Sunday, July 13, 2008

the value of outsiders

I have had a bunch of conversations lately about the role of outsiders in marginalized communities.  

The assumption is that outsiders -- white, suburban, christians (WSC)-- want to be involved in the urban context.  They want to give of their time and money effectively and, of course, not be disrespected in the process.  

But often, insiders -- urban Christians of all hues (UC)-- feel disrespected along the way.  They feel that the WSCs are not actually giving freely, that they are not giving without strings attached or hidden agendas.  Additionally, the UCs feel that the WSCs give out of such imperiled motives and limited (privileged) perspectives that they do more harm than good.  I just spoke with a pastor who all but told me he wants his supporters to give money but stay away -- they'll screw things up if they are around too long.  And he is just more honest than MANY I know who wish they had the freedom (luxury, privilege, power) to say the same thing.  

This is why we started Bridge Builders.  We expect that the giving in the body of Christ must be two-way to be genuine.  When we have missions teams here, we literally try to give them more than they give (they probably don't always perceive it this way).  We want them to be able to give financially and of their time directly and effectively.  

Here is the reality:  we need them (everyone see this) and they need us (really?  how? few see this). 

Given that it is our assumption that the need goes both ways, we want to figure out what it means to genuinely equip our donors in terms of personal connections.  We want them to visit, to learn, to see and of course to support the ministry financially.  We want them to enter into the joy of ministry of which they are really a part, in a way that affirms all involved.  We want them to receive, not just to give.  

I am entering into a new challenge at Sunshine -- over the next three years to raise 1000 monthly donors averaging $50/month.  As I do this I am seriously trying to figure out how we invite these donors into a sort of covenantal relationship with our community.  My hope is that we as a ministry, as an urban community, can give back to the donors, and give well.  

So my question is this:  What is the value of the outsider beyond money?  How does someone in an urban context honor and minister in return without exploiting those here in the community?  What are the unrealistic expectations of the outsider?  How can those expectations be responded to from a ministry standpoint?


Aaron said...

Great post! I just went into detail about some of my views of the white outside church over on the Reconciliation Blog.

In a nut shell I think race relations has fallen on hard times.

I think this O'bama thing is really bringing out a lot of this. I won't get into all of it but to say I think racial reconciliation has taken a step back.

When you get a chance shoot over to Ed's blog and see what I wrote about my view of the state of our racial reconciliation efforts.

Again great post homie!

JP Paulus said...

Coming from Hoffman Estates, which has changed as i haved moved away & become more urban...

the suburbs also need to see deeply and see where THEY are week and need repentance, or at least help.

My dad, though an Indonesian immigrant, was part of the white flight....he lived literally around the corner from today's Circle Urban Ministries/Rock of Our Salvation Church.

I doubt he was the only WSC's should take time to repent...perhaps those who knew their parents came from a now devastated neighborhood (like Austin or Roseland) should go back and reprent of previous generations' sins, led by the current ministries, who can speak of the effect of such sin of abandonment.

Also, as those areas change, they need urban help.

Hoffman Estates, for example, has become much more integrated...and i believe that the WSC's are not doing a very good job of reaching out. Having urban youth groups do a mission for a couple of weeks in the suburbs might help. During the course of the mission, the urbans can teach about racism -- identifying both the problem-- AND solutions. They can also do "mission type of activities" like a hip hop concert at a local mall.

As our neighborhoods are being gentrified, we should guide those coming form the suburbs to specific homes. Instead of lining developer's pockets, we can challenge those "moving back" to buy a condo that helps fund a condo in th esame building for someone from the neighborhood (like Habitat for Humanity in terms of help). i fleshed out the idea in a recent entry on Aaron's blog.

hammerdad said...


Wow, what a concept! Urban youth missions trips to the burbs and guiding those who are gentrifying to buy homes that actually help others. Love it.

Very tough, however. I think a lot of what we do is tough so that's alright. . . . gentrification with justice is a tough one. I don't think I've seen it yet here in Chicago.

I was just in Harlem where the gentrification happened almost entirely on vacant land. few residents have been displaced due to the rent controls which have kept prices on existing housing from exploding.

hammerdad said...

As urbanites I think both JP and Aaron have identified some of what we/they (UCs) have to give. . . but seriously. . . how has anyone who reads this seen how WSC's give/partner effectively beyond money?

And while I am totally with JP on the need for repentance (Mark Gornik convinced me of this years ago as the 4th CCDA "r" through his book "To Live in Peace") I am wanting to be an encouragement to WSCs.

I got a letter from a close friend -- a WSC pastor -- who talked about how UC's leverage guilt and are condescending to suburban ministry. This is no way for us UC's to covenant in relationship.

so how can we understand the value of the outsider in such a way that leads to reciprocal, covenantal relationship?

Aaron said...

You said...

"I got a letter from a close friend -- a WSC pastor -- who talked about how UC's leverage guilt and are condescending to suburban ministry. This is no way for us UC's to covenant in relationship."

I am with you 100% there. I do think (especially me) that we folks in the urban setting can be pretty condescending to suburban setting trying to help. I think we (I know I have) had a bad attitude toward folks without giving them a chance.

I know I still to this day speak in very general terms instead of allowing each person to share his/her story/intentions/vision etc.

I still think we have to be "truth" tellers but at the same time do it in such a way where folks are brought in and not in some ways "forced" to just write checks or build a house.

You are right in saying that us UC's are not doing a good job in the covenant relationship. Amen!

It has been really interesting to me here in my new context. I am no longer in a mono cultural context. We have folks from everywhere (internationally) in our community and I am finding out that my tactics and that which I am used to saying/thinking/teaching really don't apply here so I am learning this lesson the hard way.

I guess you could say I am no longer in the hood (hood=isolated,under resorced, monocultural community)but rather in a under resourced multicultural community where nobody is kicking with one another. All this to say my whole philosophy is changing, even toward the suburban church because I have no other choice.

Ok I am rambling to much!

Thanks for the post Joel and for the sharpening!

JP Paulus said...

regarding gentrification,

It's already happening areas with Urban ministry - Uptown, ROgers Park, Logan Square, Garfield's even creeping into Woodlawn. Pastor Jackson of Holy Trinity Church bought a condo not too far from Sonshine, for example.

So at least in Chicago, the opportunity is there -- we just need to connect the dots.

In regards to UC's being in relationship with WSC's...are we bringing the rest of our ministry into relationship with the mission team?

In my brief time at Uptown Baptist Church, which has historically had a lot of mission groups, it was usually the staff who connected with the misison groups.

We needed more of our people, such as youth, to connect.

i was involved with the missions groups way before Facebook & Myspace, which would be a way for "regular folk" to keep in contact & build relationship. (This sound slike it belongs on a Chris Brooks blog thread :)

In terms of an example..let me see if i can paint a picture befor ei have to get back to work:

Covenant Fellowship Church from Champiagn Urbana was an excellent mission group -- people of humble hearts, willing to learn & be broken. I got to share with them my thoughts & addressing thie rpains...also they helped me personally: it was a Sunday where i was in by 7:30 am working & felt drained. By the end of the day (past noon), there was a guy Lonnie, who wanted to get to a rehab center. The group & i had met him a few times in the days beofre (such as on a prayer walk, where we prayed for him).

i was trying to minister to him, but the CFC group saw it & approached us, offering to drive him to the rehab center, and made us lunch to eat on the way. i am usually pretty pick on my hot dogs (i.e. it NEEDS to be on a hot dog bun, and preferred style: Chicago Suburban) , but the hot dog wrapped in a regular piece of bread & the Aldi Cheetos was one of the best lunches I had!

Also, another group (maybe it was the same -- the memories are blurring) , which i spent time with, i think that summer, then sent 2 people to come to my wedding -- and they brought a substantial wedding gift!

It wasn't the money that impressed me -- but the real devotion to relationship.

Now, when i encounter or hear of members of CFC, perhaps tyring to settle in Chicgao, or whatever, i jump on the chance to help.

Now, mind you, there were also predominantly Korean, so that may not apply (said half-Asian JP extremely sarcastically)

Do we, and our people (especially the non-staff) have that kind of view of the mission team? Or are they just another team?

hammerdad said...

JP, that is a great point, especially when their are a lot of them. Part of the challenge is that in the UC ministy context we have to be in ministry with more people than we can have as "close friends". Still, you are so right that we can't see them as just another group.

I also agree about the gentrification. Sunshine almost located in Bronzeville on our way out of Cabini but even there felt the g'cation was so far gone that in a 10 year period we felt we'd lose virtually all of our low income neighbors. That is proving to be true.

So we've located in Woodlawn and the West side, were our ministry is there is "spotty" new growth but on the East side where I live it is being impacted heavily by the UC growth (g/cation). All of woodlawn is being impacted by Olympics speculation.

JudyBright said...

That's a tough question, how to minister to WSC's like myself. How do you tell people they're clueless and be respectful about it? How do you educate people that don't know they need educated?

I love what you said about the giving going both ways. It empowers the UCs while humbling the WSCs at the same time. (I hope I'm getting my acronyms right) Plus it's based on truth. It's so shallow to think that money is the only thing to give, especially within a Christian context.

I don't know if there's some way to relate different experiences of joy and suffering across cultural and class lines. There are some things that people experience that pay no respect to income or class. For example, I grew up in an alcoholic home, and would probably be pretty annoyed if someone assumed I had an easy time growing up just because of what my current circumstances are.

Yeah, if I figure this out I'll let you know. :)

I think education of the WSCs starting in urban ministry could work similar to how someone is educated before entering a foreign mission field. I've been on a couple of short term mission trips, and we've always been briefed on cultural differences. It may even be more important in this context because we may be oblivious to the differences, or not expect them. It makes sense to expect cultural differences when you go to a different country, but ten miles down the road probably isn't expected by the average WSC. So you'll get the ones who are oblivious to how they're acting, and then the ones who are aware they've entered a different world and are very nervous and unsure of themselves and end up acting the wrong way too.

Keep up the good work Joel.
All this blogging with people from Chicago makes me want to check it out. Hopefully I'll get to go someday.

hammerdad said...


I couldn't agree more about the lack of understanding and assumptions going both ways.

A Pastor friend of mine recently vented to me about the ways folks in urban settings think that life and ministry in the burbs is all fun and games, nothing serious, nothing challenging, almost not real ministry.

That idea of your growing up in an alcoholic setting is a great example. The ironic thing this makes me think about is this: the suburban person's view of the urban center is almost strictly what they see on TV: all bad. But the Urbanite's view of the burbs may be equally skewed: It's all Beverly Hills 90210 out there.

I guess that all goes to show we need each other for reality checks!