I have attended many different types of churches in my life time. Some of those churches were small with an aging congregation, while others were large with multi-cultural attenders. I have also been invited to preach in a variety of congregations from traditional to very contemporary. Every church has their own culture and traditions, some of which are exclusively seen only in one particular community of faith.
Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure to attend or preach in a few predominantly African American churches. As I think about these congregations, I have witnessed some commonalities. The first African American church I preached in was the historic State Street Baptist Church in Bowling Green. I would like to share two observations.
The first observation about these churches is that they all have a high regard for their pastor. I know many churches show respect to their pastors, but the African American churches I attended have raised the bar of love, respect and encouragement. All of these churches address their pastor as either Revered or Pastor at all times. I cannot recall hearing one of these men of God called only by his first name. In our world today, we see some men have brought shame upon the title. It is refreshing to see a pastor given respect because of the calling God has placed upon his life.
Another way of showing respect for the pastor is how these specific congregations marked the pastor’s years of service. In October I was asked to preach at the 9th anniversary of Buddy Slaughter Jr. at the Means Avenue Baptist Church in Hopkinsville. During this service, Brother Buddy and his wife April were placed in special seating at the front of the sanctuary. The service gave time for each ministry of the church to present Rev. Slaughter with a gift, which ranged from words of encouragement to tangible gifts. One group organized a drama to show their love and appreciation. Not only did the church recognize the pastor’s work, but they also pointed out Sister April’s contribution to the ministry.
Many churches miss the opportunity to celebrate the man whom God has brought to be their shepherd. A few weeks ago I was with a pastor that shared he had just finished 10 years as pastor, he told me there was no recognition at all.
Last year at a conference I was told that 1,500 pastors leave a church every month across our denomination, and 77 percent of pastor’s wives said they wish their husband would find a new place to serve. Even in Kentucky, our best estimate is that more than 10 percent of the churches associated with the state convention are currently without a pastor. Maybe there is a need for some churches to rethink their regard for the role of pastor.
The second observation about the predominantly African American churches is they have an uninhibited freedom of worship. They seem to be a community of praise to show their love for the Lord. Their actions of celebration are seen in a variety of ways. As the choir sings, those sitting in the pews begin to stand and become part of worship through the music, without being ask to do so. The worship takes a spiritual direction as the congregation and the ministers enter into a time of celebration.
Through the reading of the Word, the Word preached, prayers, and invitation, there is an overall sense of freedom that seems to be fueled as individuals come together in corporative worship.
In these churches, the celebrative worship is not limited by time. Many churches today have an order of service developed by the leadership, but the African American churches I have attended are not held captive by the clock. Worship services are directed by the movement of the Spirit and not by crossing off every activity in the bulletin. One lady in a congregation where I recently visited said, “Some may say we stay too long, but we enjoy worship.
Worship through giving is a very important part of the African American church. Some of the churches do not pass an offering plate. Each individual brings an offering to the front and placed the gift into the baskets held by ushers. Everyone participates in this part of worship.
In the last church I visited, the person praying over the offering asked God to bless those that could give and bless those that touched the basket without placing anything in it. Those that touched the basket without putting anything in were by faith asking to be blessed so they could give next time. The act of individuals coming to the baskets was, in my opinion, a way for individuals to worship the God who gives and blesses His children.
Let us remember that worship is not designed for the congregation to be the audience. Worship is about the congregation actively engaged in giving God full attention where He is the audience of One.
As you attend your worship this week, why not go with an expectation of celebration. Enter His gates with thanksgiving! A church family should be a treasure for us.
I would challenge you to attend a different culture of worship too, so that you can see expressions of worship that are different from your normal service. Worship when done to express our praise to God looks extremely different across the commonwealth. The end result, though, should always be for God’s glory.
I am grateful for what God has shown me over the past few years in traveling to different churches. My wife Pam usually goes with me. When asked how she likes going to a different place almost each week, she replies, “I get to worship with brothers and sisters in different ways, and many I will not have another opportunity to worship with until I get to heaven.”
Our differences make us who we are, but our God makes us family!
Jeff Crabtree, South Central Region Consultant