Last week I was watching a story about terrorist groups on cable news. The largest target group for recruitment in many cases are unemployed young men from under-resourced communities. There seems to be a number of young men from the United States that fit this description being lured into these terrorist cell armies. What does this tell us? Is it just that terrorist groups are so desperate that they will take anyone, including the Poor? Or does it tell us that they see something in the Poor that we don’t see?
I actually began wrestling with this years ago, when I was an urban youth pastor and later church planter. It seemed to me that gang leaders, pimps, and drug dealers saw more potential in urban poor youth than the church did. I even had to confess that as one who had to raise financial support as an urban youth worker and initially as a church planter, I had developed a heart for the Poor, but I was more focused and dependent than I wanted to admit on the Privileged. I had high hopes for the Privileged. I needed them to believe in me, fund me, and continue to fund my ministry. Some of the Privileged had strings with their money. They also wanted to speak into the strategies and theology of the urban ministry I was involved in even though they had no urban background, urban ministry experience, and lacked cross-cultural competencies. But even with all that, I was depended on believing in the Privileged for my survival. I won’t take the time now to add that one of the reasons I was so dependent on the Suburban Privileged is because many Urban Churches either didn’t have the resources to or didn’t believe in hiring full time Youth Pastors. So that raises the question of if the urban church in some cases even believes in college educated young adults who come from urban environments with a call on their lives for ministry. But again, I won’t go into that now.
All this energy on the Suburban Privileged can take energy away from believing the Poor. Believing in the Poor is much more than having compassion for the Poor. Within Evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism there is much compassion and advocacy for the Poor in the US, but I question is we are fully committed to the empowerment of the Poor. Empowerment of the Poor means you believe in their potential to lead, develop, create, innovate, and become a part of your succession plan if you are an older leader. This is what’s missing in far too many of our models of evangelism, discipleship, and witness within the body of Christ in the US.
Why must we radically believe in the Urban Poor? Because this was the ministry of Christ. Not only was it His ministry, it was the human package in which Christ lived as He walked the earth. Christ did not come to earth as a Privileged Suburbanite. He came as a Jewish, ethnic minority, oppressed, and marginalized human being. The Poor, marginalized, outcast, and diseased were at the center of His declarations and demonstrations of the Kingdom of God. He showed us Who He was thru His interactions with women, children, the blind, the paralyzed, and those facing the death sentence. He then empowered them to go out as evangelists and missionaries, advancing the Kingdom of God themselves.
The first churches as we know them in the New Testament, in many cases, were led by the persecuted, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the non-Privileged. God has high standards and great expectations of the Poor. The question is not what God thinks about the Poor, but what does the Privileged Church of the US think about the Poor. We must believe in the Poor, especially the Urban Poor in our nation. We must see their potential. If you can’t see the potential of a Poor Person becoming a leader and/or Pastor in your church then you are not seeing the Poor thru the eyes of Christ. If you can’t see the Poor planting churches and shepherding their own people in their own communities then you aren’t seeing them thru the eyes of Christ.
We must move beyond simply compassion for the Poor to the empowerment of the Poor.
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him”
Proverbs 13:24 (ESV)
The recent news about Minnesota Viking Running Back, Adrian Peterson whooping his 4 year son excessively with a switch has sparked a lot of discussion throughout social media. My even stating that he excessively whooped his son could cause great frustration with those who would say I’m using language to cover up what is really child abuse. In the end, child abuse could very well end up be the concluding verdict in the legal process. But I will let the process take its course.
Let me start by saying that there are a number of issues at work here. One, is the cultural differences and opinions around child discipline. And when I say cultural differences, I’m not purely focused on race or ethnicity. Values and behavior within this issue can be based on demographics, economic class, and one’s own childhood issues. Two, we have to ask ourselves how much we value children in our society. Some are reacting based on their love for football, not children. Some are reacting based on defending an African American male that they feel is being made an example of within the power institutions of the media, the NFL, and the ever-growing public opinion. But even this category doesn’t seem to put children first. Some people are reacting based on what they went thru as a child and the unresolved issues around how they were disciplined. I wonder what our discussions would be in our society if we put children first on these types of issues.
I was spanked and whooped as a part of being disciplined by my parents. This was the cultural context in which I grew up. I have never doubted that my parents loved me dearly as a child. I also know that they were different in their discipline of me than how their parents disciplined them. Now that I’m a parent, I discipline my children somewhat different than my parents disciplined me. I know this, though I received spankings and whoopings growing up, my doctor never saw marks on my body that raised high concerns. I’m not here to judge Adrian Peterson, I’m here to say that we need to be willing to revisit on a regular basis the complex issues around disciplining our children. Here are some thoughts-
1.) Never discipline your child when you are angry. Cool off, explain to your child why you are disciplining them, and when it’s over hug and tell them how much you love them.
2.) Ask yourself if physical punishment of some kind is the needed response at that time or are you doing it because it’s all you know or you’re too tired to think thru other options.
3.) Don’t parent in isolation. You should have other family members, friends, and even professionals who you allow to speak into your life about how you discipline your children.
4.) An arrogant parent is an ignorant parent.
I’m not telling you to spank or not spank your child. I’m not telling you to whoop or not whoop your children. What I am saying is, continue to grow as a parent. Don’t do something just because your parents did. My parents listened to 8 tracks, but I don’t. It’s a different day. Be wise, be loving, be consistent, and keep learning when it comes to being a parent. As a Christian, I ultimately want to be directed by God in how I parent. What directs and guides you? Speaking of Christianity, I would encourage you to study all of the interactions of Jesus with children. Also, reflect upon what could become the thin line between discipline and abuse. Finally, as a society we must wrestle with how much we truly value children in our society. We are so quick to judge and defend celebrities sometimes while our kids become second-class citizens.
With the releasing of the TMZ video showing NFL player Ray Rice punching his then fiancée so hard that she was knocked unconscious, we once again see that domestic violence is a serious and tragic issue among professional athletes. But what about the seriousness of domestic violence within the Church?
I am concerned that domestic abuse is not dealt with nearly at the level that it should be within the Church. Now you may disagree with me, but let me ask you, when is the last time domestic abuse was brought up biblically within a sermon in your Church? If you would say recently, I would be impressed and envious. I can’t tell you the last time I heard a sermon on the topic. I can say to you though that as a Pastor and ministry leader, I have walked with many couples where domestic abuse was an issue. I have challenged men over the years in I congregations where I’ve served about how they treat women. I have also a few times had to confront friends and family members when I witnessed how they treated their wives and girlfriends. There have also been the times when I have had to deal with male Pastors who treated their wives as second class citizens. Some of the things I’ve heard male Pastors say to their wives have hurt me deeply. It also made me wonder what happened when they got home behind closed doors.
I have been deeply challenged lately in my own preaching to deal more often with the issue of violence as the primary means to solve conflict. Too many men know no other way to deal with a conflict than to resort to some sort of threatening or violent behavior. The Church must own that this approach to solving conflict with women could be connected to an extreme and misappropriated theology of the man as the head over the woman. I’m not talking about a spiritual leading and serving based on the love of Christ for the Church, but a belief that a woman must do as a man says or face the consequences. The Church must dismantle this dysfunctional and damaging theology and replace it with deep biblical teaching on love and forgiveness as the primary way to solve conflict. There is the great possibility that violent and hurting men will be sitting in congregations this Sunday. Who will preach to them a word that could deal with and begin to dismantle the demons of violence within?
There is also the possibility that non-violent men who are passive and lack the courage to confront domestic violence will be sitting in congregations this Sunday as well. Who will minister to them? The Church can and must deal with the issue of domestic violence. This is not just a problem in the National Football League. This is about a broader culture of violence, sin, and brokenness that can be dismantled thru the love and transformation found in Christ.
I am a product of the urban church and the urban public school system. I am proud that I didn’t have to go outside of the city to get the ministry, education, mentoring, coaching, accountability, and standards of excellence I needed to become the empowered leader I am today. There are some that say educational empowerment and access is the Civil Rights issue of today. With all of the other challenges facing our nation right now, I will simply agree that it is one of many. Even with that stated, it is important for quality education to be delivered to urban children and youth; especially those living in under-resourced communities. At World Impact (www.worldimpact.org), we are committed to quality education among the urban poor and initiatives which supplement this important focus. I believe this focus ought to be a high priority for all urban churches on some level.
In many cities across the nation, urban families are choosing educational options for their children that leads to them being bused to schools in the suburbs. Because of my experiences as a student in the urban public schools, serving as a basketball coach in the urban public schools, and pastoring a church that facilitated after school programs in the city, I strongly believe that urban young people should not have to leave their communities to find educational empowerment. At World Impact we have over 43 years of history providing a holistic approach to urban ministry which includes educational empowerment. Urban ministry for us has been about Bible Clubs and Teen Outreach Centers as well as Homework Clubs and the development of Urban Schools.
Our Homework Clubs provide a safe and loving environment for urban young people to get their homework done. This time also includes meals and snacks. It’s challenging to learn if you’re hungry and if your home doesn’t provide an environment free of the distractions that keep a person from learning. World Impact’s Los Angeles Christian School and Newark Christian School having been providing Christian-based, urban education to elementary and middle school students for a number of years. In recent years we have also been running the Fredrick Douglass School in Chester, Pennsylvania. Our schools include urban missionary staff serving as teachers and administrators. Why is this important? Because it means the majority of our school staff live in the communities where they teach and desire to develop a deeper relationship with urban children and their families. In many cases this type of missional and relational approach leads to both empowerment and transformation.
This kind of commitment is vital today. For many of the urban poor, their destiny is set by the third or fifth grade. I have heard it said that many urban children who are below grade level in reading and math at this point in life have a greater chance of becoming caught up in the criminal justice system. I realize as a Pastor, that it is extremely important for urban young people to know Christ at an early age and show strong competency in math and reading at that same stage of life.
All urban churches can play a role. You don’t have to start urban schools like we have at World Impact. You can simply start a tutoring program at your church or at the nearest urban public school. Get involved on committees and attend meetings that provide you the opportunity to advocate for quality urban education and hold schools accountable. When I was an urban pastor in Minneapolis, I simply sat down with school principles and district administrators and asked how our church could serve them. I was told on many occasions how they wished that more churches would get involved.
Let us commit ourselves in greater ways to urban children and youth thru initiatives of urban educational empowerment. This holistic approach to urban ministry can bring about significant opportunities for transformation.
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.
President and CEO
World Impact, Inc
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.
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.
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-http://youtu.be/oDLzL4Q2zwg
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.
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?