We've spent the last few weeks discussing Isaiah 61, the scripture that inspired the Isaiah 61 Initiative. So what is the Isaiah 61 Initiative anyway? It's sort of a big picture thing, so we'll start with the vision.
To declare God’s Glory through the spiritual renewal and physical restoration of the people and the land of America starting in the most desperate areas of our major cities.
To call for and facilitate a major missionary movement back to the devastated areas of our inner cities to establish homes and businesses, restore the land, and serve the people living there with the love of Jesus Christ.
The Isaiah 61 Initiative
Sun Ministries launched this nationwide effort to rebuild America's most devastated inner cities in 2009, starting in north St. Louis, Missouri. This aggressive initiative utilizes three main components (Leadership Center, Opportunity Center, Narrow Gate), along with some creative community engagement and use of resources, to solve problems that have plagued these areas for generations. By training and relocating young missionaries to live and work in these areas we will rebuild the decaying structures, minister to the neediest residents and make a generational impact.
So how do we actually do that? How does it work?
We will break down the three components in future blogs, but let's cover some big picture purposes here:
The Leadership Center
The Leadership Center trains and equips people for this work – primarily missionaries. The important aspect of this is that missionaries live and work in the neighborhoods where they minister. They are personally invested because it is their neighborhood, too. They walk the same streets, breathe the same air, hear the same gunshots, etc. They interact with other institutions as members of the community instead of as temporary outsiders. Furthermore, they do all of this without pay. Missionaries have basic needs met, and live meager lifestyles. This does two things. It puts the maximum amount of our resources towards our mission. It also prevents us from being motivated by money.
The Opportunity Center
This is essentially the business/employment aspect of the ministry. The businesses provide for the ministry, so that we can achieve financial sustainability. We work with our hands and lead a quiet life, gaining skills we can teach to others, and providing employment environments for people needing to turn their lives around.
The Narrow Gate
This is our approach to life change. It addresses major obstacles, with the goal being a transformed person. We lead people to the opportunities for owning a vehicle and a home. We provide housing as available and as needed. This is also the aspect that provides housing for missionaries. Our missionaries continue to move out into the community in their own homes.
Those three components work in concert to not only address an individual's problems, but the obstacles that weigh down an entire community. We call this approach, “Pastoring the Community.”
Pastoring the Community
What does it take to pastor a community? It takes faith, hard work, commitment, self-sacrifice, and more. It takes people willing to serve others. We pray, serve, assist, support, and give. We use what God has given us physically, spiritually, and materially and dedicate it to serving others. We preserve what is decaying. We inspire what has been discouraged. We challenge what has been unmotivated. We provide where we are able. We empower what has been hindered. We rebuild what has been broken down. We revive those that have become faint at heart. We restore the Spirit of God to mankind through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because the issues facing communities are complex and longstanding, we have to get outside the box in every area. We have to be humble, flexible, and patient. Poverty is not simply a lack of money. Racism is not simply judgmental people. Violence is not solved by arrests. We interact with people and institutions in nearly every social realm: politicians, educators, police, churches, non-profits, residents, etc.
Pastoring the Community requires us to stand against evil. We are agents of reconciliation sent to serve and defend the defenseless. We build up the defenseless. We equip people to stand alone but teach them to always stand together. Pastoring the Community requires us to give up our rights to and ownership of the resources God provides for us. We Pastor the Community best when we stand as good stewards of that which we can never take with us.
The Isaiah 61 Initiative is the real life expression of what it means to Pastor the Community. It is the answer to the call that is essentially God's pattern for life. God demonstrates, teaches, and commands sacrificial love to restore the broken. No issue will be solved simply, so He has led us into a diverse and challenging approach to live, minister, and engage serious problems.