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Ferguson and A Way Forward

I write this post right after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. The Grand Jury has made the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson when it comes to the shooting death of Michael Brown. There is television evidence showing that already violence has erupted in Ferguson. We need a way forward in the United States of America that brings about healing, justice, peace, reconciliation, and transformation. My faith still leads me to believe that the best way to realize all of this is thru the non-violent advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the most excellent example of the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God. The Church is the front line vehicle for this to be realized today. I also believe that people of good will also have an opportunity to seize a reconciling moment if they so choose.

Though this is a tense, divided, and violent moment in our nation, there is a way forward that people of all races, classes, and political ideologies can grab a hold of. But we must look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves how we desire to move forward. Do we want to continue to participate in a deeply divided nation by race, politics, and class? Or is there something on the inside of us that not only desires something better, but provides a push in our soul to participate in this something better? This something better is the Kingdom of God or what Martin Luther King Jr. called, The Beloved Community.

One of the ways we move forward regardless of your personal opinion on this situation is to grieve with the family of Michael Brown. This is biblical. We are reminded of this in the Gospel of Matthew; to grieve with those who are grieving. We are also called biblically to love, forgive, and extend grace. Too many Christians are using this moment to extend political ideology and not the traits of the Kingdom that we are to represent.

Another way forward is for the privileged to listen to and learn from those who are different from them and have a different opinion than them. This is not the time to judge, argue, and patronize if you are privileged. This is a time to listen, pray, learn, and show an amazing humility. This is a genuine way for the Kingdom of God to be expressed. As an African American male, my heart is heavy. This is all very difficult to take in and yes, I wonder if the African American life carries value in this nation. I need my Brothers and Sisters who are not African American to walk with me, pray with me, listen to me, and grieve with me. This kind of reconciling approach is a way forward.

Yet, another way forward is for the Church to not ignore this issue. The Church must be a force of racial reconciliation and righteousness. The Church must acknowledge that we live in a broken world. This not only includes broken people, but broken systems as well. We must bring to bear the love, grace, transformative power, reconciliation, and justice of God upon this reality. The Church must be a bridge over social troubled waters of brokenness and division. Pastors who ignore these realities in their preaching and shepherding ignore the mission field outside their church walls. The Church must build a bridge between the police and under-resourced communities. The Church must build bridges between the haves and the have not’s. The Church must see, care for, and empower the Poor, the marginalized, and the undervalued. This is our biblical responsibility. The Church should not wait for unfortunate circumstances, but should be a constant force of transformation. We must prayerfully grab hold of this moment and find our way forward.


Dealing with the Crisis of Mass Incarceration

Nov 20, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, the church, youth ministry  //  No Comments

Our nation has a serious crisis when it comes to mass incarceration and we are in need of major reforms within the broader criminal justice system. The deep divide and demonization surrounding Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson, and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri show us the need for reforms in the criminal justice system and the need for a deeper commitment to racial righteousness and reconciliation.

In terms of gaining a deeper understanding of the crisis within mass incarceration in our nation, I would highly recommend that you read the book, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Instead of painting the picture of the crisis of mass incarceration and dealing with the problems within the criminal justice system more broadly, I will focus on solutions. At World Impact, we are working to implement a comprehensive and holistic initiative we call “Incarceration to Incorporation” (I2I). This is one of our initiatives within our Focus Area of Demonstrating Compassion and Justice. At the same time this initiative brings together the other Focus Areas of World Impact; Planting Healthy Urban Churches, Developing Missional Partnerships, and Resourcing Urban Leaders.

The Purpose of I2I is, “to equip local church and parachurch ministries to empower ex-inmates to become faithful servants in the local church as well as prevent urban young people from becoming inmates in the first place.” I2I takes both an approach of prevention and intervention. More than that it takes an approach of empowerment, restoration, and transformation of the poor, marginalized, and incarcerated.

Let me start with the prevention side of this initiative. World Impact began over 43 years ago as an urban missions organization focused on evangelism and discipleship among unreached urban poor children and youth. Initiatives back then included bible clubs, discipleship homes, and other outreach activities. I have heard many experts in the area of mass incarceration say that there exists an invisible pipeline from the cradles of poor urban children and  juvenile detention centers and prisons. One of the ways that this pipeline can be dismantled is by making sure that urban children are at grade level in math and reading by the 3rd and 5th grades. We address this at World Impact thru two Christian Schools, one in Los Angeles and the other in Newark. The dismantling of the pipeline goes beyond just reading and math skills though. It’s instilling in urban under-resourced children that they can be leaders and change agents within their own communities. Strong education mixed with evangelism and discipleship deals in a preventative way with the crisis of mass incarceration. We want to assist in building the capacity of the urban church to adopt public elementary schools and start tutoring programs. We partner with ministries such as the Urban Youth Workers Institute (UYWI) to equip children and youth ministry leaders in order to leverage our history using an incarnational approach to urban ministry that raises up young heroes for God.

But dealing with the crisis of mass incarceration is also about intervention. It’s about believing that when men and women are incarcerated this is not the end of their story. Jesus stood in between a woman who had broken the law of adultery and capital punishment by way of stoning (John 8). We also see here that the mixture of a religious and criminal justice system was broken even way back then. This is not to condone adultery in any way, but to look at brokenness even in systems that are supposed to be just. Where was the man that broke the law of adultery with the woman? Jesus stepped into this broken criminal justice system and kept the woman from being stoned to death. He didn’t believe her crime was the end of her story. This is why we have partnered with Prison Fellowship, Awana, and other ministries to develop The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) as satellites of theological education and leadership development in prisons and county jails. We have close to 60 TUMI satellites in prisons and county jails, serving 1,113 students. We believe that the incarcerated can become disciples who make disciples while in prison. We also believe there are leadership, ministry, and job skills that can be developed.

The next part of I2I focuses on what happens when men and women come out of prison, jail, or a halfway house program. This is really where the incorporation side of the initiative comes into play. Our SIAFU Chapters and Homes are a way to work with the local church so that those who have been incarcerated can be fully incorporated back into a community and they can make a transformative difference. SIAFU is an African word describing a red ant. This insect by itself is blind and living a life of chaos, but within a network of ants becomes a  strong community. SIAFU Chapters are discipleship groups connected to a local urban church or ministry that provides an opportunity for mentoring, continued leadership development, and a bridge into the broader life of the church and surrounding community. The mentoring, coaching, and empowerment can also come thru a missional partnership between both the urban and suburban church. SIAFU Homes provide a residential approach where World Impact staff and/or local urban church members have a closer, incarnational relationship with the formerly incarcerated. We have run a pilot of a SIAFU Leadership Home in San Francisco and are set to launch another one in Oakland next year.

I have shared what World Impact is attempting to do in dealing with the crisis of mass incarceration. I encourage you if not already, to join in as well in some meaningful way. We are called by Christ to see about the incarcerated (Matthew 25:31-40). Let us live into this biblical mandate.


Nov 4, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, the church  //  No Comments

Yes, I know that “Poor-a-phobia” is not a word, but I believe it is a sickness that exists within our society today, so I will name it and define it. “Poor-a-phobia” is the internalized fear of Poor People further fueled by limited facts mixed with myths and stereotypes. “Poor-a-phobia” can be increased within Privileged People who are not in significant relationship with Poor People. Now some Privileged People may respond to this definition by saying, “Some of my best friends are Poor.” They may also say, “When I look at people, I don’t see Poor, I just see their heart or character.” These statements are no escape or solution to the sickness of “Poor-a-phobia.” Mainly this is the case because these statements are hard to backup when it seems that the more privileged you become the distance from the Poor seems to enlarge. This can actually increase the sickness.

Speaking of sickness, an interesting thing occurred when I boarded a plane earlier today. A young Black woman with a natural hairstyle and wearing a hoodie cleared her throat. The older White woman next to her asked if she was sick. When the young Black woman replied, “no” (without a West African accent by the way), the older White woman asked if she was sure. She wanted to know for sure so that she would know whether she needed to switch seats. The interesting thing was that the young Black woman showed such grace and patience with the older White woman. Why was the older White woman so concerned? Because now there is a growing fear of people we assume are from a Poor and African part of the world carrying sickness. “Poor-a-phobia” causes people to wonder why Black people who they perceived to be Poor and from Africa are coughing.  They show no fear when Privileged People cough or leave a public restroom in the airport without washing their hands. We also now have a fear of White Missionaries who hang out with Poor Africans as well. I am not stating that we shouldn’t take the Ebola crisis seriously. But why not use this time to rise up like never before to tackle the deep connections systemically between poverty and disease-based epidemics instead of using the fear of sickness as leverage during an election cycle.

“Poor-a-phobia” can also show up when we lock our car doors only when we enter into an under-resourced urban neighborhood. It’s not that locking our car doors is a bad idea. I just wonder why we don’t lock them as soon as we’re pulling out of the driveway no matter the location of our destination. As I’ve already defined though, “Poor-a-phobia” is not just the fear of Poor People, it’s also about myths and stereotypes we carry about the Poor, especially those in the United States of America, including the Undocumented. We hear sound bites such as how the Poor want the government to take care of them, the Undocumented are just coming into the US to take advantage of the welfare system, that Poor men just make babies they don’t want to raise, and so on. I know Poor and Undocumented People who are married, raising children, working multiple jobs, going to school, and serving as leaders in their churches. If we are going to tell the story of Poverty, let us tell the whole story based on actual relationships so that we might cure the sickness of “Poor-a-phobia.”

Ultimately, we cure the sickness of “Poor-a-phobia” by loving and believing in the great potential of the Poor. We must see the Poor the way Jesus Christ sees the Poor. We must interact with the Poor, the Marginalized, and the Outcast the same way Christ did. Christ had compassion for the Poor. Christ empowered the Poor. Christ lived as one of the Poor. So Christians must decide if we love the Poor. Either you love them or you don’t. Either you’ll empowerment them or you won’t. I desire to love the Poor more and
more each day. The truth is I’m a product of the love, toil, mistakes, faith, endurance, suffering, and faith of Poor People. How could I ever fear that?

The Privileged and The Poor

Oct 21, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  6 Comments

Last week while attending my first board meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals, I was able to sit in on a discussion on Evangelicals and Poverty. This forum featured a mild debate of sorts between Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners). Arthur Brooks said something that I found very interesting in his closing comments-

“The real way the rich are stealing from the poor is by not sharing their secrets of success.”

At first I just heard this statement as a politically conservative one that carried more intellectual pontificating than faith-based conviction to actually tackle the multiple issues surrounding poverty in the U.S. As a political moderate I tend to have enough reflective criticism for both the right and the left. But, after further reflection, I believe that Mr. Brooks statement is a window into a biblical principle for the empowerment of the Poor.

A major issue when it comes to poverty and race is the relational divides that exists. The Privileged can’t share secrets with a group of people that they don’t even know by name. I don’t make this point to take away from dealing with the systemic and institutional sides of poverty, but they won’t be dealt with as long as the relational gaps that exist widen. If the Poor are merely homeless people you see holding up signs at intersections, children you interact with on a short term missions trip, or faces you see in the media, are you truly in a position to speak on the issue of poverty? Too many Privileged People are giving commentary on people they aren’t in relationship with.

 You could apply this same relational problem to the issue of race. I don’t believe that most White people are racist, but I have heard too many White people make comments about people groups that they are not in relationship with. Just to be fair, people of other ethnicities do this to, but I bring up Whites because they remain the most privileged people group in the U.S. at this moment in time. When you give commentary on other people groups that you aren’t in deep relationship with, it could open the door to people perceiving you as being racist or prejudice.

When I was the pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, I was fortunate to have a number of conversations about poverty with fellow staff members. One staff member that I had very deep and sometimes mildly heated conversations on the subject was Mr. Neeraj Mehta. He would say often that poverty is about the lack of relationships. At first I thought this wasn’t a very strong beginning point for tackling the issue of poverty. As I’ve thought about it about it more and more though, my Brother Neeraj is absolutely right. We must close the relational gaps between the Privileged and the Poor. When the Privileged and the Poor are reconciled, we will see poverty as we know it in the U.S. dismantled. I’m not sure if we will ever totally eradicate poverty in the U.S., (though I passionately hope so) but I do believe through relationships, we can put a major dent in it.

To dismantle poverty in this way, we not only need multi-ethnic congregations, we need multi-class congregations. Poor people ought to have a voice in the Church. They ought to have the opportunity to serve as elders, deacons, preachers, and board members alongside the Privileged. Putting all Privileged People in power and places of influence may be the American way, but it’s not the Kingdom of God way. How can Privileged People suffer with those who suffer when they are not in friendship or community with those who suffer? Jesus Christ modeled a ministry life of being up close with the oppressed, suffering, outcast, and marginalized. American Christians seem to be held captive by the matrix of economic and racial compartmentalization. Because of this too many Privileged Christians have compassion for the suffering, but they aren’t in intimate relationships with them. People don’t tend to share secrets with people they don’t love, respect, value, and trust.

Could it be to this degree that all Christians are biblically called to be incarnational? I’m not saying all Privileged People need to sell their houses in nice neighborhoods and move to under-resourced ones. What I’m saying is that for the Privileged Christian, we ought to live in the blessed gift of having a diverse community of friends across racial, ethnic, and class lines. To accept this gift is to live more deeply as a Kingdom citizen. Christ was in the business of closing social and relational gaps. This is why He was up close with Samaritans, the diseased, the paralyzed, the left for dead, and the Privileged. What if as Privileged Christians we spent more time talking about people we were in relationship with than giving commentary on people we don’t?

Empowerment Theology

Oct 13, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   race, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church, theology  //  No Comments

Many times when Christ was declaring or demonstrating that the Kingdom of God was near, He did so thru interactions with the marginalized, the oppressed, and the physically challenged. He also gave His followers the authority and responsibility to do the same. The paralyzed, the blind, the outcast woman, one facing the death penalty, and the stigmatized minority encountered Christ and left a different person.

In many cases the Gospels show us that when the marginalized and broken encountered Christ, they left empowered. Those religiously unlearned followers willing to leave their working-class occupations, found themselves empowered to preach, speak to evil spirits, and heal the sick. The good news that Christ spoke of and performed led to the oppressed becoming the empowered. This version of empowerment is quite different from how empowerment is defined in our upside down world today.

Empowerment in our world is based on title, educational level, economic class, and celebrity. Because of the race matrix that we are still held captive by, skin color can be a major factor when it comes to empowerment. Because women lag behind men in many social and religious areas such as work pay, executive positions, and pastoral leadership, gender can also be a major factor when it comes to empowerment.

But what does empowerment look like in the body of Christ? What does empowerment look like in the Church? How does one become a pastor? How does one become an elder or board member in the Church? How does one become a Para Church President? How does one become President of a Christian University or College? How does one become leader of a denomination? How does one discover an amazing Kingdom advancing call regardless of their occupation?

Now, I want to recognize that the face of empowerment is becoming more and more diverse but that really isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The real question I’m getting at is, what would the Church and what would our world look like if we followed the empowerment strategies and theology of Christ? I believe if we did, the Poor would be empowered to lead Churches. We’d see even more ethnic and gender diversity when it came to leadership. We’d see more indigenous leadership. The broken, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the Poor would become apostles, prophets, church planters, missionaries, and executives; advancing the kingdom of God like we’ve never seen. We’d see an incredible revival and transformation in under-resourced communities.

Empowerment is a way of understanding the declaration of Christ, stating that He came to give sight to the blind and set the captives free (Luke 4). Empowerment is a way of understanding the many interactions of Christ with women. Empowerment is a way of understanding the miracles of Christ. Empowerment is a way of understanding discipleship and mission. As Christians we must wrestle with how we are stewarding and extending empowerment.

Believing in the Urban Poor

Oct 1, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church, theology  //  No Comments

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 the 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 if they had no urban background, urban ministry experience, and lacked cross-cultural competencies. But even with all that, I was dependent 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 in 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 what I question is, are we 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.

Child Discpline: “Spare the Switch?”

Sep 16, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, spiritual growth  //  1 Comment

“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.

Violent and Passive Men in the Church

Sep 8, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, preaching, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  2 Comments

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.


Empowerment Thru Urban Christian Education

Aug 26, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   the church, youth ministry  //  1 Comment

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 (, 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.

Ferguson and the Church

Aug 21, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, politics, race, reconciliation, the church  //  5 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