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Urban church planting goes ‘holistic’

ATLANTA (BP) — Discipleship needs to be “at the heart of church planting.”

Dhati Lewis “wasn’t called as a pastor so I could preach. I was called as a pastor so I could make disciples.”

Lewis is director of the Send North America Rebuild, a North American Mission Board initiative helping urban leaders create a culture of discipleship in the local church.

Lewis also pastors the inner-city Blueprint Church in Atlanta, where he is fostering a “holistic” approach to discipleship beyond one-on-one mentoring to transform urban culture.

Preaching can be used as a platform, but putting a lot of pressure on a 35-minute time slot can take the focus off the task Jesus put forth in Scripture “to make disciples,” Lewis said.

Lewis was among several NAMB leaders who led workshops during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center in July. Gary Frost, vice president for NAMB’s Midwest Region and for prayer, led sessions on urban revival and awakening.

Frost, experienced in leading congregations in the urban core, agreed with Lewis’ assessment of discipleship as more than just on-on-one mentoring, or what Frost described as “intellectual engagement.”

“We need churches that can engage the school systems, provide sports mentoring and drama, and physical education and art,” Frost said, noting that many public schools have dropped what they consider non-essentials.

“We can step up and step in. … [W]e can’t preach the Gospel [at schools],” he said, “but we can go and be the light. We need churches in the city that will engage the jails and the medical system to bring light.”

Because many people have been turned off to church by negative personal encounters, Frost said church planting must entail “living out Christ” in the presence of the community.

“We want to plant churches in the urban core that have in their DNA community involvement so that it’s not just something they do on the side, but it’s who they are — without losing their Christ-anchor. That’s true salt and light,” Frost said.

Defining “urban”

Lewis said he is concerned that “urban” often is misunderstood to mean “inner city.”

More than half the world’s population — including professionals, young families and people of all ethnic and culture groups — now live in urban areas, Lewis said, defining urban as places of diversity and density in the cities.

“We have to realize what is going on with globalization and secularization,” Lewis said. People relocating within metro areas have created “a huge shift that impacts everyone,” he said; no longer are there neighborhoods where “people look like me and talk like me.” To make disciples, it has become imperative for pastors and church members to look around and see who their “neighbors” are.

“If the church is going to be relevant in North America, we have to go from an ethnic missiology to a neighbor missiology,” he said. “There will be no majority culture.” As globalization rapidly increases, he noted, “We get a picture of how America will be, versus our preferences and our likes.”

Citing a recent mission trip to Honduras where a team ministered among the Miskito Indians, Lewis said the Miskitos’ first language was original to its people, its second language was Spanish and its third language was hip hop.

“Here you have those people who don’t even speak English, rapping,” he laughed. “Globalization is already happening.”

Southern Baptist church plants in urban centers can become models of how churches can stay relevant as the cities evolve and adapt, Lewis said, noting, “People are craving human touch and human relationships. That is where the disconnect is and that’s where the church can make a difference.”

NAMB’s first gathering for and about the urban church — named “BLVD Conference — is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 in Atlanta. For more information visit http://www.rebuildnetwork.org/blvd/.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan