The Arts

Black: The Evangelical Soup Du Jour?

Steve Patton

Over the past few years, there’s been an undercurrent of frustration among minority leadership in evangelical circles. This has occurred especially among those in the reformed theological tradition. It has often seemed that every conference, leadership panel, or blog entry seems to feature maybe one Black, Asian or Hispanic voice and even that one voice has an odd stench of “token” to it. Not that the lone minority is was trying to be something that they’re not. In fact, they are quite genuine in their approach. But the minority voice seems to be chosen by the organizers to be the “token” to appease the pleas of diversity from the masses. It almost feels like when your mom tried to do the Cabbage Patch dance to prove she was hip: “We love you and thanks for trying but you obviously don’t get it.”

The frustration hit critical levels a few years ago in the wake of the “Elephant Room 2” web conference. Finally, a minority voice is asked to speak on issues in the church on a global platform from the place of expertise and not as a matter of ecclesiological voyeurism! Wait…no…you picked…T.D. Jakes? To see if he affirms the Trinity and rejects the prosperity message? For real?

Then, similar to the way it was expressed in the Civil Rights struggle, we saw two ways the frustrations were being expressed by minority leaders: either they felt like they should fight to be seen as equals among white leadership or they felt like that they “shouldn’t beg for a seat at the white man’s table” and would create a space for their own voices.

The jury is still out on what the impact of these two schools of thought will have on the church and multicultural ministry relationships in America, but one thing has definitely emerged: majority (read: White) leadership is speaking up about minority leadership.

What do you mean by “urban?”

“Urban context” is the new buzz phrase in evangelical leadership circles, and nine times out of ten when they say “urban” they mean “black/minority.” Just search any of the hot church leadership blogs and you’ll find tons of content about the urban context. Conference lineups that used to be filled with bright white suburban faces are now being filled by black rap artists and the next up and coming black pastor. (Oddly enough, Asians and Hispanics are usually left out of this equation but we’ll explore that another day).

[Tweet “Nine times out of ten when they say “urban” they mean “black/minority.””]

Is it real or just today’s soup du jour?

Is this resurgence (no pun intended) of attention to the “urban context” (read: “black”) a real point of focus for evangelical leadership today or is black just the soup du jour? Not too long ago you were hard pressed to find a conference, website or a small conclave of pastors in a coffee shop that weren’t talking about one of the soup du jour topics of its time. Maybe it was leadership. Or maybe it was worship. Once upon a time creativity was all the rage in these circles. Is black the new “creative?” Time will tell, and I sincerely hope its not. But I believe that there are some things that could be done to allow urban ministry leadership voices to be seen as equals and not just todays catch of the day.

[Tweet “Is this attention to the “urban context” a real point of focus or is black just the soup du jour?”]

3 Ways To Show its Real

1. Real relationships. In order for there to be a sustained voice for urban leaders across the evangelical spectrum, real relationships have to happen. Putting a black face on your conference flyer won’t go far unless you start to put black bodies at your dinner table.

[Tweet “Having Blacks speak at your conf. won’t go far unless you start to put blacks at your dinner table.”]

2. Real Content. If you only invite the urban leader to discuss urban learnings then you don’t see him as an equal. At best, you see him as an expert in a field you have no expertise so you invite him to talk about that space but that’s it. Until we see leaders asked to talk about their learnings in general to a general audience, they’ll always be marginalized as the “urban guys.” Could it be possible that these leaders can speak to a general, mostly Caucasian audience and speak about leadership, not as an urban leader but just as a leader? Not as an urban worshipper, but just a worshipper?

[Tweet “If you only invite the urban leader to discuss urban learnings then you don’t see him as an equal.”]

3. Urban ministry, not urban missions. Stop looking at the urban area – conveniently located 14.3 miles away – as a type of foreign missions that you support, survey and send people to on trips. As Matt Chandler once said to me in an interview, “Stop sending little white kids to the hood to paint fences!” These areas may be filled with housing projects, but the people aren’t your personal pet ministry projects – they’re people. People right down the street who share the same hopes, fears and more that you share. See the pastor serving people near the housing project the same way you see the pastor serving people near the new suburban housing development.

[Tweet “”Stop sending little white kids to the hood to paint fences!” – @MattChandler74″]

Personally, I agree with a statement by Dhati Lewis, a pastor of Blueprint Church & member of Rebuild Network when he defines urban as “dense and diverse.” Urban in America is rapidly changing with more companies moving to the city thus making housing a more viable option in the city for the common suburban dweller. But all too often in evangelical circles, “urban” has been simply defined as “minority/black” or even more so as “hood.” Whatever the definition of the word we use, I hope the efforts to both affirm urban leaders and reach the “urban context” are long lasting and far-reaching. May it not just be the new evangelical soup du jour.

3 thoughts on “Black: The Evangelical Soup Du Jour?

  1. Victoria Douglass

    I wonder about this too. I feel as though the effort is sincere. I am a member of an urban, majority white church in the Pacific NW and I have noticed that my black friends (and Hispanic and Asian) are being added on to the staff with some frequency. And they have made it known to me that these conversations, relationships and ministry focus are here to stay. Honestly, I think (at least in our church) a lot of this has to do with John Piper’s influence but whether I am right or wrong in my assumption, I’m glad they are paying attention. Good article.

  2. Steven Patton

    Thanks for your comment David. Even more importantly, thanks for your labor in the Lord. I agree though, there are some elements to this focus on urban ministry I am excited about. I just hope its not someone picking today’s soup for you 🙂

  3. revdavemapes

    Brother Steve,
    Who the heck wants someone else to pick their soup for
    them? It is a rare thing for me to eat at the diner, and even rarer for me to
    even like what somebody else picked for me to call ‘my soup’ that day. I guess
    you might even say that I may even be stubborn enough to not pick it
    specifically because someone else is saying it’s what I should have. ‘It’s

    Thank you for the great article that I believe many who
    may be guilty of what it targets, may not even be alert enough to be aware of.
    Often going with the crowd means doing what ‘they’, (the others), do
    without really knowing anything beyond, ‘it’s a good idea’, but not know the
    slightest reason why. In situations like that, they will certainly only have it
    like your soup illustration. The problem is when the soup gets cold and the
    flavor is old, they will be going for the next offering; as also indicated in
    your article.

    I’ve been in ‘urban’, ‘inner city’, ‘hood’, (terms that I
    don’t normally use, but present here because of the topic), ministry since I
    became a Christian, a Christian worker, and pastor; and I couldn’t even rightly
    assess what I’ve done with respect to the ‘soup’ idea. For me, It’s never been
    about ‘who’ as much as it has be about ‘because of Whom’ we labor where, how
    and who for; in our ‘context. Working in a residential discipleship house for
    men 18 and above with life controlling issues is not a ‘who, what, where, when’
    kind of ministry. About the only thing I get afraid of in a demographic
    sense is, ‘we have too many open beds’. (We are not funded by any state or
    gov’t money or by head count, so that is never the issue.) We want as many as
    can possibly at the same time, fill the house and fill the desks in the classes
    and chapels so that they can hear the life giving message of Truth of God in
    Jesus Christ.

    We are doctrinally reformed, but my boss read the Cross
    and the Switchblade in the 60’s and spent time at L’Abri with Schaeffer. I was
    part of the Times Square Church founded by the author of the Cross and the
    Switchblade & Teen Challenge founder, David Wilkerson, (who’s teachings
    were sometimes ‘un’prophetic). Our ministry here has brought many different,
    (as you can guess) types of folks to the program, (which was just recently
    presented in World Magazine), of many different backgrounds, but at the bottom
    the very same need; Christ’s gospel and new life from Him.

    I suppose what I’m making a real effort to say is that
    I’m certain that though there are probably a significant number who are ‘du
    jouring’ the hood and like white kids painting fences; there are a good number
    who are not here for the soup, just the Glory of a Great God and the eternally
    best for the souls they minister to.

    I am so happy to see the theology written by, and spoken
    by, and lived by, my African American Brothers is sound and substantive as it
    is being seen and heard and read by others, who like myself, are not black. One
    of my griefs over the years here in the city has been not being able to bring
    or send our students, or recommend others to the Black Church at large because
    of its being quite often more a political platform, a social club, a spiritual
    mumbo-jumbo of truth and error, or an agency of programs run by the government
    than they have been a Church. We want to take men to hear God’s Word preached
    by whomever is feeding sheep nutritious and delicious Christ exalting meals at
    every church service. So, we are hopeful that with this ‘renewed interest’ and
    commitment to good Biblical theology that there is an overflow to the NYC area
    whereby we can find somewhere other than just the ‘white’ churches we are
    currently limited to by our criteria for what is or isn’t a good place to take
    the men for worship.

    We are demographically diverse, not by any design of our
    own, but by God’s Sovereign choice of who He sends here. We do no advertising
    and charge no fees. We have had men from other cities, states, countries
    even continents; old and young, married several times, to never married,
    jailed, educated, teachers, ministers, uneducated, bi-lingual, semi-lingual,
    sick, disabled, pimps and gays, cooks and auto mechanics, HIV+ & Hep-C+;
    all manner of men and all manner of background, with the one common thing; a
    need for Christ to work in their hearts.

    Anyway, thanks again for a great article and the
    eye-opening challenge and situation if presents.

    by His grace,


Leave A Comment