FEAR AND FAITH OF URBAN CHURCH PLANTING

 

There is something different about someone who is able to act on their deepest desire to want to impact the lives of people in a way that ultimately will leave them vulnerable and fulfilled at the same time. That is the heart of church planting pastors. There is a certain level of uncertainty to planting something that is countercultural to the current state of society. As an urban church planter there have been times of great joy and extreme lows. Church planting in any context is difficult because you are trying to introduce people to something that is greater than themselves. In the same breath, church planting is about being the mediator between hurt and hope. It is the ability to be in the midst of the vicissitudes of people’s lives, yet offer the solution to their problems. But at the core of this organization or organism, known as society, is the church planting pastors.

Urban church planting pastors, who are looking out for the proverbial Gotham City known as their communities, live to transform the lives of the people in their cities. In addition to that, there is something that is very telling about being a church planting pastor in the urban environment. As urban church pastors, there is this idea of being used by God that is beautiful in theory but then there is the reality of actually being in the community doing life with folks. There is a certain level of fear that is part of planting a church for urban pastors. It is not what you might think either. It is not that urban pastors are fearful for their lives or scared to walk down the street in the community where their church lives. But it is fear of failure, the fear of not being able to fulfill the great commission of making disciples.

There is fear in the unknown of will people show up to bible study or Sunday service for that matter. It is fear of not having the budget to get outreach done or have the budget to pay the monthly rent for facilities. In the midst of societal race issues, there is fear of stepping into the center of that tension to be the voice of reason, yet not lose your identity or your “cultural hood card” in the process. There is fear of inadequacies, lack of resources, not having a large congregation, or not having the right words for the wrong situation. The fear of being urban church planting pastors can be enough to have the toughest person walk away, willing to go back into the fray of just being a participating member of the local church. Despite these and a lot of other fears, there is hope. The hope in faith is the essence of what drives urban pastors that is planting a church in their community.

Faith the safe place for urban church pastors. Fear is ever presence but faith is always there calming the heart of urban pastors. Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane it was due to the stress of the call that was his assignment to save the world. His prayer was for God’s will to be done. It was in this moment that Jesus knew that his demise was at hand. This was a prayer that reflected faith in the will of God. Urban pastors are constantly on the pendulum of operating within the divided between fear and faith. The ability to balance between fear and faith is always an ever presence in the mind of the urban church planting pastor. It is that balance that keeps the urban pastor in the face of God, with the knowledge of knowing that things are truly working for the good of those that remain faithful is faith that enables urban pastors to not give up during those lean times of planting the church. It is faith that lets the urban pastors know that it is not about the number of people in service but the number of blessings. It is faith that lets the urban pastors know that they are transforming lives just by having coffee with the man or woman who is returning from prison. It is faith that lets the urban pastors smile knowing that what is not recorded in the offering plate, is being celebrated in heaven. It is faith that positions the urban pastors to stand whether there are two people or two hundred people. It is faith that urban pastors have to stand for the underpaid port worker, for the under resource community, the underrepresented youth, and the overly sexualized young girl. It is that same faith that doesn’t keep track of every hurt, knowing that it should be charged to the head and not to the person’s heart. Fear and faith are the bookends of this thing called ministry, which is where urban pastors learn to live.

 

ARE WE COMMITTED OR CONDITIONED?

ARE WE COMMITTED OR CONDITIONED?

As a young football player in high school, I would begin training for each year during the summer with weight lifting and running. I loved to lift weights, learn plays, and to push myself to get better than the last season. One of the things that we did each summer was spending several weeks getting in shape. We called it “hell week” or conditioning week. It was a time that we would run, lift weights, run, and run some more. It was the part of playing football that I would say, that I disliked the most. As the two week period would come to an end, we would begin training in our respective positions. As I look back on that time period, I wasn’t committed to the training but I was conditioned to do it due to that being part of the process for playing football.

That is how it is for most of us. If we take a full inventory of our lives, most of us would discover that we are not committed to most of the tasks we do on a daily basis. We are conditioned to doing the tasks that we complete. Let’s be honest with each other, are we committed to our jobs or are we conditioned to receiving a paycheck? Are we committed to our relationships or are we just conditioned to have someone laying next to us? Are we committed to our relationship with Christ or just conditioned to attending church? Are we committed to learning while we are in school or are we conditioned to just completing the work for a grade? When we take the time to review some of the things that we do on a daily basis, we are just going through the motions just so we can either get on with our lives or just get on to doing something else that we really enjoy. Those things that we really enjoy, those are the task that we are truly committed to doing. But if we take it a step further, we have been bribed with the idea of reward. The thing that we are committed to is getting the reward for what we do…..that is why most of us live in the “chasing the next best thing” syndrome. We are constantly trying to chase the next moment of aggrandizement, not realizing that we are slowly being conditioned to be like the hamster on the never ending wheel of going in circles.

One of the beautiful things about kids is that they are committed to their dreams, wants, and desires. As a father of 5 children, I have noticed that they are relentless about asking me 1001 times can they do something….play a game, go outside, have a snack, go to a party, and the list goes on. Kids have a natural desire to get what they want and when they want it. The commitment level for getting what they want is very high. Somewhere between our years as a child and our years of adulthood, we lose that zest to being committed to getting what we want out of life. There is a moment in our lives where we become conditioned to being okay with what we get, when we get it, and how we get it. Conditioning is our comfort zone or our security blanket. We have been conditioned to go to work, conditioned to take the same route home, conditioned to stay in an abusive relationship, conditioned to keep unhealthy friendships, and conditioned to living a life unfulfilled. Conditioning is a matter of accepting the status quo, commitment is a matter of taking control. When we are conditioned, it allows for us to not be the owner of how our lives will continue or change. It causes us to be numb and not affected by the journey of life. We have been conditioned to live life on someone else’s terms instead of being committed to designing the outlay of our lives. There is a need for us to change the narrative known as our lives to become more committed to what we do on a daily basis. Conditioning is about going through the motions, but commitment is about doing “whatever” to get to where we want to be in life.

Commitment is about going the extra mile but it is even more about being invested in  the process. We are committed to being a better partner to our mate, we realize that we are invested in their well being. When we are committed to job, we realize that we are invested in how far we will go to make it a career. When we are committed to being a better parent, we realize that we are invested in shaping the life of our children. Commitment at the end of the day is about being invested for the long haul of the process in all areas of our lives. One of the things that I learned about commitment, is that it is similar to making an investment into a retirement account. When you invest in your retirement account, you are not expecting a return until you decide to retire. You make your monthly deposit into your account, knowing that one day you will reap the benefits of being committed. Just like we are committed to being sure we are secure when we retire from our job, we have to be committed to being the owners of how our lives will be lived. It is imperative that we change from being conditioned, just accepting life as it comes, and be committed to being the developers our future. As I concluded my high school football career, I realized that the conditioning that I hated, was a big payoff during the season. It helped me to have the stamina to get through some difficult competitions. But more especially, it enabled me to learn how to matriculate some of life’s difficulties. The final piece is being okay with being committed to doing what you have to do to change what you don’t like in your life. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to make you happy, except for you. You have the right to change those things in your life that is causing you to be conditioned. Commit yourself to changing your current condition!

DUALITY OF LIFE: BEING BATMAN AND LUKE CAGE

DUALITY OF LIFE: BEING BATMAN AND LUKE CAGE

When I was growing up one of the things that I liked was watching superhero cartoons. As a kid, on Saturday mornings I would watch the Super Friends, which would eventually turn into the Justice League of America. The Super Friends were composed of Aquaman, Batman, Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman. They would add The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, etc. On Saturday mornings, the Super Friends would battle the Legion of Doom….Lex Luthor, The Riddler, etc. The one superhero that became my personal favorite was Batman. Over the years, I have been able to figure out why Batman was my favorite superhero. Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne, an American billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and owner of Wayne Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his parents Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne as a child, he swore vengeance against criminals, an oath tempered by a sense of justice. A few weeks ago, I watched the Luke Cage series on Netflix. Luke Cage is an ex-convict imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, who gains the powers of superhuman strength and unbreakable skin after being subjected to an involuntary experiment. As I watched the series, it became apparent that Luke Cage was a superhero for hire, that was a defender of his community against injustice. The similarities between these two superheroes is that they are both fighting for justice against injustice in their community. But the differences between them is that one is a DC Comic superhero, the other Marvel; one is in Gotham, the other in Harlem; one is white, the other is black. But the most intriguing difference is that one has flesh that can be penetrated and the other one doesn’t. 

Unlike most superheroes, Batman does not possess any superpowers; rather, he relies on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, detective skills, science and technology, vast wealth, intimidation, and indomitable will. Luke Cage doesn’t have a costume, yet defends himself with the only thing that he has, his skin. His skin can’t be penetrated. Bullets, knives, and the like just bounce off of his skin. In the 20 plus years that I have been in church, the 18 years that I have been in ministry, and the 6 years of being a pastor, there have been times that I have had to be like Batman…defender of justice, using detective skills to figure out how to move the people of God forward, maneuvering through the maze of theology and community relations. But for me and others we spend most of our time-serving the Lord being more like Luke Cage. We are consistently and constantly doing ministry having to have thick, impenetrable skin. God has made us all with a complex system of emotions. Some of us wear them on our sleeves, some of us hide them very well, but all of us have them and because of that, all of us have the ability to be hurt; to experience pain and sadness and disappointment and often it comes from the way that we’re treated by other people.

The person with thick skin is able to deal with the hurt, deal with the pain, and extend forgiveness to the person or persons who have hurt them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t hurt or that they are immune to anger or bitterness over the actions of others, but they have learned not to let it consume them. The person who develops thick skin is the one who understands the nature and the necessity of forgiveness. Forgiveness, this is one of the hardest things for many of us to do. We live in a day and age where we love to blame. We blame anything on anyone and then feel that we are justified to hold a grudge and to return pain for pain. The reality is that a lot of us like to hold onto those things that are done to us, we hold onto the anger, we dwell on the pain, we think of ways that we can get even, but God says to us, don’t let it penetrate, let it go, and trust me to take care of it.

Learn to forgive. 

Without forgiveness, there is no relationship with God, and our ability to forgive goes hand in hand with experiencing God’s forgiveness in our lives. This is a teaching that is often ignored, it’s a teaching that is often not fun to look at or talk about. All of us have been hurt, all of us are tempted to hold a grudge, but because of the price that was paid to obtain our forgiveness, God commands that we forgive freely as well.

Giving ourselves away involves being vulnerable. We must be willing to be hurt a little if necessary, in this life. A lot of people need a thicker and tougher emotional skin than they have. But, we need only a tougher skin, not a shell. To trust and love is to open ourselves up to being hurt. If we are hurt once, we can do one of two things:

 

  1. We can build a thick protective shell to prevent being hurt again, and live like an oyster.

or

  1. We can “turn the other cheek” and remain vulnerable and go on living continually giving friendship and comfort no mater how we are treated by others. 

     

 

In conclusion, the duality of life is about not solely allowing our fears to push us forward to do life in our own Gotham communities. In addition, to be thick-skinned enough to not allow for it to eat away at our hearts. This week, as you maneuver your way through your life and deal with the vicissitudes of this city, ask yourself how thick is your skin?

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU……

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU……

“What doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger”. I have heard that saying all of my life. I had coaches, teachers, mentors, and even my own parents tell me that from time to time. In that statement, is courage, hope, faith, disbelief, struggle, surrender, and strength…to just name a few. In that one simple phrase is the hope that what is going on will soon pass but the strength to not allow for your mind to kill your effort to get to the end. Like a good fire that crackles and burns with intensity, if you don’t add wood, will soon die out. Our best efforts are just trying to get through the next hour without having a moment where we want to do like Michael Jackson in the “Scream” video. With the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Riots being upon us, it is hard to believe that it has made us stronger, when we still have police killing innocent black males in our cities. It is hard to believe that we are made stronger, when we have folks that profess to being Christians, yet pimp and look down on the poor and disenfranchised. It is hard to believe that we are made stronger, when we still look at women as objects and not the crucible of generations. It is hard to believe that we are made stronger, when there is more money given to prison development, than educating young minds. It is hard to believe that we are made stronger, when the rich control the strings and the poor must dance to a tune of the puppet master. It is hard to believe that we are made stronger, when the family is dismantled as systematically as a heart specialist performing surgery, in our black and brown neighborhoods.

The other side of that statement, is hope and an unrelenting spirit to keep pushing through the pain of life’s hurdles. In the Word, it states that if we faint not in well doing, we will reap blessings. Can we find the blessings in the midst of the death that is going on in our souls? Could it be that if we learn how to control our breathing, we won’t have an asthma attack on the narratives of society? Could it be that we have to find the strength to push through the muck and mire of this journey? Strength…that is what we need in this time when we are suffocating on the smog of racism, sexism, gender-ism, and other ism’s. Strength is what some of the brothers that I went to Morehouse found when they needed to stay up late nights to study, knowing that their financial aid might not come through for the next semester. Strength is what my dear friend needed when he got the call that his dad been found after looking for him for most of his life. Strength is what is needed when you want to hear the voice of your mom but there isn’t a phone in heaven. Strength is what what the young boy that is dealing with everything from learning how to tie a tie, to knowing what to say to that young lady at school…yet not have a father to glean from. Strength is what is needed for the woman that is abused, to say enough is enough and begin her migration to something better. Strength is what is needed to start an organization like K.I.N.G. Movement, that allows men to have a space to disembark their feelings, yet have space for a brotherhood revival. Strength is knowing that marriages can survive the storm, if we both have faith survival skills.

Strength is that uncanny ability to not allow the vicissitudes of life to kill our spirit. Our spirit will need to live, in spite of our experiences. It is that ability to reach down inside of our being to find the fortitude to, in the words of the my grandmother, keep on keeping on. Our strength is able to capture the hope of our tomorrows and allow for us to deal with the problems of today. Strength is what is needed for the generations that will come behind us to be more educated in civic engagement and social justice. Strength is what we will need in this new age of us versus them in our political pool. Strength is how we will get over our differences of opinion on race. Strength is what the church offers on Sunday morning when the choir sings the hymn of “His eye is on the sparrow, so I know that He watches, He watches me”. Strength is what I see when I hold my mother’s hand. Strength is what I see in the eyes of parents of my predominantly Hispanic students, knowing that this battle is not theirs but the Lord. Strength is what I hear in the voice of my father, when he reminds me that my last name matters in the equation of my being. Strength is what feel when I tell my children, I love you….and as long as I live I will ALWAYS have your back!