I was in the great city of Chicago this last week. While I got the chance to see a large swath of the city, I spenta good share of my time in a region called Bronzeville (southside of the city). When the Great Migration brought African Americans from the South to jobs in the North early in the last century, many found their way to this area of Chicago. It was the greenhouse for greats like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Lou Rawls, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and countless others. It is crazy how many cultural greats have emerged from this area. Today, at least in part, Bronzeville can be described by terms like high unemployment and poverty, urban violence, and population density.
Into to this setting, my good friend Ronnie Harris has been called to plant a church – a Kingdom outpost. Actually, it could really be said that he has been called back. See, Ronnie is from Bronzeville and has returned from living away to re-embed himself into this community.
I could almost feel myself tremble at times observing the challenging context of Bronzeville juxtaposed against its historic grandeur. You know, sometimes there is a mourning and awe at the same time. The real thrill and allure however was as I got the privilege of hearing Ronnie share of his dream of seeing God’s Kingdom demonstrated through the founding of a local church that communicates and lives the life of Jesus in tangible ways. When Ronnie describes the greatest needs of his community he doesn’t begin with the idea of putting up another church building, but by describing the need for jobs and the care and mentoring of youth and creating affordable housing and breathing cultural positivity (a gesture of biblical shalom) back into this once proud area.
Ronnie sounds a bit like authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay when they write:
"Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore. Church should not be the focus of our efforts or the banner we hold up to explain what we're about. Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ."
By leading out by creating opportunities for business and job creation as mission, the fabric will be laid for a gathering of people that see the church less by its institution, politics and building, but by its influence and compassionate engagement with the “least of these.”
It has been said that the Gospel is best displayed by a church community that loves Christ and lives like he is actually alive. That is what Ronnie has bought into and what I get the chance to encourage as the leader of Christian Associates. I was able to spend time with Ronnie on his home turf and help pray and plan how this dream could come about. So, when I use the word privilege in the last paragraph, it was not just a platitude. It is the literal posture of my life. God is so good.
I am also tremendously appreciative for all of you who pray for and support me in this venture. Your commitment has engendered a confidence in me to press on with this important work.
Thank you so much!