First "Great Black Churches" event offers encouragement

First "Great Black Churches" event offers encouragement

The African American Ministry Team sponsored its first ministry event Aug. 6-7 at Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. The theme was “Great Black Churches: Past, Present, Possibilities.” Seventy-four people attended.

Passionate worship services included preaching by Bishop James Swanson, resident bishop of Holston Conference, and the Rev. Harold D. Lewis, director of congregational development, Florida Conference.

Lewis preached on “When Saved People Suffer,” explaining that suffering makes Christians stronger and prepares them for life in heaven.

Workshops offered advice for ministry workers interested in developing African American churches, but the advice could also be used in any church.

The Rev. Pamela Lightsey said that technology should be used to evangelize youth.

“Think about setting up a wireless router in your church, and don’t make it password secure,” she said. “Advertise it in the bulletin. Let the young people come into the church and make it hospitable for them.”

Lightsey said she offers “Cell Phone Sunday” in her church, inviting worshippers to leave on their cell phones. When the phone rings, she said, answer it, then tell the listener that you are in church, then lift your phone high so the listener can hear the service and the congregation can rejoice in knowing the service is shared.

Lightsey is vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

The Rev. Lurone Jennings and the Rev. Barry Kidwell were co-leaders in the workshop, “Reading the Unchurched: Helping African American churches minister to the homeless, disenfranchised, and reaching the inner city.”

Jennings suggested community prayer walks, partnering with other churches to expand ministry capacity, and holding prayer booths at community events. Churches should send out two to three visitation teams on a weekly basis, he said. “It amazes me that people don’t come to church for three or four Sundays and nobody checks on them,” he said.

Jennings is executive director of the Bethlehem Center.

Kidwell told about his own personal path to become a clergy member who now works on the streets to reach prostitutes, drug abusers, the homeless. When people ask him how they can help his ministry, he said he responds, “Intercept these people before they end up on the streets with me.”

Kidwell quoted John Wesley, “You have nothing to do but save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always not only to those who want you, but to those that want you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society: but to save as many souls as you can: to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

Kidwell is pastor at Forrest Avenue United Methodist Church in Chattanooga District.

For more information about the African American Ministry Team, visit