Posts Tagged ‘urban ministry’

For What?: A Sermon on Isaiah 61:1-3

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Antipas Harris

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Isaiah 61:1-3

Often we think of the Spirit and the anointing of God in privatized categories with little concern for the everyday experience of the collective human family. We like to soak in prayer like Theresa of Avila. We like to come together to sing. We feel good when we do these things because we have come to believe that this is what a good Spirit-filled Christian is suppose to do. Although these are essential practices for the Christian. But there is much more!

Popular ministers often teach that giving money and service to a ministry merits miracles and material blessings. Church as usual is more concerned with building buildings and ministry empires than leading people in social action, advocating for social justice and community transformation. This is a problem!
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Urban America, Getting Ready for A Great Awakening

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

Today, many people reject religion because they do not see what they consider to be its advantage in the face of injustice, lack of peace, lack of love, etc. This past weekend, however, I was blessed to visit the Dream Center in California. This innovative ministry expresses multiple outreaches to redress urban ills of Los Angeles. During our tour of the facilities, a guide explained that prior to the Dream Center, over the span of a year that area experienced an average of one shooting per three minutes. Gangs, prostitution, violence and poverty dominated the area. In a little time after the founding of the Dream Center, however, crime in that area reduced more than 75%. The ministry gives more than a million pounds of food away each month. I had the privilege of traveling with the outreach team to the Huntington Hotel in the heart of the city for the purpose of giving food, praying with and talking to very low income residents. These are only a drop in the bucket of the many outreaches Matthew Barnett’s ministry has at the Dream Center.

Approximately, 16 years ago Pastor Barnett felt a call of God to “build up people and not a mega church.” In response to the call of God, he set his feet to the pavement. Now, sixteen years later, God has blessed Barnett’s church, Angelus Temple Four Square Church, with a monstrous facility and many outreach efforts to share the love of Christ to victims of urban evils– from prostitutes, to homelessness; from victims of the economic recession to Hollywood celebrities in search of filling the emptiness that money and fame can not fill (only Christ can!); from gang bangers to drug cartels; from young people to the elderly who are seeking to overcome addictions and pain. I have not seen ministry so massive and targeted on urban revitalization as Matthew Barnett’s unique Dream Center. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening to Christian Unity?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

January 2009, the Barna Group released an article stating, “By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route.” These statistics on religious isolation are staggering! It seems that people are losing sight on the power of religious unity. Also, does this contribute to or a result of the breakdown in the “family concept” in our world today? Hmmm. Just wondering…

Yesterday, Wednesday April 28th, my colleague Dale Coulter spoke at Regent University Chapel. His message addressed the value of the body and/or community. In part, his concern was that while Christians share the liberty of individual creativity and giftings, there is a fine line between unity in diversity and corruption of community. It is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom of expression, gifts, creativity, etc. Yet, (as Coulter explained) when the Jazz Ensemble frees the improvisationist to embellish the beauty of a piece with her own creativity, she must be careful that the liberty granted does not destroy the harmony of the whole.

In Galatians 5:13, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” The message seems clear that while we have freedom to explore the wonders of God’s truth– all truth is God’s truth, our wondering must neither destroy the whole nor the power and harmony of the whole.

Individuals are increasingly unilateral or isolated in their religious pursuits, but so are churches. Recently, I learned that in Hampton Roads alone, there are approximately 3,000 churches. Each one attracts particular people for different reasons. There is certainly less and less separation by theological stance now than in the last century. Yet, the proliferation of churches continue for several reasons– some seem to be good reasons and others are questionable. These churches offer gifts to the community of Hampton Roads– gifts of various sorts.

I have noticed in my two year residence here and in my travels around the country that by in large the churches are increasingly divided. It is hard to get them together for any common cause. In Hampton Roads, I observed the seemingly impossible task to pull churches together for the purpose raising funds and soliciting relief help for Haiti after the recent earthquake.

Wyclef Jean did a better job pulling Hollywood together and pooling resources to assist Haiti in relief than the churches in this community. I call this a tragedy of disunity! With all of our freedom of worship and ecclesiological structures, there must be practical ways to unify or come together for common existential causes. Yet, I have not witnessed this as a reality. There is no wonder there is so much existential mayhem and decadence!

I have, furthermore, noticed that  many of these same churches cling to tragedies and existential challenges as opportunities to score ministry points for their own ministries. They raise funds for national and international tragedies, feed the hungry, pass out turkeys during Thanksgiving and gift baskets during Christmas. At their annual meetings, on their television shows, in their radio broadcasts and newsletters, they announce to their adherents how much they have done for the year. Their followers are excited to hear how many people their offerings fed last Thanksgiving and how many thousands of baskets they gave away at Christmas and how much money they raised for Haiti, Chili or China for relief.

Let’s reason together. How many people eat once a year? How many people need gifts once a year? And if one church can raise this amount of money for an international disaster, how much can we raise as a community of churches?

These are results of individualism that has crept into the churches. Both individual Christians and churches have left the foundation of Christ– Christ is one Body! Our creative giftings as individuals and separate communities interfere with the power of coming together and standing as one!

If we stand as one, our mark in the world for Christ would be more defined! If we stand as one, we can help rebuild local, national and international communities for Christ! If we come together as one, we can make demands in Congress pertaining our fractured world, existential depravity, gang violence, domestic abuse, economic stress, fatherlessness, poverty, communal pangs, and endless distress.

In conclusion, someone sent me an article from Fanhouse,. Sunday evening, April 18th, National Columnist for Fanhouse, David Whitley reports that the field was empty. Just a day earlier (Saturday), the BYU women’s rugby players had happily posed for a team photo under the stadium’s scoreboard. The lights said the Cougars had just beaten Wisconsin-Milwaukee 46-7.  Whitley quotes Coach Tom Waqa saying, “We won today. But the girls’ biggest opponent is tomorrow. That is adversity.” However, with a national championship in sight, the girls insisted to decline the opportunity. They refused to play Sunday because they acknowledge Sunday as the Sabbath. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, they believe that Sunday is the Sabbath holy and must be kept holy.

Having been raised as a Sabbath-keeping Pentecostal, I am aware that Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath. Saturday is more correctly the biblical Sabbath. However, I am attracted to the story above on two fronts: 1. The Cougars played together and defeated Milwaukee. One of these girls could not have won alone 2.) The Courgars made a stand together and insisted to keep the Sabbath holy. If only one of the girls stood, I would congratulate her but she might not have made the headlines. So, I might not know about it. However, the power of unity won against Milwaukee. And the power of unity is the force behind the headlines. A Whole team of uniquely gifted young ladies stood together and tied themselves to principles and standards pertaining Sabbath observance.  What a witness!

I am applying a self-evaluation– Where do I fit in these statistics? Am I caught up in my own ideas and intellectual gifts that I have lost hold of the power of a unified stand? What about you?

Standing together, we can change communities and the world!

The Gospel, the Church and Holistic Development of Urban Youth

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about our expanding urban world. The future leadership of communities, society and the world rests in the hands of youth. As the world is increasingly urban with accompanying struggles, it seems logical that urban churches place particular emphasis on youth-development. If the total restoration of the situation of depravity, as relating to urban youth, is not the church’s primary focus, the future of urban communities is bleak.

Recently, I presented a paper at Empowered 21 in Tulsa, OK. The paper addressed the need for churches to re-vision their ecclesiological superstructure. I argue that to achieve a goal of transformation, urban churches need ecclesiological outlook grounded in a theology of total transformation. The most fundamental Christian theology of total transformation exists in Christ’s holistic vision of the gospel. Churches, moreover, must maximize the effectiveness of the holistic gospel by embracing a renewed concept of “the Church” as the “Body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12-13), advancing the mission of Christ as expressed in Luke 4:18-19:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because (the Holy Spirit) has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. (The Spirit) has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

From this passage, James Cone draws an inherent message about Jesus. In Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, he argues that Jesus’ work is profoundly and essentially one of liberation.[1] By liberation, Cone means that Jesus is primarily concerned with helping, mentoring, advocating for, educating, and healing victims of social oppression.  To this end, Cone contends that Jesus launched “an age of liberation in which ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them’” (Luke 7:22). He further argues that “in Christ, God enters human affairs…. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair.”[2] While liberation theology provides insight into the social dynamics of the gospel, it is important to note that a gospel of liberation expressed in the life, teaching and works of Jesus is actually holistic in nature. In Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry, Fernando Arzola Jr. critiques the Liberation theological approach suggesting that while existential liberation is essential to Jesus’ ministry,  a close read of the gospel renders more of a holistic theology.  By holistic theology, Arzola contends that the gospel addresses the total human situation– social, personal, and spiritual.[3] I want to push Arzola a bit further, however. I argue that a holistic theology includes the role of community. All of Jesus’ ministry involved and was concerned with community. For the future of urban communities, moreover, it is imperative that the churches embrace and proclaim this holistic theology as explained in Arzola with my added emphasis on “community.”

I believe, furthermore, that churches with ecclesiologies grounded in a holistic theology develop ministries that focus total community transformation and beyond their own walls. A holistic approach to ministry, grounded in holistic theology extracted from Christ’s gospel, minimizes the celebrity-oriented notions of ministry and reduces the “Hollywood” ministerial aspirations paramount among churches today. Without a holistic vision of ministry, urban churches lose their relevance in holistically developing youth into men and women to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Does Luke 4:18-19 count with respect to urban communities? It seems that churches have a wonderful opportunity to make a holistic difference in the world with respect to youth, urban youth specifically. Will they take advantage of this opportunity or will they let this chance slip away? What do you think?

[1]. James H. Cone, Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 6 and 7.  Also, see Ronald J. Sider, “An Evangelical Theology of Liberation” http://www.religion-online.org/ showarticle.asp? title=1757 (accessed 5 March 2010).

[2]. Terry Matthews, “A Black Theology of Liberation (Lecture 26),” http://www.wfu.edu/~matthetl/ perspectives/twentyseven.html (accessed 08, February 2010); also, see James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990).

[3]Fernando Arzola Jr., Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry: Theory and Praxis in Urban Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 32, 33.

Prosperity Gospel-Preachers and Hip Hop Artists: Is There a Common Impact on Urban Communities?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

As a musician and theologian, lover of all styles of music and proponent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have been thinking a lot about the impact of music and sermons on urban communities. There seems to be an ideological comparison between the popularized message of “Kingdom Success” by materialistic (or prosperity) measures that many of today’s top-ranking celebrity preachers teach and the message of materialism (or prosperity) advanced by most of today’s top-ranking Hip Hop artists (i.e., Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, P-Diddy, Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne). There is no wonder that urban communities are falling apart! The rappers and the preachers are not helping like they should. Albeit a provocative comment, rappers will admit that they are about the “cake,” or “that green stuff.” However, many of the preachers would deny that their message is of similar ideological categories as the Hip Hop artists.

Yet, I argue that a message about “Kingdom Success” that is in any way associated with glitz, glamor, and lavish living is a subscription to an erroneous Christianized version of the same message of materialism perpetuated among Hip Hop artists. Pastors that subscribe to a highly materialistic (or the prosperity) gospel are often blinded by the money-oriented lens through which they see the world. They sanctify that lens as they tend to theologize their conclusions through strange scriptural proof-texting. An increased number of contemporary pastors seem to judge their message differently than the Hip Hop artists based on the medium through which the message is presented rather than the message itself. Using the Bible and preaching materialism rather than rapping it with profanity does not make the message better. In fact, it convolutes the message that Jesus intends. Careful analysis of the messages of both rap songs about money and sermons about prosperity seem to render similar conclusions that success is defined by lavish living and material assets—both venues that promote this practical conclusion promote unhealthy individualism and erroneous measures for holistic success by a barometer of materialistic measures. One wonders if the message of materialism highly propagated through the aforementioned mediums have assisted in people’s poor financial choices.

It should be appalling that the gospel of prosperity emphasizes material gain over holistic transformation and promotes self-interests that trumps community building. The Bible is full of passages and teachings that emphasize the need for holistic transformation rather than material prosperity as litmus test for “right standing with God” or “Kingdom Success.” Also, the Bible promotes a Christianity of community and community building with several metaphors, images and concepts that promote community rather than self-interest (i.e. “the Body of Christ,” “the Household of God,” and “they had all things in common,” “the Church”). When are we going to get back to an authentic Biblical understanding of Church? Of will we ever? If so, what would it look like? How would it change our communities?