African American church planters should not be pressured to plant black or multi-ethnic congregations, instead, they should plant churches based on calling not culture, says Christian blogger Jemar Tisby.
In a recent blog post for the Reformed African American Network, Tisby noted that although the Bible states the Gospel is to be preached to all nations, African American pastors should not be obliged to plant predominately black churches since not all are called to do so.
"If a black church planter is called to plant a congregation that is all or mostly white and he does so, then He is being obedient to God," wrote Tisby. "His conscience should be clear. If, however, this black church planter endeavors to plant an all or mostly black or multi-ethnic church without a clear internal and external sense of calling to such a work, then he risks shipwrecking his faith and his ministry."
According to a 2013 LifeWay Research study, the ethnic make-up of the community where most African-American churches were planted were 42 percent African-American, 35 percent White, and 13 percent Hispanic while the rest were African or Caribbean and Asian.
The study also found that while 68 percent of churches focused on reaching African Americans, over 80 percent of church planters said they also intentionally sought to reach a cross-cultural or multiethnic audience.
Tisby notes that the common assumption for a black church planter is that he will plant an African American or multi-ethnic church which he says is understandable, because it is easier for a racial or ethnic minority to attract similar individuals.
However, he says planters should not be swayed by the expectations of society.
"What if a man and his wife feel called to lower-income whites in the Appalachian region? What if he seeks to plant churches among the predominantly Buddhist peoples of Bhutan? What if he wants to plant in his hometown where the majority is white or Hispanic?," wrote Tisby.
Tisby, who admits he is hesitant to plant a church because of cultural pressures since he is African American, is not against planting all black congregations as he notes that there should be more churches that serve "diverse and historically under-represented people."
Pastor Derwin L. Gray, former NFL player who leads Transformation Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church in South Carolina believes every church planter, despite their ethnicity, "should be compelled by the Gospel and the glory of God to follow the Apostle Paul's example."
"The Apostle Paul did not go into a 1st Century, Greco-Roman city and plant a church for the Jews and then a church for gentiles – Arabs, Asian, Greeks, Romans – because it would have been out of step with the Gospel he loved, lived, and proclaimed," Gray told The Christian Post.
He added, "At the heart of the Gospel is reconciliation: God to man and man to man. The Gospel creates a whole new ethnicity group called the church and this church is clothed in Christ. If the 21st Century American Church is to be relevant and speak with a prophetic, apostolic voice, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it must be multi-ethnic going forward."
Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church, a megachurch in Maryland comprised of 25 nationalities, says he knows firsthand how it is to plant a church in a predominately white community with a 10 percent black membership as he did during the 1980s in Corning, New York.
"Many observers in the community called us a black church because I, the senior leader, was black," Jackson told The Christian Post. "Some of our members were disinherited by their families, because concerned relatives assumed that we were a 'Jim Jones' like cult."
He says once his church surpassed the 200 member mark, the community began to take notice in a positive way. Now, he says his focus had shifted from engaging diversity to reaching multi-generations.
"My recommendation to emerging church planters is that they plant churches consistent with their personal history and backgrounds," Jackson told CP. "Although there is need for multiracial congregations in most major cities in America, it is difficult to plant a multiracial church unless the leadership team is truly steeped in the predominant culture it is trying to serve … therefore, church planters must "keep it real" when seeking to break class, color, and culture barriers …"
Despite Gray and Jackson's differing opinions, Tisby notes that church planting is a difficult enough venture by itself regardless of the racial makeup the planter is hoping to reach.
" … God will build his church. If we each just obey the calling He has for us to the people He has placed around us, we will see the diversity for which we long," wrote Tisby.