I have been privileged to live in a multicultural neighborhood most of my life. I’ve always had Black friends. I grew up in Florida. Then I was Army. Then as I became a Christian, I was influenced by the Black Church. My first influence was by Pastor Onnie I. Kirk of the Unity Missionary Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas. Then Pastor Elijah Mitchell of the Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Schweinfurt, Germany, was a huge influence on me. He taught me preaching at the local church level, in a class. When I went to preaching class in seminary, I was not surprised. I was prepared. Then I went Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. Pastor Dwight McKissic is the Senior Pastor. And while there I ran into the legend – Dr. Lloyd C. Blue. It was at Cornerstone that I was exposed to some of the best preaching in the world. We expected good preaching, but we brought in some of the big preachers of African-American culture.
What did I learn and what can you learn?
- Black preaching is an experience. The great Henry Mitchell once said, “The Black Bible is a living epistle, and the elaborations never take the form of coldly abstract formulations” (Black Preaching: The Recovery of a Powerful Art). He was right. In a Black preaching experience, the event is just that, an experience. It’s rarely, if ever, a lecture. If it is a lecture, experience will leak out even then. There is always an expectation of “what will happen today when the preacher preaches?” White preaching is often too didactic. It’s a lecture devoid of experience and application in listeners real lives. To my White preaching friends, put some experience in the preaching. Be yourself, as no one likes a White preacher trying to be something he is not. But take a risk. Get outside the box.
- Black preaching is rooted in the Exodus experience.
The Exodus experience is simple: “let my people go.” Cleophus LaRue (The Heart of Black Preaching), Preaching Professor at Harvard confirms the symbol of oppression is the single symbol that illustrates the Black preaching experience best. It’s a church message that the Black Church has lived within America for not yet two hundred years. This is in part the social gospel, but it is more than that. Black Preaching ultimately includes the oppressions faced by anyone oppressed. The White Church and preachers can take a lesson here. Preach to those who have problems and lift them above those problems with the gospel. Tell them there is a better way. There is hope.
- Black preaching is emotional and passionate. When I first heard Black preaching, I thought to myself, “Is someone in trouble? Should we leave? What’s the preacher so angry about?” Then I came to realize Black preaching is rooted in the face that the church is often the only safe place for the Black message to get out. It’s also rooted in cultural fact that African culture is a singing culture. So it is not uncommon for a song to break out during the preaching. In Black preaching, the preaching “whoops.” It celebrates at the end of the sermon. When I first saw Pastor Kirk do this, I was blown away. He would run down the aisle celebrating Jesus waving a handkerchief. White preaching needs to add some passion through delivery. Yet passion and emotion alone can never make up for content.
- Black preaching is scripture driven. Narrative. Black preaching is narrative. It’s story. Even when a Black pastor preaches using the letters of Paul, rarely will he just go line by line first. There will be a wrapping of the exposition into a larger contextual story from scripture, then the lives of listeners. Haddon Robinson teaches us to know the big idea. I’ve seen the old school Black preaching by outline that actually searches out the big idea in the pulpit. To preach out of context would never be acceptable in Black preaching. While there are times I’ve seen Black preaching more emotion than scripture, it’s rare. And it is usually done by the younger, inexperienced preachers. White culture preaching would do well to learn to preach not only the context of scripture, but the grander narrative of God’s story in our own lives.
- Black preaching is as much art as it is science. There are tools to preaching. Those tools in a preaching course can be tools. They can come across as mechanical. The exegetical idea, the preaching idea, sermon purpose, outline or movements, illustrations, applications, introductions and conclusions. These all are tools. Yet in Black preaching the homiletical is as much art as science. There is much more exploring with the tools. I first learned first person narrative preaching from Black culture not White. Haddon Robinson showed us how to do it with his many sermons, but EK Bailey was the first pastor I saw do it. It was art and science.
- Black preaching is influenced by White preaching. The African context is often left out of the academy of preaching especially because Christianity became much more academic and educational. The European Christianity from the third century to the 1500s set the stage for Western Christianity. Of course in many ways that was good. God chose to do it. Much of European Christianity is now dead, dark and detrimental to the Great Commission now. But the influence of Black Christianity by White is good. It’s not just an educational influence. It’s a content influence. It’s a melding of cultures. My Pastor at Cornerstone, Dwight McKissic is an excellent example of what I’m trying to say. He is an excellent preacher. I’ve seen him light up a room. But he is not just a preacher who uses passion and force. He is also a teacher who can give amazing content. He realized like many Black preachers, African-Americans today do not just want emotion. It’s an interesting topic. They want content also. And while content does not originate from White preaching, White culture is a partner and conduit of content. In other words, the White preaching style is appealing to Black people. Today, they listen to John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah and the like as well as their own preachers.
- Black preaching is influencing White preaching. More and more White preachers are taking the natural things of Black preaching into the pulpit. The ideas of creativity, passion, emotion, force as well as hermeneutic and homily of the academy are found in the White preaching context. Steven Furtick is a good example. White people desire emotion. We are often too cognitive. And lecturing does not meet real life on the street. The best story of Black preaching changing and influencing White preaching is found in Dr. Joel Gregory. He is what I call the darling of the Black church. After his departure from FBC Dallas, it was EK Bailey who started the Black Church journey for Gregory. Joel Gregory embodies the best of Black and White preaching. He masters content and delivers like a Black preacher. Dr. Ralph West does the same but with a unique, God given giftedness. These two men have modeled for out culture what White and Black preaching can give each other for the cause of the Great Commission.
There can be no writing on this subject without the mention of Dr. Lloyd C. Blue. This man started out as my boss, mentor and example at Cornerstone. He soon became a friend, fishing partner and adopted father. He’s an amazing man, but for this topic an amazing preacher. I’ve personally watched him preach. He has the style of both Black and White preaching styles. He knows how to be who God needs him to be in any culture. He taught me how to outline a passage with unique, precise ability to see the text’s meaning quickly. That meaning became the bridge to the hearts of men and women in the audience. My relationship with Dr. Blue is irreplaceable.. My relationship with Black culture so unique. Most White pastors and people never get these experiences and education from Black culture. These are 7 things I have learned from the academy of Black preaching. Go … and do likewise.