| Mar 11, 2013
Last month, a friend of mine shared a link on his Facebook page. The link led to an interesting interview show discussing the popular trend of bishops in an increasing number of black churches. I clicked the link and watched an episode of the Lexi Show, provocatively titled Illegitimate Bishops. As the show began, the host expressed her amazement by the number of people who call themselves ‘bishop’ and ‘doctor’ without going through the proper channels. In other words, some pastors become bishops without credible educational training and outside an ecclesial structure with guidelines as to who can become a bishop, how one can become a bishop, and when one can become a bishop.
To demonstrate this, she went online and found an organization to give an ordination certificate and credentials as a bishop. In order to get to the bottom of this, she interviewed three bishops: Paul Morton, Jerry Hutchins and Lester Love. These men are ordained bishops in the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, a fellowship of churches that originated in 1994 among African American Baptist churches that adopted charismatic spirituality and an Episcopal structure. These bishops discussed the trend among pastors who are becoming bishops and discussed the irony of how many of these pastors have had unsuccessful ministries in the first place. Bishop Morton asked “How can these questionably appointed bishops lead other pastors?” Lexi exposed the startling lack of educational and ecclesial standards governing the ordination, appointment, and consecration of bishops. The panel of bishops discussed the standards to which Full Gospel Fellowship Baptist bishops are held. They seem to suggest that this should be standard in more ecclesial circles.
Needless to say, this video generated a good amount of comments on my friend’s Facebook page that day. For me, it also raised a host of questions that have since been on my mind. Lexi and many other influential figures have begun to take note of what has become a growing trend and significant development in African-American churches today. Martha Simmons, president and publisher of the African-American Pulpit, mentioned the rise in the use of titles as one of the 21 trends in the Black Church. It seems that more pastors value and want important titles like ‘bishop’ and ‘doctor.’
Bishops in black churches are not new. What is new and significant are the increasing number of church leaders who call themselves bishops and the congregational and organizational reconfigurations that this has brought about. For example, there are an increasing number of Baptist pastors who are forming fellowships among other Baptist Churches or connecting with nondenominational or Pentecostal churches and becoming bishops. This is a trend worthy of further exploration.
Much more to come on this issue, which is a good ‘jumping-off point’ to introduce the new blog of the Black Church Studies program at Louisville Seminary. This blog will offer reflections on various issues in African- American churches. I invite you to read and comment on this blog post and other blogs as they go up. For now, I invite you to watch the Illegitimate Bishops episode of the Lexi Show for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17vylp75FW0.
 Martha Simmons, “Trends in the African American Church,” African American Pulpit: Vol 10 No. 2 (Spring 2007), 15.