In 2008 I started training church planters.
I’d been overseas for nearly ten years in Europe. I’d won some, lost some, and born a few scars, both literal and metaphoric.
Without any significant church planting movement to speak of for nearly 30 years, since the Jesus movement, finding help, training, or mentorship from veteran church planters was nil to none.
It was hard being a Timothy with no Pauls to train us.
I was determined that should anyone ever come behind me who desired to church plant, that I would bend over backwards to make myself available to them.
It didn’t hurt that I’d come from a hard to reach place like Europe. It probably didn’t hurt either that I’d planted in urban Long Beach.
What was a nice white boy like me going to do in a neighborhood that was 50% African-American, 30% Latino, and 20% Asian and white going to do?
Not try to be “street” for starters.
You don’t have to be cool in the inner city in order to be effective.
I want to state this at the outset, that you don’t have to be “urban”, “hip-hop” or of any ethnic make-up to be any more effective in an urban context.
How do I know?
Because by the time I handed that church plant over, our ethnic makeup perfectly matched that of the neighborhood. We saw gang members saved, homeless people come off the streets, scores of addicts come off of drugs, sex workers leave the sex trade, and people from the FBI’s most wanted list come to faith.
All without trying to be something we weren’t.
If I could say one thing to the next generation of planters coming up, I’d urge them, beg them even, to stop bringing their idea of urban into the urban context.
It does two things:
- It keeps people who might be called to the urban context to assume that they might not be “up to the task” because they’re not this enough, or that
- It focuses people on the wrong things, perfecting that gangsta look, or attempting to become something we’re not, when the gospel itself calls us to drop the pose, and embrace authenticity instead. To make peace with who we really are.
So what if we’re not cool? After spending three years church planting a multiplying church in the urban context, I can tell you something…being cool doesn’t matter.
We saw dangerous people…truly dangerous people, come to faith.
We had a saying in Refuge Long Beach, the planting hub: SBSD (Saved But Still Dangerous). There were people who’d spent 38 years in prison breaking bread with us, and leading others to Christ.
I’ve heard more confessions of horrific acts than I ever care to again by people broken up by guilt, and aware that they need to turn themselves in to the authorities after coming to faith.
I’ve watched mom’s have their young children taken from them by social services because they can’t stay sober, despite desperately trying to stand up again, and follow Jesus, one step at a time.
I’ve baptized individuals who were transformed by the gospel, only to lose them due to being shot in the back by police six times.
And being “cool” wouldn’t have helped us in the slightest. Being cool doesn’t get you very far in an urban context. That’s because it’s not the answer.
God doesn’t need us to be cool. He needs us to need him.
I truly pray for a generation of brave men and women who will answer the urban call to minister in the belly of the beast, without romanticizing it.
A generation who will go wherever they’re called, like the Apostle Paul, and will become all things to all men in order to reach some…without thinking it means going to “urban outfitters” and changing the way they dress and talk, when the only thing urban about that store, according to Dhati Lewis, is the name.
Instead, hear what Paul is actually saying. Love the city. Love the people in the urban communities. Go there without the middle class assumption of what urban is, armed with love, instead of the latest threads. You’ll find like a nerdy elite rabbi did 2000 years ago, who went like a fish out of water as an ambassador to the Gentiles, that love never fails.
I’ve got a book coming out May 16th called Reaching The Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Zondervan 2017). You can pre-order it for a special discount, plus exclusive content, and freebies at www.reachingtheunreachedbook.com