I Believe I’ll Testify
The following is adapted from an assignment written by second year student, Alan Suber, for Preaching in the Traditions of the African American Church, taught by Dr. Veronice Miles.
Cleophus LaRue, in his book I Believe I’ll Testify, says that black preaching is effective when we use the skills we have obtained from our theological education and experiences to speak to an issue. Black preaching must have life; it must have purpose, LaRue says. Through his experiences and educational background, he argues that a sermon must have four different levels: high alert, pearls without a string, broken pieces, and clock watching.
The high alert is the point in the sermon where listeners are most accepting to the preacher, with the expectation that the preacher will say something meaningful or something that is challenging to the mind. The second level, pearls without a string, is where listeners have made up in their minds already that the preacher lacks logic or purpose in their sermon, and they stop listening. The third level is broken pieces; this is when the listeners try to find something to take away from random sections of the sermon. Lastly, the fourth level is the clock watching; this is when the listeners are just keeping time and have completely given up on the preacher.
In LaRue’s chapter entitled “Pulpits without Purpose,” he defines this subject as preachers who have neglected their primary mission, which is to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. Churches across the country are experimenting with worship as they attempt to find ways to bring life into their services. However, LaRue believes that these forms of experimentation lead to conflicts within the church known as “worship wars.” In a post-traditional society we have moved beyond a place where inherited traditions play a small role in the way we understand and order our lives. As a matter of fact, as Christianity moves southward, the preaching of the twenty-first century will be comparably changed by immersion in the prevailing cultures of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, LaRue says. He states that black preaching will soon move to a broader perspective to include colored preaching as well. When one broadens her or his perspective from just black preaching to colored preaching, opportunities are created to expand one’s theological worldview.
It’s the scripture that gives the preacher and the black church some form of authority. The four essentials that come together in the best of black preaching are: God, the scriptures, the preacher, and the black life experience. While blacks view the Bible as the primary connection to God, it is instead the way Scripture functions in relation to black religion that is most important. Blacks are convinced that God is for them also, and that God is favorable and intentional to those who are marginalized, oppressed, and neglected. Therefore God becomes the champion of their situations, despite those who desire to convince them that they were unworthy of God’s grace and concern.
The preacher continues today to be of great importance to the black church. Black preachers are considered by black congregations to be God’s anointed who brings to the congregation the undivided word of God. The black preacher also in the sermon connects with overall black experiences. Thereby, in producing a good sermon, it should encourage its listeners to action; the best sermons make some kind of claim in our lives. Sermons should inform, encourage, inspire, teach, admonish, implore, and edify, but ultimately they should urge us towards action.
Book Cover: LaRue, Cleophus J. I Believe I’ll Testify: The Art of African American Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.