We are living in unpredictable times and the climate of the times is changing on every level of human endeavor. Even when we come to the church serious changes are in vogue. To talk about change in the body of Christ is to be concerned about the Christian pulpit from whence comes weekly proclamation. The Christian preacher is spiritually deputized with the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ remaining true to the biblical text while simultaneously making the Word applicable to the human predicament. This mandate necessitates not only a fidelity to the faith, but, also, a loyalty and commitment to one’s call to preach.
A cursory glance at current religious programming is alarming to me because what I am hearing from Christian pulpits is proclamation that is seriously lacking in prayer and preparation. Preaching ought never be trite and trivial. It is no wonder that in so many instances our pews are not full. There is a hunger and thirst for the Gospel, but, so often in the words of the Apostle Paul there is “an uncertain sound.” Why the uncertainty? With specific regard to the African-American pulpit there appears to be a deliberate disconnect with our historic prophetic tradition. As one young preacher observed recently in my hearing – “There needs to be a resuscitation of the prophetic.” Regardless of the changes in the culture the black pulpit must never dismiss itself from its prophetic past and its determination to address the ills that continue to plague our people. Preaching is not about self – aggrandizement nor is the pulpit a place for entertainment and cheap histrionics.
While we must consider creative ways to reach this millennial generation this must never be done at the expense of prostituting the scriptures and the sacred tenets of our faith. When I speak of what is the future of African-American preaching, I am not speaking of what will occur in the next ten-twenty years. I am speaking of the here and now! There must be a serious evaluation of the content of black preaching and an assessment must be made as to its strengths and weaknesses.
The Apostle Paul when addressing the issue of tongues in his first epistle to the Corinthians makes the bold claim – “. . . if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will be ready for the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8) Our issue may not be tongues, but we must realize that there must be certainty in what we proclaim. Serious questions need to be addressed –
1. Why are we slack in preaching when it comes to the doctrines of the faith?
2. Why are we apprehensive when it comes to addressing political and economical issues that impact our people?
3. Why is there a lack of consistent depth in weekly proclamations?
4. Why are our people woefully ignorant of the tenets of our faith while others such as Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons are passionate about theirs?
5. Why doesn’t our preaching have a greater impact on the gun violence that is taking the lives of our black youth, particularly, African-American men?
These are critical questions that must be addressed. Every age and generation has had to deal with the relevance of preaching. This is particularly true of the African-American Church. This is a critical time in the life of this republic and, particularly so, when it comes to the African-American Church. May we not be guilty of “uncertain sounds” as we stand behind the sacred desk of Him who yet proclaims – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” (St. John 14:6)
Dr. Charles E. Booth