Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,
“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Progress is slow on racial reconciliation in this country, particularly given recent events. But why do lingering divisions exist in the Church, the very communities built on the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation? Finding racial unity in a congregation is a complex task that requires a deep recognition of racial differences in how Christians understand and practice their faith. In a recent study that builds upon our research on racial tension and the Black Lives Matter movement, Barna examined the divergent ways in which black and white Christians approach discipleship, individually and collectively, revealing insights that may contribute to the realization of King’s dream of an unsegregated hour of worship.
What Is Spiritual Progress?
The term “spiritual progress” is open to interpretation, and when asked to define it, differences in perspectives begin to emerge between black and white Christian leaders Black Christian leaders are more likely to describe the process of spiritual progress as “spiritual maturation” (31%), while white Christian leaders prefer the phrase “spiritual growth” (21%). The language of “maturation” implies more of an internal transformation and the development of wisdom through life experience, whereas the word “growth” tends to suggest an approach that entails reaching key milestones.
When both groups define “discipleship,” white believers are more likely to refer to it as a “process of learning to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, seeking to observe all that Jesus commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit and to his glory.” Black Christians instead commonly refer to it as “The process of transformation that changes us to be increasingly more like Christ through the Word, the Spirit, and circumstance.” For black Christians, spiritual progress tends to focus more on life experience rather than achieving goals, about maturing into a Christ-like character as they weather life’s storms. Read more.