Sincere and Sincerely Misguided Offers
When I enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program at a conservative evangelical seminary, I had no other aspirations than to earn a degree and obtain a ministry position suited to my skills and experience. I thought I would have three or four years once I started school to decide on a ministry placement. But from the moment I arrived on campus, I was assaulted with opportunities.
Numerous individuals and organizations have approached me, offering me church planting and pastoring opportunities all around the country. Well-meaning folks, many of whom are White ministers, are eager to get a biblically faithful, Black, Christian man into leadership and help them become more multi-ethnic and multicultural.
But these sincere offers are sincerely misguided. Most people present me with leadership positions having only just met me. They have no idea about my biblical qualifications, skills, or reputation. They simply see a Black guy with good theology, not a sinner whose call needs to be confirmed. As a result, the landscape is littered with the crushed hopes of churches and ministers who sent their men out too early.
I know churches are excited about any prospective leader, especially if he happens to be Black. But before you launch a promising young, Christian, African American man into ministry too soon, a few words of caution.
DOCUMENTARY ON BLACK PREACHERS BY HISTORYCHANNEL.COM
Beware of Puffing Up
When churches find an African American man with leadership potential, they are understandably enthusiastic. While there are more of these men than we think, there are fewer than we need. But eagerness on the part of church leaders often tempts the young minister to arrogance.
The Bible warns us against puffing up a young minister’s pride. In explaining the qualifications for overseers, Paul says, “He [the overseer] must not be a recent convert or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6, ESV). The Bible teaches us that a man who is new to the faith must not be given a leadership role in the church too soon. Rather, a man must be tested to ensure that his faith is genuine and his spirituality is mature. Apart from an extended period of discernment, a young man or recent convert is in danger of believing in his own skills and promise instead of desperately clinging to his Savior.
Leaders and laymen alike must measure their comments. Do they affirm a man based on exceptional character or excellent aptitude or because of his color or cultural background? Are they giving him opportunities based on demonstrated diligence or his potential to “reach” a certain demographic?
Connect Young Adult African American Christians to Seasoned African American Christians
Even though God uses men of all races and ethnicities to disciple each other, young, Black, Christian men who are preparing for the pastorate or some other leadership role would uniquely benefit from connecting with others in similar situations. These future leaders should get connected with other Black Christian men who have been or are currently in the same position.
I have personally benefited from the wise counsel of my pastor, who is also African American and has been ministering for nearly 20 years. I also have several other “gray-heads” from around the country that I frequently call on for advice. These men are able to help me keep a humble perspective as I am inundated with offers for ministry. They have helped me maneuver away from positions that would have exploited me for my racial and cultural background, and have guided me into areas that will ensure my long-term stability in the ministry.
Such connections can facilitate accountability so young, Christian men may be empowered to resist the enticement to overconfidence and the threat of isolation. Current church leaders must do all they can—from paying for trips to conferences to allowing time for regular phone calls with a mentee—to encourage these relationships.
Own Your Own Preparation
Not all of the responsibility for sending a man to start in the ministry falls on the current leadership. The upcoming generation of African American Christian leaders should own their own development.
Young men usually have no lack of ambition. We’ll jump at the slightest slice of opportunity. Thinking we have more wisdom than we actually possess often gets us into situations that prove harmful to ourselves and others.
But a young man must take ownership of his own preparation. He should know himself well enough—in light of Scripture—to determine his own spiritual readiness for ministry. Of course, these are conversations that must be had in conjunction with other experienced ministers, but no one else has the potential to know a man as well as he knows himself.
If the elders around him are pushing a young, Black Christian to start a ministry too soon, then he should respectfully yet confidently inform them of their error. It takes two to make a thing go right—or wrong.
God Has a Timeline
Underneath the push to send out young African Americans too soon is a fundamental distrust of God’s sovereignty. Although a church committee would never admit this, what often motivates them is a lack of faith. They sense the pressing call to make disciples of all nations but they don’t trust God to do it. Instead, they try to wrest control of kingdom-building from God and do it themselves. The result is scores of Black Christian ministers who succumb to depression, addiction, and burnout.
Jesus tells us, however, “I will build my church” (from Matthew 16:18, ESV). The work of expanding the church and preparing ministers in the church belongs to Christ. He is the one who shapes a man’s heart and calls him into the field. But Jesus gives humankind a part to play as well. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (from Luke 10:2, ESV). We are to pray that God would send us the men with the gifts, skills, and calling for ministry. This is not to say that we shouldn’t actively prepare men for God’s work. Christian leaders must entrust the Gospel to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (from 2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
But the Good News is that in the fullness of time “God sent His son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons” (from Galatians 4:4–5, ESV). The incarnation of Jesus Christ testifies that God is thoroughly involved in the process of preparing leaders.
If God had perfect timing in sending His Son as a ransom for many, then He will also have perfect timing in training and sending laborers into His harvest. Faith in the Gospel allows us to realize the need for more young, African American, Christian ministers, yet rest in God’s timing for sending them out.