SBC Life Articles

Turning Chicago to Christ

Jim Queen was back in his element a few days before Thanksgiving, preaching the simple gospel at Chicago's Uptown Baptist Church. "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good," was the appropriate theme as he preached off-and-on for three hours. About 650 poor and homeless eventually filed through the service before being served Thanksgiving dinner downstairs.

As pastor of Uptown from its founding in 1976 until 1992, Queen viewed himself as pastor of the entire community. He was dedicated to doing whatever it took to see his community come to faith in Christ.

Today, as executive director for the Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association, he feels the same way about the eight million residents of "Chicagoland."

"I tell our pastors, 'You are not only the pastor of the church. You are also pastor of the community,'" Queen said. "When you understand you're pastoring the community, you open up more opportunities for ministry. … When we build our image through our credibility, then your community will have a listening ear."

Queen and his wife, Karen, who works as the administrative assistant for the 178-church association, are among the missionaries featured in the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 7-14. The Week of Prayer is part of the Season of North American Missions, which also includes the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering with a national goal for 1999 of $45 million and a challenge goal of $50 million.

Chicago also will be featured prominently in the year 2000 as one of the first two target areas, along with Phoenix, in the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus Cities initiative. That effort will focus thousands of volunteers and other resources on the complementary tasks of evangelism and church planting.

A product of a Christian home, Queen signed with the Chicago Bears in 1959, only to be drafted into the Army at about the same time. When he returned in 1961, he was cut from the squad because of a hamstring injury. The following spring, during an Easter Bible study on the Resurrection at his home North Shore Baptist Church, he made a profession of faith in Christ.

"I made a commitment to not only give my life to Christ but see Chicago come to Christ," he said.

His early ministry was directed toward working with juvenile delinquents and youth gangs. He initially ministered on the staff of North Shore Baptist Church, and later through a parachurch ministry he established called Inner City Athletic Mission.

Following seminary education at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Queen was invited by the director of missions in Chicago to consider starting a church in the neighborhood where he grew up. In January of 1976, with the support of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, Uptown Baptist Church began meeting in his home.

The church targeted the gang members and homeless who populated the streets, the single parents, the elderly, the mentally and emotionally handicapped, and the area's diverse ethnic population. Those groups, coupled with the enthusiastic young people that shared his vision, came to characterize the congregation.

"My big offering at the end of my third year, my Christmas offering, was $1.82," he said. "And for the first four or five years, I was the only person in the church that even had a car." But by 1981 the church was able to purchase a deteriorating but historic church building for $300,000, and the church became one of the strongest in the association.

Approximately forty different ministries targeting the various groups sprang up. These include English as a Second Language and other programs for immigrants, a homeless shelter in the church's basement, and an art program that has transformed walls formerly covered with graffiti into vast murals portraying the gospels.

By 1992, his work at Uptown was seen as a model for effective inner-urban ministry throughout the country, but Queen said he laughed when he was approached about actually leading the association. He was much more comfortable ministering in the inner city than as an administrator in an association office.

But he said he was fortunate in having his call confirmed in a manner that left no doubt where God wanted to use him.

Queen was walking across the back of the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference in 1992 in Indianapolis when he heard what he believes was an audible message from God. "He said, 'I want you to take the job because of the pastors,'" he said. "… I can't tell you I knew what all that meant, but that was the context. He made me aware of all those thousands of pastors needing help that were sitting in the auditorium."

The first few months on the job were spent traveling to other major cities, as Queen educated himself on his new role and that of the urban association in general. He soon began formulating goals based on evangelism, church planting, and using volunteers from across the country to help see the goals fulfilled.

When the Strategic Focus cities concept emerged from the North American Mission Board, Queen said he jumped at the opportunity to see a strategy for reaching Chicago used as a model throughout the United States.

Queen's vision is to see 100,000 Southern Baptist volunteers come to Chicago for a one-day evangelism blitz and mass rally in the summer of 2000, followed by six months of critical follow-up and church planting efforts by a thousand volunteer teams. He and other leaders also hope to join hands with other evangelicals in Chicagoland to coordinate Southern Baptist efforts with Celebrate Jesus 2000, the interdenominational evangelistic initiative.

As one of the first among the seventeen targeted cities, Chicago is in many ways one of the most challenging. The Southern Baptist churches in the area historically were transplants from the south, he said, reflecting the culture of their members after the post-war migration. The problem was that as new generations became acclimated to the northern culture, the churches began to fade in influence and die out.

"The churches really became Southern-culture churches here, but very few times did they ever reach out to the great community," he said.

But in recent years efforts have been made to make the association more reflective of its region.

Today, there are only forty to forty-five Anglo churches among the 178 in the association, and the largest of those have only about 300 active members. African-American congregations, meanwhile, are by far the largest group with nearly half of the churches in the association. Six congregations have memberships of more than 1,500, and growth continues.

In the city, multicultural and ethnic congregations are also gaining ground, while efforts continue in the suburbs to create new churches with new paradigms for impacting the modern Chicago culture.

As a week of prayer missionary, Queen said he is grateful for the prayers of Southern Baptists, but his hopes are actually greater than one day of prayer. The massive evangelism and church planting effort that Southern Baptists hope to put forth in Chicago will require a prayer effort of similar magnitude.

He envisions a prayer network, linked by telephone, fax, and email, in which thousands of partners across the country are kept up-to-date on God's work in Chicago. And in order to see God continue to work even beyond the parameters of 2000, he would like to see individuals commit to ongoing daily prayer for the city in the years that follow. Other cities could have other partners, he said. The needs, and the potential impact on the changing world, are that important if resulting spiritual gains are to be sustained, he said.

"I think if we're going to do what we need to do in Chicago, if we're going to break the barriers, if we're going to set a new paradigm … then we've got to have the spiritual battle fought," he said.

"Here's the fear," he said. "… (Southern Baptists) are blessed that God has given us the vision and the ability. If we don't follow through, God might take away the mantle. He can put it wherever He wants to, with people who are faithful and persistent."

Those interested in becoming prayer partners or serving as volunteers with the Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association may call (800) 645-2403 or contact the association at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • James Dotson