Friday, April 22, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 2: Urban Renewal

The model of “Pastoring the Community” can also be explored in terms of urban renewal. We see this most obviously in Isaiah 61
“Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins. They will raise up the former devastations; and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” [NASB]

Like other organizations involved in urban renewal, we also take part in housing, economic development (through starting businesses and providing employment), refocusing resources, and building partnerships. However, we know that the work doesn't stop, nor start, there.

In Isaiah 61, it all starts with the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon bring good news to the afflicted). In the New Testament, you see the Holy Spirit falling on people and moving them to preach, heal, and care for those around them. It was the thing that knit together the Church. This new life brings with it healing and transformation for those who receive it. They go on to engage in the good works they were made to do (Ephesians 2:10).

If you look closely at Isaiah 61, you see that those rebuilding the ancient ruins were the afflicted who received good news, were healed, and transformed. Money cannot do this. Development cannot do this. Jobs cannot do this. Those can all be tools, at times necessary, to help with the process.

There is an aspect of coming along side people and neighborhoods that has to happen. This is vital for equity to be present. To give up your self and your plans, and to use what you have to create opportunity for others, caring for them, are some actions that are required to work within the midst of these external, physical tools like jobs and housing.

We've all inherited the effects of the sins of those who've come before us. The sins of our fathers include racism, neglect, violence, oppression, apathy, goes on and on. The church has tried a variety of ways to approach these wounds, ranging from being the ones on the front lines, laying down their lives and bringing things to light, to engaging society through marketing and pop culture. The Gospel of the Kingdom is good news that affects all of life because it has something to say about all of life. How you interact with neighbors and enemies. How you treat laborers. How you utilize money. How you view government. What you do with the work of your hands. How you live with fellow believers, caring for and ministering with them. The American dream is something else we've inherited, an idea that has changed our perspective of reality and purpose. Ultimately, it is self-serving. Climb the ladder, get a house, be successful. The Gospel says lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

Sun Ministries is seeking to develop faith communities through our missionary work. This is not the same as a church, at least not the popular definition of the term. This is a community of believers, ministering actively in their neighborhoods, through the use of their gifts and the work of their hands. It creates networks of businesses, providers, caretakers, and opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship to develop.

Location is a vital part of urban renewal. You can't effectively be pastoring a community that is not yours. If you can walk away from the gun shots, decay, pollution, and signs of neglect, you will never be affected by them the same way. Living in the midst of it not only more effectively makes you an agent of renewal (by being a member in the community, living in a house, working in a business, walking down the streets, playing in the parks), it also more effectively makes you an agent of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NASB “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though Christ were making an appeal through us...”

This ministry of reconciliation is a matter of relationships. We live in a world of relationships broken by division – racism, distrust, abuse. We must address these intentionally and mindfully. These are the same wounds that have affected urban areas, and God's people have the Spirit and the word of reconciliation to come in and start to bring healing. This happens through enacting equity, through laying aside privilege and utilizing our labor, compassion, resources, and gifts to minister.

This starts as simply as loving our neighbor. As we said previously, the Bible states 8 times that this act is the fulfillment of the law. Just imagine if every Christian owned this ministry of reconciliation, began loving their neighbors and enemies, and walked the way Jesus did. Even if we're not specifically called to a work in the inner city, if God's people begin living by His design, then urban spaces, and the people living there, would be renewed.

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 1 - Social Justice

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 3 - Social Entrepreneurship

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 1: Social Justice

We refer to our approach to urban ministry as “pastoring the community”. We did not create the term, and the model was inspired by missionary work done in various parts of Africa. However, it is a model of ministry that God has led us in to, and which we feel is a new paradigm in not only inner-city ministry, but for the Church itself. While what we do is contextualized to the inner-cities of America, any community can be “pastored”. Though God has given us a model, there is not a script to follow. It is certainly guided by principles and values, and the problems are going to be similar in different areas, but the unique situations and individuals of each community will require that the specific solutions differ from place to place.

There are several avenues we can use to explore the concept of pastoring the community. The first avenue we will pursue is “social justice”.

The Google dictionary definition for “social justice” is as follows:
justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

While our views on justice, and the work we do, certainly address some of these areas, we're convinced that God is the source of true justice, and that He is leading His people into manifesting that today. God certainly didn't leave us ignorant when it comes to justice

Zechariah 7:9-10 NASB
“Thus the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”

While that bit of instruction can feel lacking in light of current socio-political concerns such as racism, corporate corruption, ecological disasters, sex trafficking, etc., it is still God's heart on the matter of True Justice, and should not be dismissed. He desires compassion. We ourselves should be sure to not oppress anyone, nor even have evil in our hearts. Our compassion should spring from our hearts and inspire our actions.

Our ministry has been influenced by Isaiah 58, which describes a lifestyle of fasting – daily laying down your life for the sake of the oppressed. It is living in such a way that yokes are not even in your midst. It is not a religious show of piety or devotion, but an authentic giving up of your self to others. This passage is concerned with watching what you speak, providing food, clothing, and shelter, caring for the homeless, oppressed, your laborers, and even your family. Again, it could be dismissed, as it doesn't directly address global concerns. But these are corporate instructions to the people of God, and again, concerned with the content of your heart and how that directs your actions towards others.

One thing God has led us into is the idea of equity, contrasting that with equality. Equality is a term often used concerning social justice. But let's look at equality and equity in this manner: imagine we are all standing outside a building, and we need to get to the third floor. There is a stair case. All are welcome to go up the same staircase, and end on the same landing at the third floor. This is equality – the pathway is open to all and the goal is the same. However, what if you have just broken your foot? Is equality good enough for you? Will you be able to walk up the staircase as easily and freely as everyone else? Certainly not. You require someone to come along side you and help you up the staircase to the third floor. This is equity. Equality is really just advantage for those without any obstacles, those for whom the circumstances were designed to serve. Equality leaves you with these options: begin a slow, painful, and awkward struggle up the stair case, or simply accept that the third floor is not accessible to you.

Jesus manifested equity. He had all rights, privilege, power, and authority. He deserved everything, was entitled to everything, and had the ultimate status. He possessed every advantage imaginable. Yet he set all that aside, and came down to helpless, hurting people, to live among them as one of them. He then became a sacrifice for their sins to reconcile them back to the Father and usher in the Holy Spirit. Even in His saving grace He enacted equity How many sins were you forgiven when you accepted the gracious gift of salvation? 10? 1,000? What about your neighbor? How many sins were they forgiven? 40? 4,000? All of them. God didn't forgive a thousand for you and a thousand for them, letting you deal with the difference. He compensated for everyone's differing abundance of sin and forgave all the same. He didn't come only to the not-so-least of these. He came to the very least of these, to create a way for all of humanity to come to know and live with their Heavenly Father.

As Jesus' disciples, we are called to walk the same way He did. To lay aside our rights, privileges, expectations, demands, desires, and reservations in order to come along side those in need, so that they can receive love and assistance, and come to know their Father in Heaven. This is compassion and justice.

One obstacle to truly understanding justice is our own context. God's justice is as above our ideas of justice as He is above us. Standards of justice are culturally relative. Modern Americans may feel it's unjust to lack access to clean water. However, for millenia, all of humanity had to walk to the nearest water source to retrieve drinkable water, water that would likely not pass most of today's standards. Furthermore, God's sovereignty is far above our understanding of the times. Neither of these, however, lets us off the hook when it comes to compassion or serving the least of these. Despite our context, God's heart is the same.

Even so, this reality can lead some to a frustrated and overwhelmed state. What do we do with the innumerable things we observe and experience that deeply hurt us? We start where Jesus did. Laying down our life, and doing what we see our Father doing. Living obediently. Loving our neighbor. Scripture states 8 times that loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the Law. That's a good a place as any to start.

Ephesians 2:10 states that God has prepared good works for you to do long before you were born. These prepared works are part of why you exist. They are the good things you were designed to do. These works will minister to this world in ways only God could orchestrate. These could be small and seemingly meaningless, or they could change the course of history. The important thing to realize is that they are only found in God.

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 2 - Urban Renewal

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 3 - Social Entrepreneurship

Sunday, April 10, 2016

More Web Site Work

We have uploaded a redesigned web site for the Isaiah 61 Initiative. This site describes in more detail the how of Sun Ministries. It explains how each component of our ministry works, what we are currently doing and our near future plans.

Visit it at Isaiah 61 Initiative Web Site

We have also updated the Sun Cafe and Disciple Driven Church web sites as well. We hope the new designs allow people a better access to information about the amazing work that God is doing in our midst.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Online Updated

We have uploaded a redesigned web site for Sun Ministries. It is cleaner, clearer and more accurate. It also features online shopping for some of our products. Many of these are one of a kind and can only be purchased online.

Visit it at Sun Ministries Web Site

In the coming weeks we will be redesigning the Isaiah 61 Initiative web site as well. We hope the new designs allow people a better access to information about the amazing work that God is doing in our midst.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Little bit of Real Talk

In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus tells a story about how we should treat people. In this story he states -

"'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'

When we approach our problems in the neighborhoods we serve, we must never lose sight of the "least of these." For many people their work is dedicated to helping provide for the "least of these." We help them with food, housing, utilities, clothing and many other necessities of life. Yet after decades of hard work our problems persist. To provide for someones care is a noble venture but to provide for their self-sufficiency is a greater good.

Many charitable efforts are offered as a program or a class. This approach to our work misses the need for life on life interaction. What the "least of these" needs is a family, a community, a network of people that will care for them and empower them to be all that God designed them to be. They don't just need this Monday - Friday from 8 - 5. They need this 24/7. Training and provision will always fall short if it is not connected to loving, caring people that are willing to live side by side with the "least of these."

There is a marginalized group of people in our communities. These people lack education, social skills, job skills and have often never been surrounded by loving relationships. The "least of these" are oppressed, beat down, abused, neglected, and carrying the mistakes of their past like yokes around their necks. If we want to help them we must walk with them and carry their burdens. We must make a place for them to live and work in our communities. For many of the "least of these" they have never had a legitimate paying job. They do not know what is required of them to show up on time, take instruction from authority, care for the things of others and many other lessons that are learned in employment. The "least of these" carry burdens that will not just go away with provision and training. They need our love and our care and our grace as they struggle to overcome the weight of the yoke they carry. Many have been conditioned by the pain and failures of their past to expect those results again.

Unfortunately for our society, money drives our work. Businesses are looking to hire the best of the best not the "least of these." Funders drive programming as the desired approach to our work. It is easier to evaluate a program than it is to evaluate life on life work. Life is fluid and messy. How can we tell if our money is getting the results we desire without the ability to count and analyze data? If money sources would change the way they offer support to show a priority for life on life work instead of programming, we would have more people moving to our most desperate neighborhoods and living alongside the "least of these,"

When we take a life on life approach to our work we focus on building the person up and rebuilding the communities they live in, one person and one house at a time. If we adopt a life on life approach to our work, we will house and employ the "least of these" and thus raise our entire community in the process. As we lift up the "least of these" we empower them to take advantage of the many opportunities that already exist. We remove the oppressive yoke from their neck and bring equity into their lives.