Recently, I gave my testimony as a part of my new church’s membership process. It is a Reformed Baptist Church. The congregation is really diverse, having almost every country represented. I am one of perhaps a handful of blacks.
I closed my testimony by sharing with the congregation, that being there has been a total counter-cultural experience for me, but the very reason that I wanted to become a member and grow together with them.
The counter-cultural experience is not just because I’m black; although, that is a part. That most are white is very different from my church going experience because I have always, always attended Baptist churches where the congregants were black.
But as I reflect on my life, even as a child, I have always had white playmates, friends, from my early years through my teen years. We would play until dark after school and all day long during the summers. I knew some of the parents and they knew me and my parents. So, my only segregated life has always just been my church, besides elementary school.
Perhaps it might be helpful to define cultural. Merriam-Webster defines cultural – of or relating to a particular group of people and their habits, beliefs, traditions, etc. Google’s is like it – of or relating to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society. I am no anthropology student, merely an observer of what has been my own personal experience.
So what’s different? At my new church, we sing hymns, most which I’ve never heard. Most are either about the Sovereignty of God, or the depravity of man and our absolute need for him. The whole congregation sings. The congregation sings the songs just as is written. A lot were written in the 16th and earlier centuries. There have been times, I would get excited because I see the title of a scheduled song that I know; but sometimes even those songs are different.
I do love that the whole congregation sings, young and old. Sometimes I see couples sing and the husband will place his arm around his wife. How beautiful to worship together. So, I love it! I understand the importance of singing together, because as a former Minister of Music, getting the congregation to join in singing sometimes was difficult. But perhaps there are reasons for that, which we won’t get into here. It’s been covered a lot. Check out blogger Ed Stetzer’s: A Letter to My Worship Leaders.
I went to church where there were choirs, praise teams, praise dancers and the services were lively. There were shoutings of Amen, waving of the hand in agreement to what was being sung or preached, the raising of hands praising God, sometimes dancing in the aisles and lots of tears. We passionately worshiped our God with reckless abandon, much like David upon getting the ark back to return to the city of David.
In the black church, our music, black gospel music is sometimes loud and moving, but sometimes somber, reflective. We usually have full bands, with a minimum of piano, organ, bass guitar and drums. Musicians are paid staff. We aim to produce the sound closest to the recording. We take seriously Psalm 33:3b “….play skillfully with a loud noise”. Many of the songs we sing testify to what God has done for us, how he’s brought us through trials, or simply thanks and praise to him, much as described all through the Psalms and Exodus. Our songs have strong melodies and beautiful harmonies. Sometimes there are lead singers who sing the message of the song and the choir will sing the chorus. The choir sings following a conductor/director who directs as he or she is led by the Spirit. The gospel music, the uninhibited praise that flows through the congregation is what made it hard for me to leave.
At my new church there is currently a piano, acoustic guitar, and sometimes a violin, and the musicians volunteer their services. There is no choir. There is no worship team.
Large portions of scriptures in the Old and New Testament are read every service, while at the black church, we may read no more than six verses during the Scripture Reading portion of the service, and a lot of times, less.
Prayers are different at my new church. God is Sovereign, Holy, revered. Prayers begin in recognition of who God is. Prayers may be filled with scripture references. The prayers are deliberate, specific and expansive going around the world to missions supported by the church. At the black church, prayers are filled with emotion as we cry out to God for mercy, guidance, for healing, strength.
The sermons at my new church are mostly expository versus topical, and distinctly God-centered versus man-centered. The preacher provides the scripture text, then will usually read scriptures immediately preceding the selected text to provide context, and expound and exhort from the text. The sermons are longer, usually about 50-65 minutes long. But after the sermon, there is a short prayer that the Word will accomplish what God purposes. There is no invitation or call to the altar. The service ends after the sermon, with a quiet period of reflection on the Word, while music is silently playing. Afterwards, members turn to each other and just talk, discussing what was heard, openly admitting their sin, connecting. This connecting can go on for a while. I do love this about my new church.
At my new church, it’s not unusual for people around my age to have had more than four children, some up to ten to eleven children, and a lot of them attend with their parents. There are also a lots of young couples with babies. Now I know it wasn’t preached from the pulpit, but the culture from which I’ve come two children were enough. It appeared frowned upon to have more. Although I have since repented and sincerely regretted it, I was one who decided two were enough. I wonder if I had come up in a church like this whether I would have had more children.
There are other peripheral things that makes my new church a counter-cultural experience, but most impactful to me is knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Before I attended my new church, I checked out their website; this, after having gone on about two years of deep study in the Word. I saw that this church had a detailed church constitution, used the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith to codify what it believes. I so needed that. I was already familiar with the Confession of Faith and believed in the Doctrine of Election, God’s Sovereignty. At my old church, I wasn’t certain whether our church supported the articles in the Confession, I just knew that we believed the Bible.
So my new church being counter-cultural to me, is not just because I’m black. It is the viewing God as Sovereign. It is hearing his sovereignty confirmed through all the teachings and preaching. It is the praying, the singing, the sermons. It is the appreciation of church history. It is the confidence in knowing exactly what we believe the Bible teaches. It is having what we believe drive how we worship, fellowship, love.
And while I still love gospel music and the uninhibited praise found in the black church, I like being a part of what it will look like in heaven.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9 ESV
17 thoughts on “It’s Not Just Black and White”
Thanks for sharing this, Barbara. It’s always good to see where people are.
Thanks for reading, Carol! I wanted to give a fuller picture to my interview during our discipleship class on diversity.
Thanks for reading my post, Carol! I shared to give as an extension of my interview from the Discipleship class on diversity this morning.
Barbara, I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up on your blogs. You have posted A LOT to read! I appreciate your style and contents! One of the reasons I came back was that I have been toying with the idea of blogging myself. Almost immediately, I had my answer. Because I should be seeking to simplify my life, I now know that blogging would in no way simplify my life. I am not in a place for what I would consider, “obligation.” But, I thank you so much for your sharing and I will definitely plan to return, periodically, to read what you’re saying. Love & blessings…
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At first I was going to say, there is no “obligation”, but it depends on how you set your pace. I aim to do one blog a week, but blogging also requires that I read other blogs I follow, and be inspired on what to write. That sometimes become the hard part and really am praying that God gives me something. He always does. But certainly doable. You can aim to do one a month. Some posts almost daily. I cannot do that. Anyway, tonight you’ve sent me up tonight in stats. So thanks! I love doing this and every now and then I read comments that makes me glad that I am doing this. Love and blessings to you and your family too!
Hi, Barbara. Thanks for visiting my blog. We do have a common thread because being black I have had a mixture of friends, black and white. I do find that I am sometimes more comfortable in a white culture because being smart is not so intimidating to others. Not being egotistical because feeling alone in a crowd of your own is not the best feeling. But the most important thing is that I have come to accept myself for who I am. My friends are black, white and colors in between. I have been one of two or three blacks in a couple of white churches. What matters is the God we serve. You write well and I look forward to reading more from you.
Thanks San. I really appreciate your feedback. I am glad I found your blog because we do have a common thread, and you’ve been doing it longer. So you are another one from whom I can learn.
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Barbara, you are an excellent writer! You expressed so many things that I am thinking too, because this church was a different cultural experience for me as well, in many of the same ways that you mentioned. It is really the Church of my dreams though because I feel like I have a little piece of heaven here on earth. it really feels like a 1st century church to me. And,
you are a woman I am glad I have an eternity to get to know. I love you Barbara!
PS I do not know where my other comment went or how I ended up leaving your blog and going somewhere else reading a blog on horizontal worship
Thanks for visiting my blog, Christine! Yes, I am pretty happy too that God landed me here. It does sort of feel like a 1st Century church. We are really blessed! Perhaps you commented on the link I referred to within the article called Letter to My Worship Leaders.
Barbara, I can totally relate to the cultural adjustment that takes place when leaving a predominantly African American church to join a diverse congregation. I recently unloaded my thoughts and perspectives in an interview with someone I know who is in seminary. While my current church does boast a choir and praise team, I have found from my own experience and others that it is not as simple as flipping a switch to adjust one’s musical preferences–especially as a music minister. The truth is, though, that if a song bears witness to the truth about Jesus, and brings glory to God, it is worthy of being sung.
Thank you for your thoughts.
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Believe me, after visiting my new church the first time, though I thoroughly was fed by the Word, it was what I needed, I shared with my husband that I didn’t think that I needed to divorce myself from black gospel music, I wanted both the whole counsel of God’s Word and my preferred music. But, through the providence of God, my need and hunger for him and his Word, superseded my need for my music preference. So, yes the music is different, but points to glorying God. Thanks so much for your feedback!
Thanks for this post…it is so good to hear your perspective on things. This was interesting to read because you looked at both your old church and your new one, both black and white. I think you were not only fair but balanced in your writing. =)
Thanks so much. I am so glad that you saw that. It was hard to leave, but I was hungry as described in my first post. I really appreciate your feedback.
You’re welcome. =)
Hi! I liked your blog mainly because I also love God so much. It was inspiring. Since your blog was argumentative between your old church and the new, where you are right now, I think it’s just normal and human nature to have little insecurities between you and your new community. The best way is to adjust. You’ll get used to it in the near future.
Love lots, more power and God bless 🙂
Thanks so much. Yes, I really do see this as God pulling me out of my comfort zone to grow me.
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