American Baptist College
Black congregations came into being to bear the gospel message of God’s kindom -- the reign of love and justice -- to the needs of healing and uplift for Black lives. In ethical and theological terms, justice is a divine moral imperative to do what is right in a manner that is fair and impartial. ABC stands in a unique position to help Tennessee congregations explore theological and ministry praxis for implementing strategies relevant for prophetic mission and social justice ministry. To this end, ABC is engaging congregations of varying denominations and sizes in Congregational Empowerment Zone (CEZ) cohorts from the four major urban areas of the state of Tennessee: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. ABC supports these congregations battling the intersecting evils of social crisis and justice-adjacent issues by facilitating their sociological and theological reflection and engagement on strategies for effective mission and ministry decision-making through learning communities for pastoral development, congregational study linking theology to lived reality, and peer learning. The common definitions for “thrive” or “thriving” are to grow vigorously, develop well, advance, or flourish with intentionality toward a purpose or mission. Adding theological content to the definition of “thriving,” this congregational initiative hopes to invigorate and breathe new life into the ecclesial practice of Black churches in three foci for spiritual and social empowerment: 1) Theological Imagination -- re-engaging all forms of oppression and dominant interpretations of reality through a congregation’s exercise of critical consciousness and human agency; 2) Ministry Praxis -- reorienting reflection and action upon forms of prophetic communal care to transform the ways in which congregations address social domains of injustice; and 3) Adaptive Leadership -- Re-visioning toward emancipatory models of non-hierarchical, gender equitable, and intergenerational leadership to humanize systems through profound love for people and the community. These areas of empowerment represent the Gospel’s portrayal of the teachings, moral uplift, and ministry of Jesus to those looked upon and treated by a spiritually ailing society as “the least of these.” ABC expects at the end of this process that congregations’ understandings of spirituality as social witness will stretch and empower participants to name the realities impacting marginalized and oppressed communities and imagine and engage unitive possibilities to transform them.