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  • Randy Nabors

How Do We Find Men Who Will Plant Inner City Churches?

One of the struggles of planting churches in the inner city areas of America is finding the kind of men who are willing and able to do it. While focusing on the “church planter” let me say that finding the women to be involved in urban ministry is a challenge as well, but my experience leads me to say the women are ahead of the men in stepping up to the challenge. I am asked by various pastors and church leaders where they can find someone for their city, or their congregation which wants to help plant a daughter church or new site, or to plant a church in a strategic city that has no witness. This to me is a wonderful problem, to actually have Christian leaders thinking that such places need churches and want men to plant and pastor them. I have been asked to suggest the names of African Americans to do this job, but I will tell you that finding anyone who will do this job, and can do this job, is a daunting task. I need to clarify that I don’t think African Americans are automatically qualified to do the job, nor do I think it right for anyone to assume that this is what they should do. In my ministry I have sometimes realized that an African American brother was being challenged (even badgered) to go into the inner city when that was not their calling, nor their giftedness. We will still continue to have the need for white men to go pastor white churches in various places, and for black men, and Latino men to plant churches in their communities. While believing that mixed churches and cross cultural churches are a manifestation of true Gospel reconciliation and the power of God to change our ethnic prejudices, I know not everyone will be able to plant or develop such a church. I don’t think of white churches or black churches as sinful due to their racial and cultural make-up; unless of course these are developed with exclusion in mind, then I do think they are sinful and harmful to the saints in that church. I am a cheerleader and supporter of black men planting churches for black people in black communities, and in the Presbyterian Church in America we have far too few of them. The racial and cultural handicap for black men to be trained in our circles, and to identify with our denomination (which is mostly an unknown quantity in the African American community) is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Just as in missions where a national might be brought over the States to study in our seminaries, and then finds himself culturally out of tune with his own people when he returns home, this can happen in ethnic communities here in America. Let me speak a little more directly to that issue. Some black folks are attracted to the PCA because they love Reformed doctrine and teaching. They may have come from a background where the preaching was not intellectual, nor the teaching applicable to the life issues they were now encountering especially as they became part of the middle class. Many new converts to Reformed teaching become enthusiastic and unfortunately some can even become self-righteous about what they have now attained in their learning (this is not exclusive to ethnicity). Young men came become enamored of the kind of teaching they hear in seminary, which for those of us in Reformed circles in very academic, intellectual, and doctrinally rigorous. Often our preachers don’t preach any different than the professors teach so what we hear from our pulpits are lectures and not sermons. While praising God for the truths of the Reformation, and enjoying and reveling in Reformed distinctives, and blessed by so many great scholars to enlighten our minds and keep us from error we need to remember that people need truth communicated in a way that they can grasp; that they not only intellectually comprehend but with which they emotionally connect, and with truth that is applicable, relevant, motivating, empowering, and unavoidable. In short, the people need pastors of the heart and not simply teachers of the mind. I think everyone needs that kind of preaching, but black culture and the black community demand it. I am fully aware of the dangers of emotionalism and shallowness in much American preaching, but African Americans have one of the greatest legacies in the world when it comes to preaching, and preaching that is both moving and full of depth. We do not want to create clones of intellectual dryness in young church planters. If you don’t love and preach Jesus from passion I think you should just stay home. One of the handicaps for anyone planting a church in the inner city is that the planter is not going to be able to attract many folks who have some prior involvement with the PCA or Presbyterianism in general. Much of the work will of necessity be evangelism and outreach and building from scratch. The white urbanite middle class churches at least have the power to attract young adults with some former suburban connection to the PCA, which helps give a planter a “center of mass” to help the new church survive. On the other hand, this is exactly the great opportunity we have been looking for; to find non-Christians who are open to the Word of God and the love of Christ. Poverty gives us an opening; as perverted as that sounds it is true. It is also true that we have some young adults (even Boomers) who have a cultural resonance with issues of justice and mercy. They would love to be involved in a dynamic and effective ministry within poor communities. We need them all to help these kind of churches take root. Where do we find great church planters, who are willing to sacrifice themselves and their families, suffer for years in terms of experiencing all the difficulties of the inner city, living at a lower level of income, being patient with a small church that grows slowly, enduring the agony of watching dysfunctional people come to grips with real discipleship and change and falling down and rising again and again? We want men to be ambitious so they have the passion and drive to plant, but then they must be patient to endure smallness and the feeling that their peers are passing them by in the glory of a denomination that admires success and bigness. It almost feels shameful to pastor a small and poor church. It is a different kind of glory, but let no one make the mistake of thinking it is not glory to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. Where do we find them? Well, first we admit that we don’t. God does the finding. Our job is to begin with prayer, and to stay at it in prayer. Secondly we realize that we may have to “grow our own.” In evangelism and discipleship we find disciples. We must be about the task of gathering and imparting to new believers, some who are gifted and called by God to become preachers, the truths we have learned. We do this so they can teach others also. We must engage and challenge young men when we meet them about the task and the need. We must mentor, empower, and open doors for young men whenever we can. This means we need to consciously always be looking for new recruits; developing programs and internships and scholarships for them so they can be trained. We must encourage others to open positions, we must be creative in credentialing, we must be advocates for those who can be useful. From day one we have to reduplicate ourselves and be ready to turn the ministry over to the next generation. We need to institutionalize this in our church budgets and leadership development must become part of our church culture. If we make no place for young men they will not wait around long, but will find someplace they can feel well used. We have to keep our eyes on the Kingdom and not simply our own employment. In the inner city we need men who are cross cultural, who can adapt economically and socially, and while working in small places still have large vision. We need courage, we need risk, bathed in Gospel joy and hope. Any race or ethnicity will do if they have been spiritually prepared, called, and gifted by God. “Lord, give us men.”

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