Like the nation under President Barack Obama, the Church of God in Christ is being defined by change under the current leadership of Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. And, the membership seems to welcome that transformation.
“I’m 100 percent in his corner,” said Bishop Carlis L. Moody Sr., president of the International Missions Department, in a 2009 interview.
“Bishop Blake is one of the greatest leaders the church has ever had. The ideas that he has for the church would bring about great change,” Moody said, also acknowledging that churches tend to “buck” against change. “But he’s a man with foresight looking into the future and realizing we’re not going to be here that long.
So he presses forward to make whatever changes he can while he’s presiding bishop.”
As the head of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest Pentecostal body in the United States and one of the largest in the world with more than 6 million members in almost 60 countries, the Right Rev. Blake has become the new face and voice of Pentecostalism worldwide.
He was appointed and later elected as presiding bishop in 2007. During the church’s quadrennial elections the following year, Blake was re-elected as presiding bishop for another four-year term.
During his tenure, Bishop Blake has moved to redefine COGIC as a relevant, 21st century institution, beginning with an increased use of the Internet and other digital media.
“The Internet is where the action is,” Bishop Blake said in a 2009 interview. “If an organization or an individual is not utilizing the digital world, the Internet, then they are out of step with today’s world, and certainly out of step with tomorrow’s world. And I felt that the Church of God in Christ, literally, could not move ahead or minister effectively without being involved in the Internet.”
Under Blake’s leadership, the church has revamped its website to accommodate contemporary tools such as online and distance learning.
Additionally, just like their leader, the church’s different departments have established their presence on social media forums such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others. This year’s International Auxiliaries in Ministry Convention has even launched a convention APP for smartphones that allows users to register, view live streaming and photos, connect with other attendees, find businesses and restaurants in the host city and more.
“He’s a sharp man and he’s a thinker. He’s unusual; he’s unique,” said Bishop John Sheard of Blake’s singular outlook to ministry.
But he’s also a leader with a heart for people, and all the changes are meant to enhance the church’s ability to spread the good news of Jesus Christ by word and deed.
“We live in a world that faces so many crises, so many problems. It is our intention, with the help of God, to utilize every instrument and every strategy that we can to impact our world,” Bishop Blake said.
That’s one reason his administration has put such a focus on missions, which he called the “heartbeat” of the church. That focus has driven Blake’s own ministry, the 24,000-member West Angeles Church Of God In Christ in Los Angeles, Calif., which he said has been the epicenter of the denomination’s missions efforts.
Blake, himself, is a humanitarian. He is the chief executive officer of Save Africa’s Children, a program of the Pan African Children’s Fund. The group has assisted over 300 grassroots and faith-based projects in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching over 90,000 AIDS-affected children. Save Africa’s Children also supports more than 100,000 children in 340 orphan care programs throughout more than 23 nations on the continent of Africa.
And his missions efforts are also focused domestically, on communities in the United States. For example, his church offers more than 80 ministries for psychological, social and economic enhancement of the Los Angeles community.
“The church is in many cases the most stable and committed institution in most of the communities of our nation,” Blake said. “The Church of God in Christ has about 12,000 congregations [and] many of these congregations are located in some of the most impoverished and troubled areas of our cities. And it is certainly our mission and our desire to minister as effectively in these communities as we can.”
To that end, Bishop Blake instituted an Urban Initiatives program with five components that each COGIC church is required to incorporate:
1. Education, which involves mentoring, tutoring and other programs to assist children in staying and succeeding in school; and literacy programs for adults.
2. Job preparation and job finding services.
3. Crime-prevention efforts, including afterschool programs and building relationships with local police.
4. Family: strengthening marriages and families by offering training and counseling and enhancing the role and image of men as husbands and fathers.
5. Financial literacy.
“Bishop Blake is, to me, the leader for the 21st century,” said Evangelist Joyce Rodgers, of the International Youth Department, in a 2009 interview. “He has been called to take the Church of God in Christ, which I see as a giant, and turn it into the direction that, perhaps, Bishop [C.H.] Mason (the church’s founder) had from the beginning of time, and that is a church that lifts up Jesus Christ, but also a church that becomes a beacon in the city,…one that changes the lifestyle of the communities that they are in, naturally and spiritually.”
Bishop Blake’s outstanding leadership was recognized when he was chosen to sit on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where he gave voice to an “inner-city constituency.”
Blake has also served as the founding chairman of the board of directors for the C.H. Mason Theological Seminary and as an executive committee member on the board of directors of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary. He also formerly served as an advisory committee member of the Pentecostal World Conference.
Blake received his master’s in divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in 1965, and did further graduate study at Claremont Graduate School and Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Blake was also awarded the honorary degrees of a doctorate in divinity from the California Graduate School of Theology in 1982 and doctorate in law from Oral Roberts University in 1988.
Other awards and accolades include the Distinguished Leadership Award presented by the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University, the 2006 Trumpet Award, the Salvation Army’s William Booth Award, the Greenlining Institute’s Big Heart Award, and the L.A. Urban League’s Whitney M. Young Award for the year 2000. In 2003, Bishop Blake was awarded the Harvard Foundation Humanitarian Medal.