Our Creator filled His world with infinite variety. Walk through a flower garden and observe the remarkable differences in sizes, shapes and hues of color you see. Sameness tends to bore, while variety brings delight and pleasure.
A flower garden pales in comparison to the multivariegated makeup of the body of Christ. One of the great pleasures of my role in life is the privilege Sunday-by-Sunday to experience the diversity among Oklahoma Baptists. It keeps my life filled with delight. From small country congregations to large city churches, Anglo congregations to Indian, from Asian to Hispanic—these churches all display the array of color and flavor that God has created.
Last Sunday, I was able to enjoy one of our African American churches. What an incredible delight! For many years, our convention worked with traditional black denominations to minister to the black community. Later, we made the conscious decision to plant African American Southern Baptist churches. They have enhanced our convention in immeasurable ways. Our African American churches make us a better people and more reflective of eternity.
Our black churches have much to teach us. Reflecting on my day with the Friendship Church in Lawton, I have drawn some conclusions about several things that impressed me.
Black Christians worship with the whole body. Worship is not a spectator sport in these congregations. Enthusiastic praise is offered to God through clapping, dancing, drums, tambourines, organ and voice. Exuberant joy fills every part of worship. Songs are simple, but strong, in declaring faith and deep feeling of relationship to God.
Preaching is not a spectator sport either. I have preached in African American churches many times across the years, and I am always astounded by the intensity of listening I find there. The people engage the preacher in the act of preaching. I assure you, preachers leave it all on the playing field when the congregation is “with you” in the experience.
I am struck also by the strong family feel of the African American church. Love flows easily among the people, and they seem genuinely connected to one another.
My last observation is of something that seems to be missing in many of our Anglo churches. It is clear there is a great respect and appreciation for age. (I admit—that is becoming more important to me with each passing day.) I had the joy of meeting 95-year-old Mr. Collins, who is the patriarch of Friendship Church. He is blind now, but that has not slowed him down. The pastor and congregation showed him great respect and, frankly, I was honored to meet him.
For all those who think Oklahoma Baptists are just a conglomeration of Anglo churches, be assured that is not the case. Like the beautiful flower garden, we are a multiethnic, multicolored, multilingual people. That is the way it should be because that is the way Heaven will be.