Historically, the church has been the most influential institution in America’s black community. Today the black church is feeling a responsibility to use its influence to address the struggles facing black America.

Some of black America’s more prominent Christian leaders met last month at the National Summit on Black Church Development to exchange ideas for addressing such issues as teen pregnancy and economic empowerment. Said Matt Parker, organizer of the Detroit meeting, “If there is any hope for us as a people, it lies with the church.”

Evangelist/theologian Anthony Evans acknowledged there are major problems facing America’s black community. But he added that “the primary crisis is that in [the black community], the church is the number one institution.… The great failure is the failure of the church to be the church in that community.”

Black Christian leaders from a variety of denominational backgrounds and traditions participated in the four-day meeting. Most of the approximately 100 who attended function in the black culture, but many work for predominantly white institutions, including Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Liberty University. One participant voiced the frustration of many blacks who are unable to “dream outside the structures established by white boards of directors.”


The conference produced frank dialogue indicating that relationships between black and white Christians are in need of repair. Generally, participants felt that problems facing black America are not a priority for white Christians. “Realistically, we cannot expect whites to put this on their agenda,” said Joy Lovett, of the Afro-American Mennonite Association. “If we don’t evangelize black America, it won’t get done.”

Evangelist Tom Skinner said there is little dialogue between black and white church leaders. “When we do get together,” he said, “it’s always our generals working with their corporals.” Skinner welcomed any help white Christians can offer. But he said for genuine progress to be made, the agenda and programs would have to be black initiated.

While some believe black Christians should found their own schools and publications, others said that approach would take too much time. Abraham Davis, of Philadelphia’s Center for Urban Theological Studies, proposed that black Christians ask established white evangelical colleges and universities for “flexibility in testing and teaching” in order for more blacks to take advantage of existing educational resources.

Evans said the black church, because of its history of oppression, has something unique to offer white Christians. “[The] integrating point for theology is no longer philosophy, but sociology …,” he said. “We need to strategize on how to package what [white Christians] need, and give it in love, so there’s a mutual dependence.”

William Shoemaker, president of William Tyndale College, one of the summit’s sponsors, said white Christians have a lot of growing to do in the area of black-white relations. “For too long we have assumed that white, suburban organizational structures and processes are biblical,” said Shoemaker, who is white.


Most participants agreed there is revival going on in the black church, including the traditional church, which has had little contact with white institutions. “I’m seeing a tremendous thirst for the study of the Scriptures and for developing the ‘how to’s’ of evangelism and discipleship,” Parker said.

Dolphus Weary, who heads a ministry to the poor in Mendenhall, Mississippi, said the “traditional black church has lacked a national approach to reach people with the gospel.” He added, however, that “more and more blacks in traditional churches are getting turned on to this concept of evangelism and how people can be discipled.”

Black preachers once regarded as liberal are now being understood as lacking in educational tools. But today, more black leaders have access to formal theological education. After Evans delivered a provocative biblical exposition, one participant remarked, “I never thought I’d live to hear a black man open up the Word of God like that.”

Others said many black preachers have been “opening up the Word of God” for years, but there has been no way for most black Christians to find out about it. “We have no way to inform and encourage each other,” said Willie Richardson of the Christian Stronghold Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “Our white brothers and sisters control the media, the publications. I say this not to be negative. It’s just a fact.”

The Detroit summit gave black Christians an opportunity to compare notes on the problems they face, and to learn about one another’s ministries. Many black churches, for example, have benefited from an evangelistic program that originated at Richardson’s church. The program is designed specifically to attract black men into the church. Black pastors are finding it increasingly difficult to tell their young women not to marry non-Christians when there are so few black men in the pews.

Revival in the black church includes a growing concern for worldwide missions. “It’s only in recent years that mission boards have been open to taking blacks,” said Bob Harrison, a pioneer in black missionary evangelism. Plans are under way for Destiny ’87, a national conference designed to spark a new movement of black Christian missionary involvement in the United States and other nations. The conference is scheduled for next summer in Atlanta.

By Randy Frame in Detroit.

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