Ministry in Philadelphia: Part I
My wife, Janet, and I are convinced that only a long-term ministry strategy of partnership and collaboration in Philadelphia can bear fruit that remains within the communities and among the faith leaders of the city.
In order to build trust in any relationship, especially in the racially-charged environment of America’s largest cities, one must commit significant time, actively listen, eagerly learn, and be willing to be led by the grassroots leaders in the community. They are the ones who know not only the problems to be solved, but the power of the Spirit of God who brings healing and transformation in their midst through the Gospel.
It is nothing less than the strategic path blazed by Jesus himself, when He said, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant." (Mark 10:43). This approach to ministry destroys an “us-versus-them” dichotomy in partnerships, and it places the resourced community in a posture of serving and following the lead of the front-line prophetic pastors who know the struggles of the city and are known by the community. Transfer of trust is therefore possible, but only as a lived reality, not as a component of a program.
I first met Dr. Ernest McNear, an African American Pentecostal bishop and pastor of a mid-sized inner city congregation, as we sat in the mayor’s conference room. We had been convened there during a crisis of unprecedented proportions in the criminal justice system. I discovered that he had already been involved in prisoner reentry ministry for many years.
Pastor McNear seemed to have a deep understanding of the impoverished spirit of many who were incarcerated in the city and had a real Gospel compassion for those who sincerely wanted to change. With America’s prisons bulging at the seams with the largest prison population in the world, our churches were slumbering. They were not seeing the tidal wave of returnees about to descend on our communities.
But Pastor McNear saw it. What’s more, he was already engaged in meeting the challenge through his own local congregation. Not content to simply send a designated team inside the prisons to do “prison ministry," he saw that the future of prison ministry was really going to be mainly focused on the outside. This new vision of prison ministry as an outside-the-walls task of mentoring and discipleship struck me as exactly the right prescription for what ailed the criminal justice system in our country.
With whom are you partnering to meet the expansive needs in your community—or with whom might you partner?
Please continue by reading Part II here, in which I elaborate on the blessing of partnership that God has given us.