Re-thinking church in an inner city

I’ve never been involved in a church plant before. There’s plenty of hope and excitement, but we don’t even know all the challenges we will face.

Our multi-campus church is planning to open a new campus in Lorain, Ohio, a self-described “international city” of about 63,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie about 30 miles west of Cleveland. As of 2016, whites comprised 51.7 percent of the city’s population, Hispanics 29.1 percent, blacks 14.5 percent and “two or more races” 3.1 percent.

http://www.city-data.com/city/Lorain-Ohio.html

I’m interested in this because my wife and I raised our three sons at an inner-city church in Saginaw, Michigan, with similar demographics to Lorain. Now that they are grown and on their own, I have more time to devote to this.

To learn more about planting a multi-ethnic church, the Lorain campus pastor and I attended a three-day conference on the topic in Chicago. It was eye-opening.

As a former newspaper guy, I took lots of notes. Here is a summary from the plenary speakers and workshop leaders I heard:

Church and society

If we want to be a multi-ethnic church, then the dominant culture cannot be more than 80 percent of the church. Research shows that if visitors see at least 20 percent of people in their ethnic group attending, then they feel like “members” and not “visitors.”  We should be strategic about seeking 20 percent of an ethnic group if we truly want to be multi-ethnic.

For some people, society does not work – economically, medically, socially, religiously, etc. These people do not trust any institutions. Church plants will take a long time for these people to trust. They may reject institutionalism, even if they hunger for God. To reach them, we might need to change the way we do church – why 11 a.m. services? Why does communion happen weekly or monthly? Etc. These are not wrong, but they are not in the Bible. What’s Biblical, and what’s cultural?

The new national divide is achiever vs. non-achiever. Achievers value the individual; non-achievers value the society. Most non-whites (as well as whites) are achievers. Achievers are mainstream; non-achievers live in the sub-culture.

Doing church

One speaker said white pastors are excellent at “three-point sermons with seven sub-points.” That’s fine, but that’s not how black preachers preach. If we want to reach black people, this might become an issue. Another example: Hispanics will show up late, then they will stay late. That’s their culture. We might need to re-think the way we do church.

moody4

The traditional church model: Meet Jesus, attend church, connect/serve/give, go into the world. This isn’t working; it’s too shallow.

The new model: Meet Jesus, attend church, deep change, go into the world.

How to accomplish deep change? We need to meet emotional, social, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs – all of them.  Which means all of those needs in my life, as a leader, must be met as well, or I will not be an effective leader. The Mary-Martha struggle: When are we focused on our actions at the expense of spending time with Jesus?

This is not a quick fix. It’s hard. It takes time.

Most people in our cities aren’t thinking about repentance, but about where their next meal is coming from. We must disciple them to conversion. We must offer Bible nuggets that people can relate to. “There’s a guy in the Bible who understands what you are going through …” (This means we have to know the Bible well, of course.)

Value in all cultures

Whites frequently will not get involved in a church (or any other organization) unless they lead it. Several speakers made this point. Whites often don’t leave room for other ethnic groups to lead – or if they do, they must follow the examples of whites. We often do this unconsciously.

There is no assimilating into one true culture in heaven. All cultures are good. Faith brings out the best in all of them. Every culture has stories to tell.

How much of church planting is led by whiteness? Most of it. It’s a strange mix of benevolence and oppression. This has become the only story. How do we liberate from whiteness (or any dominant culture)? According to the Bible, we die to it. We are not to assimilate, but to create a new story.

Jesus’ blood is the new story, for all cultures. His death and resurrection is the great equalizer for all of us. Jesus didn’t ask us to become Him. Instead, He became one of us.

Those of us in the dominant culture often forget that we have a culture. Everybody speaks with an accent except me, for example.

Marginalization happens when people are minimized in different ways. Marginalization often leads to oppression, which is defined as sin plus power.

Jesus went to the margins. He was surrounded by sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes and women and children. All of us need to go there, too.

Jesus gave us a table, and all the chairs around it are on the same level. No high chairs and low chairs. Everybody drinks from the same cup, and we share germs. All ethnic groups are equal before God.

History is not over

Blacks’ history is slavery. No other immigrant group can say that. We heard first-person testimonies from several ethnic minorities who have experienced racism in their lifetimes. My wife has a co-worker whose boyfriend is black. He recently was talking with several friends in the parking lot of the apartment complex in Lorain where he lives. Another resident of the apartment complex called the cops on him. His crime? Being black and talking with his friends. It happens still today, even in Lorain.

As white people, we cannot deny that these things happened, and are still happening. If we want to reach this population for Christ, we need to meet them where they are.

Perceptions

lasalle street

Another cultural difference: Whites often see themselves as a collection of individuals. Blacks see themselves as a community. This is crucial to understanding how we communicate differently.

For example, a white police officer in Houston recently killed a black man in his own apartment. Blacks wanted the world to feel his suffering and pain. They wanted pastors to talk about that the following Sunday. Our reaction as whites? We want more facts. Give us the details of what happened before we react.

This is huge. We must understand this difference.

Critique the culture

Cities – with density and proximity – amplify the opposition to the gospel.

There is little social pressure anymore to attend church. There are four basic religious beliefs, but some Americans don’t even have these:

  1. There is a god.
  2. There is moral truth.
  3. There is sin.
  4. There is an afterlife.

How do we evangelize in this setting?

We must critique the culture. The standards our culture offers don’t work. If your career is your primary motivator in life, what happens when – not if, but when – you lose it? If it’s to be a good person, you’ll never be good enough (maybe you haven’t committed adultery, but have you lusted? This is Jesus’ standard.) If it’s freedom, you aren’t, and you know it. If you live for money, you’ll never have enough. If you seek beauty, you’ll never feel beautiful. And on and on.

But if you serve Jesus, you’ll get forgiveness when you fail.

There are no merit-based scholarships in heaven. Only grace.

Also, there is no defense against:

  1. Prayers of the saints.
  2. Love of the saints.
  3. Wise application of the word of God to your concerns.
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For our own survival, we must re-learn history

“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” The people of Nineveh believed God. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them.

Jonah 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10

 

The people of Nineveh knew they were doing bad things. Their lives were evil and violent, in the words of their own king.

When a prophet of God called them out on it, they – including the king – repented immediately.

I wish such a scenario could be repeated today in the United States.

It won’t.

For starters, if a prophet of God were to proclaim such a message today, he (or she) would be either ridiculed or ignored. We’d find ways to dilute such a prophet’s message, or refute it, or pretend we didn’t hear it.

Flaunting our evil

The lines between good and evil are often blurred today.

Even when the lines are straight and we know right from wrong, we often flaunt our sins.

  • Just yesterday I saw the driver of a pickup truck on the highway weaving in and out of traffic, going 10 to 15 mph faster than everyone else was driving. He cared nothing for traffic laws on the books or the welfare of anyone around him, including me. This is nearly an everyday occurrence in my world.
  • When was the last time a popular movie or TV show celebrated marriage and the marriage bed?
  • Violence makes the news every day in this country. In Chicago, for example, 409 people have been killed so far this year. That is 126 fewer than 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. I saw a blurb the other day that said Chicago went 22 hours without a single shooting being reported. That’s what we’ve become: almost a whole day with no shootings is a moral victory.
  • Police officers, teachers and parents do not have the respect that they should. Some of that is their own fault. Some of it is not.
  • Politicians can’t decide right from wrong in any situation these days. No matter how they rule in the Judge Brett Kavanaugh case regarding his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, many of us will get angry. People on both sides are convinced they have the moral high ground. Politicians can’t get it right because we the people won’t let them. Because we the people no longer know what the moral high ground is.
  • Addictions have become an epidemic: opioids, illegal drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, our jobs … many things. Choice or disease? We’d rather debate that than actually solve any addiction problems.

Experience vs. reason

Was life simpler back in Old Testament times?

The people of Nineveh dealt with the same temptations and evil things that we do. We have far more technology, of course, so we can disseminate evil much faster and more efficiently.

The people of Nineveh didn’t always follow the king’s lead; they responded to Jonah’s message first, then reported it to the king. To the king’s credit, he was paying attention to the pulse of his city.

I wish we had the listening skills that the Ninevites – the people and the king – did, and even more, the discernment to determine good and evil, as they did.

Instead, we justify ourselves.

Experience comes before reason.

In a previous chapter of my life, I was deeply involved in the United Methodist Church. A basic tenet of that denomination is the Wesley Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The quadrilateral is: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

In that order.

Except that some United Methodists prefer to flip the order, starting with experience, and using reason, tradition and Scripture to justify their experiences.

That debate now permeates our common culture.

If we can’t agree on the basic tenets of what our society should be, how can we possibly solve our moral dilemmas?

That’s what Nineveh had that we do not.

I did it my way

Unfortunately, there’s just enough truth in every modern viewpoint to muddy the waters. Women and immigrants are real people. Abortion is the death of a human being.

Laws should align with those tenets.

They frequently don’t.

Or if they do, we have to fight for them.

And because of our propensity to flaunt laws we don’t agree with, we are becoming an anarchy – refusing to accept authority. Rule by the individual. I have my rights and I’ll do what I want.

If it hurts you, I don’t care.

If I kill you on the road or abort my son or daughter, it doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t satisfy me as a lover, I’ll find one who does.

Never mind the collateral damage.

I did it my way, in the words popularized in 1969 – almost a half-century ago – by Frank Sinatra.

Many of us today have taken those lyrics to heart. We try to justify our actions. And we frequently get away with them.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me

Sackcloth and ashes. How archaic.

That attitude is too, isn’t it?

The people of Nineveh asked God to forgive them for their evil and violent ways. God listened, and forgave them.

As a secular – very secular – city.

Then, for a time at least, the people of Nineveh actually changed their ways. Until temptations lured them into evil and violence again.

Is this even possible in 2018 in our country?

It is possible, yes, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. That would require a willingness to admit that we are on the wrong track as a nation, as Nineveh did. We can’t point fingers at others and say, “You need to repent.”

No. The people of Nineveh got down on their own knees.

Fatherhood: The missing link

As a husband, father and dad, I am not irrelevant to my family’s well-being. In fact, I am vital, crucial, important, necessary and irreplaceable.

Of course, my wife is all those things to our family, too.

As husband and father, I influence the mood of my family.

… if I leave my family, there’s no backup husband and father waiting on the sidelines … I don’t envy single parents. I don’t know how they do it, although I know several who do it successfully.

Single-parent and stepparent families often work. I’m not judging anyone here. But those types of families should not be our first choice … Traditional families increasingly are under pressure from today’s anything-goes American society. My sons need me as a father, and my wife as a mother. Both of us are essential to our children’s well-being.

What’s the best life has to offer? That’s what my wife and I seek for our family. If that makes us traditional, so be it. “Progressive” is not always better. If the old ways are best, why change?

Two Mount Morris Township (Mich.) first-graders quarreled on the playground Monday, apparently causing one of them to fatally shoot the other a day later in their classroom.

Police wonder how the 6-year-old shooter got the gun, which was stolen, and how he could carry it into school … The boy didn’t have his own bed, the county prosecutor said, adding, “He is a victim of a drug culture and a house that’s really in chaos.”

He lived with an uncle for two weeks after his mother was evicted from her home. His father is doing time at the county jail …

The Mount Morris Township first-grader needs a family that loves him.

He has a mother and father. He needs a mommy and daddy.

There’s a huge difference.

 

Back in the day, I wrote an occasional column on family life or issues of the day for The Saginaw (Mich.) News. I still have newsprint copies of those columns. I quoted five of them here – dated Oct, 28, 2003; March 11, 1997; Oct. 14, 1997; Feb. 27, 2007; and March 1, 2000, respectively.

Alternative lifestyles have become mainstream today.

According to the Kids Count Data Center run by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore,  35 percent of all children in the United States lived in single-parent households every year from 2011 through 2015. The 35 percent figure was the same for all five years.

http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/107-children-in-single-parent-families-by#detailed/1/any/false/573,869,36,868,867/10,11,9,12,1,185,13/432,431

The evidence for fatherhood

I wrote in one of those columns that I was not judging anyone, but I did – and still do – feel passionately about fatherhood. No alternative lifestyle has ever improved upon the mother-father-child family structure. The evidence is plentiful.

For example:

Power of Dad Inc., based in Saginaw, Mich.

http://www.powerofdad.org/facts

The Good

✓ Youth whose fathers are actively engaged in their lives do significantly better academically than those pre-teens with uninvolved fathers.

✓ Highly involved fathers increase their children’s economic and educational attainment.

✓Mothers in two-parent households report fewer behavior problems among children with involved fathers  compared to children with detached fathers.

✓Fathers who are involved help reduce emotional stress for teenagers making the transition to adulthood.

The Bad

✓ There are over 24 million fatherless youth in  America.

✓ 93% of prison inmates have grown up fatherless.

✓ 90% of youth that are homeless, runaways and arsonists have grown up fatherless.

✓ 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders such as ADD have grown up fatherless.

✓ 80% of rapists have grown up fatherless.

✓ 75% of youth in drug rehabs have grown up fatherless.

✓ 71% of pregnant teenagers and high school dropouts have grown up fatherless.

✓ 63% of youth who have committed or attempted suicide have grown up fatherless.

✓ 72% of the U.S. population says fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America.

 

The National Center for Fathering based in Springdale, Ark.

http://www.fathers.com/statistics-and-research/the-consequences-of-fatherlessness/

Children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.

 

The Families Civil Liberties Union based in New York City

http://www.fclu.org/parentless-statistics/

EFFECTS OF FATHERLESSNESS (OR MOTHERLESSNESS) – US DATA

BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS/ RUNAWAYS/ HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS/CHEMICAL ABUSERS/ SUICIDES 

  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.)
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes (Source: Rainbows for all God’s Children.)
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)

JUVENILE DELINQUENCY/ CRIME/ GANGS 

  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report)
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections)

THESE STATISTICS TRANSLATE TO MEAN THAT CHILDREN FROM A FATHERLESS HOME ARE: 

  • 5 times more likely to commit suicide
  • 32 times more likely to run away
  • 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
  • 14 times more likely to commit rape
  • 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
  • 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
  • 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution
  • 20 times more likely to end up in prison

Juveniles have become the driving force behind the nation’s alarming increases in violent crime, with juvenile arrests for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault growing sharply in the past decade as pistols and drugs became more available, and are expected to continue at the same alarming rate during the next decade. “Justice Dept. Issues Scary Report on Juvenile Crime,” San Francisco Chronicle (9/8/95).”

TEENAGE PREGNANCY 

Daughters of single parents are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages.

71% of teenage pregnancies are to children of single parents. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

CHILD ABUSE 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that there were more than 1,000,000 documented child abuse cases in 1990. In 1983, it found that 60% of perpetrators were women with sole custody. Shared parenting can significantly reduce the stress associated with sole custody.

Evidence often does not change behavior

As I heard a speaker say recently in a different context, just because the evidence – facts – prove a point doesn’t mean we will live by it. It’s common knowledge, for example, that smoking is bad for us, yet 36.5 million Americans – about 15 percent of U.S. adults – still do it willingly and knowingly.

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/

It’s a matter of the heart. Do we want to change? Do we want to do the right thing?

Fathers matter

I know single women and same-sex couples who have adopted children, and to be honest, that bothers me. They are saying that fathers are irrelevant to their children’s upbringing (or mothers, if it’s a two-man “family”). That’s why I wrote a column saying that, as a father, I am relevant and vital to my family.

Many alternative-lifestyle families are chosen today. Legally, we can do that. But our children are – and will – pay a heavy price for that.

And transgenders? That just means parents have rejected the children God gave them, and are trying to turn them into something he or she is not. Pure and simple. You can’t tell me a 6-year-old boy wants to be a girl. That’s not the way children are wired. We are rejecting their humanity when we force them to change.

Each of us is special, just the way we are. We shouldn’t try to be someone we are not.

Children learn this unconditional love at home, or they don’t learn it at all. Mom and Dad need to make decisions for their children until they are old enough to make decisions on their own. A young child is not capable of discussing his or her sexuality. Children do grow up faster today than my generation did, but not that fast.

Society’s backbone, forever

As these studies I quoted show, most of the social ills this country is dealing with today are the direct result of the breakdown of the traditional family.

The remedy? Mom and Dad, do your jobs. Both of you. Together, as a team.

Fathers, please don’t pro-create and then leave, taking no responsibility for your children. They need you. They need to see your love for them, your discipline, your encouragement, your guidance.

We see what’s happening today because we have not led our families. We are a self-centered, hate-filled society.

There’s only one remedy.

It’s been proven faithful for millennia. No one has ever improved upon it. And no one ever will.