Editor’s note: This article was published in February 2021 in Lifeway’s HUB, an online communications resource for Lifeway employees. It expresses insights on three questions that address the impact Black culture has had in the history of the church and evangelicalism. We pray these insights will enhance your thinking and your ministries.
1. What about Black history is important to the church?
Black history is biblical history.
How do you identify Black influence in Scripture? It’s really not that difficult. If someone’s name means black or they are described as black, they are most probably black. If their parents were black, they were certainly black.
Remember the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8? He was the first recorded Gentile convert to Christianity. But also think of what else happened.
He went home to Ethiopia. Centuries later, when Europeans colonized Africa under the guise of converting Africans to Christianity, they could not invade Ethiopia. Why? The presence of Christianity was already strong there.
You can read much more in Cain Hope Felder’s, Stony the Road we Trod, or Dwight McKissic and Tony Evans’ books, Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible and Beyond Roots II: If Anybody Ask You Who I Am: A Deeper Look at Blacks in the Bible.
You can also get a lot of good information from Tony Evans’ new book, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and How We are Stronger Together. You can hear him share insights in this video from Part 5, “Influential Black People in the Bible.”
Black history is church history.
Several of the early church father were from Carthage and Alexandrea in Africa. Clement, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Cyprian, Tertullian, and Augustine are among them. Read about their lives and their influence on the growth and direction of the church, remembering that they were people of color.
The work did not end with the early church fathers. Blacks in the history of the church have impacted all of our lives. Read more in the article, “10 African American Church Leaders Who Shaped Christianity in America.”
To ignore or neglect the history of any part of the church is to live with only a partial history and an insufficient image of God, for we are all made in God’s image. The Bible declares, “From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26).
2. What influence has the Black church had in evangelicalism and on the church in America?
Black history is tied to the beginning of the SBC and its evangelism efforts.
Most of us know the Southern Baptist Convention was started over the issue of whether a slave owner could be appointed as a foreign missionary, but that is not the end of the black connection.
At the meeting where the SBC was organized, on May 1, 1845, through resolutions the newly formed Board of Domestic Missions, today’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), was given three tasks. One was to work with the Indian Mission Association. Another was to establish the Baptist cause in the city of New Orleans. The third was to take all prudent measures, for the religious instruction of our colored population.
At its inception there were about 100,000 Blacks in SBC, and nearly all were slaves. In 1848 two of eight SBC missionaries appointed were sent to work with Blacks.
By 1859 there were between 300,000 and 400,000 Blacks in the SBC, largely because the slaves were considered members of their master’s churches. Work among Blacks by Southern Baptists was strongly encouraged.
Recently the International Mission Board (IMB) made special acknowledgements of George Liele, a freed slave preacher, who was the first protestant missionary from America. His legacy includes the first African American church plant in North America, the Silver Bluff Baptist Church in Jackson, South Carolina, and at least one church plant in Jamaica. The church and Baptist work in Jamaica grew, and the Jamaican Baptist Convention pre-dates the Southern Baptist Convention.
This year the Southern Baptist Convention calendar added the first Sunday in February as George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism, and Missions Sunday, and the IMB has designated February as Diversity in Missions month.
The evangelistic goal of the church is to begin the creation of the heavenly kingdom here on earth. Matthew 6:10 lays out the challenge, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The completion of the goal is seen in Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.” This clearly cannot be accomplished without the inclusion of the Black church and its history.
3. What is Lifeway doing for the Black church?
At Lifeway we seek to serve all of Christ’s bride, the church. Among our ongoing materials is the YOU Bible study. It is our urban, multicultural Bible study. YOU seeks to be more culturally relevant and specific. Learn about it at the YOU podcast and blog.
Our Black Church Leadership and Family Conference is in its 28th year! Over 1,000 church leaders gather annually for this weeklong event at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Ashville, North Carolina.
This year it will be offered onsite and online. You can get a sample by watching our 2020 event online on Lifeway Digital Pass.
Lifeway’s Black Church Ministries reaches out to more than 13,000 Black churches that are Lifeway customers. We use the term Black because it includes African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Black Hispanics, Caribbeans, Liberians, Ghanaians, and all other nationalities of the African diaspora. Our ministry to this group of churches includes:
- Black Church Pastor’s Essentials conferences
- Black Church Sunday School Leaders Essentials conferences
- Black Pastors Gatherings for regular updates on culturally specific research, strategies, and Lifeway products
- Customized Big Results Conferences for local churches and groups of local churches. These events focus on Sunday School, discipleship, leadership and evangelism.
- Promotion of Lifeway products, events, and authors, especially those that are of particular interest to Black churches
- Social media outreach @BlackChurchLife on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and TicTok.
We are continually designing trustworthy experiences that fuel ministry. What a reason and a season to celebrate!
Mark Croston is General Editor for the YOU curriculum and National Director for Black Church Ministries at Lifeway Christian Resources.