Things I miss about the Black pentecostal church

 

As I have been out of my cultural element in church for the last months, I have become very aware of some things that I really miss – things that are both cultural and religious.  Some of them are things which are often held back in the context of “multi-ethnic” communities because they make people uncomfortable; others are quirks of my Pentecostal background. 

Sister & Brother: Growing up, and even now, any adult person in the congregation was always referred to by their last name preceded by a title – usually sister or brother, but sometimes something else, depending on their position.  Even within families, this is true.  For example, at church I never referred to my father except as Elder or Pastor or Bishop.  I had cousins who, outside of church, might be called casually by their first name, but in church became Deacon X or Missionary Y.  I miss that.  It is a practice that is falling out of favor in some Black churches, but it is rooted deep in our culture – to show honor and respect to those who have earned it, and also to acknowledge the inherent dignity and worth of people whose personhood was often assailed during the working week. 

Testimony Service: It doesn’t happen much anymore, but in years past, almost every Sunday service (or Sunday evening service) saw testimony service, which was the congregants chance to sing their own song or tell about some particular thing God had done for them that week, or even ask a prayer request.  Oh of course many of the testimonies bordered on gossip, (pray for my daughter that she wouldn’t be so rebellious…) but there is something very ennobling and participatory about any person, no matter their status or position, being able to participate in the service in that way.  Testimony service was often the most “explosive” part of the service, because a really good testimony could set off… 

Shouting: And by shouting I mean running down the aisles, dancing with abandon, jumping up and down, and of course actually shouting.  It is a spontaneous joyful response to God in worship; and expression of being touched by the Spirit.  You could run, jump, yell, fall out on the floor and it was contagious.  If one rejoiced, others would join in – jumping feet first into the flow of the Spirit and allow themselves to be carried away.  Everyone who shouted had their own preferred style and as kids one of our biggest games was to play church so we could playfully mock Sister So and So – complete with falling out and pretending to speak in tongues (cometiemybowtie… shecomeinahonda) 

Let the church say amen: I miss the “Amens” and “Say that” and “You preaching now, doc,” that accompany almost every good sermon.  The single hand lifted by a church mother signifying her agreement with the sermon, the brother standing up in the middle of the sermon pointing at the preacher, the loud cries of “yeah!” echoing through the sanctuary make the sermon so much more than just … 

Preaching: Now don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy my pastor’s sermons.  They are thoughtful, articulate, theologically sound and generally edifying.  BUT… there is just nothing quite like good old school Black Pentecostal preaching. If you aren’t familiar with it, check out TD Jakes for a sample (although he’s toned down a bit for the TV audience) or even Rod Parsley – who is white, but preaches like a Black Pentecostal.  I miss the kind of preaching that causes you, despite yourself, to want to stand up and holler because it is just so potent and connects at such an emotional and spiritual level. Sometimes the content wouldn’t be that great, but you would leave church encouraged and inspired to “go on a little further in the Lord.” 

Music: I didn’t want to say this one, because people always say this about the Black church, and it gets a little annoying.  But I do miss the music – the improvisational interpretation of songs, the culture of music, the mentoring of young musicians, many of whom have never and will never learn to read music or be trained professionally. 

All in all, I think I miss the very participatory nature of my Black Pentecostal roots.  Church and worship are places where everyone was given dignity, anyone could participate, all were welcome to contribute.  It hardly mattered if you could sing well – you could still sing in the choir.  Even if you were one of the saints who struggled to live right, you could share during the testimony service.  You didn’t have to be a musician to pick up the tambourine and play.  You didn’t have to be on the dance team or go to practice in order to “shout.”  The success of a sermon was not just in the preachers hands, but he could (and did) “wish somebody would help me preach this.”  Sigh… these are some of the things I miss.

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21 thoughts on “Things I miss about the Black pentecostal church

  1. I love this post. Really beautiful. When I was in middle school down in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and the only non-black male in Chorus, which was often called “choir”, we sang a lot of spirituals and gospel where I got to experience this type of worship for the first time. As an Asian, I felt welcome as a minority, someone who understood “struggle”, and although there were times where I had no idea what was going to happen next, I felt like I had brothers and sisters all around me. I wish I could feel that again, but it seems that after school, it seems more difficult to step into those types of relationships in an intimate, “he’s good, he’s with me” kind of way.

    I don’t want to be “a visitor”…I want to be a friend. But that’s more a problem with our highly mobile, individualistic, consumer-minded culture than it is about ethnicity alone.

  2. whew, I like this too 🙂 There is certainly freedom in the pentecostal church that I wish the fellowships I’m part of had. IV may be multicultural, but it sure is dry when it comes to praisin Jesus. Thanks!

  3. Brother, my name is Blake and I’m a member of Pastor Eugene Cho’s church (Quest) in Seattle. I stumbled upon your blog through a link from Pastor Eugene’s website and I have to tell you that I love what you are writing. I’ve read a few of your other posts and have been impacted by your ponderings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Keep it up and may God’s peace go with you today. Blessings to you.

  4. would it be different if the question was the five most well known? i still remember a sermon that calvin butts jr. from abyssinian baptist church preached at princeton seminary about 14 years ago. it was crazy.

  5. well known? hmmm…. I don’t known but here are some that are fairly prominent, although not all well known within the larger evangelical community: TD Jakes, Tony Evans, Jesse Jackson(though not for being a preacher so maybe he doesn’t count; Al Sharpton fits in the same camp), Eddie Long – pastor of New Birth megachurch in ATL, Bishop G.E. Patterson – presiding Bishop of COGIC, Creflo Dollar – prosperity preacher; megachurch pastor from ATL…

    I am sure there are many more, but these are one that I’m familiar with (somewhat) and people that random Black church people would probably know and recognize.

  6. Thinking a lot about testifying these days… And being out of my element for far too long. It seems to me that many majority churches are craving the connection that sharing testimony provided in black church communities. These churches are beginning to incorporate testimony as a way of building community while at the same time, black Pentecostal churches are leaving the tradition behind. Would love feedback on this.

  7. I miss those things about my old church too simply because they were fun and full of excitement. I liked the testimony service too, but to a certain extent. As for “shouting” it was fun expecially when certain “triger words” were said or when the music warrented it. What I don’t like about “shouting” is that it gives some a false sense of spirituality, duping them to believe that they are in fellowship with the Lord when in fact they were not or may have not been. Also, I don’t like the impression that “shouting” gives off to some. In most of our churches it is done to show how spiritual someone is or as a way that God is supernaturally “working” something out in their lives. What gets me and I had to addmit this to myself is, why does the shout always have to be predicated on music (although sometimes it is not, but when one does, music will follow and everything all of a sudden gets intense). And why do we do it as if we are in a trance or as if the “spirit” takes us over and makes us do these things when scripture teaches us that it does not. I don’t know about anyone else, but my eyes has been opened through God’s Word about some of our practices and what we do in the name of “worship”. Also music is very manipulating, not that it is bad, we are admonished in the Psalms to use instruments and to make melody in our hearts, but music speaks to the emotions, so that with that and all of the “hype” it can make us believe that it is the Spirit of God. But for all of those who dance, shout and praise God with no fleshly motives, the Biblical way and in truth (the truth of God’s Word and knowing who He is because He is daily tranforming us into His image and we are in constant fellowship with Him and always in His presence), to God be the glory!

  8. This was a good post. Now we are seeing a shift in the church as a whole moving to uniformity, particulary in the African-American community. I have attended various denominations and I could not tell a difference. Whether it were A.M.E, COGIC, or Baptist. Which is a good thing because all that has to be done away with. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Not all old things have to be done a away with. As our revelation Jesus evolves so must our methods not our theology.

  9. Feelings expressed are genuine and germane for our generation.The church seem to be moving towards a mega culture of big business,prefering the extra-ordinary above having vital relationship with God.
    Its important to reming ourselves what really matters

  10. A non-religious person, I started attending a Black Pentecostal church in 1960 and went steadily for about 3 years, met my wife there, and we return periodically, these days for funerals. Being a working-class White kid, I had never experienced anything like it. I’ve discussed it on my blog and anyone wanting to talk about it can contact me at pbarrett@cox.net. But the “shouting” part with music clearly is an African trait wedded to a Western Christian tradition. The African tradition lives in the Black church and I would hate to see that go. Small town White worship services offer something to some people, the Holiness to others (lots of Whites practice it as well). It has a strong pull. One lady I had worked with for years found out I had ties to a Black church and she waxed ecstatic over her experience of joining a Black evangelical church. It does possess something special.

  11. I grew up in the Catholic church, went to catholic schools for 12 years and the whole shaabang. In June of 2008 I was led by the Holy Spirit to Grace New Covenant Apostolic Church in Columbus, Ohio. I now enjoy “freedom” in worshipping God. We never had that in the Catholic church.

  12. I am so happy to come across this blog. I just wrote a book titled, “The Black Pentecostal Church: My View from the Pew” published Westbow Press, and all the issues highlighted in this blog is covered and then some. I tell of growing up in the Pentecostal Church from the 1960s to present day. Not ridiculing the church, just talked about how things have changed and how worship, testimony, music, even preaching have changed (some for the better or some for worse). So many people miss the old church services and express their concerns to me.

  13. Since 1960, I have tracked the Pentecostal church my wife was raised in and we have seen many changes and look forward to reading your book. The biggest change: income, the result of socio-economic legislation in the 60s and church membership – as a non-believer, I have to admit that kids who are raised in church do better overall. I am surprised when we go back that so much of the old-timey music is still there and the shouting goes on. I was the only White at church back in the sixties and I still am – a testament to how segregated the society still is.

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