Rev. Michael W. Waters – Dallas South News Contributor
In his book The Black Church in the Post-Civil Rights Era, Anthony B. Pinn states that of approximately 34 million African-Americans in the nation “some 25 million [African American] Christians engage in worship each week.” Over time, the church’s approach to ministry has changed. Many African-Americans today often engage in a proper discussion of the same, noting shifts in worship presentation, preaching styles, worship space design, church programming, and even shifts in theological and doctrinal focuses, to name a few.
However, it is significantly more important to discuss how the church should be changing in order to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. I propose Five Imperatives for the 21st Century Church; five things the church must do and must do well to remain relevant in these rapidly changing times. I feel strongly that the extent to which a church has accomplished these things directly impacts that church’s effectiveness in fulfilling the mission of Christ for this present age.
In no particular order, the church must be:
1. Technologically Astute:
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center states that nearly ¼ of Americans list the Internet as their main source of news. It rises to 30% when considering the 30-49 age demographic separately. If your church does not have an Internet presence, then your church has not crossed the line into the 21st Century.
In the past, to authenticate a person, institution, or product people picked up a book. Now, they turn to the Internet. If someone looks to your ministry on-line and you are not there, or if you are there but you are grossly outdated and poorly constructed, then people will assume negative things about your church.
2. Financially Diversified:
The various opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century necessitate that the church diversify its financial holdings. Today’s ministry cannot be funded solely by the offering plate! The opportunities and challenges of today are so great that the church must create endowments, own real estate and start businesses.
While people often do not like to talk about money in church, ministry takes money (otherwise Jesus would not have had a treasurer among his disciples). We must diversify in order to be effective in ministry.
3. Educationally Committed:
The church must be committed to the education of all people! I am not speaking of just Biblical and doctrinal knowledge or reading literacy. I am speaking of financial literacy, sexual responsibility (i.e., HIV/AIDS), healthcare, home ownership, business planning, estate planning, and much more.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a small gathering for pastors with former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. We met about health disparities in the African-American community in the area of cancer. I will never forget one thing that was repeatedly stated in our sessions with Dr. Snatcher: the church is the gatekeeper of the African-American community! As gatekeepers, we are responsible not only for fighting to keep things out of the community that would prove harmful, but for providing our community with information and knowledge that will benefit the community and help people live more productive lives.
4. Politically Savvy:
The Presidential campaign of Barack Obama forever shifted the political landscape of America. But this campaign was no overnight sensation. According to an article published in Rolling Stone Magazine entitled “The Machinery of Hope,” in 2006 there were already 175 Obama for President Chapters on Facebook, and the Obama campaign began holding four-day intensive Camp Obama seminars as early as March 2007!
The campaign spent valuable time and energy putting its political infrastructure in place so that when the political cycle rolled around they would be ready. The church, too, must adopt this strategy. We must work constantly to strengthen our political contacts and infrastructure, and not just in election years. This is a vital step towards bringing about needed change within our communities.
5. Globally Minded:
The great Methodist founder, John Wesley, is noted for stating that the world was “his parish,” meaning that he felt called to carry the message of Jesus Christ to the entire world (not just to his local church and local culture). The church must expand its vision and look beyond what is happening on its block, or in its city. The church must see itself as a part of the global community. And the church must be ready to respond to global concerns.
Four years ago, I received a call from a church member at a previous pastorate. When I picked up the phone, she said, “Pastor, I have a house full of family members from New Orleans, but there are fifty more that are headed straight to my house and I do not know what to do!”
Our church moved into action! We opened the church and had words of comfort and prayer with the family when they arrived. Thankfully, we had already prepared to ship clothes and other necessities to New Orleans – instead we gave them to the family. Next, I contacted a minister in Highland Park with whom I had networked with before. His church owned an apartment complex, and they allowed several families to move in for free. We got their kids enrolled in school and helped the parents find jobs in Dallas. The church must have a global-mindset in order to be ready to respond to the challenges of the 21st Century.
This is an exciting time for ministry – a time that has demanded that the church change in order to remain relevant! But for all of our considerations for change, we can take comfort in one great certainty for these uncertain times. Writing in the midst of oppression and dramatic changes for the church, the author of the Book of Hebrews offered these words of strength and comfort: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
While our methods may have changed, Jesus Christ remains the same!
The Rev. Michael W. Waters is the founder and Senior Pastor of Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in Dallas, Texas and was named among America’s top young leaders by Ebony Magazine. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Edited by Shawn Williams
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