For the first time in a long time I have the opportunity to blog. I was out of pocket for most of June with back-to-back mission trips and we have VBS this week so my blogging has been pathetic at-best. What I wanted to do is share a few stories about what we did as a church and some of the experiences we shared.
We worked with Memphis Urban Ministry (specifically the Raleigh Community Church of Christ) in operating their day camp. From 9am-11:30am (M-F) we had a VBS where they participated in “Walking through Jerusalem.” Each day they got to experience a different marketplace and learn about the culture when Jesus was on the earth. You could tell that the kids were absolutely amazed at what they saw and experienced. Jerica Briggs, one of the hardest working individuals I know, operated the day camp while we were there. She had a special gift from God that enabled her to reach the students in a way not many could. In the afternoons we helped with various activities and assisted the staff in whatever capacity we could.
There are more specifics to what we did but I want to share with you one story about one of the inner-city children. Jerica explained to us that the Raleigh community looks like a nice neighborhood (and it did) with nice suburban homes (there were) but the problem is that when the black folks started going out of the city toward the suburbs the white folks left (white-flight). As a result, the gangs moved in and crime has escalated in areas outside of Memphis. One example is the story of John Doe (not his name but I want to keep things private) who, at the age of seven, aspires to be in a gang. When asked, “What do you want to do in life?” He said, “be in a gang.” He already knows the gang symbols, the gang colors and the Tuesday before we came his house was “shot-up” by another gang because his dad was in a rival gang. I have experienced some rough kids in my day but this one has to top them all. There was no respect for authority, he did not trust us, and he could care less about the songs we sang or the games we played.
Yet, toward the end of the week, because of one of our adults Clay, this rough kid started singing and participating in the games. I could tell that a change was occurring in his demeanor and he (though he wouldn’t admit it) actually wanted to be there. I can’t speak for the teenagers but only speak for myself in saying that I have failed in reaching the inner-city communities of Springfield. I have falsely assumed things about them (like they don’t want to listen) yet they, in my experience, were more hungry for the Word than I was. Any affirmation or praise that we gave them was soaked up like water in a sponge. They were more than willing to learn and even showed signs of absolute brilliance.
The problem with these mission trips is that we go thousands of miles on thousand dollar budgets to get an experience on reaching the poor yet we fail (miserably I might add) at reaching people in our own backyards. I think there are some serious reasons we are not reaching our inner-city folks like we should:
- Racism – Not everyone is a racist but I believe there are many who still cannot worship with people of a different race. Not only is that ethically wrong to be like that it is biblically wrong (see Matt. 22:37-39; Col. 3:1-11 to name a couple). Mixed in with this idea of racism there may be the assumption that we have an African-American church in town that can reach “those types of people” while we can reach “other types.” Something is incredibly wrong when brothers and sisters in Christ cannot worship each other based on skin-color or socio-economic status.
- We are not set up to reach people like that. I think this assumption is correct. If you look at our church buildings, most of them are set up to suit the member’s needs. After all, the members are the ones who pay to keep the building in operation. You have these massive buildings that say nothing more than, “Look how much money we spent on this building!” to make matters more difficult, our attire says, “You have to own a suit or a dress in order to show up for services.” That may not be the intention but that is there is assumption. Then we say, look right…dress right…then act right and then you can come to our services. If someone was addicted to crack the last place they would go is a church. Why? Because they have it all together right? Someone got upset at me one time because I did not wear a tie on Sunday night while I preached. I looked at them and said, “Why aren’t you wearing a tie?” “Well that’s expected of a preacher to wear a tie not me!” I said, “Where in the Bible does it say that?” The argument quickly fizzled and the point I made was that we are never going to reach inner-city folks if we do not set up our building, worship and mentality to address their real needs.
Of course, all of this is operating under the assumption that we need to bring them to a location. What would it be like to grab a few people from church and on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights bring the church into the community? Chew on that for a little bit…read the gospels and Acts to see where I am going with this thought pattern.