Survey: African Americans value spiritual formation in community, while whites prefer the opposite.

When it comes to spiritual formation and discipleship, African American Christians are in it together.

Black believers are more likely to position their growth in Christ in the context of community and fellowship, while white Christians take a more individualized approach, according to a study released this week from Barna Research.

The survey found that twice as many black Christians as whites were currently being mentored or discipled by a fellow believer (38% vs. 19%). Over a quarter of black Christians also served as mentors themselves, compared to 17 percent of white Christians.

The prevalence of such relationships relates to traditional models of leadership and lineage in African American churches. In an interview with CT about his book Reviving the Black Church, pastor Thabiti Anyabwile described how “most of our pastors were in some kind of apprenticeship in preparation for the ministry. They would sit under another pastor or have a ‘spiritual father’ who would pour himself into them.”

Black Christians also preferred group-based discipleship to one-on-one (32% vs. 22%), while white Christians favored being discipled on their own (39% vs. 31%), according to Barna. They are four times more likely than white Christians to list study groups as “very important” to their spiritual development.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, a mentoring coach and author of Mentor for Life, numbers among the churchgoing African Americans who see group mentoring as essential.

“In a mentoring small group, your learning is going to be enhanced because you're not just hearing the philosophy of one person; rather you are drawing near to God by sharing in the diverse experiences of the group,” she wrote. …

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