Browsing articles in "youth ministry"

The Black Church, Black Lives Matter, and Youth Ministry

Dec 8, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   the church, youth ministry  //  No Comments

Last week I attended The Engaging Young People Summit that was put on by the Fuller Youth Institute. I was honored to have been invited as a leader of a Christian missions organization that began over forty years ago offering bible clubs to urban children and youth. As one who personally served for twelve years as an urban youth minister, I was also interested to learn more about the importance of prioritizing ministry to young people. During my time at this gathering I reflected on how the church played such an important role in my own leadership development and discovery of my call to ministry.

During my teenage years, Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church (RMBC) had a youth ministry that made me believe that young people were important to the church. During my youth RMBC put on youth events that might not have been seen as a ministry at first glance. They put on a monthly Friday Night Dance for youth that included secular music played by a DJ, a fried chicken dinner with red punch, and loving adults who greeted us with smiles and hugs. This was my real entrance into the Black Church. This event made me love going to church. My excitement for going on Friday led to my desire to go on Sunday. When I started going on Sunday mornings to this same church, there was no secular music and there was a lot going on that I didn’t understand, but I was greeted with smiles and hugs by those same adults that I met on Friday night.

Sunday mornings is where my leadership development came. I became a junior usher and also began to sing in the church choir with my mother and grandmother. Soon after that I went up to the Senior Pastor and inquired about being baptized. By that time I knew what that meant. Three years later I found myself at a neighborhood outreach event. Even though I had been baptized, I once again found myself confessing my sins and gaining a deeper understanding of what it meant to come under the lordship of Christ. From this point forward I moved into deeper leadership responsibilities at RMBC. I became a junior deacon and a leader in the youth ministry. I am grateful to the Black Church for prioritizing the lives of young people like me back in the day. At the same time, I am concerned that the Church I love so much – and loved me so much – has not progressed enough collectively when it comes to the professionalization and prioritization of youth ministry.

As I look at the Black Lives Matter Movement and hear some of the anti-church sentiments, I realize that part of this dilemma is that the Black Church is lacking a comprehensive, contextualized, and professionalized view of youth ministry. I have witnessed this priority shift from my teen years as the Hip Hop movement came into prominence through today. It’s hard for me to write this because I love the Black Church so much. But the hard reality is that within the Black Lives Matter Movement there is anger not only at broken aspects of the law enforcement system, but also at the Black Church. This anger could stem from the perception that youth are not prioritized in annual budgets or staffing concerns. I recognize that there are a number of Black Churches that have been highly committed to youth ministry, but far too many have put other ministry initiatives above a robust commitment to youth. It is my desire through World Impact to partner with the Urban Black Church to address this. It is not too late to reimagine a ministry that prioritizes evangelism, discipleship, and the empowerment of young people. I hope dearly that my words will be received in love by a Church that I love so much.


From Burning Cities to a Burning Bush (additional reflections)

Apr 28, 2015   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, youth ministry  //  No Comments

I would recommend that before or after reading this blog post that you read Exodus 1-4 and Nehemiah 1-2.

The initial ministry efforts of, World Impact was birthed during the riots in Watts within the Los Angeles Area 50 years ago. A few years later we would become officially incorporated as an urban missions organization. Knowing this is helpful to understanding why we can’t separate urban missions which includes indigenous leadership development, the facilitating of urban church planting movements, and demonstrating compassion and justice from what is going on in the city of Baltimore right now. If you research what led to the Watts riots in the mid 1960’s you will see the deep connections between what happened then and what is going on in Baltimore right now. We cannot act as if what we are seeing thru both violent and nonviolent protest against police violence is something new. Under-resourced urban communities burning in the United States is not something that just came on the scene in the 21st century. Burning cities, class and racial divisions, broken power structures, and domestic poverty unfortunately should not surprise us. The issue becomes for the Church, can we simultaneously see burning cities and the burning bush opportunities from God to advance a Kingdom of truth, transformation, reconciliation, justice, and eternal life?

World Impact exists because we saw not only Watts burning, but the burning bush of God calling us to evangelism, discipleship, and holistic ministry among the urban poor. The burning bush of God is not only focused on sin from an individual standpoint, but it also focuses on systemic sin reflected in dysfunctional and broken power structures. The Black Church exists today because in the midst of the systemic sin of slavery, there were slaves that were still able to see the burning bush of a God who saves and liberates. The Black Church was also a great pioneer of nonviolent Christ-centered resistance during the Civil Rights Era that brought both spiritual and social transformation. There is both an evangelical and Black Church heritage of seeing and acting upon God’s burning bush in order to see the transformation of lives and communities. We need this type of burning bush action like never before from the Church as we seek to advance the Kingdom of God.

I would also add that we must see those young people who are disenfranchised, angry, and lost as our children. We must missionally run to them with the love, compassion, truth, and grace of Christ. We must see past the anger to the potential of what they can become in Christ. This is the beginning of true urban ministry. Also, in the spirit of Nehemiah, we must face as the privileged (which includes me on some levels) our responsibility in why under-resourced communities have been how they are for so many years. This is not a process of self-shaming, but collective self-reflection so that we can work together to rebuild our cities based on biblical principles. This collective self-reflection also includes work to address not only broken communities but broken power structures and systems as well. World Impact has many initiatives deeply connected around these issues and I hope that you would join us and other urban ministries on the front lines to advance the Kingdom of God and empower the poor and marginalized.

Finally, we should acknowledge, pray for,  and support the many local churches and Para Church ministries in the Baltimore Area working to bring peace and as I’m writing this are cleaning up and talking with people on the streets. We must also pray for pastors who are speaking in both prophetic and loving voices to police, community, and political leaders to bring about the systemic changes that are needed. There is an opportunity for the whole body of Christ to make a transforming impact.

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.

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.

George, Trayvon, and the Church

Jul 22, 2013   //   by efremsmith   //   justice, race, reconciliation, the church, youth ministry  //  9 Comments

This morning as I prepared to go for a run, I thought of getting my hooded sweatshirt from the closet because there was somewhat of a chill in the air. As I thought about this further my heart once again became heavy. I wondered if by some, I’m still seen as a mysterious Black Stranger in my own community. As I went on my run without the sweatshirt, I wondered how I was being perceived. Could they see the Christian, highly educated, professional, married, and father that I am? You see, I have had many experiences of being racially profiled during my lifetime.

To my non-African American Brothers and Sisters, please don’t see me as bitter, angry, or overly emotional (though these feelings should bring me more grace and love instead of isolation). You see these thoughts are not all of who I am. I am still passionate and committed to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. I still sense a tremendous call to reconciliation as well as  Kingdom compassion, mercy, and justice. The tensions, mostly across racial lines over the George Zimmerman verdict is a reminder of the sin-filled and upside down world that we live in. It is an opportunity to forge what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called, The Beloved Community. This is the experience of the Kingdom of God on earth, right now. We must still believe that as Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is near.” This is where my hope and action is still rooted.

The Christian Church like never before must be a vehicle of God’s love, grace, truth, compassion, transformation, and justice. The Church must become the glorious bride of Christ by bringing the reconciling revolution of the Kingdom of God to the lost, the broken, and those in denial about this broken world.

My heart is heavy over both the lost life of Trayvon Martin and the current life of George Zimmerman. Why? Because this is the call on my life. I have been in ministry for over 21 years. My ministry began in Minneapolis, Minnesota serving mostly African-American, at-risk boys through Hospitality House Youth Directions. This continued with my work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Park Avenue United Methodist Church, and The Sanctuary Covenant Church. The Trayvon Martin’s have been on my heart for years. My thoughts, feelings, and theology didn’t just develop over a verdict. This is a major part of my ministry calling. This passion has always been there because I am Trayvon Martin. I join President Obama by saying, over 25 years ago, I was Trayvon Martin. I was followed in stores by security, I was stopped by police just for walking in my neighborhood. But, these experiences led me to another part of my calling.

My experiences in a race-based society also led me to a ministry of racial reconciliation and righteousness. This calling is why I can’t ignore George Zimmerman in all of this. Or, I can’t simply be angry with him for getting out of the car and following Trayvon when he was told not to. I have to love him too. I am called to pray for him. Because he is still living, there is an opportunity for his life to be committed to reconciliation in new and powerful ways. As hard as it is, I’m called to minister to those who support Trayvon and those who support George. This is the heavy cost of reconciliation ministry. This is exactly where the Church needs to be right now. The Church must be a force of reconciliation ministering to both the Trayvon’s and the George’s of this broken and sinful world. We can make a difference so that other rainy night, cross-cultural, and violent experiences are thwarted in Jesus name.

Denying Race

In this same month that a movie on Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball years before the Civil Right Act is released, a high school in the state of Georgia has its first racially integrated high school prom (google it, if you don’t believe me, I saw this on a cable news and entertainment station, Headline News this morning). This is happening in a nation that some claim to be post-racial. Think about this, students in Wilcox County, Georgia had to fight for an integrated prom. They received backlash from some and some of those folks held their own White Only Prom.

There are many of my evangelical Christian Brothers and Sisters that don’t want to deal with race, believing that we are either now in a colorblind and post-racial reality, or think that talking about race is only about bringing on “White Guilt.” My purpose in dealing with issues of race is four fold-

1.) To show that race is unbiblical and was never from a Scriptural standpoint, God’s idea for defining humanity.

2.) To show the race structure and racism individually and systemically for the sin and demonic force that it is.

3.) To create healthy ways to raise awareness and have discussions about race, so that the church can be fruitful and effective in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural mission field.

4.) Through ministry initiatives of reconciliation and righteousness, create a movement of Kingdom Community.

This mission will be difficult for the church if evangelicals on one hand want to promote the Jackie Robinson movie, “42” as great, but are silent about segregated high school proms in the Bible Belt. We can’t have real movement around Kingdom citizenship and community if there is still a great fear from some Christian White families that their daughters are at risk of being asked to prom by a Black or Brown young man. Why else would you want a prom to be segregated? I also wonder if the same churches in the Bible Belt that are silent on segregated proms are still practicing the homogenous principal when it comes to church planting and revitalization?

I realize that there are many churches that are striving to be Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and reconciling communities. I think of church like Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi and Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. There are many others in the Bible Belt that are champions of developing Reconciling Churches. At the same time there are still too many evangelical leaders denying the reality and impact of race in the United States and beyond. Because of this the church is not having the Kingdom impact it could on issues such as immigration, incarceration rates, and disparities in the areas of housing, employment, and education. The issues of race at the end of the day are much bigger than the high school proms that will take place around the country this weekend.

Does the African-American Church Care About Professional Youth Ministry?

Mar 18, 2013   //   by efremsmith   //   the church, youth ministry  //  4 Comments

I have been in conversations over the past few months about the need for better urban and multi-ethnic representation at youth ministry conferences, training events, and within journals and magazines. These conversations have led me to reflect deeper on why the professional youth ministry training and resourcing world in the US remains a predominately Anglo and male world when it comes to executive leadership. The same is true when you look at the senior leaders of most large para church organization such as Youth for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Young Life. Out of those three, I believe Young Life is doing the best job at becoming more multi-ethnic in their staffing structure.

The professional youth ministry resourcing world remains predominately Anglo and male, while adolescent youth culture is becoming more multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan. There are a few exceptions such as The Urban Youth Workers Institute founded by Larry Acosta. But, for the sake of the focus of this post, he’s not African-American. Check this out-

* In 2010 the Anglo births in the US dropped under 50%.

* By 2023 Anglos under 18 in the US will be less than 50% of the adolescent population.

Even with these statistics, youth ministry training and resourcing on a national level mostly comes from a suburban, upper-middle class, and Anglo perspective. To a degree, this makes sense because professional youth ministry as we know it in the US was birthed in a European-American, mainline and evangelical context, during World War 2. I will leave it to Asian and Hispanic leaders to talk about where their churches are when it comes to caring about the further development of professional youth ministry. I will focus on the African-American Church.

Does the African-American Church care about a professional approach to youth ministry? At this point, with the experiences and the evidence I currently have, I would say, “no.” There are way too many reasons why, that this post won’t take time to deal with, but let me deal with a few. Let me also take a moment to define what I mean by professional youth ministry. A professional approach to youth ministry is when a church values youth ministry enough to hire at least one paid staff person focused on this area of ministry, preferably full-time with benefits. You could also include that youth ministry is also a priority when it comes to a generous budget for youth ministry programming and for the professional development of the youth pastor for long-term effectiveness.

One could argue that the African-American Church since its inception has been forced to deal with the sinful and oppressive social issues surrounding it from slavery and Jim Crow in the past, to mass incarceration, failing public school systems, and economic disparities just name a few today. This would make sense why a professional approach to youth ministry has not been at the top of the ministry development list. But even with this reality, I would argue that the issues the African-American Church is dealing with makes an even stronger case for the need for a professional approach to youth ministry.

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and not one African-American Church in my city had a full-time youth pastor on staff when I was a teenager and when I became  an adult, not much had changed. Even the largest African-American Churches with the resources, seemed only interested in paying for a part-time youth pastor. Now when you see an African-American pastor wearing the best suits, driving a luxury car, but won’t push their congregation to hire a full-time youth pastor, what message does that send to urban youth disconnected from church and more connected to Hip Hop culture?

I know of African-American Churches over 3,000 in weekly attendance that are only willing to pay a youth pastor a part time salary. This creates a culture where African-American youth pastors are in youth ministry mainly to develop their preaching skills and bye time until they get the opportunity to become a Senior Pastor. Others end up working for para churches such as Young Life and Youth for Christ. And still others, create their own non-profit ministries, hustling to raise the dollars to keep it going and in too many cases, fail.

I think one of the reasons many African-Americans don’t value professional youth ministry at the level they should is because they never were professional youth pastors themselves. Anglo mega church pastors such as Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Ray Johnston are all former youth pastors, hence their churches have a high value on a professional approach to youth ministry.

Let me end by saying I know of a number of African-American Churches around the country with full-time youth pastors, but they are far too few. I believe the African-American Church cares very much about youth, but not so much about a professional approach to youth ministry that includes resourcing, theological training, denominational leadership, and the development of national African-American led para church movements. I love the African-American Church so much. I’m a product of it. It’s why I had such a difficult time writing this post.

Talk I Gave Connecting Hunger Games and Trayvon Martin

May 20, 2012   //   by efremsmith   //   spiritual growth, youth ministry  //  2 Comments
Recent talk I gave at YSPalooza in Irving, TX. Let me know what you think.

Basketball Beyond Madness

Mar 31, 2012   //   by efremsmith   //   reconciliation, youth ministry  //  No Comments

As college basketball fans (like me), prepare to watch the Final Four this weekend, it’s a good time to think about the bigger picture of big time basketball. College basketball is both good and bad, divine and demonic, beautiful and ugly. As a former high school basketball coach years ago in Minneapolis I have a different take on all the March Madness.

I can still remember in 1996 when I was sitting in a classroom with eight urban, African-American, and middle school boys. I asked them what they wanted to be when they became adults. They all wanted to play professional basketball. They had worked this all out in their minds. Two of them even had plans to both play college basketball for North Carolina and then go on to play for the Chicago Bulls. Basketball had become a religion for these boys and Michael Jordan was the almighty savior. I believe around this same time a documentary (I am probably mistaken on the year), which still get airtime on ESPN Classic called, Hoop Dreams was out. Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two Chicago African-American young men with dreams of going to the NBA. Neither one of these young men fulfilled those dreams. Basketball can be bad, ugly, and demonic because it can use up African-American young men, whose dreams become nightmares. Some get so caught up in their hopes for the NBA, that they don’t even take advantage of a free college education. Many of these Hoop Dreamers want to be what’s called, “A One and Done.” To play one year of college basketball simply to audition for the NBA. The NCAA and the head coaches of major universities like Kentucky and North Carolina make millions of dollars no matter how the future unfolds for many African-American young men growing up in poor urban and rural communities.

What is good, beautiful, and divine about basketball is when you meet coaches who use basketball as a tool to transform lives. Two of my favorite coaches that represent just that are Tubby Smith, Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Minnesota (as well as the winner of a National Championship while at Kentucky) and Holy Angels Academy (Richfield, Minnesota) Boy’s Coach, Larry McKenzie. When I was the h]Head Boys Coach at Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School, he was my assistant. In our first year together, we made it to the State Championship game, saw players on the team come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and helped some go on to get college degrees. Coach McKenzie eventually became the Head Boys Coach at that school and I took the Head Girls Basketball position there. He went on to win four state titles. He’s more than just a good basketball coach though.

Coach McKenzie is a Christian, coach, mentor, and father figure to many. He is used by God to transform lives and I encourage you to read about his story. Please get his book, Basketball: More Than Just A Game.” This book puts basketball in its proper context. Coach McKenzie is also an excellent speaker and I encourage you to bring him to your school, church, business, or community center. He will inspire you and with the issues surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin impacting our nation right now, Coach McKenzie can serve as a voice of reconciliation, reason, and clarity. Let’s get beyond simply March Madness. There is real madness in our urban communities and beyond that must be addressed.

The Hip Hop Generation and Idolatry

Jul 28, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   family, hip hop, justice, the church, youth ministry  //  1 Comment

“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)

As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.

The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?

My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.

I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.

Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.