Inner~View #57: Urban-Suburban Partnerships

   Phil Miglioratti interviewed two of the authors of Linking Arms, Linking Lives:
      How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities

Urban-Suburban Partnerships

Linking Arms, Linking Lives, Wayne L. Gordon, John M. Perkins, Ronald J. Sider, F. Albert Tizon, 978-0-8010-7083-9


•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 of authorship?

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.

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.

•Phil ~ Al, please tell us about the role/contribution of John Perkns and Wayne Gordon ...

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.

Al ~ Partnership is essential because for one thing, we can't change the world by ourselves. We throw around lofty phrases like, "change the world," "transform communities," etc., but then we fail to see that that is only possible when we unite together in sustained partnership in the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, we need to be intentional about partnering across gender, racial, and class divides as a demonstration of the very nature of the good news we proclaim. It's hard to preach peace, reconciliation and justice when we the Church have not experienced these things. As we stress in our book, this is not an easy call. Urban-suburban partnership is hard, and that's why many churches and organizations don't even attempt it. But we believe the integrity of our gospel witness in the world depends on how well we love each other and partner together across these divides.

•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 well.


•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 this happen?

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 transformation.

•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.

Personal witness advocates? Personal witness advocates? Some evangelism-centered Christians still miss the importance of social ministry. This is especially true of the important issue of social sin and structural injustice.

Suburban leaders and congregations? Suburban leaders? They often do not know how little they understand urban contexts.

Urban leaders and congregations? Urban leaders? It takes time and patience to walk with suburban folk who need help to overcome unconscious prejudice and arrogance.

Al ~Our book contains 3 Do's and Don'ts lists in three different chapters-the first list that applies to both urban and suburban partners, the second primarily for urban leaders and the third primarily for suburban leaders. We encourage readers, however, not to skip any of these chapters. In many ways, all the lists apply to everyone. The obstacles that holistic ministry practitioners must overcome in no particular order whether we come from the city or the suburbs include: 1) forms of prejudice in our own hearts that may have seeped in and festered, 2) general ignorance of other cultures, 3) general ignorance of the interdependence between city and suburb, 4) a shallow understanding of biblical unity and reconciliation, 5) the default positions of power-the white and resourced call the shots while the non-white and under-resourced acquiesce, 6) the temptation to quit when the partnership gets awkward and difficult.

•Phil ~ The Mission America Coalition, a partnership of denominational, organizational, network, and city/community leaders, has embraced a catalytic approach to community transformation that weds prayer (for the lost and the least) to care (from acts of mercy to service projects to community development) to share (Holy Spirit inspired witness to the Gospel of Christ) ... In your opinion, how important is it to partner community focused prayer to a visible and a verbal witness?

Ron ~ Absolutely crucial. This is finally God's work, not ours, and we can only do it in the strength and power of the Lord. So persistent prayer is crucial.

Al ~ I'm not sure we can overemphasize the need for prayer in word and deed ministries. One thing that holistic ministry practitioners learn fairly quickly is our inability to affect change on our own power; the needs are just too numerous and too complex. We need God. We need to be in touch with God through prayer. Those who don't realize this quickly get cynical even bitter, and burn out. But beyond praying for our own strength for the work, we have to learn to pray for our communities. I'm not sure we do that enough. I'm not surewe know how to intercede for our neighborhoods. In my opinion, practitioners need training in this. We need to develop a spirituality of holistic ministry.

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.


Phil ~ May I ask each of you to write a prayer each reader can pray with you, towards the Church making a difference in our cites and communities?

Ron ~ Dear Lord, please transform your church so that every member cares as much about the poor as you do. Please Lord, change my heart so that I care as much about the poor as you do.

Al ~ Gracious God, have mercy on us. We humble ourselves before you, forever grateful for your salvation. We know from your Word that along with our salvation is a call upon our lives to share the good news with others so that they too may experience your mercy and grace and love. Continue to break our hearts with the things that break your hearts-poverty, injustice, oppression, despair, hopelessness, war and famine. And give us the power, resources and courage to challenge these things for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the kingdom. Amen.
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