One of the big differences that I have seen between the black church and the white church involves preaching. It boils down to this: the stated goal of preaching is different therefore the delivery and content are different. The black preacher preaches in order to lift up. He knows he is talking to people who have been down and who face huge obstacles. The white preacher preaches in order to inform and educate. He knows he is talking to people who want to increase their knowledge.

This influences the delivery and the content of the preaching. The delivery of the black preacher is circular and high context. Most people think that black preaching is too emotional and not logical. This is due to not understanding the context of black culture that is sourced in Africa. It is not enough to have a logical argument. There is logic in black preaching but The black preacher knows that it takes more than logic to drive the argument home. This is done through stating the point. Talking about something related to the point and then stating the point again. Repeat and end with a climactic conclusion and you have a typical black sermon. It is very non linear. This is due to black culture being a high context culture. In a high context culture words are not the primary vehicles of communication. Facial expressions, music, hand gestures etc. are also taken into consideration when weighing whether a message will be received. So the black preacher states the point over and over again and this immerses her in the message and what God is saying and the congregation sees that this message must be important and begins to feedback with Amen! Preach preacher! It is the truth and it is conveyed in a non linear fashion.

On the other hand in the white church logic reigns supreme and linear forms of thought and speech hold sway. This is due to the legacy of the Enlightenment and even Greek culture. There must be a beginning and an end point and it must be clear how we got from the beginning to the end. This is due to a low context culture. In a low context culture the message is primarily in the words and the words only. It is enough to state what you want to say. Everything else that comes along with your message is frivolous and unnecessary. Emotion is shunned because it may interfere with the delivery of the truth. In the white church you will not hear feedback from the audience or Amens! from the choir. The true test of whether the message is heard is whether people actually get up and do it.

Most people usually critique black preaching or white preaching based on what it lacks. Growing up as a black pentecostal and then being part of a multiethnic church and a predominantly white movement I have had the privilege of seeing both styles in action. This has led to some soul searching in my own ministry on how to deliver God’s message. Doing both in different contexts I can honestly say that there is no better style but I wrestle with how both of these styles can be combined in order to be a greater benefit to the body of Christ.

  • What do you think? Do you prefer one over the other?
  • Could it ever happen? Has anyone seen it happen?
  • Can you give any examples of preaching that is a mixture of both styles?
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Comments
  1. Bob Harper says:

    Hey Ramon, love this post and learned a lot from it. Were you at the 2005 pastor’s conference in Columbus, Ohio? Floyd Flake spoke. I really appreciated his style. At the time I thought he combined the passion (high context) of black preaching with the linear structure of white preaching. Is it possible to do both high context and high content? Can we ever truly be multicultural if we cannot? I am a typical white preacher, leaning heavily on words and restraining emotion and other things. Hope you guys are enjoying Philadelphia. Bob

  2. mayotron says:

    Hey Bob, I was there at the pastor’s conference and I remember Floyd Flake’s sermon. I think that doing high context and high content places limits on both styles and it is really difficult to pull off. Not impossible but difficult for many. I definitely think it is a must in a multicultural church.

    BTW Long story but we decided to move to Pittsburgh. We move next Monday.

    Blessings,

  3. Matthew Bivens says:

    So, I can say I enjoyed the mix you brought to VX over the years I was there. Being of English & German in my cultural heritage and having gone to Lutheran churches through my childhood, I have seen the “white” style of inform and educate more then the other emotional style. I can say that I usually better at living out the sermons I here that contain visual descriptions of events that relate to the message.

    As an educator I know that I am a visual learner and do best at retaining information by taking notes/doodling. I think that educator of the body of Christ should look into educational theories on how people learn and figure out what kind of learners they are working with. At the same time I feel that lead worshipers could learn from this.

    • mayotron says:

      Thanks Matt. VX was a great place to explore and experiement with different styles.

      I am sure that someone has looked into educational theories in the areas of preaching and worship but I wonder if they have given this language out in plain english and not “academese” 🙂

      • Matthew Bivens says:

        To me it is a theory that seems simple enough:
        Auditory Learners hear it and learn it
        Visual Learners need to see what is being taught
        Kinesthetic Learners need to do things to learn them

        There is a longer list that includes spiritual learners, but i do not remember all of the other ones.

        The thing I find most interesting about what you have written is how each style measures the effectiveness of the teaching. Would it be best to say that congregation that walks out what the preacher talks is getting the most out of the sermon? If that is the case I would expect that the preacher is walking the talk too.

  4. Ramon, this is really great. It occurs to me that the orientation of preaching in black culture is more like Jesus’ context than in the typical white culture preaching. Jesus seemed to have only a few essential messages, and most of the time he is using context to state the principle, re-enforce it through story, and then circle back to his Kingdom-oriented message.

    I’m challenged by this, especially on a preaching-teaching continuum, I’m more towards the teaching end.

    I so think there are further nuances in all this, and it makes me wonder about the Vineyard’s valuing of “non-hype”, which flows from the Quaker roots of the Vineyard, but with little or possibly no real understanding of what they actually gets at and what we actually value in “no-hype”, which to me isn’t what most people think it is…because the expectation is still an interaction with the mysterious movement of the Spirit, not the squelching of it. Thoughts on this aspect?

    • mayotron says:

      Steven,

      My understanding of the “no hype” value is defined as no manipulation as opposed to no emotional expression. I believe the level of emotional expression is a cultural category and less of something that is a right/wrong issue.

      I think that there is an element of manipulation that is found in many pentecostal/charismatic churches but I don’t think we should throw out the emotional expression baby with the manipulation bathwater.
      The manipulation is partly due to an Arminian orientation in most Pentecostal churches as opposed to a Reformed understanding of our relationship with God. Religion in the African diaspora is more oriented towards doing things that allow or make room for the Spirit’s/spirits presence. In this way it is more of partnership between man and God.

      Your question provoked all kinds of new directions for exploration but those are my initial thoughts. What do you think?

      • I think that’s spot-on in essence: it’s about not manipulating, but waiting for a true expression of emotion that carries authencity in it. What I appreciate about this is the change in expectations…both in giving and receiving, in leadership and followership, and the bringing together of into one, where we are all trying to follow Someone Else (a difficult task for a leader to do, but in our circles, it has to be that way), and authroity rests with the Spirit, and the engagement of charisma on anyone in our midst and who the Spirit rests on, not just on “the leadership”.

        In the trajectory of making space for the Spirit to move and partnership between us and God, I love Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book: God in Search of Man.

  5. Rick says:

    Hi, it is so great to see someone else has observed this. What I have noticed is that these 2 sermon rhetorical styles seems to affect the communication patterns of the black and white communities in my city outside of church, and I think it contributes to a lot of mistrust between back and white colleagues in my experience. As the manager of a program I hired a team about 5 were African American, the other 3 were Caucasian (I am the latter). Quite a few times I watched the Afamer. members giving an update or talk at meetings and the white ppl were frustrated because they thought the way their black coworkers communicated was emotionally manipulative, a sort of “hustle” talk, which the expression, rhythm, and style of speech, soundbyte like material and vocal passion was emphasized over explaining the cause and effect of things to arrive at a linear conclusion. They were suspicious of these kinds of speech,thinking the person must either have questionable intentions or poor grasp of logic. At the same time, the black employees were not impressed when their white peers spoke, they were suspicious of a delivery that left a believability to be desired, how can you believe what someone says if he doesn’t appear to express his own belief in it, ie monotonous, linear speech organized in a specific structure with uninteresting details at the expense of any motivation, passion or memorability. I found this very fascinating cultural difference, and suspected it had something to do with the role of the church and sermons in each community. For a very long time, the only outlet for black intellectuals was to become a preacher, and the neccesity of lifting up was the difference between life and death. So the black intellectual tradition in US owes much of its growth to the black church. I had to explain for black americans, STYLE COUNTS! Whereas during the enlightenment Europeans began to mistrust passion and belief. For white people, not only does style NOT COUNT, it is suspicious because they think any argument or position needs to STAND ON ITS OWN, ie the less style = more transparency of the content. Often a black colleague thought they just hated his skin and looked own on him for that, but I did explain that in their tradition they were taught to be suspicious of style. The funny part was as the supervisor I was well aware that each team member was both logical *and* motivated as any other, and when individuals of each group would complain to me (the whites did this more often) I told them different communities had different rhetorical traditions and anyone who couldn’t use at least a bit of both styles was not going to be a great presenter to our largely mixed audiences at conferences, so they should take it as an area of development for themselves. I

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