•Phil ~ Baker Books has given us a unique book - Reading it is almost like
sitting around a table with the four of you as you discuss the heart and
soul of street-level partnership.
Each of you bring a unique
perspective to this work ... How does each writer's personal ministry role
influence what we read in the text and how did it strengthen the team aspect
Ron Sider: Theologian ~ John Perkins and Wayne Gordon practice what I
preach! Seriously, they are among the best holistic ministry practitioners I
know anywhere in the world, so writing a book with them on something I
preach and teach as a theological imperative and which they implement so
well has been a great joy.
•Phil ~ Al, please tell us about the
role/contribution of John Perkns and Wayne Gordon ...
Al Tizon, Missionary ~ As I got further into the project, I found myself
needing to draw more and more upon my experience as a cross-cultural
missionary in the Philippines. It is not too much to say that urban and
suburban worlds are two distinct cultures that need bridging for the
sake of the work of the gospel. So issues of power, contextualization,
the importance of personal relationship, mutuality, and even colonialism
ended up informing the book. As for how my being a missionary shaped the
writing team, it's interesting how similar the respective ministry
outlooks and practices of each of the authors were/are, no matter what
we called ourselves-missionary, pastor, community organizer, reconciler,
activist, theologian. It seems that the demands of the whole gospel had
us doing many of the same things. Having said that, the personal
journeys and ministry perspectives of each author made for a
well-rounded team, which I hope resulted in a well-rounded book.
Al ~ The book really couldn't have been written without the on-the-ground
work that both John and Wayne have done and still do. John's well known
ministries of community organizing and reconciliation in Mississippi and
California and Wayne's sustained pastoral work in Chicago's North Lawndale
community provide the guts of this book. The principles, do's and don'ts and
stories come primarily from the experiences of their border crossings
between the rich and the poor and between the black, white and brown.
•Phil ~ Transformation has become a buzz
word in both Christian and secular culture. What is authentic
transformation and how do we avoid being co opted by short-lived cycles
or social trends?
Ron ~ Jesus loved the whole person, body and soul, in community. That's
what holistic ministry is. It is not a fad, it is Jesus' model for
sharing Jesus' message.
Al ~ I still like Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden's definition of
transformation; which is a process that "enables God's vision of society
to be actualized in all relationships, social, economic, and spiritual,
so that God's will be may reflected in human society and his love be
experienced by all communities, especially the poor." And invoking a
definition that essentially came from prominent voices of a movement
that began at the Lausanne Congress of 1974 alludes to my response to
the second part of the question. In order to transcend the buzzword use
of the term, we need to keep it rooted in the historical process that
gave birth to it-namely, the radical evangelical move toward holistic
mission that began in earnest at Lausanne. Transformation has a history,
as well as a theology and a missiology. We would do well to know this
background and see our present transformational ministries as joining in
a sustained larger work around the world. Time will not allow me to
expound much more on this background, but if I may be so presumptuous,
let me shamelessly recommend reading my book Transformation After
Lausanne (Regnum, 2008), which describes this background in detail.
•Phil ~ Why is partnership so important
to community transformation and why is it so difficult for many pastors
and ministry organization leaders to enter into strategic relationships?
Ron ~Partnership is a theological and practical necessity.
Theologically, we are one body in Christ, and real partnership
incarnates that truth. Practically, no part of the church knows enough
or has enough resources by itself to carry out Christ's mission.
•Phil ~ In your opinion, have we
moved beyond the century-old battle between the social dimension of
the gospel (justice, compassion, service) and the command to witness
with words of Christ?
Ron ~ Thank God, yes. At the leadership level, virtually all
evangelical leaders embrace the vision of holistic mission. In
practice, of course, many, many local congregations are still just
doing evangelism or social ministry (or neither). So we still have
miles to go.
Al ~ The evangelism vs. social concern battle has definitely died
down; it's not so intense anymore. I don't hear a lot of pastors,
missionaries and Bible teachers arguing anymore that evangelism-and
evangelism alone-is what defines the whole of our mission. The
sentiment is still out there, but it no longer defines
evangelicalism in any significant, mainstream way. The challenge for
us now with regard to the relationship between word and deed
ministries is to keep them in creative tension, giving equal
attention to each so that we avoid lopsidedness. This is much easier
to do on paper! In practice, many churches struggle with being
equally passionate about proclaiming the gospel and demonstrating it
in our acts of compassion and justice. Part of what Word & Deed
Network (the ministry of which I serve as director) seeks to do is
help churches develop that balance. Many churches who have contacted
us want to be more socially active, while other churches call us
because they feel like they've lost the ability to do evangelism
•Phil ~ Linking Arms, Linking Lives
seems to be rejecting the stereotype that pits evangelical against
mainline, whites and minorities, evangelism or social action -
Has the landscaped changed so dramatically that the issue
before us is now one of location; suburbs or city? If so, how did
Ron ~ Many of the old barriers are breaking down. But there are
still lots of white Christians (and churches) who do not partner
regularly with black churches. Urban-suburban partnership is a great
way to change that.
Al ~ Actually, the landscape has changed so dramatically that the
issue is NOT location anymore. The conventional use of the terms
urban and suburban has been to divide races and socio-economic
classes in terms of location-"urban" as a code word for non-white
and poor over there in the city and "suburban" for white and
well-to-do over there in the suburbs. We make a case in our book
that the urban-suburban landscape has radically changed, as the
young gentry from the suburbs take over sections of the city
(gentrification) and the nonwhite and poor are pushed out into first
ring suburbs (the suburbanization of poverty). The result of this is
that the rich and the poor, the white and the non-white are
geographically closer together than ever before; which means that
urbanites can no longer view suburbanites as "over there," and vice
versa: suburbanites can no longer view urbanites as "over there."
We're now within view of each other; we're neighbors now. So the
call of our book to the "urban" and "suburban" Christians is to take
full advantage of this situation and demonstrate kingdom
reconciliation, love, and unity in purpose for the sake of community
•Phil ~ What are the hurdles toward
receiving and applying your message for:
Ron ~ Social justice advocates? Social justice advocates? Even some
evangelical social justice advocates seem to neglect evangelism. We
dare not do that.
•Phil ~ What encourages you most about
the future of suburban-urban partnerships?
Ron ~ The simple fact that they are growing is encouraging. The
Christian Community Development Association has grown explosively in the
last ten years, and virtually every CCDA ministry working in a poor
neighborhood has one or several suburban partners.
Al ~ We wrote this book not only to encourage those already in the thick
of these kinds of partnerships but also to inspire and guide those who
want to. I am personally encouraged to run into more and more
practitioners who desire to cross the urban-suburban divide for the sake
of community transformation. This growth excites me, for it reflects
core elements of the good news of Jesus Christ-reconciliation,
diversity, love for one another, and unity in mission.