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DISCIPLESHIP THROUGH EVANGELISM TRAINING
MINISTER THERESA D. ALLEN-JOHNSON
DEMONSTRATION PROJECT PROPOSAL
The Lower West Ward of Newark, NJ, is often called one of the cities toughest wards. It is a neighborhood of decayed housing, rampant drug sales, and high levels of gang violence. Agape Christian Ministries is a church committed to The word evangelism means “good news” (euangelion in Greek). What does effective Christian evangelism mean in the context of the Lower West Ward?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION TO THE SETTING…………………….3
CHAPTER 2 – PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS OF THE CHALLENGE……5
CHAPTER 3 – PLAN OF IMPLEMENTATION……………………….…13
CHAPTER 4 – RESEARCH METHODS/METHODOLOGY…………….14
CHAPTER 5 - RESEARCH QUESTIONS…………………………...……17
CHAPTER 6 - MINISTERIAL COMPETENCIES………………… …… 23
APPENDIX A – TIMELINE……………………………………..….. ……27
APPENDIX B – BUDGET…………………………………………………28.
Introduction to the Setting: Newark, NJ
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it…
Luke 19:41 KJV
Newark, New Jersey is the largest city in the state of New Jersey. With a population of 277,000, it is the second largest city after New York in the densely populated greater metropolitan region. Three out of four residents in the city are either African American or Latino/a. Formerly an industrial giant, Newark today is often cited as an example of urban decay in the USA. One third of the residents live below the poverty line for instance. The number of African American residents listed as living below the poverty line in Newark is three times that of European Americans. One of the nicknames for Newark, “the Brick City,” is supposedly derived from the abundance of brick public housing projects that are found throughout its neighborhoods.
Most histories of Newark cite the five days of violence in July 1967 that some call “the riots” and others “the rebellion” or “the uprising” as the straw that broke the back of an already decaying city. African Americans in Newark had little representation in city government in 1967, and relations between African Americans and the police force, which was almost entirely European American at the time, were tense. The arrest of a Black cab driver by White police officers set off an evening of protest and rioting. The police responded by opening fire, killing several Black residents. The next day the National Guard was called in. By the time the riots subsided five days later, 26 people were dead (24 Black civilians, one White firefighter, and one White police officer), hundreds more were wounded, and more than $10 million in property was destroyed. In the aftermath of July 1967 a significant number of Newark’s White middle-class population fled the city. Much of the city’s downtown commercial section remained abandoned for decades. Newark was for many years a city in crisis.
Passing through the downtown area of Newark today, one sees signs of revitalization everywhere. New building construction is taking place. The Prudential Arena and New Jersey Performing Arts Center now draw visitors from the suburbs who come in for sport events or concerts. A new Panasonic Office Building serves as the company’s US corporate headquarters. New upscale restaurants are opening up on and around Broad and Market Streets, known as the four corners. All of these are indicators that Newark as a city is once again on the rise.
In the midst of the new construction and revitalization taking place in Newark’s downtown area, however, on every block and every corner, the illegal drug business seems to be profiting better than. Crime rates throughout the city are still extremely high. Unemployment rates in the city are twice those of the rest of the region. Deteriorating housing can be seen everywhere, often alongside new middle-class projects. Absentee landlords and private real estate investors from outside the city have made major investments in luxury housing for a few while the overall living conditions for most residents remain poor.
The educational system in Newark has been in a shambles for many years. For the past two decades the city’s public schools have been under state control, an arrangement by which the Newark Superintendent of Public Schools is appointed directly by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education. The growth of charter schools in recent years has taken many students out of the public school system, resulting in the shutdown of many elementary and high schools. As a result, Newark’s schools remain under considerable stress. Only half of the students who enter the ninth grade in any given year go on to graduate from high school in the Newark public school system.
PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS OF THE CHALLENGE
The city of Newark is divided politically into five wards. By law the wards must remain relatively equal in population, which means that every ten years the boundaries are subject to being redrawn. The Central Ward, which is also often called “downtown Newark,” is often seen as the business and cultural heart of the city. This is the neighborhood of the “Four Corners,” the intersection of Market and Broad Streets that a century ago were often called the busiest in the nation. In addition to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Prudential Center, the Central Ward is home to Rutgers University’s Newark Campus, Essex County Community College, and New Jersey Institute of Technology. These three schools have account for some 50,000 students and faculty who pass through the district each week.
Sharing the business district with the Central Ward is the East Ward, which includes the Gateway Corporate Complex and Penn Station. The East Ward also encompasses the famous “Ironbound” neighborhood, so-named because it is surrounded by train tracks. This was where most of Newark’s industries were located through the 1960s. Beginning around 1920 a large number of Portuguese immigrants began settling in the Ironbound section. One of the results was the Ironbound became known throughout the region for its excellent Portuguese and Galician (Northwest Spanish) restaurants. Today the Ironbound is also home to a large number of immigrants from Brazil, drawn there because of the Portuguese already being spoken in the neighborhood.
The North Ward, which is located north of Interstate 280 and surrounds Branch Brook Park, was historically home to some of the wealthiest residents of the city in years past. Seventh Avenue used to be known as Newark’s Little Italy, but today that neighborhood is mostly Latino/a. Linda Mercadante, now a professor of theology at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, has written a memoir recounting her life growing up in a mixed Catholic-Jewish family along Bloomfield Avenue in the North Ward in the 1950s. Over the past several decades most of its residents of Italian descent have been replaced by Latino/as.
The South Ward includes Clinton Hill and Weequahic, neighborhoods that were among the most affected by the “white flight” after 1967. The South Ward today is marked by a predominant number of empty lots where former housing developments have been razed and the grounds left vacant. The South Ward also technically includes the Newark portions of the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, one of the busiest shipping ports in the world, and Newark Airport.
The West Ward, which is the target area for this Demonstration Project, is among the poorest sections of Newark. The Upper West Ward includes the Vailsburg and Ivy Hill neighborhoods, bordering suburban South Orange, just around the corner from Seton Hall University, and Maplewood. The Ivy Hill apartments, the largest rental complex in the state of New Jersey, is located on one side of a street, while suburban Maplewood is located on the other. Residents of Newark refer to the area from Munn Avenue to Bergen Street as the Lower West Ward. The main street running through both sections of the West Ward is South Orange Avenue, which begins in Newark and ends in upper-income Livingston Township. South Orange Avenue was once a thriving business district. However, low income housing, drugs, and violent crimes have cause massive decay and business closings.
Newark’s West Ward is one of the target areas included in Mayor Baraka’s newly announced revitalization plan. The Mayor’s plan calls for stronger police presence to combat gang activities and drug sales, and to support refurbishing homes as well as businesses in the district. Few expect the plan to have immediate impact. Crime is rampant throughout Newark and its surrounding cities, but the West Ward is far worse than others. Traveling through and around the lower West Ward, reflecting on areas such as South Orange Avenue, and its surrounding numerical streets, much prayer is required to combat the feeling of depression and the flow of unexpected tears that saturate one’s face.
Navigating through the many side streets, the strong smell of marijuana and other chemicals becomes nauseating. Young boys, ages 9 and up, reach into the pockets of their hanging trousers, some dangling all the way down to their socks. Drug buyers from the suburbs frequent these neighborhoods. Usually the client is told to wait, while the under-age youth, known as the runner, approaches the older group of boys, standing nearby watching and waiting for the younger youth to finalize the sale after receiving the merchandise, counting the money, and finishing the deal. Many times, the actual drug dealer is never seen. It is the runners who carry the drugs, cut the deals, and most likely will be caught.
Charged with possession, if it is a first offense, the juvenile court judge will order counseling and a few days or weeks in the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, known as the youth house or just Sussex Avenue. Older drug dealers who are arrested on the other hand will receive a much longer sentence. Drugs are hidden in strange areas, such as, hubcaps alleyways, and other area in the event narcotic officers suddenly appear. These young individuals are prime targets for evangelizing. They are usually standing around doing nothing all day, waiting for a deal. Many are actually tired of going to jail and want out. They are afraid, however, to take advantage of programs set in place by the Mayor’s exoneration program.
The West Ward is strongly influenced by individuals who claim to be Islamic, through the teachings of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam mosque is located just around the corner from Agape Christian Ministries. Members of the Nation of Islam are often out on the street spreading their message. There are also Jehovah’s Witnesses out on the streets, working to evangelize the community on a daily basis. On the other hand there are churches in the community that have little, if any presence out on the street. There are also many individuals in the community who claim to be Christian but do not feel the need to attend or belong to any church. Many individuals living in the community and facing the daily challenges of poverty and violence have lost their faith in the institutional church and `its leaders.
Agape Christian Ministries
A member of the Southern Baptist Convention, Agape Christian Ministries, under the pastoral leadership of Dr. Craig Jackson, is a Charismatic Baptist Church located at 119 Camden Street in Newark’s Lower West Ward. Agape is a small outreach ministry dedicated to meeting the needs of the disenfranchised citizens of Newark, initially in the West Ward, but extending into the rest of the city and throughout Essex County. Dr. Jackson’s vision and immediate and long terms goals are to assist families in need of housing, employment, medical care, and psychological counseling as part of the overall ministry of the church.
The House of Agape Family Program is one of Agape’s support ministries, assisting families with housing, education, medical care, food, and employment referrals. The Ministry of Hagar is another support ministry, providing outreach programs geared toward single mothers and their families, along with the emotional, spiritual, and financial issues they face.
Despite these ministerial outreach efforts on the part of the church, there still remain a divide between social outreach on the one hand, and evangelism and discipleship on the other. The two efforts need to be connected more intrinsically to realize the full impact of the biblical meaning of evangelism. The question is what does “Good News” effectively mean in places like the West Ward? Secondly, how can Agape Christian Ministries engage in the pedagogy of discipleship training and lead a group of individuals who have had no previous theological or biblical training into street evangelism that is geared toward addressing issues of poverty, homelessness, violence and addiction? Members of these evangelism teams are individuals who have themselves been transformed out of the life of drugs, homelessness, and street crimes. How can they be equipped not just to lead other individuals into the way of salvation, but be a part of the wider effort to transform the neighborhood so that the residents have a foretaste of the coming reign of God?
The African American Church has always been a light of hope for individuals who feel they are beyond hope, deep in stages of depression, and struggling daily in a society where not just the lack compassion and loneliness are overwhelming, but being African American makes one an outsider. Newark’s Westward has 29 Christian churches. Nevertheless on a day-to-day basis there are hardly any churches spreading the gospel to the disenfranchised in the community. This is in contrast to what I remember from my youth traveling around the city on Saturday mornings, when there were large numbers of older women carrying Bibles and evangelizing the city. I recall the preachers with bullhorns, screaming “Jesus saves” and inviting individuals to take a tract to read, or receive prayer of salvation. These older street ministers did not necessarily lack compassion and concern for the homeless, hungry, and marginalized individuals of the West Ward. But I do not recall these being part of their message.
On the other hand when it comes to Christian evangelism today we have silent street corners, not just in the West Ward but throughout the city of Newark. You can find gang bangers, drug dealers, crack addicts, and individuals living in card board boxes on the streets, but not too many Christians. Many who are part of the streets today find the churches to be irrelevant, or are fearful of attending any church, even after accepting the invitation to salvation. Many times, persuading individuals to attend at least one service is more difficult than persuading them to receive Jesus the Christ as their personal Savior. The reason is that the churches are often seen as having an attitude of rejection. Street ministry, as many individuals refer to evangelism in urban areas, also consist of inviting individuals to attend the church we are representing, if they know of no other church to attend, in order to take the steps necessary to learn more concerning salvation and grow deep in the knowledge of God. However, the question in the back of the mind many times is “how do I settle their fear of church rejection, which so often plagues the new believer?” This is often a main reason people from the neighborhood who are seeking salvation do not necessarily want to attend church services.
This writer has in the past led several evangelism teams. I was first licensed as a minister and exercised my authoritative call from God in evangelism and street ministry through Deliverance Jesus is Coming, a Pentecostal deliverance ministry in Irvington, New Jersey, under Bishop James H. Everett, Jr., the church’s senior pastor. While still a member of DJIC, I received permission from Bishop Everett to join the evangelism team and work in street ministry with Well’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, one of the largest Church of God in Christ ministries in Newark.
The evangelistic street team at Wells was quite successful. Individuals from the streets began attending the afternoon prayer service, as well as bringing other disenfranchised individuals along for both the service and something to eat at the end. The chaos began when these individuals began showing up for Sunday morning worship services. Members of the church began to complain about some the individuals’ body odor. A second complaint centered on the fear of the deacons and a few other members that these individuals might one day break into the steel gates of the church and steal. The senior pastor at Wells Cathedral eventually called a meeting with the deacon heading the evangelistic ministry along with a few board members to inform the deacon that the evangelistic ministry could continue, since it is doing such a wonderful work for God. However, the disenfranchised individuals, it was decided, would no longer be invited into the sanctuary for any of the regular churches services. This effectively brought about an end to the evangelism effort.
Many middle class individuals, including many African Americans, who have left Newark and are commuting to the city each week for church services are ideologically focused on church and church only. They believe they actually have no outreach responsibilities toward the people in the surrounding communities. Many fail to reflect on the Negro spiritual, “Look where He brought me from, my soul look back and wonder.” The results are churches that are irrelevant to their surrounding world.
Agape Christian Ministry is a small church situated in a community facing major economic, spiritual, and physical challenges. The pastor, Dr. Jackson, is committed to evangelizing the community. The evangelistic ministry is facing problems, however, which require solution prior to taking the evangelistic trainees onto the streets. New, “unchurched,” and in some cases still-prodigal members come seeking both permanent consolation and deliverance from the stress of hunger, homelessness, and emotional coldness encompassing street life each day, all day. These new members are committed to going back out and reaching others, but have no training in Christian discipleship. The challenge is to train members of the community to effectively bring the Good News of Jesus Christ back to the community from which they have come.
Plan of Implementation
This Demonstration Project has three goals.
The first goal is to develop a comprehensive evangelism program that integrates social, economic, psychological, and spiritual dimensions in its outreach efforts, bridging the dimensions of community service and spiritual transformation at Agape Ministries. The program that is developed will effectively build a bridge between social services such as Hagar Ministries and Agape Family ministries and more traditional street evangelism, making the Good News of Jesus Christ concrete in the West Ward. It will put into practice a holistic understanding of evangelism that is developed from the New Testament.
The second goal is to train and organize members of the evangelism outreach team of Agape Ministries so that they can effectively reach the people in the West Ward. Some of these team members will be traditional church people who are not necessarily comfortable with aspects of the street culture. Others will be persons who have only recently been converted and are still close to the life of the streets, and not necessarily versed in church life. A key component of the training will be to incorporate aspects of discipleship so that both kinds of members of the group are able to move out of their own comfort zones and work effectively to evangelize in the neighborhood.
The third goal will be to make space in worship at Agape Ministries for members of the surrounding community who are poor, homeless, and even members of the gangs, who respond to the invitation to come and meet Christ. To realize this goal the evangelism team and its leader will work with Dr. Jackson to be sure that those who are being evangelized through the efforts of the team are being brought into the full life of the church, which includes worship, and are not just seen as objects of the church’s evangelistic outreach or recipients of the church’s charity.
In order to realize Goal One, this ministry leader will meet with Dr. Jackson to develop a comprehensive plan of evangelism that incorporates aspects of street ministry, programs such as the Agape Family Program and Hagar Ministries, and worship. The program proposal will show how street evangelism, social outreach, community involvement, and worship are integrated. Steps will be taken to insure that members of the community who are not currently going to church but who decide to attend Agape Ministries on Sunday morning are welcomed into the service as they are, even if they are marginalized persons, smell bad, or are regarded as dangerous young people from the street.
As part of this effort, this minister will meet with key community leaders and members of the city government to inform key community leaders of the church’s commitments to outreach and transformation, and to make the church’s evangelism program part of the wider community revitalization project that the Mayor is promoting. This minister will also plan at least two meetings at the church with community leaders at the church where church members will be invited to learn what the city of Newark is planning to do to revitalize the West Ward, and how churches can be involved in these efforts. These meetings will take place through the months of July and August.
In order to realize Goal Two, this minister will train a team of four to six volunteer individuals who are currently worshiping at Agape Christian Ministries in the ministry of street evangelism. At least two of these team members will be persons from the community who have only recently begun to attend the church, and who are knowledgeable about life in the West Ward. Members of the team will be trained in how to share their faith in a one-on-one situation in traditional street ministry outreach. This minister will ensure that each trainee comprehends biblically and theologically the full meaning of evangelism, and is able to communicate the gospel plainly and accurately in ways that are inclusive and non-judgmental. Equally important will be the integration of physical, social, and psychological aspects of evangelism along with the spiritual.
Instruction will target the point that evangelism is not only in what we say to the urban community, but how Christians live demonstrating what God has done in us, for the sake of the Reign of God on earth. Evangelism is the core of our spirit. It is part of each individual’s daily walk. In order to address this, members of the team will be asked to engage in self-reflection using a written self-evaluation regarding their own level of personal discipleship.
Members of the team will also be trained in how to direct persons who are in the community to other ministries of the church such as the Agape Family Program and Hagar Ministries. Members of the team will also be instructed about other resources available in the West Ward and in the city of Newark, including drug rehabilitation, job training, or domestic violence centers. Members of the team will be trained in how to deal with confrontational situations that might arise with drug dealers or gang members in the community. The training will be conducted in the month of July.
Actual street evangelism by members of the team will begin on Saturdays in August. Members of the team will visit neighborhood centers, walk the streets (but not use bullhorns), and look for opportunities to talk one-on-one to people in the neighborhood about Agape Christian Ministries. The team members will listen to hear what the concerns are of members of the community, and how the church might help them address these concerns. Most important, team members will communicate clearly that Agape Ministries is a place where they are welcomed in worship on Sundays.
Following each Saturday outreach effort, members of the team will be invited to engage in a reflection session. What was their experience in conducting street evangelism? What did they learn about the community that they did not know before? During these sessions members of the evangelism team will be invited to engage in community analysis, putting together their own experience with what they learned from community officials and what they have studied elsewhere regarding the West Ward. What scriptures did they find people listened to, or responded to most effectively? What did members of the team learn regarding evangelism and discipleship?
In order to realize Goal three, this minister will meet with Dr. Jackson to prepare the church for receiving the community. Special worship experiences will be planned during the month of August as part of the community outreach, either in the church or out in the community. During the month of September, persons who were invited to come to the church as part of the evangelism program will be identified and contacted individually with an invitation to come to worship on a Sunday morning. Members of the evangelism team will serve as hosts for each individual who comes, making sure that the new visitors are welcomed by the entire congregation and answering any questions the visitors might have regarding the worship service. Evangelism team members will be instructed not to assume the visitors who arrive are familiar with traditional worship services and may not want to be identified as being new to the community. Efforts will be made to follow up with any visitors to answer questions and be sure they understand they are invited to continue to return.
As part of this overall training, members of the evangelism team along with other leaders of the church will review with Dr. Jackson Agape Ministries’ practices and procedures for admitting new members. A key element of this project is not just discipleship training for evangelism team members, but discipleship training for new converts who are evangelized. This minister will meet with Dr. Jackson to ensure the church is ready to receive new members from the community and welcome both them and the gifts they bring to the community of faith.
Research Question 1: A Biblical Theology of Evangelism for the West Ward
“Evangelism” is a word that gets tossed around regularly in Christian circles. The term is derived from a Greek word that literally meant “good news” (euangelion). In the ancient Mediterranean world, it often meant a public announcement of such things as a military victory by a general or the heralding of the birth of someone who was destined to be an emperor. It was often associated with an act performed by a military figure, a political ruler, or even a god who saved others from impending or actual harm or distress.
In the New Testament the word is used both to refer to the message of Jesus that the reign of God is close at hand, and to the message about Jesus as the chosen one to bring about this event. In his inaugural sermon in the synagogue in Luke 4:18, Jesus says, He is anointed specifically to proclaim good news to the poor. Throughout his ministry that followed Jesus announced in various ways through word and deed that the reign of God on earth is now imminent, and is good news explicitly, for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the excluded.
Eventually in the pages of the New Testament proclaiming the liberation that came about as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was understood in its entirety to encompass the Good News. The salvation that Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated throughout his ministry as being imminent in the form of the reign of God on earth was shifted to being identified with the person of Jesus himself, whom God had raised from the dead. Salvation came to be understood as grounded in belief and trust in Jesus, who is the Messianic Christ, the Redeemer. The Good News came to mean the message about Jesus, especially as it was found in the first four books of the New Testament (which came to be called the “Evangels” or “Gospels”). Gradually over time the reign of God shifted from being understood as being imminent in history to being something that one entered after death. The Good News of Jesus Christ came to mean getting into the kingdom of God in heaven in the afterlife. Believing in Jesus, being baptized, joining the church, and following the teachings of Jesus in this life were now the content of the Good News of Jesus Christ that guaranteed salvation in Christ, but was only fully realized in the afterlife.
In the sixteenth century in Europe a reform movement emerged under teachers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin that was generally called “evangelical.” The reason that these reformers appropriated the term for their work was that they made Bible, and the message that it contained regarding Jesus Christ, the primary authority for faith and teaching. The eighteenth century witnessed a new twist when the term “evangelical” came to be associated with efforts to revive belief among those in Western Christendom who were actively falling away from a meaningful faith, as well as in converting those from outside Western Christendom who were adherents of other religions. Both those who had fallen from active faith and those who adhered to other religions were regarded as being “unsaved” and in need of “evangelizing” with the message of Jesus Christ in order for them to gain salvation and enter eternal life with God. Through most of the twentieth century evangelism in the USA has generally continued to mean efforts to convert people to Christian faith, or to bring them into active membership in the church. This has been true even for many African Americans in Baptist, Holiness, and Pentecostal churches over the past century in urban neighborhoods in the USA that have been confronted with growing poverty, increased crime, decaying housing, and the lack of meaningful economic opportunities. Evangelism came to mean getting people “saved,” which meant guaranteeing them a place in the afterlife with Christ in heaven.
The past century witnessed a more socially relevant understanding of salvation in urban contexts among African American and other churches. In most of these cases, however, the dominant meaning of salvation was individualistic in nature. Evangelism met the challenges of poverty, addiction, and violence on a case-by-case basis, by getting people “saved.” Someone who was saved and had the power of the Holy Spirit now living within was able to overcome addiction, stop being violent, eventually perhaps even find meaningful employment, and hopefully move out of the poorer neighborhood. Salvation was seen as having concrete or tangible effects in this life, but they were internal within the person getting saved and highly individualistic in effect. Social structures were generally left untouched in such understandings of evangelism. Neighborhoods might be transformed as an after effect of individuals undergoing spiritual transformation, but it this was not a necessary outcome.
The question that has to be asked in such urban neighborhoods is how did salvation come to be understood as being primarily or even exclusively internal and individualistic, and associated only with the afterlife? Is the guarantee of eternal life by itself the full content of the Good News in places like the lower West Ward? Without disregarding or abandoning the need for rescuing individuals from the squalor of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and dysfunctional lifestyles, what might a fuller understanding of evangelism entail and what would effective evangelism in the West Ward look like?
Research Question 2: Evangelism in the African American Church
Agape Ministries is a predominantly African American Church. Although it is formally identified as Baptist, Dr. Jackson and other leaders, including this minister, identify with the wider Pentecostal and Charismatic movement as well. The African American or Black Church tradition, including the Black Pentecostal movement, was forged in the crucible of oppression. For more than four hundred years persons of African descent have suffered in this nation, first under the most vicious system of chattel slavery ever known in human history, and then by the oppressions of Jim and Jane Crow, which continue through today. Despite the fact that the majority of their oppressors claimed to be Christian, people of African descent turned in large numbers beginning in the last decades of the eighteenth century began to embrace Christian faith and establish their own communities of faith. African Americans became Christian and formed churches as part of the wider evangelical revivals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but they did so without direct oversight for the most part by white missionaries and evangelists. From its beginning the African American Church was independent, and from the beginning it made the quest for freedom central to its life and work. Evangelism for the African American Church was never simply “spiritual” or “otherworldly.” It was understood in a holistic manner. Likewise discipleship always incorporated spiritual, social, economic, and cultural dimensions.
Over the past several decades, Black Churches in the USA have in many places forgotten this history of community involvement. In many urban areas, Black Churches have become alienated from the younger generation on the street, or have turned away from the neighborhoods they once served. Many churches, including many African American congregations and leaders, have climbed on board the “Prosperity Gospel” train and embraced a theology of consumerism that aligns them more with the suburban middle class in America with its addiction to consumer goods, rather than the urban underclass that continues to live in neighborhoods like the West Ward. The implications of this radical shift in its history are far-reaching. It is not uncommon for single mothers or young members of the gangs in urban neighborhoods like the West Ward to see the church as no longer relevant to their lives and struggles.
I plan to research the history of the Black Church in America with a focus on its understanding of evangelism, and the manner in which it historically has integrated community development, political outreach, social needs, and spiritual rebirth and formation. I will look specifically at aspects of Black Pentecostalism to see how historically the Black Pentecostal movement addressed evangelism and spirituality in the urban context, and in the face of such issues as poverty, gangs, violence, and addiction.
Research Question 3: Welcoming the Stranger from the Neighborhood
Over the past several decades several generations of African Americans have come of age in America’s cities without a significant connection with the church. This is one of the unstated truths of America’s cities: in many cases African American churches, which were the back-bone of the community, have lost much in the way of their perceived authority. Many in the churches do not understand and do not embrace members of the community who they perceive to be “outsiders.” This is demonstrated for instance by the manner in which many members of African American Churches respond to family and community members who come home from prison.
There have been considerable efforts to help African American churches and church leaders learn to embrace the strangers and outsiders who are members of their communities, and sometimes even of their immediate or extended families. In order for a church to become a more effective agent of evangelism in the community, it must come to understand and embrace the members of that community, even if they do not conform to the standards that churches hold for behavior, and even if they are “outside” the law. The church does not need to endorse gang activities, street violence, drug use, or other destructive behaviors in order to embrace the people who are caught up in these activities. The church needs to understand the manner in which poverty, political disempowerment, continued policing policies that target young African American males, the prison-industrial complex, and more are all in collusion when it comes to ostracizing the young urban citizen. It needs as well to understand the dynamics of single-parent families where extended members such as grandmothers are playing such an important role in raising children, or why African American males are not more invested in being good fathers. The church must, in short, understand the community better, and in turn welcome that community in to its own life.
In order to address these concerns I plan to incorporate elements of a Church and Community Analysis, focusing primarily on the West Ward, and identifying such areas for church growth such as welcoming home persons who have been incarcerated; working with foster families; working with single-parent families; and other such aspects. Findings will be shared with other leaders of the church as we become more familiar with those around us, and as we look for ways to welcome them into our church community as full members in worship and work.
As a student of theology, I have sought to continue formal training in both biblical and theological studies. I have sought to incorporate a working knowledge of disciplines such as African American history, psychology, and critical theory as I continue to reflect, teach, and lead the people of God. Seminary introduced this writer to various perspectives such as the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida and the demythologization of Rudolph Bultmann. Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of suspicion are a permanent part of my thinking. What I must do now is focus more specifically on the history and theological nature of the church, with attention especially to the African American Church tradition. This writer is specifically interested in developing her critical ability to be a theologian of liberation in the African American context, developing a fuller set of biblical and theological lenses for leadership.
The second area of competency I will seek to improve is my ability to serve as a prophetic agent of change in the community. Experiencing first hand, social, religious, or spiritual injustice in both church and family settings, this prophetic agent, is ready to pick up the trumpet in Zion and in the secular community against all forms of injustice, be they ethnic, “racial,” religious, political, social, gender, sexual, and what-has-not-been-labeled yet. Prophetic agents speak truth to power, the power that controls or lords over individuals who are socially, economically or intellectually marginalized or disenfranchised. However, on the other hand, inferiority complexes, or the spirit of jealousy are the usual roots from which the tree of injustice flourishes. The need to develop and continue in the prophetic vein is an ongoing spiritual and biblical journey toward wholeness. This prophetic leader is one whose focus is on biblical, spiritual and social justice. As a prophetic agent, the main concern is not only in the church, but is aware of injustice both in the Christian community, as well as in the secular communities around the world. As a prophetic leader, I remain cognizance of the quote from the late, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” The church and secular social community is constantly changing, therefore, the need to develop and encourage others to become a voice for the voiceless, in line with biblical principles and the teachings and followings of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospel concerning injustice, is paramount in today’s society. However, as a prophetic minister/agent, the call to justice should first begin in the church community. For the time is here, and is long overdue when judgment need first to begin in the house of God, and if it first begin with the church, then what will the end be for those who are in the secular community and outside the covenant of God. This writer will continue to develop a prophetic call to all leaders and believers, against the injustice practices in the institutional church against all believers whose ethnicity is diverse, are different than other, which should be the place of healing, comfort, and solitude. Prophetic leadership is a call to ministry not only for the ordained ministers and leaders, but also for the entire Christian community, referred to as the priesthood of believers.
The third competency this writer will seek to address is that of strategic planning and administration. I am seeking to implement an evangelical outreach plan that will draw in several different areas of ministry in the church, providing training exercises, and require administrative follow-up in terms of individual involvement. Classes must be planned and executed. Members of the team must be mobilized. Someone is going to have to be sure the Saturday street evangelism outreach takes place, and that materials are prepared in advance, and that one-on-one follow up sessions are held. Questions need to be addressed such as what if this outreach effort is indeed successful, and twenty or more people from the West Ward begin to come to Agape Ministries Church? Will the church be able to receive them? Is there enough room in the church on Sunday morning for forty new members? What if several members of gangs show up on a Sunday morning? Will the pastoral staff be prepared? It will be this minister’s task to be sure these issues are considered in advance and the church as a whole is strategically prepared for its new future that the pastor, Dr. Jackson, has envisioned.coeur’s hermeneutics of suspicion are a permanent part of my thinking. What I must do now is focus more specifically on the history and theological nature of the church, with attention especially to the African American Church tradition. This writer is specifically interested in developing her critical ability to be a theologian of liberation in the African American context, developing a fuller set of biblical and theological lenses for leadership.
The second area of competency I will seek to improve is my ability to serve as a prophetic agent of change in the community. Experiencing first hand, social, religious, or spiritual injustice in both church and family settings, this prophetic agent, is ready to pick up the trumpet in Zion and in the secular community against all forms of injustice, be they ethnic, “racial,” religious, political, social, gender, sexual, and what-has-not-been-labeled yet. Prophetic agents speak truth to power, the power that controls or lords over individuals who are socially, economically or intellectually marginalized or disenfranchised. However, on the other hand, inferiority complexes, or the spirit of jealousy are the usual roots from which the tree of injustice flourishes. The need to develop and continue in the prophetic vein is an ongoing spiritual and biblical journey toward wholeness. This prophetic leader is one whose focus is on biblical, spiritual and social justice. As a prophetic agent, the main concern is not only in the church, but is aware of injustice both in the Christian community, as well as in the secular communities around the world. As a prophetic leader, I remain cognizance of the quote from the late, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” The church and secular social community is constantly changing, therefore, the need to develop and encourage others to become a voice for the voiceless, in line with biblical principles and the teachings and followings of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospel concerning injustice, is paramount in today’s society. However, as a prophetic minister/agent, the call to justice should first begin in the church community. For the time is here, and is long overdue when judgment need first to begin in the house of God, and if it first begin with the church, then what will the end be for those who are in the secular community and outside the covenant of God. This writer will continue to develop a prophetic call to all leaders and believers, against the injustice practices in the