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God wants todo a new thing in the African American Church.
Author, Douglas Powe suggests that the African American church, while once the bedrock of the community, is no longer on the radar for many. During the Civil Rights movementAfrican American churches initiated and even shaped transformation for an entire country, well beyond their own walls. In this post-Civil Rights era the power of many African American churches remains mired in the assumptions and practices of the past, thereby making theminvisible to their surrounding communities.
New Wine, New Wineskins helps African American congregations understand and benefit from the cultural shifts we are now experiencing. Many African American churches once thought they were immune to the cultural shock waves in our streets and neighborhoods. They simple argued that they have always been all about participation and being relational; yet like many churches, their numbers continue to decline. African American churches must find a way to reclaim their missional orientation, while at the same time remaining true to their historical identity and witness of speaking truth to power. The worthy goals of justice and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ in this time, requires new practices and fresh ideasnew wine. The old framework just won’t work any more. We need new wine skins.
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About the Author
F. Douglas Powe Jr. is the James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Urban Ministry, Associate Director of Center for Missional Church at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.
Read an Excerpt
New Wine New Wineskins
How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations
By F. Douglas Powe Jr.
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
It was youth Sunday! Mother Brown was frowning because only five youth showed up to participate. She heard the Sunday school teacher going over their lines for the program that would start in five minutes. Mother Brown stopped Sister Carmen and asked, "Where is your daughter's family?" Sister Carmen replied, "She did not want to come. Talking nonsense that our youth program has not changed since she was a child." Sister Carmen walked away shaking her head.
Mother Brown watched her go toward the kitchen, but the words stuck in her head, "the youth program has not changed!" Mother Brown had been at the church forty years and the truth was the youth program had not changed. She didn't see why it needed to change. Mother Brown shook her head and said softly, "I just don't get this new generation!"
How many times have you heard or said, "I just do not get this new generation!" What is going on in the African American culture that is so different from ten, twenty, or forty years ago? There are several possibilities for approaching the shifting culture in the African American community. My approach is rethinking some of the generational categories developed by Strauss and Howe in Generations. They develop eighteen generational categories in their book, but my focus is on four of their categories (Silent, Boomer, 13er, and Millennial). Strauss and Howe use a cross-section of the United States to highlight trends and characteristics of generations. What is lost in this approach is some of the subtlety related to particular trends in the African American community. This is especially true concerning the importance of personal and communal faith for African Americans.
It is important to understand the cultural shifts within the African American community, because it will give us new insights into how congregations have to think differently about the African American church and evangelism, and it points out some important differences between those active during the Civil Rights era and post–civil rights generations. Understanding these differences aids us in developing a new vision that will alter the way we think and do evangelism.
Let me begin with a quick summary of Strauss and Howe's development of the four generational categories (Silent, Boomer, 13er, and Millennial) and their importance for American culture. Second, I will re-define these categories to address the generational shifts within the African American community. Last, I will offer some closing comments on what all of this means for congregations seeking to be missional.
THE SILENT GENERATION
The dates for those born during the Silent generation are between 1925 and 1942. Strauss and Howe quote Frank Conroy, who claims, "We had no leaders, no program, no sense of our own power, and no culture exclusively of our own." The point is this generation had little voice and did not produce leaders or change American culture significantly. In fact, Strauss and Howe categorize this generation as adaptive because of their ability to fit in and not be in the forefront.
The challenge within American culture for the Silent generation is they are born after World War I's G.I.s and before the Boomers. They are the ultimate sandwich. Silents adapt either to those who come before them or those coming after. A few of the famous Anglo Silents are Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe, and Phil Donahue. Noticeably absent from this generation is someone who became president of the United States. This is a part of the rationale by Strauss and Howe for arguing this is a silent generation in terms of high-profile leadership.
It is interesting, however, that this generation produced most of the Civil Rights leaders. Yet, very little attention is given to the dramatic impact these leaders had on American culture and specifically African American culture. In fact, Strauss and Howe argue, "Silent appeals for change have seldom arisen from power or fury, but rather through a self-conscious humanity and tender social conscience ('Deep in my heart, I do believe/We shall overcome someday')." The implication is that African Americans were not furious with on-going racial conditions in the U.S. I agree that those within the Civil Rights movement had to raise the consciousness of the nation, but this does not discount a deep sense of anger over the conditions faced by the African American community.
THE BOOMER GENERATION
Boomers were born between 1943 and 1960. As a group they are idealists because of their experience as youth. Boomers are the children of the G.I.s and inherit a different American culture than the Silent generation who lived during WWII. A few famous Anglo Boomers are Oliver North, Donald Trump, and Jane Pauley.
Strauss and Howe describe Boomers as self-absorbed and dependent on their own instincts. The focus is on what I can achieve as an individual. Donald Trump is a prototypical Boomer because of his emphasis on being a self-made individual who can tackle anything. This focus on the self causes a spiritual rift within this generation between those who are more New Age and those who are evangelical. Both sides are bound to their particular absolutes and idealism. Within the Boomer generation intense debates over issues like the right to life are not uncommon.
What is missing from the analysis is the impact of race during the turbulent formative years of the Boomer generation. Many of the first wave of Boomers experienced the Civil Rights movement firsthand, but Strauss and Howe offer no real insight into how this impacted their lives. In their section entitled "Coming of Age," the emphasis is on Boomer activism related to the "Free Speech Movement." While this captures some of the upheaval of the late sixties, it misses the mark of integrating the turmoil experienced by all generations during the Civil Rights movement.
THE THIRTEENTH GENERATION
The Thirteenth generation does not even have a real name. The dates for this generation are 1961–81. Strauss and Howe categorize this generation as reactive. In part, they point to Washington Post writer Nancy Smith's phrase, "the generation after," as indicative of why this generation is nameless. The Thirteenth generation is the one always coming along after life-changing events like Woodstock, Watergate, etc. A few famous Anglo Thirteeners are Tom Cruise, Brooke Shields, and Tatum O'Neal. The point is not that this generation missed these events, but that as a generation they contributed nothing.
In fact, Strauss and Howe quote Felicity Barringer, who writes an unflattering description of the Thirteeners as "a lost generation, an army of aging Bart Simpsons, possibly armed and dangerous." The implication is this generation has not turned out the way it should. Strauss and Howe point to declining academic performance and the perception that this generation is not that bright to reinforce the Bart Simpson analogy. Not only is this generation nameless, it is a day late and a dollar short and certainly not the sharpest knife in the drawer! These are harsh critiques leveled against a generation that lived during the post–Civil Rights era.
What is missing from Strauss and Howe's analysis is the fact that the racial landscape changed significantly during this time because of the Civil Rights movement. This is the first generation to deal with busing and integration on a national scale. They offer no analysis of the battles over busing and neighborhood integration.
THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION
The Millennial generation starts in 1982 for Strauss and Howe. This generation gets its name in part from the fact that they are the historic generation that came into their own in the twenty-first century. A few of the famous Millennials are Danica Patrick, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, and Miley Cyrus. Strauss and Howe understand this generation as a new beginning in America as a result of stronger parental control. One example of this is the attempt not to repeat perceived mistakes made with Thirteeners—like creating a latchkey family.
These parental controls have made Millennials civic-minded. Strauss and How argue that the goal of this generation is living with civic virtues like "community and cooperation." This shift is reflected in the movies entertainment studios like Disney are making for Millennials; they differ from those made for Thirteeners, which focused on "individualism and difference." This generation will benefit from a greater adult oversight and not be left on their own.
Strauss and Howe argue that the early 1980s marked a move in America toward promoting "quality education" in public schools. They point to tangible things like report cards for school districts and increased pay for teachers. Unfortunately these facts do not differentiate between suburban, rural, and urban schools. Because of a greater tax base and more parental involvement, middle class school districts can afford to pay teachers more and usually rank higher in statistical categories. Deteriorating urban and rural school districts are constantly trying to stay afloat, attract teachers, and encourage parental involvement. While the picture Strauss and Howe proposes for Millennials is helpful, it still neglects some of the pertinent shifts in American culture. What is missing from their analysis is the intensifying of the class divide during the Millennial generation. It is important to acknowledge the impact of class when thinking about community and what that means for various segments of the population. African American and other children who lived in suburban areas probably benefited from many of the shifts presented by Strauss and Howe in ways that those in declining areas did not. From our twenty-first-century perspective, we now know that class issues have tremendously impacted America and particularly African American families.
From this quick analysis of Strauss and Howe, we get a picture of some generational trends in America. In part, we get a glimpse of how each generation buys into and constructs the American dream. For example, according to Strauss and Howe, Boomers tore down and reconstructed the American dream on their own terms, but the Thirteeners were never quite able to live into the American dream in some important ways. The ability or inability of each generation to live out the American dream leaves a mark not only on their generation, but on those that follow. Strauss and Howe call these marks "generational endowments." They develop these generational endowments in a particular way that focuses on peer personalities and the "lifecycle of each generation type."
I like the language of generational endowments, but I use the term differently as I explore African American generational categories. The question is, "What endowments have each African American generation passed along to the next that have shaped and continue to shape black culture?" This question is particularly pertinent for African American church culture. This book will answer this question by developing African American generational categories that are both inclusive of and counterparts to the Strauss and Howe paradigms.
THE CIVIL RIGHTS GENERATION
I date this generation between 1921 and 1940. This is a little different from the dates for the Silent generation, which are from 1925 to 1942. A few of the prominent African Americans born during this time were Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Maya Angelou, and Diane Nash. Obviously, each of these figures played a prominent role in the Civil Rights movement. Contrary to Strauss and Howe, who categorized the Silent generation as adaptive, it is more appropriate for African Americans to name this generation "the change agents."
This generation called into question the then-popular interpretation of the American dream and organized to enact changes that are still embedded within American culture. Floyd-Thomas argues that the Civil Rights movement (this generation) worked to endow African Americans with freedom and dignity. Significantly, this freedom and dignity is not simply individualistic, but it's a freedom and dignity that also challenges Anglo Americans to reinterpret the American dream.
While Strauss and Howe highlight attempts to alter the consciousness of Americans through non-violent means by African Americans, they do not pick up on the fury that fueled the nonviolence. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is an example of African American anger over the racial conditions confronting blacks while still trying to raise the consciousness of those Anglo Americans who argued that African Americans were moving too fast and should wait. This generation was tired of waiting and sought to transform the very fabric of American culture.
What is fascinating about this generation is that many of the leaders were religious and the fact that they shaped African American religiosity for decades. For African American Christians, important organizations like the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) were birthed during this time. In fact, when many African Americans talk about black leadership, most of the names are from the Civil Rights generation. The ability of the cadre of these leaders to impact the religious, political, and social fabric of America has not been duplicated.
The social fabric of the country experienced a transformation process that, in many ways, is still an on-going project. The Civil Rights generation challenged all Americans to envision a nation where race and ethnicity were not determining factors or limiting factors for rights. Although it is hard for many younger people to imagine, it is because of the Civil Rights generation that African and Anglo Americans can drink from the same water fountain, eat in the same restaurants, use the same restroom facility, etc., in many states. These are just a few examples of how the social fabric changed because of this generation.
Brown vs. The Board of Education is a landmark case in education rights for African Americans. The idea of separate but equal schools was a fallacy. Because social norms prevented most African Americans from living in Anglo American school districts, many African American schoolchildren in the North and South used outdated textbooks and did not have the resources of their Anglo American counterparts. The Civil Rights generation challenged this intentional undermining of educational opportunities in the United States. The goal was to provide an equal opportunity for all children to prosper intellectually.
Politically this is one of the most active times in American history for African Americans, and most of the political leaders came out of organized religion. One could not easily separate spirituality and politics within the African American community. Many of these leaders were able to integrate biblical language with rhetoric from documents like the Constitution to prick the American consciousness. The goal was not simply political activism aimed at constructing a new power base, but moving the United States toward a higher understanding of humanity that embodied the founding documents that this country claims as "holy."
Because of the connection between politics and religion for this generation, it is no surprise that the embodiment of political activism often occurred in local congregations. Many of the marches started at churches and many of the meetings were held in local congregations, because the church house was a focal point for the African American community. The Civil Rights generation strongly believed that their success was ensured because they were spiritually grounded.
Being spiritually grounded meant that they understood how social, educational, political, and religious ideals all shape who we are as individuals. The Christian leaders of this generation were able to construct a spirituality that moved individuals toward wholeness and not disembodiment. The church was the place where one could truly experience holiness and wholeness because it addressed one's entire existence and sought to transform that existence. It is no wonder that many African American congregations grew during this time.
The endowments of this generation are many, and books have been written on their impact on American culture. Let me highlight three of these endowments that are important for African American culture and particularly black congregations. First, this generation created a model of black male leadership in the church and outside of it that continues to be paradigmatic today. This generation developed a model of leadership in the church and politics that, until recently, placed the pastor in the center of both arenas. The expectation in the African American community was (and is, to some extent) that the pastor (usually male) will not only lead the congregation, but is to be the voice of the African American community. Even today, anyone running for office who wants the support of the African American community makes it a point to visit black congregations, because they understand this is where the power base was in the community.
Second, this generation believed the church played an instrumental role in constructing the beloved community. The theological way to express this is that this generation believed the church could make the kingdom of God a reality within American culture. The church believed that by participating in the Civil Rights movement, it was creating a new society that radically altered race relations. The church was not only a place for personal transformation, but a place where the structures of society were altered. The goal was to alter the structures in such a way that the divisions between black and white would become meaningless.
Excerpted from New Wine New Wineskins by F. Douglas Powe Jr.. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One—Shifting Culture,
Chapter Two—Old Wineskins,
Chapter Three—New Wineskins,
Chapter Four—New Wine,
Chapter Five—A Better Wineskin,