The History of the African American Church with Pastor Aaron Moore

At Vanderbloemen, two of our company values are Constant Improvement and Broadband Love. One way we live out those two values are through our monthly Lunch & Learns. We bring in a specialist in a specific area within the global church to teach us.

In May, we had the honor of learning from Pastor Aaron Moore, the Director of Ministry at Concord Church. He shared a wealth of wisdom and knowledge about African American Church history during Vanderbloemen’s May Lunch & Learn.

Concord Church is a predominately African American church founded on the campus of a historically black college or university (HBCU) named, Bishop College. Aaron’s spiritual journey and discipleship started and continues to develop within the African American church context.

In light of the recent racial injustice to the black community in our country, our hope is that this resource helps cultivate a better understanding of the African American church and helps all church leaders lead with empathy as we love and support our black brothers and sisters. 

Here are five topics Pastor Aaron shared with the Vanderbloemen staff:

1. The Inception of the Black Church

2. The Black Church is not Monolithic

3. Worship Style and Polity

4. Pastoral Leadership and Preaching

5. Serving the African American Church

An Overview of the Beginning of the Black Church

The black church in America is historically the country’s clearest picture of what it looks like to worship God and serve his people while being on the margins of society. Similar to the early church and the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the black church was formed under intense persecution.

In these early times, believers were pushed to worship solely in their homes, and in secret while living in fear of their lives. It’s here that we see how Christians were being pushed outside of the margins of society. At the time, if you claimed to worship Jesus, you were making a statement that says, “My allegiance is to the Lord & not the Roman government.” This would automatically exclude Christians from basic human rights and force them to solely depend on Christ.

Aaron shared a quote by Tertullian, an early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa, “Blood of the martyr is the seed of the church,” as a way to describe how the church grew in number and spirituality.

A similar thing happened in America with the African American church. As America pushed an entire race of people to the margins of society, they were deprived of basic human rights. The institution that stood firm during this time was the African American church. The African American church served as a place where African Americans were honored for their dignity and they were discipled and ministered to. 

It’s because of this that they grew in number and in spiritual maturity. The African American Church developed its own distinct style of worship and preaching that was shaped by scriptures and the black lived experience at the time. Overall, it’s important to note, the black church exists as a result of a group of people being disproportionately marginalized because of their race.

The Inception of the Black Church

  • 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, is where the first documented African slaves in our country lived. 

  • Many scholars believe African slaves came to America already possessing faith because they had such a strong sense of spirituality.

    • The ‘invisible institution' - Having church during slavery. This was a time when the slave teacher would sneak out to listen to the white-only worship service, hear the Christian message, come back at night, and gather with others in secret to share the gospel with his congregation. This demonstrates a yearning of the gospel and God’s hand even in the midst of persecution and race-based slavery.

  • 1787  was the inception of the first established African American church and denomination in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC).

    • Founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, Pennsylvania had the largest number of free black slaves. 

    • There were segregated sections in Methodist churches. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were caught praying in the white-only section of the church and had to leave. The entire section of free blacks walked out with them. From that time, they started their own church. It was the first African American mainline denomination - AMEC. 

2. Black Church is not Monolithic

  • Every experience of the black church experience cannot be bundled into one category.

  • It takes a great level of understanding and knowledge to effectively serve a particular group of people. We must be familiar with what makes each particular church distinctive in and of itself.

  • 5 Denominations Discussed:

    1. African Methodist Episcopal (AME) - Methodist background and governed by bishops. Pastors are placed in particular areas by bishops rather than being governed by congregational votes.

    2. National Baptist Convention (NBC) - This was formed when the General Baptist and Southern Baptist denominations split over slavery. Then, another split occurred within the General Baptist denomination because of civil rights issues.

    3. Progressive Baptist National Convention - In 1961, NBC split over the issue of civil rights to form the Progressive Baptist National Convention. It was Led by J.H. Jackson in Chicago, and he was known as a gradualist. This became a conflicting issue with upcoming young preachers who were progressivists. This led to the preachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached about civil rights.

    4. Church of God In Christ (COGIC) - This is a highly charismatic denomination with a major contribution to gospel music. Gospel music is known to be birthed out of this denomination.

    5. Full Gospel Church International (FGCI) - Formed in 1992 by Bishop Paul S. Morton in New Orleans, Louisiana. FGCI is similar to the Baptist church theology combined with charismatic beliefs. There is typically a passionate worship service and a high point in preaching.

3. Worship Style and Church Polity

  • The black church isn’t monolithic, but there are distinct features that cross over denominational lines. A few features are passionate worship, influential music, and a very strong preaching moment. 

  • Gospel music is the soundtrack of the black church. 

    • In 1936, Thomas Dorsey, while grieving the passing of his wife and child, went to the neighborhood school of music and began to write the a gospel song. The words he wrote were, “Precious Lord take my hand, lead me on let me stand.” This was sung by Mahalia Jackson and is known as the first gospel song to be recorded.

  • Service orders typically include these major elements: prayer, cooperate scripture reading, passionate call and response worship, and a dialogical sermon.

  • Church Government 

    • Congregationalism - Church members are heard. The leaders are appointed by pastors and voted upon by members.

  • Leadership 

    • Elders generally serve by leading, and deacons lead by serving.

    • Deacons are generally responsible for spiritual matters, and trustees are responsible for the financial matters.

    • A plurality of leadership - Typically, the Lead Pastor is amongst other elders, and the primary leadership consists of elders and deacons.

    • Pastor-led - The Senior Pastor is the primary leader. With the Senior Pastor leading, you may see deacons and trustees who are supervised by the pastor. 

4. Pastoral Leadership and Preaching

  • Pastoral Leadership - As leaders of people who are marginalized by society and/or in an extremely underserved area, pastors are depended upon to be more than just the spiritual leader of the church. A few roles they take on are:

    • Shepherd

    • Counselor

    • Preacher

    • Community Advocate - You’re responsible for having conversations with the leadership structure of the town/county. It’s a combination of evangelism and advocacy.

  • Preaching Traditions - There’s a strong oratory tradition while expounding upon issues in the community within the black church. Preachers typically preach biblical truth to power that serves as prophetic preaching. Prophetic preaching in the sense of forth-telling or telling others about things the majority culture isn’t paying attention to. They address issues that are disproportionately affecting the black community while also calling people back to God.

5. Serving the African American Church

It’s very helpful to gain more understanding about the black church by going where the gatherings are. This can help further and deepen the knowledge and enlightenment of those who are outside of the African American church, form relationships, and bridge the gap between minority church leaders by listening and learning from them.

It’s helpful to continue learning and understanding key roles in the African American church by doing research and engaging in conversations about it. Lastly, continue to encourage, welcome, and cultivate a space for diversity and representation within your organization as we strive to bring unity as one body of Christ.