The forthcoming 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaica’s Independence from the UK is a good time for people of Jamaican descent to look to the future, and to start considering the type of church we want to carry us through the next 50 years.
It was the spiritual mothers and fathers who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s – predominantly from Jamaica – who founded Britain’s Black Pentecostal church movement. They overcame the hardships, struggle and discrimination they experienced, and started a spiritual movement which provided Black people with a place they could receive support, inspiration, nurturing and care during the highs and lows of life.
Although it doesn’t always get the credit, Britain’s Black Pentecostal church inspired the current generation of educated, Black professionals in the workplace, and the high achievers who absorbed the subliminal message of aspiration, ambition and education so often delivered by Black church leaders.
And, whilst everyone is currently praising the success experienced by African Pentecostal churches, who tend to have larger congregations than their Caribbean counterparts, we should remember that they are building on the foundations laid by Caribbean church leaders, who fought the fight against religious discrimination, classism and racism, so that life would be easier for Black Christians who followed after them.
If Caribbean churches are to continue building successfully on the great spiritual foundation they stand on, they will have to rise to the challenge of our changing times.
Black Christians want their churches, where the preaching is inspirational and aspirational, as well as spiritually and intellectually challenging. They want a church that is low on drama, and which provides a welcoming place for the disadvantaged in society, and one that can help them to develop their talent and fulfil their God-given purpose. They desire for their churches to provide the professional and emotional support for individuals suffering from addictions, or who need intense counselling or help to overcome past traumas. They also want churches to promote marriage, support families, reach men with the Gospel, and provide a safe and nurturing place for children and teenagers.
They want leaders who aren’t only eloquent and bold in the pulpit; they want leaders to be media savvy, who can give a good interview, and who understand how to utilise the power to communicate articulately in the media – whether via marketing, PR, social media or all three.
Lastly, they want leaders who can contend and defend the Christian faith intelligently and coherently and who, most importantly, are passionately, faithfully and truthfully in love with Jesus. It’s a tall order, but I believe Black church leaders can meet the challenge.
I pray they do.