I was at the National Latino Evangelical Association a few weeks ago. After I spoke, I was on a panel with several Latino leaders. One of them was Dr. Elizabeth Rios. She is writing her dissertation (for her second doctorate!) on involving church planters in training for engaging in civic advocacy. I asked her to share some of what she learned with you!
If you’ve been anywhere near the pulse of the evangelical church in America in the last few years, you know that there has been a push to plant more churches. You may also be aware that there are organizations and networks that have been started to discover, develop, and deploy church planters, increasingly in cities and urban centers.
Increasing urbanization and multiethnic diversity have made planting churches in major cities a pressing necessity. Subsequently, we’ve seen an increase in church planter conferences, seminars, and trainings that address, at some level, the many skills planters need to be successful, especially those seeking to plant in urban areas.
So What’s the Problem?
The problem is that we are not necessarily in rural Kansas anymore.
Planting a church and pastoring in urban centers have changed because America has changed. In today’s urban ministry climate, people are not content to settle for “lip service” anymore. Too many times, they exhibit no real evidence of genuine concern for sustainable change in the community.
The reality is that we are living in a time when a church’s work and presence outside the walls matter to people just as much as the worship services. And let me be clear: I’m talking about more than a backpack drive or the monthly soup kitchen outreach. While these things are good, they just won’t lead to a church that is truly engaged with its community, making a lasting difference in both the lives and souls of its people.
While most pastors start churches to bring the gospel to others—and some even want to provide services to improve a community’s social conditions—without a strategic and holistic plan for civic engagement, their real long-term impact is limited. A recent study reveals that providing short-term relief of immediate needs without also pursuing long-term strategies to improve social conditions through political participation can limit a congregation’s ability to “effectively and comprehensively address social needs.”
Pastors like to pray, as they should. Yet many times, at best, a commitment to pray is only a Band-Aid on issues that need to be addressed at the systemic level.
The New Strategy and Skill for Making a Long-term Difference
To make a long-term difference in the community where you plant, you need a new strategy. And you will also need a new skill: Civic advocacy.
The hard truth is that setting captives free “in the hood” usually involves social transformation on the streets—not just soul transformation in the church.
Keith Warrington, Director of Postgraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Regents Theological College, noted that typically people from minority groups are the first ones to express this awareness, because they have experienced this truth personally. They realize that as believers, they should be engaged with what’s happening in the world around them. And their thinking and theology are changing to what Warrington calls a “more robust determination on the part of some to effect change by other means than only prayer.”
Thus, pastoring with the mindset of making a long-term difference now involves prayer and, to the dismay of some, civic engagement on a local, state, and maybe even national level.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Dr. Elizabeth D. Rios