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Social services can’t transform needy, hurting hearts, pastor says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Government social programs cannot transform lives in the inner city the way a relationship with Jesus Christ can, a pastor active in urban ministries in Louisville, Ky., said April 13 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Social services can put a new coat on a man,” said Kevin Cosby, pastor of Louisville’s St. Stephen Baptist Church. “But only God through Christ can put a new man in the coat.”

Cosby’s sermon focusing on urban missions was one of the featured messages during Southern Seminary’s first Great Commission Week. Other speakers for the week included D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Al Gilbert, special assistant to the president of the International Mission Board.

At the conclusion of the April 13 chapel service, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. commissioned 21 church planters to work in the field through the seminary. All will labor in Southern Baptist Convention church plants this summer through Southern Seminary’s Nehemiah Project. The planters will operate in places as diverse as Canada, New York City, Chicago and Kentucky.

The planters have been taking part in a Tuesday evening fellowship for prospective planters during the past year. The number of planters and prospects has grown abundantly since the meetings began, said Ed Stetzer, director of the seminary’s Church Planting Center.

“A year ago, we had about 15 people coming to the fellowship,” Stetzer said. “Now we average about 100. We’re real thrilled with how God is blessing the program. The 21 planters we sent out is the largest number we’ve commissioned thus far.”

Cosby, in his message, noted that Christ’s way of repairing broken lives was never a social program. Rather, Christ affected change by focusing on the people’s true need — a regenerate heart, Cosby said.

“One thing that is distinct about the Christian method of changing our society, our world, our inner cities, is that [it] always starts with changing people,” he said. “There are many ways that are espoused by society and social services agencies, by agents of government intervention.

“They say that the way to change is to change society’s structures. … We can never lose sight of the fact that the Christian way of changing society and changing the city is by changing the people who live in the city. If you have shabby building material, once the building is complete, it will reflect the shabbiness of the building material. If you have people whose lives are shabby, then shabby lives are what create a shabby society.

“That’s why Jesus always started with the man,” Cosby continued. “That’s why he started with Nicodemus [by saying], ‘… unless a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ It’s not salvation through legislation, but salvation through internal transformation.”

Preaching from Mark 5 on the story of a demon-possessed man, Cosby said America’s turn to political correctness has led to the extinction of words such as demons and sin. This has led to an incorrect diagnosis of the problems in inner cities and throughout society, he said.

“I know in this age of political correctness and sophistication, we don’t believe much in the demonic,” he said. “We attribute everything to natural causes. We don’t use words like sin in our vocabulary anymore.

“We use polite euphemisms like neurosis and psychosis and the upward pull of the human race. … I believe one of the tricks of the demonic is to cause us to not believe in the demonic, because when you don’t believe in the demonic then you won’t put on the full armor of God and engage in spiritual warfare.”

After Jesus healed the demon-possessed man, Cosby noted, Scripture says he was “clothed” and “in his right mind.” Cosby questioned where the man got the clothes. The church is not exempt from social obligation, he said, yet seeing people transformed spiritually remains the priority.

As Jesus did in the story of the demoniac, Cosby said those who would do missions in the inner cities must encounter people with boldness. They must not be afraid to minister to people engaged in lifestyles and habits that are far less than appealing, he said.

“In this story, Jesus got off the ship and encountered the man,” Cosby said. “The disciples stayed in the ship because they were afraid of the man. Too many of Jesus’ disciples are staying in the ship. They are not going and encountering demonized people. Jesus [in Mark 5] encountered this dangerous, messed-up man, but he never forgot that he was a man. Despite the fact that he was demon-possessed, he was still a man made in the image of God. Jesus never forgot this man’s dignity, that this man was valuable.

“Jesus came for men like this,” Cosby continued. “One thing we must never forget when we do inner-city ministry is that, I don’t care how many drugs a person has in their body or how much crack or coke they must do. I don’t care if they walk 18th Street in west Louisville as prostitutes. We must remember that this is a man. This is a person that the devil has. Not a statistic, not a number, but a man.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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