Part I of Pastor Wesley’s interview is featured here.
When I attended the Neglected Voices of the Church Series: African American Church series this summer at Gordon-Conwell, Bishop Claude Alexander, another prominent African American pastor of the mega-African American church, The Park Church, in Charlotte, NC had much to say about this. One of the white students asked him a question about racial reconciliation and reaching across the isle to people of other ethnic backgrounds. Specifically, the student was sharing his conviction of the segregation between the church he currently attended and the prominent African American church right down the street. For the sake of bridge building and reconciliation, Bishop Alexander revealed there much be people who are willing to faithfully worship in congregations where they are not the majority.
Like this student, I have been burdened to see and experience both sides of this and sometimes my concern is for the pride witnessed on both sides – the white evangelical looking around saying through their actions “I have no need for you” or the affluent Black churches and congregants posturing themselves against the majority society saying, “I don’t care what you think anymore.” What are some of your thoughts about this?
I agree with what Bishop Alexander says about bridge building. I also understand from an exegetical standpoint that none of us, either as individuals or as a collective body of people, are self-sufficient. However those realities do not demand that all churches become multi-cultural. The multi-cultural church model is not the only relevant model. On the other hand, I believe there are far too many missed opportunities for interdependency in missional work which begins at home and can have a greater impact across the whole. From the perspective of the worshiper, I believe people need to consistently fellowship in a place where they can hear and worship God clearly.
What are some of the internal challenges facing the Black church today and how can we address them?
I believe there are several major challenges. 1. Creating Christians who have a broad worldview and understand their role as Christians in a pluralistic society. We need to challenge Christians with questions like, “How do you live out the Christ principle of love all while proclaiming Christ alone?” 2. We face challenges with homiletics (the art of preaching) that gets away from sound doctrine and biblical exegesis. We cannot proclaim prophetic messages that have no biblical and doctrinal validity. 3. There is the challenge of the church becoming a big business. I witness far too many young pastors who are losing their integrity and authenticity because they have been blinded by the limelight of celebrity, as opposed to what the pastoral calling is supposed to be. We must remain committed to shepherding without the celebrity cause.
In my research, several church leaders have communicated the importance of people worshiping God in their own language, while acknowledging the social needs of the congregants. Can you share a little about how worship, preaching, and living out the gospel plays into the cultural aspects of Black churches?
The nature of worship is all inclusive to what we do in the Black church. From the preaching standpoint, the cultural expression and dialog between the pastor and congregants is the “call and response.” In many ways, that’s our language. Of course it’s English, but it’s also a certain way that we communicate with each other.
I am a student of Frank Thomas who argues that every sermon ought to have behavioral transformational goals. My approach to the pulpit is prescriptive preaching, to diagnose a real life problem and prescribe a biblical solution. A sermon is created where a biblical truth intersects with a real life problem. That’s the approach I use to transition people from worship in the sanctuary to living the gospel in their lives.
When a non African American seeks racial reconciliation with an African American Christian, what is the one thing they need to know?
Racism is sewn into fabric of American society, but I want people to know that every black person doesn’t walk around thinking the world is racially biased. As a people, we do not walk around with a victim’s mentality. We are survivors. We have a victors’ mentality.
But we do get angry when people want to invalidate the truth or our experiences with racism, either direct or systematic.
Thank you so much for your time, Pastor Wesley.
Follow Pastor Wesley @PastorHJW
© Howard John Wesley and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012