Attending Awakenings as a Young, Black Pastor – An #Awakenings17 Reflection

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James Talbert is a Summit County native who loves Jesus deeply and loves the city of Akron deeply as well.

James graduated from Barberton High School in Barberton, OH and from Malone University in Canton, OH, with a B.A. in Educational Ministries. He is currently in his last semester at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he will be receiving an M.A. in Theological Studies. Over the past 5 years, James has served in several staff positions at the North Canton Chapel.

James has a beautiful wife named Julia and is committed to making it hard to go to hell in the city of Akron. He planted and pastors Citizens Akron.

Is This For Me?

As a young African American male, evangelical Christian conferences aren’t always the most welcoming place. I don’t believe this is the intention of conference conveners but is a felt reality by minority attenders. This is due to many factors, but for me the primary comfort-stealing agent is the lack of presenters who look like me or who can empathize with my plight. Even though the list of speakers at the Awakenings conference had many faces of color I figured they would be strategically sprinkled across breakout sessions just like all of the other conferences I have attended. As I approached the first main session the sadly familiar sensation of being a minority in a majority-centric event begin to take residence. I walked in and saw that the majority of attenders were white and said to myself, “here we go again.” Then to my pleasant surprise the conference started with a passionate message centered on diversity by a strong black man (Leroy Barber). This would be the first of many experiences I had during the Awakenings gathering that would not only prove my aforementioned assumptions wrong, but would prove to be some of most spiritually enriching and encouraging moments of my life.

As a young African American male, evangelical conferences aren’t always the most welcoming place. Click To Tweet

Here are some of my takeaways:

Proper Posture

I’ve been a Christian for a number of years, but like many, when I read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, my perspectives on heaven and the resurrection drastically changed. That redirection in perspective shaped the way I now embrace and live out my faith. Experiencing N.T. Wright speak in person was an absolute treat, but his last talk, The Healing Stream of the New Covenant, was an incredibly special experience. In his last address to the conference he (masterfully as always) walked us through Ezekiel 47 and gave us a missiological lesson on the Holy Spirit’s power in re-creation. The power of his lesson was captured in his statement that

Our time in prayer must match our time in protest. @ntwrightonline Click To Tweet

It was so impactful because it reaffirmed the truth that the abounding practice of ministry is utterly dependent on the abiding presence of God and that a posture of prayerfulness leads to a truly powerful and purposeful practice of ministry. As an individual who is more naturally drawn to protest than prayer it was great to be reminded that without a prayerful posture my protesting is devoid of true substance.

“The Holy Ghost of Acts is still the same”

Growing up in the apostolic church we often sang a song that went like this:

You won’t leave here like you came, in Jesus name
Bound, depressed, tormented sick or lame
For the Holy Ghost of Acts is still the same
You won’t leave here like you came, in Jesus name

As I think about the Awakenings conference, this chorus continually plays in my head, specifically the line, “the Holy Ghost of Acts is still the same.” When we look at the movement of Spirit in the book of Acts, what we find is the Spirit of God moving on different individuals, in different contexts, in different ways, for the purpose of spreading the fame and renown of the Risen Christ.

For instance, at Pentecost believers spoke in different tongues for the purpose of people hearing the message of the gospel in their own language. In Acts 4, the Spirit filled people and they spoke the word of God with boldness in the face of persecution. What was apparent at Awakenings was that though presenters were different ethnicities, from different cultural backgrounds, and different genders, the Spirit used each of them in their own particular voice to inspire me that the Spirit of God is still at work in our world today. Whether it was in a breakout session on spiritual discernment where A.J. Swoboda’s soft words convicted me at my very core, or the dynamic and powerful preaching of Charles Montgomery teaching us what it means to “stay woke,” or the vibrant and creative presentations from Ruth Padilla DeBorst that exhorted us to practical action, the Holy Ghost of Acts is still using different people, in different ways, to accomplish the mission that God has set out for us. The Holy Ghost of Acts is still the same.

All of these things encouraged me deeply as a young pastor who needed the reminder that the same Holy Spirit that filled the presenters at the conference and used them to encourage those gathered, will fill my team and me as we seek to faithfully be in church in the city of Akron, OH.

Check out all the Awakenings sessions, or download the whole bundle!