Welcome to the Black Church Studies Consultation
One of the commitments of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is to honor the traditions of the Black Church by providing an academic program that welcomes the heritage, studies the diverse traditions, engages in critical theological reflection regarding core beliefs, and prepares thoughtful, passionate, and capable leaders for ministry. In order to effectively carry out this task, we have implemented The Annual Black Church Studies Consultation as a way to critically engage in conversation with ecclesial leaders in African American churches in this region who are on the cutting edge of ministry.
Black Church of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Let me say a word about the overall purpose of these consultations. The members of the BCS program, and the Seminary more broadly, want to facilitate annual conversations about the Black Church. We hope that the value of lessons from history will inform our discussion of contemporary trends and movements. Historically the church has been a significant presence in the black community.
From very humble beginnings at brush harbor meetings to the first African Christian churches formed in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal denominations, as well as later burgeoning Holiness and Pentecostal movements, black churches have nurtured and sustained the African American community for centuries. In the seminal text, The Black Church in the African American Experience (2005), C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya describe the Black Church as the central institution in black communities. More than any other institution, the Black Church has occupied a central role in the survival and development of Africans of the Diaspora.
There are, however, significant changes under way in African American communities. Major developments like the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements with accompanying legislation in the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of Black middle class, Neo-Pentecostalism, and televangelism in the 1980s and 1990s, and a host of social problems have changed the landscape of the African American community in the late 1990s and early 21st century.
Problems such as continuing disparities in healthcare, education, economic growth, and incarceration, pose formidable challenges for leaders in the African American community. One of our continuing questions will be, “What has been the role of the church and what is the role of the church going forward in addressing these challenges?”
Purpose of the Annual Consultation
The annual consultation will provide helpful studies that document major trends and how churches are responding to some of these challenges. For example, in an article, entitled “Trends in the Black Church,” Martha Simmons provides a comprehensive list of 21 emerging trends including: clergy couples or marital ministry teams, theme-based Christian education classes, an increased number of mega-churches, increased clergy compensation, Pentecostal influences in worship, increased use of media and technology, joint venture between churches and CDC’s and other 501(c)3s, me-centric preaching over Christo-centric preaching, national conferences, praise teams, preachers and self-publishing, and prosperity preaching. Furthermore, we will discuss trends such as these and whether or not they are appropriate and/or effective responses to the crises of the black community in the 21st century. We value the experience and wisdom that leaders in black churches in this region, and nationally, will bring to these conversations.
By convening these annual consultations, it is our hope that we will explore how these issues are affecting African American churches, how black churches in different traditions address these issues, and how institutions and churches can work together. Furthermore, continued joint conversations of this nature are an integral part of our desire to build a program that can prepare leaders to meet these challenges.