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Ferguson and the Church

Aug 21, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

As President and CEO of World Impact, a follower of Christ, and an African-American male, I have been deeply grieved by the death of Michael Brown and the events that have followed in Ferguson, Missouri. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Many young African-American lives have been lost across the country this summer in altercations with the police, gang violence, and other forms of deeply-rooted conflict. It does not help that this all occurs at a time where there is significant racial, political, and theological divides in our nation.


World Impact was founded over 43 years ago out of the rubble and smoke of urban riots. God called this ministry into the city with the missional priorities of Evangelism, Equipping, and Empowerment among the Unreached Urban Poor. At that time African Americans were the most visible sign of the need for economic, institutional, and political change in the country. Many of the systemic, institutional, and spiritual warfare dynamics that existed then connected to race, class, and values still haunt us today. It is no coincidence that the conflicts and challenges that we are witnessing are taking place in urban and surrounding under-resourced communities. There is a great opportunity for the Church, Para Church Ministries, and Urban Missions Organizations to rise up as examples of the reconciliation, justice, healing, and transformation that comes through the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God.


To walk into this great opportunity, the Body of Christ must take responsibility and act as Nehemiah did in the Old Testament. Many under-resourced communities are the way they are because of historic White Flight, Upper Middle-Class Black Flight, and Resourced Church Flight. There are also public policy and economic factors that play a role. At the same time, we must ask ourselves if we value young African-American males enough to father them, pastor them, listen to them, protect them, and provide tough love when needed. We must also own as the Church that we have not taken seriously social ills such as racial profiling and a broken criminal justice system. I praise God for the Urban Churches and Ministries that have remained committed to under-resourced communities, but the efforts of the Body of Christ have not been enough.


I lovingly call the Church everywhere to reevaluate its commitment to reconciliation, justice, and transformation for those that need it most.



Efrem Smith

President and CEO

World Impact, Inc

Racial Profiling, Thug-ology, and the Church

Aug 18, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, justice, race, reconciliation, the church  //  1 Comment

I know what it’s like to be racially profiled-

1.) I was once asked by police officers what I was doing when I was standing in the driveway of my own house with other African American family members. We weren’t loud, we were just saying goodbye after a family BBQ at my house.

2.) As a teen I was accused of stealing candy and when I lifted up my shirt and emptied my pockets to show I had stolen nothing, there was no apology. I was still asked to leave the store though.

3.) I was once sitting in my car in front of the house of a friend waiting for him to come out and I was approached and cussed out by a police officer.

4.) Myself and two other African-American males riding in my car were pulled over because we fit the description of someone who had robbed a house nearby.

Did I mention that it’s painful to tell these examples?

I know what it’s like to grow up in a community culture of thug-ology-

1.) Growing up, I watched as the Bloods Gang took over more and more of my neighborhood.

2.) A classmate of mine was beaten so badly in the hallway afterschool during my senior year of high school, that he died days later.

3.) A math teacher at my high school was arrested for selling drugs to students.

4.) Once my wife and I, along with our oldest daughter who was just a baby at the time, found ourselves lying on the floor of our home because two guys were in our backyard shooting across the street at some other guys.

Did I mention that it’s painful to share these examples?

I believe that racial profiling can systemically be dismantled. There must be increased cross-cultural training and racial competency development of officers. The existence of racial disparities within the criminal justice system must be acknowledged. There should be increased positive interaction between the police and African American communities. There should be justice and apologies when mistakes are made. Developing trust should be an on-going effort. The police should work with the Urban Church towards these ends.

As African Americans, we can no longer live in denial about the deep seated culture and the glamorization of contextualized thug-ology within our communities. I’ve witnessed too many examples of our people justifying African-American young men dressing and carrying themselves in ways that will never prepare them for a productive career. I’ve seen too many parents get so excited about 8th grade promotions and high school graduations with no expectation or push for their Sons to go to college. I mean a four year liberal arts college or university. I’ve learned that if you want your African American Sons to go to college and not jail, the work actually begins in the 3rd and 5th grade. Too many parents are in denial and believe a myth about how good the children are, while ignoring how deeply they are enslaved to aspects of thug-ology.

Let me say right now that thug-ology does not justify racial profiling and the deaths of too many African American young males by police. At the same time, racial profiling does not justify the denial of the significance of contextualized thug-ology culture within too many predominately African American communities.

The Urban Church and specifically the African American Church has a major role to play in both of these areas. She must be willing to be prophetic within both of these areas. I agree with one of the Fathers of Black Theology, Dr. J. Deotis Roberts. He has written on many occasions about the importance of the African American Church being about both liberation and reconciliation. I believe African American pastors have a unique ability to provide a framework for advancing the Kingdom of God that includes justice and presents the multi-ethnic, Beloved Community. Dr. Roberts also believes that the African American Church must address the need to stabilize and strengthen the African American family. Without strong African American families, there is no African American Church.

I was just in Oakland this past week and too many churches were closed, with signs stating that they are only open for Wednesday Bible Study and Sunday Morning Worship. This is unacceptable. The issues facing our cities calls for collaborative church strategies that put Christians on the streets until systems change and crime reduces significantly. Commuter Churches must become Community Churches again. The Church can indeed address both racial profiling and thug-ology.

The Church Can Reduce Urban Violence

Aug 11, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, the church  //  No Comments

With all the attention on the violence in the Middle East (and this attention is justified), we may be losing sight about the violence taking place in urban centers within the United States of America. When it comes to violence far away in other countries it can be challenging for the Church to find ways to get involved in a transformative way. Even with this being the case the Church should do more in raising awareness, mobilizing its congregants, and looking for ways to collaborate with indigenous missions organizations globally. When it comes to addressing domestic violence in our own cities, the solutions are not as challenging but it will take repentance, humility, courage, and being willing to learn from ministries who have stayed on the front lines of urban ministry.

Urban violence is taking a tremendous toll on families and taking away too many young lives this summer in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland. Though we need to address issues such as the need for more fruitful youth programs, family stabilization initiatives focused on the importance of healthy fatherhood, the loss of jobs in urban areas, the broken immigration system, and the displacement of the urban poor thru gentrification, we must also recognize what an important role the Church can play in urban transformation. The kind of urban transformation based on the advancing of the Kingdom of God, can lead to significantly reducing urban violence.

I hope to lovingly challenge the Church here, but also provide solutions. First, the Church must have a repentant heart and take responsibility for the violence within cities the way Nehemiah took responsibility for the city of Jerusalem being in ruins in the Old Testament. Cities are the way they are to a degree because many  predominately White and resourced Churches abandoned the city as a part of White Flight in the 60′s and 70′s. Next, the Church Planting and Church Growth strategies of the 90′s focused on the new upper middle class suburbs developed out of the overflow of that White Flight. Am I against suburban church planting and church growth? Absolutely not, I’m just trying to point out how the Church has to a large degree took its best Church development and planting ideas to the suburbs and the city became an after thought. Many African American Churches have since followed the blueprint of the White Church Flight of the 60′s and 70′s. It seems that church success is measured by making it to the suburbs. Instead of The Jefferson’s theme song, Moving On Up, it’s now about Moving On Out.

The solution is for the Suburban Church to come back to the city by partnering with, learning from, and investing in the existing Urban Church and in Urban Missional Ministries. The Suburban Church is needed in the city, but not as a parent or expert. The Suburban Church must come to the city humble, generous, and as a student. This will bless the Suburban Church in the long run because many suburbs are starting to have urban problems.

Another issue that the Church has to own is the fracturing of the Urban Church that remained in the city. I know this tough truth best within the African-American Church context. There has been too many church splits and too much mini empire building within the African-American Urban Church. This has led to multiple smaller churches to a degree competing against each other and none of them on their own having the full capacity to address the issues and challenges within the surrounding communities. This is not to take away from healthy African American Urban Churches that are making a tremendous difference in cities. This is also not to take away from the need for Urban Church Planting Movements. There is much we can learn from the African American Church, but we must also be willing to dissect hard truths. I say this as one who is a product of the African American Church and honors it greatly to this day. A fractured church, competing against itself and dividing people up for the survival of its small congregation doesn’t lend itself well for dealing with the massive violence and spiritual warfare deeply rooted in the city.

This is why we need smaller churches to form networks and collaborative alliances to take on urban violence. We saw this kind of effort during the Civil Rights Movement. When I was a pastor in Minneapolis, I experienced this thru Bridges of Reconciliation of the then active Sanctuary Community Development Corporation and the Community Reclamation Project of the Stairstep Foundation. At World Impact, we sponsor and connect with Urban Church Associations as a way to live into a strategy of working as one Church to deal with urban challenges.

Finally, I want to say something lovingly to Urban Churches that are being led by seasoned leaders who, age wise are well into their 60′s or older. It is time to adopt a more transformational ministry strategy that is about reproduction and community development. This will also take collaboration. In San Francisco, there is an alliance of African American Churches that have formed a community development corporation as an example of this transformational approach. We must also pass the baton to younger leaders who are seminary trained, highly respected in the community, and bring strategic and cross cultural insights to forge a more fruitful future. If the Church can take this repentant and humble approach, we can  address urban violence and tackle whatever else the enemy has brought to destroy our cities and oppress multitudes of people.


World Impact Video- Why Urban Churches Need to Collaborate

Aug 6, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   the church  //  No Comments

It is possible to walk down one block in many urban communities and pass multiple churches. With so many urban churches, why are there still so many challenges in our inner cities? Checkout this video-

The Problem with City Transformation and Church Planting Movements

Aug 5, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   reconciliation, the church, theology  //  2 Comments

There are some city transformation and urban church planting models that in the end will actually be more problematic than transformative and missional in cities across the United States. These expressions of church planting seem to put at the forefront those that are coming into the city thru an urban redevelopment model known as gentrification. The poor, the immigrant, and the longstanding residents of urban communities become secondary objects of outrreach. This approach seems very different from the missional work of Jesus, which begins with the paralyzed, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, fishermen, and those marginalized and oppressed by the Roman Empire and the religious leaders of the Temple.

Another problem is that too many city transformation and urban church planting movements come into the city ignoring existing churches and other urban ministries that have been around for years. There is a privileged and colonizing spirit of “bringing Jesus to the city” instead of recognizing that Jesus is already there. As one who was born and raised in the city, served as an urban youth pastor, and planted an urban church in the city where I was raised, I am amazed at the arrogance of some who come into the city from the outside with their models, principles, and values that they feel,”led by God” to bring into and place upon the city. I have had many suburbanites try to school me on urban ministry, transformation, and church planting verses learning from me and hundreds to thousands of others who have a track record of fruitful urban ministry.

Urban ministry at its best has always been about the empowerment and liberation of the suffering. Urban ministry at its best is about facilitating a movement where the oppressed become the chosen indigenous leaders of God within their own communities. City transformation and urban church planting movements could learn a lot from the urban Black church  as well as African-American theologians and practitioners for starters. To learn from those such as Dr. Cheryl Sanders and Dr. J. Deotis Roberts. I would also point people to the late Tom Skinner and to the living Queen of Reconciliation, Brenda Salter McNeil.

The Urban Church as Teacher

Jul 15, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   BLOG, race, reconciliation, the church  //  2 Comments

I am a product of the urban church. I am both a child of Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church; an African American Church and Park Avenue United Methodist Church; a Multi-ethnic Church both located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am a child of urban culture. I grew up in the soil of urban life and the sub-cultures of both Hip Hop and the unique artistry of the legendary Prince. I have such a high regard for urban life and the urban church that it has felt strange for me to live outside of the city for the last four years in the Outer East Bay of Northern California.

Living outside of the city has afforded me the unique opportunity to see how suburban areas and bedroom communities are rapidly changing. Gentrification, continued growing metropolitan development, and the economic crisis in the US has led to the suburbs developing urban issues and challenges. Gentrification has displaced the urban poor to suburban and rural rental communities. Light rail as one element of metropolitan growth as helped to the dismantling of the social walls between the haves and the have not’s. The economic crisis has led to suburban people developing “urban problems.” Well educated, upper-middle class people are now finding themselves unemployed and upside down on their homes. Places that were built for the well-resourced are now dealing with the social challenges that were seen as just going on in the hood. It’s not all bad in the suburbs though (just as it’s not been all bad in the city). There is the beauty of the continued increase in multi-ethnic diversity in the suburbs as an example.

One thing is true though, what the suburbs and bedroom communities are becoming is not what churches that were planted there 10 to 20 years ago were anticipating. Church growth, program-based, and multi-site strategies alone cannot deal with the present and future mission field of the suburbs. Many suburban churches were built around the people coming to the church being resourced, highly educated, with relatively stable families, and a surrounding community that offered very little ethnic diversity. What a prime mission field for a large, program-based, multi worship experience, and multi-site vision. Now please know that I’m not putting these strategies down. They work very well in a certain mission field, but more and more that mission field will no longer exist. If suburban churches aren’t strong in areas of compassion, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, and Christian community development they will begin to soon struggle if they are not struggling already. Now there will be a few mega churches that will be able to ride out a soon outdated wave of privileged homogeneity, but many others will find that wave harder and harder to surf.

This is why I believe this is the perfect time for suburban churches to learn from urban churches. This will take insight, humility, and a stronger Kingdom mindset. Many resourced suburban churches only tend to see cities and urban churches from the perspective of how they can help them instead of the help they can receive from them. The way in which urban churches understand suffering, have stood the test of time as spiritual anchors, understand what happens during the week may be more important than what happens in worship on the weekend, and have had to stare more visible demonic forces in the face, could be a tremendous blessing to suburban churches. Will suburban churches be willing to become urban students?

The urban church though will have to decide if she is willing to strive to become a better missional teacher to suburban churches. If the urban church strives to become a teacher in this way, she must admit the ways in which she has been held captive to the things of this world such as the race matrix. The more the urban church becomes a Kingdom force of truth, transformation, reconciliation, and justice the better teacher she will become. The urban church must fight off the temptation of becoming such a commuter church that she loses her identity as a community transforming church. I praise God for all that I’ve learned from the urban church. I continue to learn more and more. What about you?

Cities, Churches, and Challenges

Apr 20, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

It seems that you can go to just about any inner city in the United States of America and find the same interesting dynamic. Many if not all cities have communities that are considered the most challenged when it comes to crime, being economically under-resourced, having underperforming schools, and other unfortunate issues. These communities tend to be close to the downtown of the cities, which in many cases is at some point on the journey of gentrification. At the same time these communities tend to be filled with churches.

Some of the worst communities in our American cities have churches on every corner. Black Churches, Hispanic Churches, Asian Churches, Historic Mainline Churches, Catholic Churches, Multi-ethnic Churches, and Missional Churches. Baptist Churches, Missionary Baptist Churches, Pentecostal Churches,  Word of Faith Churches, Lutheran Churches, Methodist Churches, Free Methodist Churches, Evangelical Covenant Churches, and Non-denominational Churches. Church Planting Movement Churches, Campus Churches, House Churches, Storefront Churches, Community Churches, and Monastic Churches. If you want a lesson on the history, diversity, beauty, and challenges of the American Church come to the inner-cities of the United States and get your Church lessons. I proclaim that the suburbs are not the central context for understanding the history, present state, and future of the Church in the United States, it’s the city.

After the Church had a significant exodus from the city in the 1960′s, 1970′s, and 1980′s, it’s now become the cool, missional thing to return to the city. Evangelicals are now coming into the city the way they were venturing into the wilderness to build camps in the 1940′s it seems. I’m actually glad they’re coming in general, but will it change anything in a major way? We already have churches on every corner and multiple churches on the same block in cities everywhere. Do we really need more urban churches? I say yes if we embrace the following-

We need three things to occur among the urban church and those coming into the city to start churches in order to experience revolutionary Kingdom advancement and transformation.

1.) We need existing urban churches to stop doing ministry in isolation, which can create a culture of mini-empire building instead of Kingdom of God advancement.

Urban churches must collaborate because the social ills, sins, and challenges are too massive for any one church to deal with no matter how large it is. We need urban church coalitions and association which cross race, ethnicity, denomination, and doctrine in order to create the Kingdom army needed to defeat Satan’s and fallen man’s strategy of evil, arrogance, pride, and division.

2.) We need existing churches to embrace church planting over church splitting.

Church splitting comes about in part because of a lack of embracing the biblical mandate and framework for church planting and development. The urban church must develop a culture of raising up, releasing, and resourcing leaders as church planters and ministry developers.

3.) Suburban Churches, Church Planting Movements, and Urban Missions Organizations, must partner with existing urban churches to plant urban churches.

People coming into the city must honor the church that is already in the city and thru that recognize that Jesus Christ is already present in the city inviting others to join in on God’s strategy for urban revival.

We need the existing urban church to be missional and about the Kingdom of God, not empire building. We also need new urban church plants that honor the existing urban churches that came before them, treating them as revered elders. A united urban church army and movement can tackle the challenges facing cities across this nation.


Abortion Response Video

Apr 18, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

In this video I respond to Facebook critics that say I don’t have a strong enough stand against abortion.


Church Flight

Apr 14, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   reconciliation, the church, Uncategorized  //  4 Comments

My grandmother moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Minneapolis, Minnesota as a single mother with my mom and two other daughters and a son. She was a hard working woman, which is why when I saw the movie, The Help, I cried. Her family was one of the first families to move into what had previously been an all-White community. I can remember in the early 1970′s, when at about 5 years old, my father and mother began pursuing owning a house of their own. We moved into a community where we were one of the first non-White families. I witnessed what is called White-flight with my own eyes. I also witnessed some of the White Church flight. Many Black Churches over time were able to buy or lease church buildings formally occupied by White Churches.

I praise God for the White families that stayed or I never would have befriended Bobby Dorsey or John Saphire. I praise God for the White Churches that stayed or I never would have experienced Boy Scouts at Calvary Lutheran Church or Youth Ministry at Park Avenue Methodist Church. But even with those who stayed, the community was impacted drastically by those who left. Years later White flight would be followed by African- Americans and other ethnic groups that would leave the community once they were able to go to college and pursue a career. After the house I grew up in was broken into and set on fire, it made total sense to me that it was time for my parents to leave the community.

Sometimes I wonder what the community I grew up in would be like today if none of the churches would have left after my family members moved in? What if none of the churches that were there prior would have left? What if Black Churches would have been planted and thrived right next to White Churches? What if Multi-ethnic Churches would have developed in the 1970′s in my neighborhood as shining lights of the Kingdom of God? What if there had been no flight.

Today, many of the resourced church plants are strategically placed in the suburbs. Most church planting models are based on a suburban missional context. When Black Churches grow to a certain size, many begin looking for suburban land to fulfill ministry dreams. Yes, there are urban church planters and older churches that never left the city (PRAISE GOD!), but the city is still living in the after effect of Church flight.

The good news is there seems to be a missional return to the cities. The are urban church planting movements coming to the city. There are those graduating from Christian universities sensing a call to join the movement to return to the city. What I say to those coming to the city and recently arriving in the city-

Honor those pastors, churches, missional organizations, and families that never left.

The Gospel According to Captain America: Winter Soldier

Apr 8, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, spiritual growth, the church  //  No Comments

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

-Ephesians 6:10-13 (NASB)

WARNING! Though I really don’t believe I need to give a spoiler alert for this blog post in connection to the movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier, if you are still concerned, go see it first and then read this.



How do you respond when an institution, community, or a person you’ve believed in and maybe even fought for is compromised by evil forces? Herein lies a spiritual lesson that we can take from the movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier. Captain America has been loyal to the United States, its government, and S.H.I.E.L.D., a larger agency committed to the safety of the world. I will leave it at that if you haven’t seen the movie and go deeper with the spiritual lesson.

We live in a broken and upside down world. Institutions and communities have been compromised by this evil and sinful world. Humankind is fallen and Satan is real. For the most part that is not a hard sell for Christians. This is why it’s important to see this issue from the perspective of Captain America. The government system is the vehicle thru which Captain America was given new life. It’s what helped develop his mission and purpose. So for the Christian to understand the gospel according to Captain America we have to come to grips with how Christianity as an institution and community has been compromised. The true gospel found in Christ Jesus is Christianity at its best. But the institutions and the communities thru which Christianity is to be expressed has been compromised.

When a pastor confesses a moral failure we see the compromise. This leads to the question who can you trust when it comes to pastors. When the church preaches a gospel that sounds more like capitalism and deep individualism than Kingdom, we see the compromise. This leads to the question who can you trust when it comes to the church. When the church is broken and compromised what do you do? What do you do when you Christian Brother or Sister has been compromised? This is what we can learn from Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Captain America, in the midst of a compromised system never lost sight of his true mission and purpose. This brought justice to a compromised system and defeat to the real enemy. As Christians we must find our true mission and purpose even when some of  our institutions, communities, and leaders have been compromised. When we are able to do this, we truly spread the Gospel and take back territories and lives from the real enemy.