7 things I learned from Black preachers and preaching.

IMG_0749I 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Why LeBron James is the best NBA player ever?

lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliersLeBron James is the best player in the NBA ever. What do I mean? When it comes to the superstar guys, like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron stands alone at the top.

And this has application for the Christ follower. The church. Let me explain.

The Humility Factor
LeBron James. I have not been a fan of his for a few reasons. First, I’ve kind of lost my passion for basketball. The NBA seemed to get bogged down with drama 2-3 years ago. I took a break, but I’ve checked back in. Second. LeBron is not my kind of player. He’s not the finesse player of the 90s. He’s the total package of the twenty first century. Jordan was an artist. Kobe too. LeBron? He’s simply a machine. His skill set exceeds Jordan and Kobe. I’d rather see the artist than the machine. Third, I have not liked LeBron’s attitude. He’s been arrogant. His departure from Cleveland was terrible. He left for the championship. Left for the bling. Left for the stacked team. A better city.

But wait a minute. Wait just one minute. What makes LeBron the best is not what he does on the court. It’s the fact that he choose the leave Miami and go back to Cleveland. Who does that? And in the first year takes that team to the finals? And that team? It’s a good team. It’s a professional team. But it’s not a stacked team. LeBron could have stayed in Miami and probably won at least one more championship. He probably should have stayed but he chose to go home. He chose to take a risk. He went back to a team and city that paled in comparison to Miami. But one man made a difference – LeBron James.

In his first year back LeBron James took an average NBA team to the Finals and just might win the NBA championship with them this year. Even if the Cavs do not win, LeBron James is the best player in the NBA ever. He exceeds Jordan and Kobe. Here’s why.

When did Jordan leave the Bulls and go to a lesser team and take that team to the Finals in the first year? He didn’t. When did Kobe do that? Nope. He has not done that either.

LeBron is racking up the stats. If he keeps playing he will surpass people up as time goes by. He will win more championships. Will he will as many as Jordan and Pippen? Kobe and Shaq? Who knows. But one this is sure. He did what none of them had the courage to do. And because of that, LeBron is the best player ever in the NBA.

The Church – Next?

LeBron James move from Miami and to Cleveland reminds me of humility. It’s being willing to live a missional life. To give up what seems good for my trophy case for the sake of the gospel and the future of a city. LeBron’s move is an analogy, but it’s a good one for those of us who are the church. We are called by God to sometimes leave when it seems logical to stay and go to a situation that seems not as good. Who knows what might happen? We might end up in the finals.

Jesus said, “Go, therefore, make disciples, of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I’ve taught you, and lo, I’m with you until the end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20

Church excuses that need to stop

I’m in the business. The Father’s business. And I hear a lot of things. I deal with a lot of problems. I deal with a lot of people. And I do love my calling as a pastor. I sometimes wonder what business leaders would think if employees said the same things that I hear some say about church. For example …

1. I don’t have to go to church to worship God. Ridiculous. While this is obviously true is incredibly foolish. First, anyone who knows the Bible knows this is true at some level. Yet secondly, anyone who knows the word knows a person who is converted by the gospel will want to gather with the church (the people) and worship God.

What business would let you say, “I don’t have to show up for work to honor the owner or his mission?”

2. I don’t go to church because there are more hypocrites in the church than outside the church. I love this one. It’s insane. The Greek for hypocrite is word where we get the English “theatre.” A hypocrite acts out in a way that is not true of his real life. This person “says one thing but does another.” And so it’s like this. I don’t go to church because of the hypocrites. There are more in church than out. REALLY?

  • Numerically this cannot be true. It’s an excuse.
  • Spiritually this is not true. There are more hypocrites outside the church than inside the church. Would you not rather be a hypocrite with God? Or without God?  

Everyone is a hypocrite at some point. Is that not actually why we “do church?”

What business would let you say, “The employees are not perfect so I’m not working?”

3. All the church wants is money. There are some churches that are greedy. Most are not. Most churches give away a lot of money to ministry and missions. I don’t like it when I’m pressured to give. When I am, I usually won’t give. Yes, I’m a storehouse tither and generous giver. The bottom line is churches receive offerings for the Lord. You are in or out. Churches are in it for money. I get the feeling most who say “all the church wants is money” probably don’t give to much of anything.

What business would let you say, “All you care about is profit so I’m not working?”

4. Sunday is the only day of the week I get off. God gives people opportunity. He gives us means to live, breath, make money. The reality is we cannot afford not worship God in a local gathering. Is God worth more than what someone would do otherwise on Sunday?

What business would let you say, “I don’t want to work on Monday, or Sunday for that matter, so I’m not working?”

5. I got hurt in church and am not going back. While I understand this one, at some point it is an excuse. There comes a point when we have to get back into the game. We must not let church bullies kill our souls. Yes people get hurt in church and it’s not right. Jesus went to the cross. That was not right at all. Are we really going to let someone who is mean keep us from God’s will?

What business would let you say, “An employee hurt my feelings so I’m not going to work today?”

Just a quick fives things that I believe we need to get over or help people get over. God is great and worthy of our lives. We should not let these things keep us from living out our faith in a local church.