“What do you do for Black History Month?”
A friend of mine with a heart for reconciliation and a desire to engage the young people at his church in Black History Month recently asked me, “What does your ministry do for Black History Month?” Coming from a multicultural church, where I have been doing ministry for over 17 years in a diverse community with the majority of the congregation being black, it seems like that should be an easy question to answer.
But I had to think for a minute…
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate and learn more about black culture and history in America. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, I don’t remember any focus given to Black History Month and the only thing I recall having to do with black history in school had to do with slavery leading into the civil war, the emancipation proclamation, and the civil rights movement. To be honest, I didn’t understand the need for a month to focus on black history.
It is amazing how encountering truth can change everything. As followers of Christ, we understand this from a spiritual perspective. God challenges our hearts through His spirit with something that we don’t know about Him, or about an area of life that we want to control ourselves. If we allow Him into that area and allow Him to teach us, we are forever changed. The other option is to ignore God and keep control ourselves, insisting that, “that” truth really doesn’t matter. We might not be telling God an outright “no”, but choosing to ignore the voice of the Lord is just the same.
Understanding the fact that the entire time there was white history in America, there was also black history in America was a truth that changed me.
Now for me, encountering the truth about black history in America was not a singular moment in time. It was a gradual journey that started in college and then accelerated as I went on staff as the youth pastor at a multicultural church where the senior pastor and over 55% of the congregation is black. As I learned more and more about black history I simultaneously learned how little black history is taught in our schools. An unbalanced majority of what is taught in public school is white history. Making every month white history month.
Much of my black history education was person-to-person, one-on-one.
As I built relationships, I would learn through those relationships important pieces of black history. The huge benefit to this was not only learning history but also seeing that history through the perspective of my black friends. This certainly is not the most efficient or thorough way to learn black history, but it is impactful. Seeing history through someone else’s eyes helps you understand their perspective, their triumphs, their pain, and frustration.
I not only learned about black history from my friends, but I also learned from events. Some of the events I attend with my black friends. My friends bringing me along with them gave me access to experiences and learnings I might not have had otherwise. A great example of this is being invited to officiate weddings. Through this experience, I came to learn about jumping the broom as well as getting mistaken for the limo driver on more than one occasion. Other events were movies. The movies could be based on true stories, documentaries that shed light on specific issues or going to a movie that was designed for a black audience.
Having a heart to see racial reconciliation lived out in our country has also led me to a number events focused around unity and reconciliation. I have had the privilege of learning in forums and workshops that teach reconciliation. To set a foundation for reconciliation it was important to also teach black history to help me and others in the audience gain the understanding of what has led us to the division we are trying to bridge today. Events like that are inspiring, shaping, and informative.
So what do we do for Black History Month that might be applicable for your youth ministry?
We use creative elements to acknowledge and celebrate the occasion, and sometimes have guest speakers from a variety of cultural backgrounds speak with a focus on racial reconciliation and unity during Black History Month. But every month our youth ministry and church’s desire is to celebrate and learn about all cultures every day, not just the 28 days in the shortest month of the year. We learn from and celebrate black history and culture through individual relationships. We reflect black culture through our styles of worship and preaching. We use videos, dance, and drama to teach about black culture, but we don’t stop there.
If we did only that, we would not be a multicultural church. We also seek to elevate every culture in the church. Seeking to humbly lay down our own cultural preferences and elevate other cultures brings us together and allows us to learn from and love each other’s culture. Elevating only the dominant culture’s values would further alienate the minority cultures in your church. Elevating only one minority culture would send a message of favoritism to the other minority cultures. The key is for all cultures to humbly lay down their preferences to elevate other cultures.
If we, “have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Shouldn’t Christ followers be able to set aside their cultural preferences to lift up the cultural preferences of others? By elevating each other’s culture, every culture is expressed and the beautiful bouquet that is the body of Christ shines through.
So how do you get there? How do you move your ministry to be more inclusive? Can you use Black History Month as a catalyst to help your ministry become a bridge-building ministry? I believe you can. Here are a few places to start.
Do something that builds relationships across cultures.
I am not talking about a one-time event or a trip, but what can you do to engage yourself and your students in an ongoing relationship with someone of another culture? Let black history month be your launching pad to start conversations that lead to a relationship. Plan every month like it’s Black History Month. This applies to all cultures. Find ways to humbly set aside your own cultural preferences so that your ministry can elevate other cultures.
Watch movies that teach about black history or other cultures that are not as well known to your group. Have follow-up discussions to help your students process what they are learning. Invite in guest speakers that bring a culturally diverse perspective to your teaching. Listen to music that is produced by another culture. Find ways to expand your group’s view of America. Don’t limit it to one month. Have it be an ongoing pursuit of your ministry. Help your group be students of the cultures around them. Teach on respecting other cultures and how to ask good questions, much like you would do for missions trip training. Apply the cross-cultural training continually to ministry with people not like you in your own community.
JARED SORBER is the Family Ministry Pastor at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, MD. He has served youth and families at Bridgeway for over 16 years. He enjoys developing young leaders and desires to helping other ministries reach all the cultures in their community. He loves being the father to two energetic boys and a husband to Amie. You can find Jared via Instagram and Twitter: @JAREDSORBER
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.