The 15th Biennial Conference of the Church of God (Cleveland) Black Ministries, a division created to empower those who minister to people of African descent, marked a historic event. In a partnership with Pathway Press, Church of God Black Ministries published the African Descent Family Roots Bible. The Bible details the contributions of black ministers throughout the history of Church of God, giving voice to black ministers who have served in Church of God and recognizes them for the sacrifices and the challenges they faced. The Bible has great significance.
Bishop Kenneth Hill, the current head of Black Ministries, says of the project, “It gives a synopsis of who we are, our contributions, and what we’ll do in the future. It provides historical data of the origin of Black Ministries in the Church of God, and some of the highlights and historical facts of even females within the Church of God.” The Bible details the support Church of God has made to the black community, including contributing to the construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
It also highlights Edmond and Rebecca Barr, the first known black Church of God ministers to carry the gospel outside the United States. The Bible also shares the beginnings of Black Ministries in the denomination. Most of all, it shows how black ministers overcame great obstacles, one of which still plagues the current body of Christ, racism.
The Barrs faced racism when they served as ministers and current black ministers still face racism, but in a different way than the Barrs did. Of those challenges, Bishop Hill says, “One is, in many of the churches, except if you’re exclusively a black church, the opportunity to share your leadership. There is one thing about being a part of an organization, being faithful, being supportive and even attending their schools and receiving the highest doctoral degree. Then if you go back and say, ‘Okay, we’ve done all of that, allow us to play on the field and also allow us to make some decisions that gives credence to the field.’”
Bishop Hill points to the current challenge of black ministers not being given the opportunity to lead. He says, “We’re given the opportunity to go to the schools of higher learning and when that’s been accomplished, the questions are now, ‘Will you allow me to participate at the table of leadership to help make decisions and give directives?’” He praises the leadership opportunities that President Barack Obama has given the black community, but there is still a need for integrated leadership in the body of Christ. Because of that ongoing need, special attention needs to be given to black ministries.
Even though the black community has made significant contributions to the body of Christ, there is still a need for divisions specifically for black ministers. Bishop Hill states that he is often questioned about the need for a separate division for black ministers. “Many have asked the question, ‘Why do we need an office of Black Ministries?’” The answer was highlighted during a recent restructuring project within the Church of God. Bishop Hill points out, “One of the analyses [from the restructuring] was that we have to identify people groups within the church. Not just people, but people groups because there are people groups within the church. And the question was posed, ‘Is parity and fair recognition given to all people groups in the church?’” Another highlight of the need for parity is that the Church of God discovered that blacks and Hispanics are the fastest growing people groups within the denomination.
The goal of the Church of God Black Ministries speaks to the need of the black community as a whole. It is framed by three C’s: Connectivity, Creativity, and Continuity. Bishop Hill explains the mission of these:
“First, we’ve made it possible to connect with all ministers of the church, locally, district, state, region, national and international. Secondly, to create synergy that will to provide information, doctrine and supportability to the general church about what black ministries involvement is within the church. And thirdly, the continuity just to make sure black ministries umbrella or the flag is represented continually within the church.”
One of the goals of the Black Ministers Division is something Bishop Hill calls “make aware.” He says, “We want to get exposure. Not to become a threat but it is to make aware. There is an analysis called SWOT that deals with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. When you do that analysis you have to be fair and give parity to every ethnicity to be able to see where challenges lie.” One of those challenges, not only in the church, but also in society, is racism.
Bishop Hill’s intention, however, is not to express these challenges with harshness or offense, but to share the realities of racism in this country and in the church and stress the need for more blacks in leadership. “Within the church and within the black community, the representative must be there to support the issues of the black community and if we don’t have that support there at the table, it can be overlooked.” He acknowledges the significance of his position in Black Ministries. With the integration leadership, voice is given to not only black ministers, but to other ethnicities. He says, “I have a seat with a Hispanic brother at the table of leadership to help make decision for our general church.”
Bishop Hill gives some poignant advice to ministers called to reach people of color. He says, “To be faithful, many of our ministers have become introverted rather than extroverted. They are looking at what pleases or satisfies their portfolio rather than supporting the portfolio for the entire race.” He warns about the danger of this selfishness. “We can’t be selfish about what’s in it for me.” He points to the fact that many black leaders suffered selflessly and focused on what impact their contributions would make for others who would serve after them. He says, “If we look at it that way, as some of our forefathers did, we can continue to make grounds.”
He encourages ministers to look beyond themselves to the good of the black communities as a whole. He says when black ministers do that, “We’re then saying, ‘How do I effect the larger picture and make a sacrifice that is going to effect the masses of who I represent?’”
He suggests ministers ask an important question that will bring perspective to their ministry. “What are we doing to effect change for everyone, not just how does it help me in this local church or in this particular state?” This is not just advice he gives others, but it is the model he uses in his position as the head of Black Ministries. He says, “When I make decisions, that’s what I’m saying to my leaders around me and the pastors and ministers that I go to.” His decision making process goes beyond himself. “If I’m only in it for who I am or what it does for me, then I haven’t done my job. My responsibility as a leader is to empower, change and reach the masses for the kingdom.”