Imagine a pastor who drives one of the original “Bat mobiles.” The car that Adam West drove so boldly in the late 60’s. Next, envision a 6 ‘3” black man with a no nonsense attitude - reaching the hip hop generation with a powerful message of grace and peace. During standing room only plays or “dramanars”, Pastor Deron Cloud gives biblically based answers to the most pressing problems of the twenty something crowd. Many young black adults that Cloud is reaching have been written off by the rest of the world. He preaches a message of personal responsibility and tough love with a loving but militant attitude. Central to this church’s evangelistic outreach is preaching against teen sexuality, abortion, drug use, gang involvement, and absentee parents.
The name of the church is “The Soul Factory”. The name comes from Jesus’ exhortation for his followers to make disciples of all nations in the 28th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Therefore, The Soul Factory’s business is making spiritual soldiers out those otherwise destined to be thugs, drug addicts, under achievers, and malcontents. Cloud believes that the grace of God can lift his listeners into a personal realm from which they can function effectively in life – without stepping on familiar cultural booby traps.
At a recent 10 year anniversary service, a church leader spoke of his hopelessness and suicidal tendencies before receiving Christ at “The Factory”. This 30 year old wept as he extolled the virtues of Cloud and his wife, Jill. This impassioned testimony is proof positive that the power of the gospel is at work in The Soul Factory’s unique approach to ministry.
Cloud once considered Islam. He particularly admired the Black Muslims’ ability to reach men, but ultimately chose Christianity and the message of love – while attending the University of Maryland in College Park. Despite his Christian doctrine, as one listens to Cloud’s preaching one hears the heart of a revolutionary. He does not advocate the overthrow of a government, rather he believes that an unseen kingdom influences the world in which we live. The king of that kingdom, Jesus Christ, has not made blacks inferior or victims. In fact, they can become victorious soldiers; if they whole heartedly chose the kingdom of God.
CNN recently featured Cloud, The Soul Factory, and the Bat Mobile in a widely viewed piece which discussed the church’s unique worship style and its use of dramatic arts. They referred to it as the “un-church” because of its down to earth, come as you are appeal. With over 5,000 attendees in the DC area, The Soul Factory” has recently opened a branch in Atlanta (which has hundreds attending in just a few months). Their first evangelistic event in Atlanta drew over 11,000 (mostly unchurched) people.
So what makes this man different from other pastors? Church leaders like Cloud are both biblical and social conservatives. They are pro-life, anti-abortion, and favor traditional marriage. In very practical ways, they attack the root problems of under achievement and dysfunctional families. In addition, leaders like Cloud do not believe that government programs, alone, can stop crime, poverty, or poor schools.
Cloud’s cultural understanding coincides with that of many new guard, national thinkers. Juan Williams, for example, gives some excellent prescriptions for turning around the black community’s doldrums. In his great book “Enough”, Williams makes the following statement, “Black Americans, including the poor, spend a lot of time talking about the same self-defeating behaviors that are holding back too many black people. This is no secret. It’s practically a joke. And black people are the first to shake their heads at the scandals and antics of the current crop of civil rights leaders who are busy with old-school appeals for handouts instead of making maximum use of the power black people have…”
Answering the dilemma Williams presents, the black church is emerging as the instrument of social change. It is promoting immediate change through wiser, biblically informed choices and personal accountability. The tricky aspect of change for the black community hinges on tackling two problems- taking the microphone from the old civil rights war horses and identifying the new breed of leaders. I have exciting news for Juan Williams, though; the new breed of leaders already exists.
I, for one, have made a decision to work with leaders like Pastor Cloud. The black community has already begun the long journey of changing its leadership psyche. The average American (even black American) does not realize the creativity of the “new black church”. They see what looks like isolated departures from the status quo and they do not realize that this is a growing grass roots moment. In 2007 and 2008 the High Impact leadership Coalition will be hosting meetings around the nation.
Although our work began with the black church, transformation of our nation is not the work of any one ethnic group alone. We must work together! New bridges must be built with the white led evangelical churches so that we can create a joint, conservative, biblical agenda that can help restore America’s moral compass.
In order to facilitate this process, I am offering a free copy of my book –“High Impact African American Churches” (co-authored with George Barna). This book is a must read for pastors, church leaders, and committed Christians who want to participate in turning America around. I will send the first 100 people who request this book this week a free postage paid copy of the work. Like the High Impact Leadership Coalition summits we host around the country, this book highlights the efforts in the community as well as the principles by which dynamic leaders are blazing new trails.
America’s greatest help will come from Black, Hispanic, and White churches that rise to challenge of creating a spiritual awakening in America. Join the revolution,today!