i.e., the church they started. The leadership philosophy leaned strongly toward “My way or the highway”. Everything was fine as long as everyone agreed, but if someone happened to disagree or hold a differing opinion (and I’m not talking about central doctrinal issues, I’m just talking about peripheral issues or differing opinions as to methodology), that person was considered not “submissive” to leadership, and viewed as a threat. I feel that made for a very unhealthy church environment—spiritually and emotionally. There were no questions, you just agreed with the pastor. Period. Now, I can understand why founding pastors would feel protective (and shepherds should protect the sheep), but these pastors, I think, took things too far. They came mighty close to crossing the fine line from merely protecting the flock to trying to control people. In my opinion, this kind of aggressive over-protectiveness will drive away those same brothers of whom you speak, who could potentially help share the load these Black pastors bear.

It seems to me that Black pastors (indeed, all pastors, whatever their race or ethnicity) must come to terms with the fact that their church is not their church, it’s Christ’s church, and its success or failure ultimately depends upon God, not them. Also, there needs to be a greater appreciation of the gifts/people that God chooses to give to the local Body; they shouldn’t be viewed by the pastor as potential threats or competition. In other words, Black pastors must deal with their feelings of insecurity. The pastoral leadership at the mostly White church that my family attends doesn’t view me as a threat. I’m free to hold differing opinions from the leadership on issues that are non-essential. They don’t confuse unity with uniformity. Maybe, that’s because our church is non-denominational and our membership consists of people from various church backgrounds—or no church background. I’m not sure. The sad thing is, I’ve never, in my adult life, experienced this kind of emotionally secure leadership in any Black church of which I’ve been a member. My observation has been that many Blacks just don’t trust other Blacks. Maybe this is just a “Black thing”—a hold-over from slavery. I don’t know. Whatever the cause, it’s a tragedy when this kind of distrust prevails in Black churches that are supposed to be evangelical and Bible-believing. This issue, I think, needs to be honestly faced by Black evangelical pastors: Are other Black brothers and sisters allowed to come along side you to help you without you driving them off because you feel threatened by their presence?

The thought occurs to me that we are most prone to try to control others when we forget that God is in control. We can’t fill the role of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life: The Spirit is Lord (see 2 Corinthians 3:17a). I think when we get this truth into our heads and hearts, then we’ll be ready to make room for the presence and gifts of our brothers and sisters. When we’re truly ready to receive our brothers and sisters, then I think we’ll be able to effectively pray that the Lord would send laborers (see Matthew 9:35-38), trusting Him to send the very people we need to do the work He’s called us to do.

I hope I’ve been of some help. May God bless you as you follow Him.


Lance said...

Hey brother Wyeth,

thanks for your timely and helpful response. Before we move on would you mind if I shared your previous posts as well as your response to my question with the brothers in the fellowship I serve? We've just begun a leadership training class with about 8 brothers and I'd like to examine these issues with them. Since we're (I'm co-teaching the class with another young brother of our church) training these brothers to take on leadership roles I don't want to push them away by being too controlling.

Your words ring quite true in my experience also. The black churches I came from had pastors who battled their own insecurities and actually squelched the gifts and development of young servents like myself. Let me say first of all that it's clear that black evangelical pastors need to get together and talk honestly about these issues. We cannot push the very people God has called into reformed theology if we're to impact the black church and community with life-giving and changing biblical teaching.

Re: some of the other issues it would be helpful if you could give some clarification (of course no names please) by citing a specific situation in which you differed from a pastor and felt pushed away. For example, did you seek to begin a new ministry at the church and was told no because the pastor felt that you were impinging on his territory? Did you desire to teach but was prevented because the pastor feeling insecure wouldn't allow it? Being familiar with the black church do you think the pastor was scared that people would be drawn to you and view you as a leader equal to him and perhaps consider leaving with you to begin a new church?

Please understand brother I'm not asking these questions in a vacuum. To give you a little background on myself my name is Lance Lewis and I was born and raised in West Philly. I got saved through the witness of a friend and spent the first 9 years of my saved life in the black pentacostal church (with all its blessings and pitfalls).
I embraced reformed theology and in the late 80's and along with my wife and another couple joined Tenth Presbyterian Church in the spring of 90. I approached Tenth and the Phila presbytery with the idea to plant a black reformed church in the early 90's but they weren't ready for it at that time. After spending about 5 years at another mainly white church in the south while going to seminary my wife and I returned to start Christ Liberation Fellowship in the fall of 2001. (it was in the late 90's that the leadership of Tenth contacted me and asked if I was still interested in planting a church and they are the major sponsor of our fellowship)

CLF is a multi-ethnic (about 80% black and 20% white) with a vision (which i admit is my hope and vision) to begin a church planting network throughout the greater philly area to start reformed biblically driven churches. Since that's our vision and hope it is vital that we train and release both church planters and mission teams to plant these churches. Consequently, it is imperative for me to cultivate a culture in which leaders are encouraged to grow and develop along with having church members view them as leaders they would follow to begin another church.

At the same time I do have strong convictions concerning the kind of church I believe is biblical directed and driven. For example I believe that the church collectively must engage the greater community by doing good works that helps build bridges to share the gospel. Thus, I honestly don't know if I could have someone in leadership at CLF who would teach and seek to influence others that the church's ministry is confined to preaching, teaching and worship.

Again I really appreciate your help with this and for taking the time to read and respond. You wrote 'Also, there needs to be a greater appreciation of the gifts/people that God chooses to give to the local Body; they shouldn’t be viewed by the pastor as potential threats or competition'
Could you give me an example of how I and other pastor's might go about doing that? How could I encourage those I serve and others who might consider serving with me to use their gifts in the body? What should I look out for in myself that might work against this?
Thanks for your help, observations and care for the black church brother. By the way if you'd like to respond privately please feel free to email me at
The Lord's peace be with you, your family and God's people.

Deborah said...


I just spent the past hour and twenty minutes reading your "Cross-Cultural Missions" blogs. You have echoed many of my own experiences in the Black Church, as well as my experiences in the White Church. My family and I are entering our second year consecutive year of ministry within the White Evangelical church context, although we spent several years in the Catholic church as well. As a result of our relocation, we are now in our second White evangelical church. Our experience at our current church has been similar to what you have described at Christ Church. I have to say, however, that I am torn and straddling two church worlds. Part of me longs to be in the rich cultural familiarity of the Black Church. While the another part of me is refreshed by the order, structure and lower propensity towards drama within in the White Church. Although, neither experience has been utopia for us, we are more relaxed and able to serve with less stree in our current church environment. But, I miss with great longing the Black church experience, not the internal strife over everything from money to food to pastoral insecurity and paranoia to what color the choir should wear, etc. I just miss "my peeps" and the way we worship. So, I struggle sometimes to be a bridge for cultural unity, to embrace our differences, to put aside my personal preferences and to appreciate everybody. I praise God that we are able to serve where we are and that our worship expression and culture is welcomed. So, pray for our journey into multi-cultural ministry.

On another note, we are finding that more and more of our African-American peers are leaning away from the traditional Black Church for many of the reasons you stated and most often because their contributions to the ministries and their spiritual gifts are not valued, and these abilities, talents and gifts are often percieved somehow as a threat. Additonally, we often hear from peers that they are no longer willing to sit under ministries that aren't Biblically sound and maintain dictatorial leadership styles. Having been educated and having had corporate careers, we and are peers are also experiencing a backlash from pastors who suggest that our views and propensity towards accountability, structure, teamwork, leadership, etc. are too wordly. When, in fact, more often that not, they are quite Biblical. Thus, we see more and more folks leaving the traditional Black Church for the White evangelical church or for prosperity or full gospel ministries that are less afraid to utiltize the gifts and talents these folks bring to the body of Christ. Lest I ramble on, I'll close by asking your thoughts and thanking you for expressing my heart.