Citing a number of sources, the on-line Wikipedia, defines the word “missionary” as a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. [C]hrist used the word when sending the disciples to preach in his name and the word “mission” originated in 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad as derived from the Latin missionem (nom. missio), meaning “act of sending” or mittere, meaning “to send”.
While secular in nature, the United States Peace Corps is an example of missionary work at its best. Established by President John F. Kennedy by Executive Order on March 1, 1961, more than 210,000 American Peace Corps volunteers have served in well over 100 host countries.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Corps.
And both the approach and impact of the volunteers are noteworthy. The Corps pursues its mission by focusing on the now versus the hereafter and by elevating the practical over the philosophical. It does not lecture from the Constitution or require others to come to it. Corps volunteers instead roll up their sleeves and solve urgent community problems precisely where the rubber meets the road.
They remove unwanted debris and improve local infrastructure by constructing homes, hospitals, schools, churches, bridges, dams, water purification and sanitation systems. They train, educate and mentor people in the areas of economic/business/community development, education, agriculture and governance. They live, eat, work and interact with community members on a daily basis. And they insist that those they serve pick up a hammer, rake or saw and do for self.
As a result, “the Peace Corps makes sustainable change in the lives of people … And when they return home, volunteers enrich the lives of those around them by bringing their knowledge, experience and global outlook back to their own communities.” http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/. On the domestic front, other institutions like the Vista Program and Habitat for Humanities follows suit.
This is the model for the African-American church. And there is so much the church can do right here, right now.
For example, instead of focusing on infrastructure improvements, the church can build upon the human capital of the Black community by engaging in educational, training and capacity building initiatives in the critical areas of parenting, critical thinking, financial literacy and African-American history.
Consider the plight of African-American children. Many Black parents are either unable or disinclined to raise and nurture their own children. Hence, whether we like it or not, the church as well as others, must step into the breach and provide Parenting 101 skills training and ongoing child care services to parents and their offspring.
In addition, there is a natural intersection between the Black church and African-American history. Said history is not taught in public schools and is absent in most families. We can therefore imagine no better exemplar and repository of African-American history than the Black church.
The troubles afflicting African-American males are of additional concern. By identifying, cultivating and training Black men in the areas of personal, social and civic responsibility, the church accomplishes far more than creating a better brand of manhood. It further develops the next generation of African-American male leaders.
But these and other potential benefits will only occur if and if the faith-based community commits itself to action. The church must wean itself of the tendency to preach rather than resolve. It must jettison the belief that pious words are more important than meaningful action. It must reject the notion that the acceptance of religious doctrine is enough. And it must embrace the biblical admonition of faith without action.
Like the Peace Corps, Vista, and a constellation of other action orientated social organizations it must solve the everyday problems of the people it serves. And it can no more wait for people to come to it than did the Christ.
It is instead obligated to leave the comforts of its air-conditioned sanctuaries and hit the streets. The way to stop open air drug and sex markets is to bring church to the very corners on which these illegal and illicit markets operate. Only then will it persuade others to believe.
The church is more than a building and Jesus did not confine himself to a structure. His was instead a street ministry whose flock were the have not’s versus the haves; the least instead of the most.
We do not pick on the church. And while not apologetic, we endeavor to be both appreciative and respectful. We are all called upon to contribute more, including Blackacre, especially Blackacre. And we have made similar request of those with the greatest obligation to contribute, i.e., African-American men.
If we neglect to chart our own course then the fault is ours. Should we fail to navigate our destiny then we deserve our fate. If this is not the proper forum to discuss such matters then what is? And, should we neglect to raise these and other important issues regarding the role of faith in contemporary society then who will?
Given that the problems within the black community are so obvious, the ability of the church to address these troubles so clear and the power of the church so apparent, to whom else should we turn? It is only by faith that we have come thus far. And the fierce urgency of now compels us to once again, call the church and the faith-based community to action.
In conclusion, we need the Black church now more than ever. As an old African proverb advises to go fast, go alone. But to go further, go together.
Leo Baron Hicks, Founder and CEO