Chicago Emerging Baptists

This site is intended to allow a forum for those in the NextGen Network of the Chicago Metro Baptist Assocition to continue their dialogue online and produce a resource for those interested in emerging topics.Please join in the conversation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Light breaking through in the darkness...


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Randy White, in his work Encounter God in the City, gives a refreshing and insightful examination of the role of urban ministry in both personal and community transformation. His style is conversational, straight-forward, and engaging, reflecting much of the context in which he is writing. What it lacks in academic finesse and rigor it regains in personality. He tells a number of personal stories, and each is easy to relate to despite his unique context. He does seem to overuse his limited access highway metaphors, though that can be forgiven in an author from California.

White argues that “experience that is uniquely generated by participation in transformational ministry in the city” can and should be central to both lifestyle discipleship and community development (26). He builds a unique case concerning “reflective learning” (33) and the value of both ministry involvement and introspection in the personal lives of followers of Jesus. This discipleship value of the city has long been under-represented in Christian literature, even in those writing from an urban perspective. It is certainly both novel and encouraging for him to make such a strong point concerning the value of the urban landscape in discipleship.

Unfortunately, his case seems to be a slightly exaggerated. Clearly God can and does use the city on the journey of discipleship for those he calls to minister in that context. The effectiveness of that impact is increased by the uniqueness of the environment. It should be noted, however, that any intentional change of venue can have beneficial impact on a person’s discipleship if one is open and listening to God. For example, one of the values of retreat centers is that they remove people from their routine to help them gain fresh discipleship experiences. An urban disciple may even benefit from a change of pace in the suburbs or countryside. Also, his biblical support for his arguments is at times very concerning. He falls into the occasional exegetical paralysis of those in urban ministry who read urban reality into every situation in the Scriptures (38).

His writing conveys his personal struggle, but it does so almost too effectively. He seems overly self-effacing, and hyper-critical of his own positions. At one point he even called himself “a wuss” (44). While honesty is very becoming in writing, there does come a point that a person needs therapy for catharsis instead of a pen.

White’s careful definition and use of the multifaceted concept of “shalom” is both valuable and problematic (53, 126). It is very good to see someone with such a deep concern for holistic ministry towards those who are marginalized in cities. His lack of vision, however, for aggrandized or mainstream in the well being of the city is concerning. Also, by focusing as he does on social structures, he almost entirely ignores both personal compassion and the part that the poor at times play in their own situation. Someone could speculate that the book has more of a political and economic bias than the author would like to admit (67, 124). He should more fully develop what link he proposes between his social ministry and evangelization (119). Jesus’ goal for people must go beyond merely providing healthy physical systems for them to experience. The biggest problem anyone will ever face is inside of them.

Anyone who has ministered much in a city realizes the reality of systemic evil. In fact, many urban ministry books have been written on the importance of unified prayer and spiritual warfare in an urban setting. While it is possible for the theme of spiritual warfare to be overdone in an urban context, it is a curious fact that White entirely dismisses it as a potential source of the city’s problems (66). Both his analysis and suggested solutions border on humanistic secular materialism. On the other hand, his use of a three pronged analysis of a city put forth by Ben Beltran is a brilliant and pragmatic structure in which to examine the systems of a city and includes the spiritual aspect more intentionally (70). Much more discussion on urban spiritual involvement would be extremely beneficial.

Randy goes on to argue that it is important to be open to a variety of different cultures, yet keep one’s religious distinctiveness. Unfortunately, he approaches pluralism too closely when he states: “If we ignore the force of religious pluralism in the city… we will be disappointed” (107). While it is clear that the gospel needs to be communicated in different ways to different cultures, and it is true that we can work together on some common projects with those of other faiths, to push things as close as he does to religious pluralism is both concerning and dangerous.

Finally, White does give a very helpful chart concerning personal attitudes and the effect they have on ones experience of the city (139). This illustration could be utilized to provide helpful teaching for mission teams on the way to serve in urban contexts. Many of his practical ideas on urban transformation are extremely valuable suggestions for churches and ministries working in that context. He also gives some examples of dangerous practices people should avoid in urban ministry. The second half of the book is extremely pragmatic, and includes a number of evaluative questions from a variety of philosophical angles. This book can be an important resource for those planning missions into an urban area.

Overall, the work did accomplish a fresh perspective on urban ministry. Unfortunately, it did so by ignoring many aspects of urban ministry that are vital and that other works treat in length. Dealing more with the spiritual aspect of the ministry in an exegetically sound way would have helped him build the bridge more clearly between his thesis of life transformation in the city and his thesis of transformational ministry in the city. Indeed, he dealt well with both sides of the equation, but did little to demonstrate how they are intrinsically related.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hey guys! I need your help and thoughts. Below is a rough sketch of what we've been talking about at Immanuel as far as church planting. I want your insights and ideas to make sure this isn't really naive and stupid. I also want to keep you guys (the Next Gen Taskforce) in the loop about where we're at and what we're thinking at Immanuel to make sure it coheres well with what we're trying to do city-wide. Send me those comments...

Vision 2010

Immanuel was a church plant in 1994. In 2005 we in a sense re-planted in the UIC Area with a clearer vision for missional engagement in a specific neighborhood. On our first Sunday in the UIC Area the leadership announced what has come to be known as Vision 2010 – our commitment to be spinning off new churches at least every five years, the first one getting off the ground by the year 2010.

We don’t want the movement to stop. We want to continue it. And we are clear about not wanting to grow and become merely an attractional church full of Sunday-morning spectators – that’s not church. We want to be a subversive little Jesus community in Chicago multiplying other subversive little Jesus communities all throughout the city. This is what we’re praying for and planning for.

In 2007 we set aside $10,000 for Vision 2010. We have committed $15,000 to be set aside in 2008 and $20,000 for 2009. The idea is that when 2010 rolls around there will already be a cash reserve of $45,000 in the new church’s bank account. We can also continue to subsidize the new church plant for a couple years until we need to start over for Vision 2015.

The normal way of thinking about church planting is that you get “a guy.” This guy needs to have pretty much every gift mentioned in the New Testament. We feel like that is unrealistic and would set us up for failure, especially in the city environment. We believe strongly in a plural elder model of leadership where team members complement each other. Why not start a new church with an elder team right from the get-go?

Currently we have 3 elders. In 2007 we are focusing on praying for and identifying potential future elder candidates and personally investing in them. By the end of 2008 we’d like to bring at least 3 new elders on to the current leadership team. Within that newly expanded team as we talk and think and pray at least 3 people will decide to leave Immanuel and be elders at the new church plant. This team will need to have at least one person with each of the following gifts: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, teaching (cf. Eph. 4:11). In 2009 these 3 elders will begin meeting together to pray and seek direction for what the new church plant will look like: vision, values, philosophy of ministry, neighborhood, who (if any) among the elders will be supported by the church, etc… Towards the end of that year they will begin to pitch the vision of this new church plant to Immanuel and ask people to leave Immanuel and come join this new church. We will need at least 25 people to leave and go with them.