Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I just got back from visiting several New City church planters. I heard from another one today and Wy Plummer told me about yet another church planter he had just visited. It is exciting to see these brothers "in harness" as they say, preaching the Word and attempting to gather people to form, build, and hold together a local church. It was fun for Joan and I to meet with several pastors and their wives and to gain impressions of how they are doing by just listening to them talk, trying to discern if they are encouraged or discouraged, making progress or feeling like they are fighting a losing battle.
I respect and admire all of them, and there is no doubt that what they are doing is hard. It is also true that what God is using them to create is marvelous. Right in front of their very eyes the Lord builds his church, he creates his bride, he grows his body and he fills it with his fullness until the individual parts are filled to the fullness of God.
The report I bring back from those with whom I just visited is very positive. Many of those who go into church planting have expectations of what they expect to see and sometimes those expectations are unrealistic. Some church planters have the full expectation that the lost, the unsaved, will want to hear what they have to say and people will respond to their ministry. Sometimes in church planting we also expect our saved brothers and sisters to know we have needs, and that they will respond to our call for help. Even more unrealistic is the idea that our brothers will know what we need and help us before we ask for it.
Some of us become quite cynical, and we can be unsparing about the target. We can despise the unsaved because they don't respond to us. After receiving our attention and ministry to them for some reason they don't come to the realization that they owe us something. Some of us can begin to mock our suburban and middle class brethren because they aren't giving us any of their families, or sharing enough of their resources. We can make disparaging comments about other churches, or ministries, especially those who seem to have a method of growth or success but in our opinion just aren't hitting the right population or need and not going about their work in the pure Biblical, Reformed, radical and culturally relevant way in which are doing ours.
I wonder if God discerns that all this bitching is really about how unfair he has been. Not many of us have the honesty or the guts to get in God's face and tell him our failure is his fault. Of course, that might not end up too well. You can complain about God's failure to give you meat, until he gives you so much it comes out of your nose, and then you die. God has never taken complaining spirits very well and that attitude is different from being importunate. Complaining is about me and it is anger towards God, being importunate is the behavior and discipline of not forgetting where the source of all our supply comes from, and the stubborn faith that God will at some point come through if we keep throwing ourselves on him.
My success does not come from the acceptance of the people to whom I have come as an evangelist, nor does it come from the positive support of those in my own denomination. Since my success does not come from them, it is not their fault if I fail in my endeavor to plant and build a church. Ultimately the only success I want and need is that which God gives, because that is the only success that has eternal longevity. I would suggest that if you are someone who complains, worries, and is cynical that you might just possibly have your eyes on something or someone other than Jesus.
Church planters all feel an urgency, which is usually tied to economic support. Can they get the boat across the pond before it sinks, can they get the plane built while they are flying it? Will enough people come and tithe before the support dries up from the mother church, network, Presbytery, denomination, etc.? Sometimes their joy is stolen by this constant wondering of what things will be like when they are really a "successful" church. Don't despise the day of small things, and don't you dare despise the incremental testimonies of God's saving, empowering, supplying, and sustaining grace.
I hurt for the wives especially when this emotional dynamic is unloaded on them. In every church plant we hunger and desire each family, each gifted and contributing new member. We are jealous for them, needy of them, and brokenhearted when they suddenly seem to bail on us and leave for some more stable, sane, and comprehensive services congregation. To see people we had begun to count on leave us is to go through grief, feel personal rejection, and sometimes the fear of how we can survive without them. Of course there are the small joys of seeing disruptive, disloyal, annoying, and distracting folks leave.
We need to remember a few things: God is the source of success. God is sovereign and he is in control, at all times. People are converted by the power and work of God's Holy Spirit. I am God's servant and my job is to do what he says, and to do things the way he says to do it. Comparing myself with others is only good if that comparison calls me to a higher level of obedience and effort. If I am bitching I am probably not believing enough. I don't have to do everything just like someone else has done it, but some methods are just flat out basic to getting the job done. If God called me here he will supply, but he might want me to make tents to stay at it. If new people aren't coming maybe I haven't invited enough of them to come. If no one is getting saved it might be because I have been busy doing everything else except sharing the Gospel with folks. If I am lacking in meaningful opportunities to share Christ it means I need to pray more, and stop missing the ones that come my way on a daily basis.
Waiting at Starbucks for someone to come up and ask, "what must I do to be saved?" is a very slow way to church growth. Relational evangelism is great in theory but it is hard when you only have a few relationships. Evangelism is new relationships all the time, built on conversations about spiritual need and the Gospel. It doesn't matter what the lost say about their relationship to Christ, if they are lost they are lost and their life most likely shows it, and we need to share the Gospel with them. Evangelism isn't finished until you call people to a choice, to believe in and follow the Master. There is no shame in blatant proselytizing; if it is honest, not manipulative or coercive, not brow beating but presented in a kind, loving, and humble manner. Without apology we want people to exercise their minds in considering their life's condition and God's call on them to follow Christ, it is what people ought to be free to do in a free society.
We have absolutely to lift up our eyes unto the harvest and believe that what Jesus said is true, that the harvest is great, that the fields are ready to harvest. We won't bring it all in the first day, but we won't bring it in at all if we don't start on a row, some row, somewhere, sometime. We won't fill our nets if we don't let them down into the water. Do what fisherman do; find the water, find the fish, then fish!
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
“But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, …..But when this son of your came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” --The Elder Brother, Luke 15:29-30
Cultural Preservation and Ministry in the City
As I live and work in an urban community undergoing gentrification I see elements and hallmarks of my culture being erased or pushed out. I see black institutions, (including the church), clinging for relevance and influence in a community that is “safer and cleaner”, but has little need or affinity for African American culture. Sure, there are folks new to the city that love ethnic food or Black theater productions—but in gentrifying communities nationwide, culturally specific programs are becoming passé in the minds of today’s “tolerant” and “open-minded” urbanites.
Unfortunately, this post-racial sentiment quickly gives way to a mindset of cultural homogeneity that unconsciously assimilates minorities into dominant, predominantly white culture. I’m a product of this cultural process. After teaching in
Once my wife Foxy and I arrived back in
So what is a Black, PCA minister to do if he wants to minister among people of color in rapidly changing communities? Foxy and I began by working bi-vocationally and volunteering in organizations that served Black or ethnic minorities left in the community. One responsibility I had was to host community forums on race, class, and neighborhood issues. In one such forum, we had students write anti-violence messages on t-shirts and displayed them for the forum. Looking at one t-shirt, I asked a friend what color best represents death in her mind. She was undecided, and unwittingly I suggested the black t-shirt hanging over our heads. Immediately after the discussion, a friend pulled me aside and rebuked me for using the color black in a pejorative connotation as opposed to pink or white!
A harmless comment on my part, but I have come to a painful realization these past 18 months in
In Luke 15, the elder brother sees the end of his world as he knows it. The younger, sinful brother returns home and is met with mirth and love from his father; while he, the faithful son is unjustly un-loved. His protest against his father and brother is an attempt to preserve his narrative, his cause and his world. Now he is of course wrong to be bitter, he is of course right to faithfully serve in his father’s house; but he is also stuck—believing that he is un-loved.
I find Christian and non-Christian groups intensely jaded against white churches, institutions and residents in my community. I too, struggle as I see little empathy by well-meaning white evangelicals to the plight and mindset of Black people in rapidly changing communities. It is of course wrong for Black people to disown their white brothers and make them feel guilty; it is of course commendable that ethnic institutions have faithfully cared for youth and the poor for generations; but people of color find themselves stuck—believing themselves to be un-loved and inferior to their white counterparts, who exercise greater mobility to thrive in gentrifying communities.
This Black, elder-brother mindset is not just sin bred from past discrimination it is fostered by a lack of true brotherly love on the part of white evangelicals and secularists alike. Continuing church policies and values that mold Black seminarians to unconsciously disdain their own culture or fails to set up Black pastors as true partners in ministry will continue to replicate churches that assimilate rather than dignify other ways of thinking and doing in the PCA. What would be refreshing and helpful in preventing this “elder brother syndrome” is a loving and respectful posture from my white Christian brethren that is willing to explore new ways to structure education and minister in our changing inner cities.
TE Jason Davison is a recent graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary (M.Div. '09) and currently serves as the New Development Pastor at Ascension Presbyterian Church in Seattle WA.